Features Poetry

“The World is the Last Paradise” and more from poet Christopher Buckley

A selection of Christopher Buckley’s poetry is included in our current issue. Once we accepted the poems, he informed me that the working manuscript, from which the poems came, was slated for publication. We are thrilled that so many poets who publish with us seem to find book publication soon after. Mr. Buckley certainly did not need our publication to edge him closer to book acceptance (One Sky to the Next, Long Leaf Press, 2023). He has published many works over his long life in letters (see a more detailed version of his biography at the Poetry Foundation). But perhaps Parhelion provides some good luck to the writers who publish with us, if one can believe in such a thing. Whatever the reality, I know for certain that we have helped expand awareness of his work, which is all we can say for anyone we publish.  

We are delighted to feature a larger sampling of his voice in the poems that follow. His is a voice which emerges subtly through measured consistency and not as a shouted statement in one or two poems. This is a mark of someone who has spent many years writing and learning who he is and, perhaps more importantly to Mr. Buckley, where he is.

Darren Morris, Poetry Editor


The World is the Last Paradise

ay ese mundo es la victoria,
es el paraiso perdido
                     —Neruda

I placed my faith in trees,
in the kingdom of oxygen
in parks, at the beach . . .
I was crazy
about the reservoirs
of air seeded here
and there with light,
the wings of my lungs
in full reciprocation
to the sky.
                    Dreaming
the roads of my youth,
I came over the foothills
at dusk, confronting the erratic
signatures of fireflies, meteors
sprayed hugger-mugger
across the dark.
                              Lavish savannahs,
the sky shifting, hoisting its sails
and moving off . . . sea foam
clinging to salt air as if
there were a purpose
to my scattered thoughts,
the unmendable darkness
stretching past the loose
pledges of galaxies. . . .

Machado told himself
that there is no road, that
you make the road by walking.
And so I don’t want to sit
by the shore again looking
at the horizon and appraising
my theoretical chances.
I want to forget the inevitable
10 steps that led to the fall
of Rome along with every
Chamber of Commerce justification
for outsourcing manufacturing
of t-shirts, tennis shoes, and god-
knows-what all else to
the Mauritius Islands.
                                        Each day
I do what I can to interpret
another finch song despite
the dark that carries no news
about the outcome of our blood,
an ossuary for light. One rationale
by the shore makes no more sense
than the next one—the clamor
of waves, spray, the wind
with its inevitable down-beat
and impossible wings.
                                        Unless
that’s the ontological clock ticking
away in the middle of nowhere
out there . . . the rust of time
on my hands from a childhood
where we were all mislead
by clouds, by every
ostensible star.


To Pablo

The cypress trees grow old, losing their shapes to wind,
               outlining a poetics
of absence on the promontory’s edge. I’m sitting here
               in the lacy shade
of pepper trees, thinking of you, maestro, calling you back
               from the solar mists,
from the winds blowing through the empty rooms
               of eternity. Step out,
with the torch and happy sorrows of your odes, tell us death
               is less than this
undertow ripping through the surf, singing for nothing
               through our blood.
Give us a grito to chase the politicos over the cliff,
               a song to repair
each torn ligament of desire, the stitch in the side of hope,
               give us sea foam,
crusts of sunlight, anything to follow past the white caps,
               the useless irony
of every appeal. No one’s fooled when we lose one comrade
               after another and have to
calculate the sorrow of empty sidewalks, chairs outside the café;
               the death of day lilies, roses.
So if we praise our shoes, shined gloriously for a Sunday stroll,
               or the two tomato plants
we raise each spring, if we proclaim a dishtowel the happy flag
               of our republic, even these
scraps of joy slip away through the blue leaves of evening,
               the light dying out
across the shore, inside of which the soul spins down
               and is gone . . .
like the air-sealed kiss of salt in spindrift above the sea.


Early Study

I followed the currents in my texts
like a fish in the vast Bible of the sea,
made my best guesses week to week,
and loose and reckless in my bones,
took my chances between
the tides and the connective
tissue of clouds.
                              I raced around
like a halfwit with his hair on fire
until I rested beneath the coral trees
to think about where the past had gone.
But no matter how still I sat,
considering the possible outcomes
on earth, it all went speeding away
before me.
                    Even so, I kept the wild
tangerines and wind-tipped bamboo
in mind, the elaboration of jacarandas,
their bruise-colored blossoms amending
the air as I rode my bike down sun-brazed lanes
long after the Assyrians had descended
on the plains and the Chaldeans destroyed
the temple at Jerusalem.
                                             I’d taken notes
in Religion and General Science class
which had me chasing after the disbanded
atoms of infinity, some starlit threads . . .
after significance as invisible as salt
on sea air, as wind in white caps off shore.

Now, it looks like that’s been my subject
all along, as improbable as song titles
in the ‘50s—Time on My Hands, I’ve Got
the World on a String, All or Nothing at All

but always a hidden meaning that
found me empty-handed, searching
for any sentiment in the subtext of light.


Revelation

When the sun turned from the palm tree
toward the past, who knew what was coming?

All I had was a phrase in Latin about the passing
glory of the world. I bought a paper, a panatela,

a lottery ticket with the date of my birth; yet even if
the cosmos rolled my numbers out and I could afford

a ’57 Impala with wings rising rapturously at the back,
it’s too late for things to change. I can barely recall

cruising State, the street narrowed now for restaurants
pushing their tables out front; too late to look for

anyone I might know on the sidewalks. So I park in
the shoreline lot, sunset flashing off the pitted chrome

of my old beater like a lost passage of revelation—
so much for rebuilt dreams. I open the paper, skip

the Travel Section, Financial pages, and turn to
the horoscope—every one of us spinning away

to nowhere among the stars. . . . I scan the column
75 Years Ago Today for anything remotely familiar,

light-up, and follow the smoke rings’ empty route
to the infinite, to the limits of the blue . . . dust

weighing in, the sea-heavy root of all that’s gone . . .
clouds smudging the horizon like our palm prints

on the chalk board back in school. . . . And when
the stars swing down, what’s your best guess about

where they’re headed? Above me, on the phone line,
a mourning dove seems almost content . . . my heart,

with its own grey feathers, counting on little more
than the fellowship of the air, the unattainable light.


Evening Walk

Heading off into the neighborhood
I let silence take me by the elbow,
as if I’d run out of things to think,
as if my brain had been battered
by the firmament one final time. . . .
All afternoon I bothered birds
with my useless salutations—
and now it’s the cocktail hour
and I can’t trust myself
alone in the house, spirits
winking from the cupboard,
inviting me to forget things
for a while.
                    But if I get out
and get going I’ll be back
to the porch with just enough time
for a glass lifted to salute the weary
shadow of the sea as it climbs
the cliff with the dark, confirming,
once again, that circumstances
are unlikely to change.
                                          I stop
every 50 feet to admire the sea light
bequeathed to us by the old gods,
or the quantum field—either way,
I move along in the unsolved algebra
of my blood—who needs more
information about grief’s irreducible
factors?
               The withered tamarisks
stand for all the conclusions I came to,
and crows go on listing their final
grievances from the phone pole,
from the black cypress etching
an icy moon.
                         At 83, my mother
in her hospice bed, told me she wanted
to die—what great faith, or great lack thereof,
was that—and what possibly was left
to submit to the sky? How many hosannahs
reach the constellations before we’re
forgotten for good, for any difference
it might make?
                              So, orphans, refugees,
old-timers on the bus, have we come this far
for nothing? Does it matter that I can’t recall
who taught me to tie my shoes, or when
I was apprenticed to the tide? I keep asking
myself if the sky is holding something back
for the grand immensity, or if it’s just
some low clouds bruised and vanishing
at the same time each day?
                                             The trees
argue it both ways with the keepsakes
of dust. Early on, I thought I had a chance
to make some sense of things, and though
the north star hasn’t wavered for centuries,
all my instruction comes to nothing
as I side-step the sanctimonious in favor of
a few hard facts—this man, for example,
in the park, stuffing newspapers from the trash
inside his coat for warmth.
                                             A falling star
shoots overhead as I make the turn for home
expecting no more joy than being someone
walking through the last hours of the day
can provide. The light sleeping in our bones
breaks down over time . . . time which
greys the edges of our photographs.
And insofar as hope is concerned—
the window-dressing of the sky—
well, it’s nothing more than an oath
I swear each evening to the sea
without a witness.


I'm a fiction and CNF writer, an editor, and a blogger. I earned an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and am the associate editor of Parhelion Literary Magazine out of Richmond. An Ohio native, I'm at work on a novel and short stories set in the Rust Belt, and I hype Midwestern authors at my blog, Rust Belt Girl.

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