Paul Alexander: 3 Poems


From the frost-covered window,
I see winterfeed, aconite, snow falling
against the marble gray sky.

A goldfinch,
ignoring any sensible part of himself,
beats his bill against

a brown circle of ground.
The stillness of the afternoon
is broken only by the wind

sweeping in from barren fields.
I tell myself
all that is earthly remains earthly —

the fading blooms of wintergreen,
the goldfinch,
swallows descending into bare trees.


I stand at the end of the dock, its grey wood worn
and weathered. The planks feel rough to my bare feet.

I know danger lurks before me in the river
where there are cottonmouths and water moccasins.

In the mind of a thirteen-year-old boy, the sting
of fangs is waiting like the river itself. You stand

beside me on the dock wearing your bathing trunks.
I can see your left leg scarred from ankle to thigh,

damaged from when you were a toddler
and fell into a fire raging in the living room fireplace.

Still, your disfigured leg has never
slowed you down.
You loom over me, threatening, but

I can tell, about being alone with me.
You’re doing what a father is supposed to do:

Taking his son swimming on a summer afternoon.
Without speaking, you dive into the river. I dive in too.

As you start toward the other shore, I follow you.
The water feels cool despite the sun bearing down.

For a moment, I’m consumed by the hypotonic cadence
of swimming, the steady surge of my body gliding forward.

Water pounds my eyes. I try to forget about snakes
and snapping turtles. I focus on what I’m doing.

I am swimming in the Warrior River with my father.
With deliberate strokes, we head toward

the approaching shore, confident in our actions
but clueless about what we’ll do once we get there.


On the pond, the sound of ducks
and trees rustling,

one long cry of a fox,
a bird’s sudden letting go of a branch.

It’s moving across the water toward us,
crossing the moon

shinning up from the pond.
It’s loud when we first hear it.

It’s the night filling
the trees and water,

the stars hidden behind clouds.
It’s nothing we have lost

and returned to look for.
It’s nothing of any significance.

And it’s everything.
It is a stone thrown into a pond,

a circle opening up.


Paul Alexander is the editor of the essay collection Ariel Ascending: Writings About Sylvia Plath and the author of seven books, including Rough Magic, a biography of Plath, and Salinger, a biography of J.D. Salinger that was the basis of a documentary that appeared on American Masters on PBS. He has published nonfiction in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books, among many others. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry (Chicago), The Sewanee Review, Southern Poetry Review, Poem, Poetry Now, Mississippi Review, The Louisville Review, The Black Warrior Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Connecticut River Review, Deep South, Cold Creek Review, The West Texas Literary Review, Allegro, Chelsea Station, and The Gay and Lesbian Review. A graduate of The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches at The New School and Medgar Evers College in New York City.

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