November 3, 2016

Three poems by Steve Klepetar: "Summer's End, Traveling West," "The White Hour," and "Between the Lines"

Steve Klepetar’s work has appeared widely. His poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Recent collections include My Son Writes a Report on the Warsaw Ghetto and The Li Bo Poems, both from Flutter Press, and Family Reunion, forthcoming from Big Table Publishing.

Summer’s End, Traveling West

Time to travel to the country that burns in the west.
We must leave soon, find places
on the train, ready ourselves for a long journey –
we who have grown old on the plains and listened
every night to the ping
of rain or sleet or snow. We passed
the middle long ago, took up our flag,
began our descent to the valley
where shadows whisper to trees, and the old
ones, their bodies turned to mist, wrapped feeble
arms around our necks. They clung, their cold
fingers sliding along the flesh of our necks.
That was yesterday, when we turned the clocks
ahead, and spirits dangled from among the clouds.
We wore them like chains, dragged their invisible
weight as we listened to the river carving its tomb into rock.

The White Hour

     O stone wing of cold,
     Deliver me…

Now comes the white hour,
hour of the sky’s
pure line. Sun pours through a bank

of clouds. I wake with a savage heart.
You are dying, not dead, caught
in a terrible limbo of sleep.

Your breath is the rasp of a file
on wood, your mouth has sunk
inwards near collapse.

Maybe you dream, but you don’t
toss in the bed, you say nothing,
not about pain, or about your father,

dead when you were fifteen
or your mother gone
to smoke in the ovens of Birkenau.

When you open your eyes they are black,
pupils so wide they elide the hazel
tinge, as if darkness were your only air.

Between the Lines

I read you a story in German, about a fisherman
and a golden fish, and the wife who accepts
every gift, but always asks for more and more.
At the end she is left with nothing but the gray
and wrinkled sea, but her sons do great things –
slaughter trolls, guess riddles about bread
that won’t rise and rocks that split open
like eggs to form gigantic caverns colored
by gems. They marry princesses so beautiful
that the moon hides herself for shame behind
clouds. You wonder if their kingdoms
ever go to war, or if the long, warm days
grow dull and airless after many years.
What happens to the fisherman, the story
doesn’t say, but you decide that he goes back
out on his splintery boat, and on a good day
his catch is enough to sell for coins to buy
the occasional treat: bread and eggs and cheese.
Otherwise, it’s fish every day, which he cleans
himself, tossing the guts on a small garden plot
behind the unpainted house.
Sometimes his wife cooks, you tell me,
but mostly it’s him, because often she can’t
get out of bed, or when she does, it’s only to stare
at the sea, which sometimes flashes in the sun,
a jagged thrust of gold stabbing monotonous waves.

~Steve Klepetar


  1. Good poems! About "Between the Lines:" when I was about five years old, I heard that story from my mother. The only part I can remember is that when the fisherman talks to the golden fish he says, "For Alice my wife / The plague of my life / Sent me to ask a wish of thee." Is that the same story? If so, do you know its name so I can try to find it? Andrew Hubbard


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