Maurice Manning's third book of poetry, Bucolics, has just been published by Harcourt. His second book, A Companion for Owls, is written in the voice of Daniel Boone, and was published in 2004. His first book, Lawrence Booth's Book of Visions was selected for the 2000 Yale Series of Younger Poets. His poems have been published in Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry, and The New Yorker. He has held writing fellowships at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and The Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers in Scotland. He teaches at Indiana University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.


Three Poems by Maurice Manning


A Blasphemy

You wouldnít have believed it, how
the man, a little touched perhaps,

set his hands together and prayed
for happiness, yet not his own;

he meant his people, by which he meant
not people really, but trees and cows,

the dirty horses, dogs, the fox
who lived at the back of his place with her kits,

and the very night who settled down
to rock his place to sleep, the place

he tried so hard to tend he found
he mended fences in his sleep.

He said to the you above, who, letís
be honest, doesnít say too much,

I need you now up there to give
my people happiness, you let

them smile and know the reason; hear
my prayer, Old Yam. The you whoís you

might laugh at that, and I agree,
itís funny to make a prayer like that,

the down home words and yonder reach
of what he said. And calling God

the Elder Sweet Potato, shucks,
thatís pretty funny, and kind of sad.


A Wavering Spindle of Forsythia

Well, I donít know if spindle is
the word; maybe it should be stalk,

but this is a thin one, itís freer,
and now its free end is hooping up

the air the way a boy who pulls
a stick from the fire to—what—command

the night with the coal-tip leaves
circles not quite completed, a line

not yet a shape but like one, like
a horseshoe, or the boy himself

about to ask it plainly, Why
do I like doing this? That boy,

he had a pony then and rode it
around the dusty ring just once

before he slid the cribbed slat back
and swung the gate and left. Weíll see,

he said, weíll see what happens now.
That night, in the company of stars

and, yes, the blessed pony, he made
the fire, and in a little while

he took the stick and drew the crown
of red around the ponyís head.


Moonshine

The older boy said, Take ye a slash
oí this—hitíll make yore sticker peck out—

which would have been a more profound
effect than putting hair on my chest,

to which I was already accustomed.
Proverbially, of course, he was right.

I took a slash, another, and then
I felt an impassioned swelling, though,

between my ears, as they say, a hot
illumination in my brain.

The shine had not been cut; full of
the moon it was for sure. I knew

the mountain county it came from—
my familyís section, on Little Goose.

A distant cousin would have been proud
to know another cousin was drinking

what might as well be blood, at least
the bonds which come with blood, the laugh

before the tragic truth, the love
of certain women, the hate for lies,

the knowledge that death can be a mercy,
the vision blurred and burning there

in the mind and in the wounded heart.
This was the first time I heard the story

I was born to tell, the first I knew
that I was in the story, too.