"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

Three Poems by Jan Beatty

Issue: Spring 2017

 

Kat Calls About Jesus  

 

I was up all night last night and I can’t decide, she says.
Her voice gravelly but spiking high.
I want to talk about whether Jesus
is the son of God, she says.
At the Oregon Coast, I’m trying
to get away from everything—
there’s nothing like the blue-grey of the ocean sky
just before dark.
You know I don’t believe it, I say,
a bunch of stories written by men to control people.
Yeah, but do you think Jesus is the Son of God? she says.
I tell her: Well, if you’re talking about the structure of it,
like who’s in charge, like a family business—
sure, I guess so.
What do YOU think? I say.
I think Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Great, I say, it’s settled.
I hate the voices in her head and what they do
to her, hate myself for not wanting to listen.
There’s nothing like the blue-grey of the ocean sky
just before dark—and this dark,
this back and forth means nothing—
voices in her head/voices in mine.
I don’t know anything—
not the reason Kat’s mind takes her swimming
to Jesus,
not the reason I agree to talk about it—
Except I wish maybe saying it—
whatever it is—could shift the axis of the world right again.
But it never does, it never works and
the waves crash all night and
the next day, and I’m ridiculous,
looking out this window believing in
water, calling out to the sea and
the swell of spirits, praying
to whatever small gods can hear.

 

For the Man Who Died on the Track

 

Edmonton, British Columbia
June 30, 1987

For the man who died at 10 pm,
walking the train tracks in the late June dark,
to you:

Can I tell you that we mourned?
The stewards cried, the conductors joked
to hide their fright, the children in coach saw
your body fly by at dusk in the Canadian night.

We stared. I prayed. I read a poem
by Gary Snyder to Alan Watts in memory
of his death, for I didn’t know your name,
though someone said you were a man
of forty-five.

And I don’t know if you walked along
the tracks to die and why
you didn’t jump at the whistle?
But I want to tell you that a baby cries

right now, 45 minutes later and the whistle
is blowing longer now
and more often.
It sounds like a cry, a wall

of death and people sit in their rooms,
doors open, and stare, and say
how sad it is.

I think of my dead father and ask him
to help you. I want you to know
that you are mourned.
I sit in a cabin and talk of my dad

and listen to the steward speak of
the death of his grandparents and his
love for them.

I want you to know
that we stopped and prayed and we
cried for you, you the forty-five
year-old man on the tracks on

June 30th, 1987 in the Canadian night.
Gerrie, the train steward, said,
“I don’t know how to feel.”
We looked for your body.

The sirens came.
We stood on the back of the train
with the steam rising and hoped
for your life.

We looked through binoculars, we
looked at each other,
we stopped and mourned.

 

Yellow Sky

 

That summer I had nowhere to live:
the sky was yellow everywhere.
The cars of other people had their own private shine.
I walked slowly.
Several birds re-visited the backyards of strangers,
I was free
singing the song of the last thing I didn’t say to you.

 


Jan Beatty’s books include Jackknife: New and Selected Poems (2017), The Switching/Yard, Red Sugar, Boneshaker, and Mad River (Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize), published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Beatty hosts and produces Prosody, a public radio show on NPR affiliate WESA-FM featuring national writers. She worked as a welfare caseworker, an abortion counselor, in maximum security prisons, and as a waitress for fifteen years. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University, where she teaches in the MFA program.