Michael Ford

These Violets

“These Violets” is a single poem divided into twelve sections. It was composed with the help of prime numbers: the number of lines in each section is one of the prime numbers from 3 to 37. The number 11, since it is repetitive, is used twice. When added together, these numbers come to 206, the number of bones in the human body.

These Violets

Holt Cemetery, New Orleans—Resting place
of early jazz musician Buddy Bolden, R & B
singer Jesse Hill and a World War 2 veteran
named Thomas Gray

The lean moon
becomes full and is swallowed

and this is not an archipelago

which speaks

water to the land

or even the bones in one hand

the name fades
the grass intrudes
the grave is lost

and with it the rough spring wind

and this is not an archipelago

The chorus in high register
speaking at once

a few bars
a couple of vertebrae

which house

genital warmth
shoes on the stage

the spoon
at the inside of the bowl

bone in the human body

his trumpet
held up
level with the ground

Placed side by side
an image of wet pavement
a sailor


the whole of humanity

in one small room

no room anymore for the bed

we sleep

(as moles as spineless grubs)

burrowed in the ground

This island
together at my feet

And this is not the human body
(on the stage
tambourine in hand)
no matter what the numbers say

The knowable world overflows
and in the mess that follows
in the blank heat

in mud rolled up
the size of a man

(who, lacking tissues to hold himself upright,
collapses again
into the water)

no more
songs from the soft mouth,

no more complicated bodies, nerves
reduced once more
to a simple eyespot

after years in conversation with the ground

after endless war
has covered everything in soot

and no one cares if you’re drowning

arms red at the bone

after the shutter of the camera
jams open

after the cylinder containing
the human voice is cracked

after the hide of any animal
is mistaken
for one’s own

this is not the human body

Among the roots of trees—Take
and count one by one

until it is out of the reach of my voice

History is red,
bitten hairs at its neck.

Wind bends it forward.

Soil. Darkness
of empty
houses, many now
leaning to one side.

letters pressed in cement
the name unmade
the letter ‘O’ out of place

no longer

to sound

damp, unsteady ground

The full weight
of a wet branch
the full
plot of the grave
sunken in
seven inches. Pooled water

that the mind


The boat’s mouth


and the soldiers streamed out

onto the beach

to draw

the outline of a continent

in red

The saddest song in all the world


until empty

No more will awaken

No more

to the bar room in the smallest hours

Can’t buy no beer

Fill his mouth with nickels

because there are things

that 25 years

in the nuthouse won’t cure

it won’t cure the skeleton

and it won’t cure electrons
turning and shaking

or the 26
million year

circuit of the galaxy

wrapped around his body like a belt

Now that they have closed the libraries
where can we go
to hear

the rough spring wind
meet the Atlantic

war (at least the war in miniature)

a song along the lines
of love, careless love.

Or see

the groundnut shells

littering the floor of the world

one shell

to carry your body


to carry

the rest of your body.

The little screen
lights up
but the war is not here.

With ceremony—The grave
covered over with a cloth
and then painted. A dense array
of objects—fence wire, thermos, shirt,
a small plastic boat and a splintered tree.

At last, at last

(in a low voice)

The wind stretches out

a sheet of metal

Even the elements are still

and on the ground

in pieces


the names are cracked

in two

even the naked

frame, the fence

posts of the body

fallen down

even the road is broken

even the movie theater burned


Went down to the river
to wait for the ferry
but the ferry never arrived.

The long grass matted on the graves
weeds bent low
among ruined monuments

overturned vase, its lip
caved in

but not
for lack
of tenderness

but of money

and no law to set the stones upright

or hold back
wind behind a wall
until everyone who knew you
has gone.

with flowers on the ground

as simple as that.

And a voice

to sing.
A way to speak through the ground
a slip of paper
a bottle of whiskey
placed with flowers
into the faded grass
to be done with it.

the dust
beneath the bed

grieving is not good.

It is known

the first flower
grew at
the edge of a stream.

Michael Ford lives in New Orleans. Ugly Duckling Presse published his first full-length book, Carbon, in 2006. His next book Olympia Street (which includes the poem “These Violets”) will be published sometime in 2007 by New Orleans’ own Trembling Pillow Press. His poems have also appeared in 6x6 and YAWP: A Journal of Poetry and Art. Visit his blog at starspangledbanana.blogspot.com.