Harm

Oh, we were such good girls, the four of us, caught
in Polaroid amber in our cut-off jeans.
Deep Iowa summer—thrumming, humid, hot—
and we posed for somebody’s dad in the yellow-green
light of late afternoon, in a rough-cleared spot
surrounding a derelict hut. We were fourteen,
the hut was hidden on somebody’s uncle’s farm,
and we had two whole days to flirt with harm.

We were all cherished, and our world was small—
books, good grades, residual make-believe—
and this was our grand adventure, before fall
flung us at high school, where we would achieve
less than we planned. We needed a close call,
a way for that tight-wound goodness to unweave
itself. Not really living was our fear.
The dads left, and we leapt for the bootleg beer

Form is the Engine, Family the Freight: Two New Books of Poetry by Ned Balbo

3 Nights of the Perseids 
(The University of Evansville Press, 2019, 149 pages, $15.00)

The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots
(Criterion Books, 2019, 105 pages, $22.00)

Publication of his fifth and sixth books of poetry made 2019 a very good year for Ned Balbo. The University of Evansville Press released 3 Nights of the Perseids, winner of the 2018 Richard Wilbur Award, and Criterion Books published The Cylburn Touch-Me-Nots, the nineteenth winner of The New Criterion Poetry Prize.

Old Dog

Her food and water live across the room.
She has a thought. She lifts her nose. She measures
and weighs effort and risk, her hunger’s bloom,
the long, slick floor between her and her pleasures,

and then decides. Long stretches—fore, then hind—
and she sets off, her stiff legs under control,
eyes on the prize, just one thing on her mind.
Listing only slightly, she reaches the goal—

—and then just stands there, rueful and perplexed,
inches from Paradise without a clue.
She sits. She stares at the wall, not sure what’s next,
how she has come there, what she had meant to do.

Greatness, Marginalization, and an Endangered Species: Dana Gioia’s The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays

The Catholic Writer Today and Other Essays
by Dana Gioia
(Wiseblood Books, 2019, 220 pages, $18.00)

Dana Gioia is the son of an Italian father and Mexican mother whom he describes as “working people who had been born in poverty and suffered enormous losses in their lives.” Gioia grew up speaking Italian in his Los Angeles neighborhood of mostly Mexican poor and working-class families. He understands the countless ways and means of marginalization, and its myriad faces.

After the Fall

The sound was everything I’d read it was,
and more: soft and precise,
a single apple dropped on sodden ground.
Now time is measured from that sound.

Not in my ears, but roiling through my marrow
swept a sudden sorrow.
Then the epiphany: sick rushing knowledge
that I had done irreparable damage.

Never again the luxury of ease
or happy thoughtlessness.
So innocent and careless was that life
before! Now the world’s unsafe,

the smallest gesture feels as if it matters,
this side of the fracture,
and I consider long where to place my feet—
always aware that it’s too late.