The 2River View

Virginia Slachman

The Usefulness of Stars

Ivy vine thick enough to strangle. Well, that's its job. Someone cut
              this one off three feet
                            from the oak's root base, left it
              forked as a divining rod, going white, lichen laden,
                                       brittle as an old bridle. Even dead
              still clinging.        In Kentucky

unmortared stones laid by hand run chest high for miles. It's easy
                        to love the world's heavy-labored, useful
                                               work. Also the ones who do it.
                                  When a stallion breaks down, they give it
a shot, then the dates go up in brass on the stall:
                          Secretariat: March 30, 1970 - October 4, 1989.
Too much early grass, maybe. I try to leave
                         the world a little bit
                                      each day.  Rilke said it will feel odd
             to be dead, suddenly no longer
                          among the accustomed, but I don't
                                                 know. Maybe the afterlife
                          has simple instructions
                                      since we'll be starting over
                                                                            again. That ivy
bugs me. Why hang around after? But  I'm not one to talk, always
                                                   looking for signs, divining rods
for the soul. Where it's buried is somebody's secret.
                                                   I've noticed it's good lately
to leave large blank spaces between things. As they do
            with racehorses—big winner, then
                                      gone. I'd like to mention my father
how he loved the usefulness of stars: In order to properly navigate you need
          a precise point of departure.
Orion, other stars I forget the names of.
                                                    What do you suppose
                                  those men were thinking laboring over the miles
of fences they fit together by hand? They probably didn't look too far
down the road. Definitely
                          hard-muscled men
to look at those slabs they hoisted up, snuggled down, fit into place.
                         Then the next
                                  one. They might never have looked
at the stars, never wondered whether that silver cup from the Civil War
                         lay buried beneath their feet. Useful men,
there at some point
                         on the earth, then they died. I bet they didn't notice
                                                                              the unfilled
crevices of their lives. I'd like to be those men, see what it feels like clinging that hard
                                                                to nothing.


Virginia Slachman is the author of two collections of poetry, recipient of the Elliston Prize in Poetry, an Ohio Individual Artists prize, and publishes in magazines such as Salmagundi and River Styx. She currently serves as associate professor of English at Principia College. contact