Two Poems by Ralph Culver

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The New Man

At night, preparing for sleep, he faces himself in the mirror, and the image before him becomes gradually more foreign, more remote, until he feels no sense of familiarity with his reflection or even of casual recognition. He brushes his teeth wondering whose hair, whose eyes, whose mouth this is. He goes to the bedroom and finds a woman in the bed waiting for him, and though he knows her and the warm reaches of her skin and that he loves her and has always loved her, she is unable to tell him his name, or how they had met, or where the next day will take them. What a relief, he thinks. What a relief.


Long Nights by the River

She would start a letter, and then another, and another, but somehow each would displease her and she tore them into long thin strips and scattered the shreds about the room.

What was it Lao-Tzu said? The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth? She wrote “Dearest love” at the top of a fresh sheet of paper, considered, and slowly tore the paper to pieces.

My only love, she wrote, How often I have thought of you as I made my way down to the village at sunrise, my sandals wet from the dew. Then thought of you, at sunrise, as I made my way to the village. Then thought of you, my sandals wet with the dew as I made my way. Then crumpling the paper into a ball and reaching for a lit candle.

Across the world, he marked each day with a bitter sigh, his heart stung by weeks of waiting for the letter she had promised that had not come.


About the Author

Ralph Culver’s work has been widely published over the years, appearing most recently in The High Window (UK) with poems forthcoming soon in Plume (USA) and Queen’s Quarterly (Canada). His latest collection is A Passable Man (2021), about which Nina MacLaughlin in The Boston Globe wrote “These are physical poems, attuned to natural rhythms and those rhythms’ effects on spirit and body both. …Quiet wisdom, which is the best kind of wisdom, lives in his lines.”