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Bruce Snider is the author of The Year We Studied Women, winner of the 2003 Felix Pollak Prize in poetry from the University of Wisconsin Press. Originally from Indiana, he lived for several years in Austin, Texas, where he was a James A. Michener Fellow in poetry and playwriting at the University of Texas Michener Center for Writers.  A Wallace Stegner Fellow from 2003-2005, he is currently a Jones Lecturer in Poetry at Stanford University.  He lives in San Francisco.

University of Wisconsin Press
Michener Center for Writers
"The Variables" from Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review


Four Poems:

The Certainty of Numbers

It’s not the numbers you dislike—
the 3s or 5s or 7s—but the way
the answers leave no room for you,
the way 4 plus 2 is always 6
never 9 or 10 or Florida,
the way 3 divided by 1
is never an essay about spelunking
or poached salmon, which is why
you never seemed to get the answer right
when the Algebra teacher asked,
If a man floating down a river in a canoe
has traveled three miles of a twelve mile canyon
in five minutes, how long will it take him
to complete the race?  Which of course depends
on if the wind resistance is 13 miles an hour
and he’s traveling upstream
against a 2 mile an hour current
and his arms are tired and he’s thinking
about the first time he ever saw Florida,
which was in the seventh grade
right after his parents’ divorce
and he felt overshadowed
by the palm trees, neon sun visors,
and cheap postcards swimming
with alligators.  Nothing is ever simple,
except for the way the 3 looks like two shells
washed up on last night’s shore,
but then sometimes it looks like a bird
gently crushed on its side.
And the 1—once so certain
you could lean up against it
like a gray fence post—has grown weary,
fascinated by the perpetual
itch of its own body. 
Even the Algebra teacher
waving his formulas like baseball bats,
pauses occasionally when he tells you 
that a 9 and a 2 are traveling in a canoe
on a river in a canyon.   How long
will it take them to complete their journey?
That is if they don’t lose their oars
and panic and strike the rocks,
shattering the canoe.  Nothing is ever certain.
We had no plan, the numbers would tell us, 
at the moment of our deaths.

(first appeared in Third Coast)


Prayer for a Snowy Day

Even the snow
     can be fashioned
          into a man

          with stone eyes
     and an ordinary mouth
able to say nothing

kind or tender,
     though his arms
          are spread wide

          in welcome,
     the heart
a piece of charcoal

slipped into his chest
     by a boy
          who wanted someone

          to come stand
     with him
this morning

in the cold.  
     Some days that’s all
          the hope you get.
Some days you don’t
      even get that,
so the day seems a blessing,

falling down around you
     through the stark limbs
          of the poplar trees

          like a prayer
     you’ve fashioned
into a man

with stone eyes
     and a stranger’s touch
          as vaporous

          and gentle
     as snowfall
on your empty, outstretched arms.

(first appeared in Sycamore Review)


This is the Last Poem with the Ocean in It

but other poems will be written to take its place.
Poems about birds and socks and gasoline engines.
Poems about the size of an elephant’s tusk.
Poems starting with the word “Bottle.”
Haiku and sonnets and intricate villanelles,
but this is the last poem with the ocean in it.

When it is read, the air will grow still
with the memory of sea foam.  Men in the town squares
will bow their heads and mourn its passing.
Mothers with shopping carts will pause
beside the shelves of canned carrots
to whisper a prayer;  they’ll hold their young closely
in the streets.

Soon, teachers will weep at the gates of the school yards
for the children standing with their hands
in their pockets, their sheets of crumpled paper.
Old men in parks and bingo parlors
will reach for the sleeves of old women
whose voices carry the distant sound of the surf.
The truck driver will be left with only his truck,
the criminal with his pointed heart.

The poet will be left comforting the other poems
who will feel smaller now.  Poems about clocks
will tick more softly.  Poems about love will grow
weak-hearted and faint.  Poems
about war will yearn less and suffer more.
And the small poems—the ones about thumbnails
and hand-shakes and motes of dust—
will shudder one morning like mountains,
weary of upholding the sky.

(first appeared in Mid-American Review)


Twin Peaks Bar, San Francisco

--the country’s first gay bar with windows

Ralph’s working late again, people walking past
the window where I sit and stir my drink,
his face another shape against the glass.

Thirty years ago he still lived in La Place
and each spring helped his father plant the wheat.
Now I watch him at the bar, people walking past

as he makes cosmos, sidecars, even a furnace blast—
its secret (so he claims) is one part gasoline—
his face another shape against the glass.

He’s seen it all, the Castro’s fall, the clash
of riots, Harvey Milk, parades that lit the street,
though he kept working, people walking past

porn shops, bakeries, the plague that slashed
his boyfriend, Ted, the Greek masseur,
his face another shape beyond the glass.

He calls (sometimes) his brother in La Place,
remembers barley packed in crates they’d ship
to New York, Cincinnati, Montreal.  What’s past

is past, is all he says, adding a splash
of dry vermouth, an olive speared right through
its brined and pitted heart inside the glass.

He has a walk-in flat, at fifty-five, a high firm ass
he chalks up to the gym and carrot juice
(twice a day).  So many people can’t get past

the loss, he shrugs and takes my cash.  
You’ll learn that, Doll.  He wipes the bar,
my own face taking shape against the glass

that holds his quickened hands still mixing
grenadine, lemon juice, rum into a silver flask.
He turns toward all the people walking past
and shakes and stirs, and fades into the glass.

(first appeared in P.N. Review)


Bruce Snider

Bruce Snider
San Francisco
Email Bruce


These poems are copyrighted by the above listed author.  POETRY MOUNTAIN has been granted non-exclusive online publishing rights by the author to place these poems on the pages of this Web site.  All other rights belong to the author.  According to U.S. copyright law, you must obtain written permission from an author to reproduce his or her work.  We have provided email links to help facilitate this contact.

Last Updated: Thu, October 19, 2006
©2006 John Struloeff -- All Rights Reserved.