Frank Paino: Three Poems
Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher, Poetry Editor
Where There’s Smoke
Smoke means the way you looked the last time I ever saw you, back pressed against the scuffed bridge rail, bare-chested above the Bay’s ragged thunder, scars so bright it seemed you were already burning. Smoke means a rabbit might flee or set itself in stone, means white semaphores of deer tails, cicadas buried beneath root and soil waiting out the lightless years before their single season of song. Smoke means cinders adrift in the shifting breeze, means a far-off fountain that gabbles its wet hymn of before we were born. Smoke means the right words will always fall stillborn. Where there’s smoke something is vanished. Where there’s smoke I’ll always see you stepping through the dew-grass that final late-October morning while our hemisphere tilted toward a longer dark. Then gasoline. Then lighter. Then you in your shirt of flames.
Sometimes, a twin dies in utero and the survivor may
be diagnosed, later in life, with a teratoma that contains
hair, teeth, or other fetal tissue from the “vanished twin.”
It’s true no one can disappear
into the belly of a whale and be spat back,
three days of breach and deep-blue wake
down the rocky coast but none the worse for it.
So too, a boy who is swallowed,
slow as marsh mud or a southern tongue,
by the brother who once kicked strong
beside him in a starless, thrumming sea.
To be so small is to be a vanished thing,
though sometimes a body refuses
the grace to acquiesce,
takes what little it has gathered as its own
and coils inside the stronger half:
sometimes a hank of auburn hair,
a single bony plate
that would have fringed the fontanel,
or the red rumor of a mouth
that might have kissed, been kissed,
little more than a snarl
of ravenous teeth, hell-bent on revenge.
After the First Bite
deep as her desire
Eve saw the garden
in both bloom and wither,
the lion’s teeth still bright
but tinged with gore.
After the first bite
she tore that soft flesh
until the scythes
of her teeth cut to the core
and the quick rush
of all she knew began to sing
through her thick blue veins.
Then she rose
as any good mother,
any good saviour
would, to share all she had
come to understand
with the sullen man
lying coiled in the tall grass
the scar in his side.
After his first bite,
which was likewise his last,
his eyes also were opened,
though he turned from her
when branches broke
beneath judgment’s thunderous
footfall, stabbed his finger
toward the nib of her glistening chin
as he slouched into the leaves
with the rumour of their falling,
embraced the awful legacy
of what he knew he’d started
when he took the gift,
then laid the blame.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Paino holds a BA in English from Baldwin Wallace University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Vermont College low-residency writing program. His poems have appeared in a variety of literary publications, including: Crab Orchard Review, Catamaran, North American Review, World Literature Today, Gettysburg Review, Prairie Schooner, The Briar Cliff Review, Lake Effect and the anthologies, The Face of Poetry, Poets for Life and (upcoming from The University of Arizona Press in 2020) Beyond Earth’s Edge: The Poetry of Spaceflight. Frank’s first two volumes of poetry were published by Cleveland State University Press: The Rapture of Matter (1991) and Out of Eden (1997). He has received a number of awards for his work, including a 2016 Individual Excellence Award from The Ohio Arts Council, a Pushcart Prize and The Cleveland Arts Prize in Literature. His third book, Obscura, was just published by Orison Books.