November 1998

Neal Bowers

Neal Bowers Neal Bowers has published three volumes of poetry (most recently Night Vision), two scholarly books, and a nonfiction memoir, Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist.  His poems and essays have appeared in Harper's, Hudson Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, Sewanee Review, and other journals.  He lives in Ames, Iowa with his wife, Nancy (also a writer), and their five cats. This is his first appearance in an Online Magazine.

Neal Bowers

The Kindnesses of Bad Neighbors    Read Along with the Author

They never drive their unmuffled cars
through our begonias
or let their stereo thump
any longer than they care to listen.
They know their howling dog will stop
when he has wound himself
flush against the stake and can barely breathe
and that their kids, in a few years,
will be more interested in shoplifting
than in spray-painting their new vocabulary
on the sidewalk in front of our house,
so they share with us their own forebearance.
Whenever they absolutely must discharge a gun
in celebration or anger or simple idleness,
they try to aim low so the bullet won't carry;
and none of the fires they've set
by accident with cigarettes or overloaded outlets
has ever spread beyond their walls.
When we pass by and see them
beating out a flame
or oiling their pistols on the stoop,
they almost always raise a hand
in their familiar way of greeting.



Have a Seat    Read Along with the Author

Put a chair down anywhere
and it defines a point
of intersecting lines,
a virtual starburst
if we try to chart
the possibilities.
So it's easy to imagine,
should you sit in it,
that you are
the exact center,
where everything merges
or from which it emanates,
though viewed graphically
the infinite lines,
even drawn as thin
as incandescent filament,
soon obliterate you.
Consider as well
all the other chairs
on all the other spots,
each one blotted out
by the progressive overlay
until the whole page darkens
like a world turned out
and every place is the same place.



Ceremonial     Read Along with the Author

Lucky if you've got it
but not if you go over it,
the edge is hard to hold,
cuts between winners/losers,
slices loaves, halves melons,
makes a thin line where the blood
signs its whole name.
Sometimes it is one side,
sometimes the other;
but when it's both
the wind shrills all around.
The checkered flag snaps down.



Listen    Read Along with the Author

Snow piles up or melts enough
to slide down the roof's incline,
and the accountant comes home
to an empty house, his wife gone,
a figure subtracted from itself,
leaving an exact balance.

If he puts both barrels
underneath his chin, or drinks
oblivion and drives the glazed highway—
the blast or crash is an emphatic
period at the end of a long sentence.
Nothing happens suddenly.

Plotted out, it's the usual story
of consequence or accident,
the siren coming into range
from a long way off, perpetual
shrill we pretend not to hear,
until it deafens us.



Neal Bowers: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue FiveThe Cortland Review