Five Poems

Devon Balwit

Photo Credit: Marina del Castell/Flickr (CC-by)

After Ishtar’s Descent into Hades

Since the lady Ishtar descended to the land of No-return
The bull does not spring upon the cow, the ass does not bow over the jenny
The man no more bows over the woman in the street,
The man sleeps in his chamber
The woman sleeps alone.
(from Ishtar’s Descent into Hades, An Assyrian Ritual Poem)

After you abandon us
for the land
of the dead,

do not expect us
to continue
as usual.

The knot
means little
until unraveled.

Neither man
nor beast embrace
in your absence.

Our desire has seeped
from your departing

We bellow and moan,
but cannot say

We miss
the smudge of you
in the carbon

on votive-glass.
Will you return
on your own,

or do you need
rescuing? Advise us
so that we may

We will risk
the bigger gods

to lift our need
of you
on quivering palms.

I meant
to go back,
but found

that once I had shed
crown, ornament,
and breech-clout,

and stood naked
before Ereshkigal,
the darkness comforted.

I did not mind
the maladies
waiting to go forth,

the quiet shimmer
of piled bones.
It is not that I forgot

the living
with their frantic
getting and begetting,

but rather they hung
above me like fruit
still on the tree,

like the sun
in haze.
They seemed fine

as they were, like spray
at the lip of a waterfall.


All This Time You’ve Been Speaking; I Never Knew
a collaboration with Jeff Whitney

Evening unfolds its immense question, the stars
deep in a quarry where somebody plummets.

Every story catches up to its conclusion.
Every overtone sours, grinding like teeth.

An entire plane lost to a mountain, what
conversation should we have with mercy?

Lower, ants roil a million apostrophes,
careless as spilled seed, dark as new moons.

Fire takes a distant hill. A magician’s final act
is to submerge, even his exhale cloaked.

Midwinter, I come upon a dead sparrow.
I call it flinch, corpse compelling as a relic.

I seek a religion that doesn’t bruise,
scarring my private wonder. The dead

walk one way and I another, repeating
a prayer of a single word, God, as in disgust

or orgasm. When things bleed together,
even rocks drown. Fence posts scud like clouds,

the earth rises. I lie on my back, fingers roots,
body a cairn. I await weathering, the slow

crumble. I have to name names, or they are lost
from the world. Even so, they are lost.


Devotion’s Weight

Like a female mantid, he has taken
his lovers’ heads

clean off and now lies surfeited
on no field,

but a silken blankness, unwrinkled,
all lids down.

A depleted god, his penis brumates
along his alabaster

thigh. He awaits new worshippers’
lit censers to fire

him from indolence. Already one
approaches, fingertips

reaching. How wearying to be
so adored, heavy head

hoisting upright, skin shivering
as new hands find him.

(after Mimmo Paladino, 1983)


Estancia al Sur I

The snowy egrets pass, one after the other,
towards someplace unseen, ignoring the bristle
of satellite towers and human habitation.
Each time I point out their elegance, they blur.
Isn’t that like a gringo, a gringa condemns,
thinking herself a swan. The city suffers
from success, history crusting the weeping
sores of high-end boutiques. Hiding from need,
I pretend not to see the beggar women
sheltering in doorways. They do the same,
rattling coins at my shoes, rebozos veiling
their faces. My parents have become old,
and I hard. We jostle each other, the world
narrowed to a single rutted road. My son,
I hope, isn’t watching, forming a template
for the future as he screws in a new blade.
Half the battle is remaining upright,
stumbling from shade to shade.
I am both here and elsewhere, tugged
by wants. I go off the wagon and swig
down bitterness. Regrets await my return,
disgorged from the jet way.


Birthday of the Nation

The house-boards’ heart, the hearth, the brazier flush of ripening, the heavy-headed grass, stalks wind-swung sideways in July thunder, the pump handle’s skree-skree become the drummerboy’s muster, all leaning towards parade, towards the picnic blanket, the land a faithful hound, pressing against us, following with its eyes, knowing us good citizens unpredictable, hands prone to rapine, to blood, yet also tender in our begetting.

(after Willem de Kooning’s July 4th, 1957)



Devon Balwit teaches in Portland, OR. She has six chapbooks and two collections out, among them: We are Procession, Seismograph (Nixes Mate Books), Risk Being/Complicated (a collaboration with Canadian artist Lorette C. Luzajic); Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders); and Motes at Play in the Halls of Light (Kelsay Books). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Fifth Wednesday, the Aeolian Harp Folio, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River, The Free State Review, Red Paint Hill, and more. Email: devonbalwit[at]


Jeff Whitney is the author of five chapbooks, two of which were co-written with Philip Schaefer. His poems can be found in journals such as 32 Poems, Adroit, Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and Verse Daily.