MN poetry: James Cihlar’s “Last Year”

James Cihlar is the author of the poetry book Undoing (Little Pear Press) and chapbook Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House Press). The Poetry Editor for Referential Magazine and the Books Review Editor for American Poetry Journal, he has also published reviews in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and on the poetry site Coldfront. The recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, Cihlar lives in St Paul.

Last Year

What we do not know about fate

Harms us less than what we think we know.

We think we know the rate of exchange,

As if we can trade off years of estrangement

With deathbed forgiveness,

A life of sinning

With one true repentance,

But we cannot. Fate will catch up.

Fate does not tell time with clocks.

It does not enter with the creak of the stair

We hear from our bed alone

In a house wrapped in dark,

As we count the muffled footsteps in the hallway,

Measuring the shrinking distance from our pillow.

It will never come at a time

That allows us to anticipate arrival.

It would sooner show up the moment before

We bury our face in sleep

Exhaling the last worry of day.

Fate moves with the staccato bounce

Of an alley cat on winter ice.

It visits us as a car accident en route

To a job interview

The day after we were fired from the previous job –

Bestowing one blow

On the heels of another –

As if to say, you thought you had me figured out,

You thought you were safe.

– “Last Year,” by James Cihlar, as it appears in the collection The Wind Blows, The Ice Breaks: Poems of Loss and Renewal by Minnesota Poets, published by Nodin Press. Reprinted here with permission from the editor.

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