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Published: Tue Jul 1 2003
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Balancing Acts

Erasing the surface made them treasure, coins
we balanced on the tracks, the train so
explosively present one steel-dark second
retreating to the invisible, the out of sight, the linear
made circular: life stripped of the prospect of an after
is one straight shot foreknowledge
of return to physical diffusion
arches until the shortest distance between two points
is a circle, it’s a matter
of perspective: emptied rails join
at the horizon, two hands in prayer,
kids left scrambling for blank wafers

spun off the track. One’s overflowing cars
trailed mica, glittering sugary lumps leading
into forever like Hansel and Gretel’s bread-crumb trail
spelling the way home, too tempting
to survive scavengers—blackbirds starved
shadowy angels throwing the predestined

into reverse. There’s a tourist machine
that flattens a penny, stamps it
with a local attraction—World Trade Center, Chattanooga
Choo-Choo: turning the crank
is alchemy, marrying creation and destruction;
for one moment, the copper tablet’s a tabula rasa
childhood’s untraced stationery, old age’s
forgetfulness, blank coin for blank eyes on the passage
we want to keep rowing, refusing landing
either shore, avoiding confronting the eternal

or the end of time. Until the gears catch and the coin’s
newly minted. Will we have to own up
to the pettiness of our prayers, the originality
of sins flung out the window
in confession, in the shimmering
rhetoric of rebirth to the hot
changed wind? Hair filling with cinders, black meteors spilling
from what drives landscape to the splitting
edge, two parting green waves

turning their backs. What is the real point
of no return? Stepping off
each platform one direction
into the future, each arrival ground into faces spirited
away by the journey, vacant as those faceless medallions
struck off the track, brighter for the absence
of words, of history, the coin’s erasure memento
mori of metallic weight’s unbrakeable
rush into vanishing, an afterimage of smoke
and coal’s blown stars.

Sandra Meek is the author of five books of poems: An Ecology of Elsewhere (Persea Books, 2016); Road Scatter (Persea, 2012); Biogeography (Tupelo Press, 2008), winner of the Dorset Prize; Burn (Elixir Press, 2005); and Nomadic Foundations (Elixir, 2002). She is also the editor of an anthology, Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad (Ninebark, 2007), which was awarded a 2008 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry ReviewPoetryBest of the Net 2015The Kenyon ReviewConjunctionsPrairie SchoonerAGNIThe Iowa Review, and elsewhere. A recipient of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and the 2015 Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, she has three times been awarded Georgia Author of the Year in Poetry and twice the Peace Corps Writers Award in Poetry—she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Manyana, Botswana from 1989 to 1991. She is co-founding editor of Ninebark Press, director of the Georgia Poetry Circuit, and Dana Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing at Berry College. Visit her at sandrameek.com. (updated 4/2018)

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