Kevin A. Risner

Chalcedon

A sign in a square
To inform passersby or those in line
For the newest latte offering.
Something had been here, a structure
During the time of Chalcedon. Schisms and dioceses
Notwithstanding. That building is not
Standing any longer. Only remains remain.
But not even that. I see nothing. I wonder
What it was that was there.
All around the entire district.
I, too, walk quickly past the sign, trying to
Translate as much history as I can
In modern day Istanbul. Given to me
By a questionable source. But who am I
To argue? Ten years later to the day
When I saw the sign. It must still be there.
It must. I haven’t asked anyone about it since.

Coal and Ash

hike along the river / sand to the right
and rivulets from the main water body
on the left / I wander as if sifting for a catch /
it does not matter
what fish I find / I must find something /
granules are anthills from my youth / sometimes
bright white as Cayman coastline / elsewhere dark /
Hawaii volcano runoff sand / what I place in pepper
shakers / water pours over the hole at the top / everything
inside forced out of their homes /
I reach my hand into sludge / the spa scrub
people plaster over faces / cucumber over eyes /
with towel wrapped around hair / they will always lie
to forget the travails of the world / oh river
you were once blue / you dyed
the surface a little green / after a monsoon
you brown / I am lost in a collected murkiness /
if I jump onto a rowboat it becomes an icebreaker /
the oar wedges into the soup / the landscapes I desire
to see are glossy magazine photos / there is more
pressure here than one can stand / will there be enough
to fix what’s happening / to a world
sickened by the tiniest of microbes

Bachkovo

A monastery sits here.
No monks, only persimmon trees
Beneath November sun, a canopy
Of branches sagging, hanging, reaching

For the earth. Cats meow, dirty
Through the underbrush as sheep graze
Between stone slabs and chipped glass —
All this and no waiting for humans,

The flu-ridden sneezes,
The blurring of landscapes,
Corroding Cyrillic on the walls.
All lost in candlelight, swallowed wax.

No stained-glass windows telling stories
Or giving memories that faded in an ancient shawl-
Covered woman’s mind along with leaps
Of faith, silent betrayal.

To get to this alcove of memories,
Walk from the bus stop,
Take the long and winding path
Through a makeshift market of vendors.

Honey masks the bitter taste in our mouths
When we see a rusted-out car
With a white power bumper sticker
On the back. At first we stare

In shock, but we realize
We shouldn’t be that surprised.
They keep the first fruits alive past harvest
Claim antique figurines here are smoother than silk,

Whittled a decade ago.
A child’s face is the most authentic thing,
Not carpets and paintings on walls.
An early lunch sizzles behind a side shop,

The path to that location marked with spray-
Painted arrows, smoke rising
From the grill or a cigarette.
Roasted pork and bell peppers and onion

Mingle. The heavy winds flex their muscles,
Wrap around trees, over eroded walls
Carved bare. Each pebble once meant something.
Those who lived within the walls of the monastery,

Did they really know or care
Who was above them,
Who lived hundreds of miles away?
Today a toddler’s shoe crushes those pebbles.

A random stray dog stains the city wall.
Another stares longingly into the restaurant’s window
Where the pork turns around and around forever.
Time’s a distant fleeting thought

As fast as the wryneck flying through the trees
Waiting for the snow to fall.
The snow is as slow as the pulling of a long line
Of wool, stocking one’s bags and soon

Their shelves with jars of winter preserves.
Leave the market without a glimpse behind,
Without a single thought spared for the monastery
Shuddering under the sun,

Without any thought about
What the past was like
And what the future will be and whether
It is the same damn thing for us all.


Kevin A. Risner recently published Five Seconds Could Last Five Years, a summer mixtape poetry collection. He also has poems in The Second Chance Anthology, a collection of re-homed work released by Variant Lit over the summer. His work can be found in Glass, Mineral Lit Mag, Non.Plus LitOcean State Review, Perhappened Mag, and elsewhere.

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