Young woman sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking water.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in Bachy #6.

Like jumping
for the first time

off the high dive at the pool
when she was six,

she finally just closed her eyes
and hopped,

sitting down in the air
knees bent

one hand trailing loose
above her head

the other hand
pinching her nose.

I later recalled
with a startled grimace

how cruel it seemed
that her puffed cheeks

held on so fiercely
to the last breath.



A bearded man in profile blowing out cigarette smoke, showing only his mouth and chin.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in Quarry #4 1974.

While fishing in Harry Strunk Lake,
Dean McQuiety reeled in a foot
and then an arm with hand attached.
The detective said and I quote,
Murder is no mystery only the motive.
The stores in McCook have sold out of handguns,
and after church there is talk.
Packed away in someone’s freezer
are the heads of that missing couple.
The devil loves a good mystery.
He is sitting up all night in Culbertson,
behind a hundred bolted doors,
and at a truckstop outside Kearney
he is waiting for the next bus,
inhaling cigarettes like rations of air.



Photograph of the sun setting over a ridge on the far side of a body of water, with autumn-colors among the trees in the foreground. Photographer: David Dayton.
An earlier version of this poem appeared in The New York Quarterly, #25, 1979.

Spreading a stain of ripe mango
The sun dissolves among plum-colored clouds

We have come out again to watch
And talk quietly or not at all
Grateful, taking solace

Like a last thought before sleep
A dove homes toward the glowing rim
Dragging a blue sheet
That turns black when no one is looking



Black and white image of a rose without stem casting a shadow
Photo from the cover of A Roseliep Retrospective (Alembic Press, 1980), edited by David Dayton

bark chip flipped over
aha! sowbugs conspiring
and nowhere to run

bees bounce off
my lily-white sneakers
blooming in clover

a swallow swoops close
my eyes crash land in a ditch
heap of feathers, ash

Sobi-Shi at dusk
holds fireflies in a jar
waits for the moonrise

Ray’s eyes graze poems
watching a mosquito dance
the cat in his lap

he trims his toenails
stares at his foot in profile
such sensuous curves

full moon, Sobi-Shi
pointed brush over white paper
black ink tracing light



Young bearded man sitting on slanted rock jutting into the sea
A previous version of this poem was published in the Southern Poetry Review, v19n2, Autumn 1979.

Even as you are making up something
To tell her (to make it right),
Part of you is itching to get lost —

Find your island,
A rock on the cliff above the beach
Cut off from the lights of cars

And the starry eyes of couples
Passing as single shadows. As a child
You’d retreat to the hall closet,

Sit Indian-style under the coats,
Beside the vacuum cleaner and boots,
Making plans: working things out

Neat as a geometric proof,
Then, listening to the fall of dust,
Go woolgathering in the mothball dark —

No one to call your name
Or with the gravity of a stare pull you back,
The door you thought locked, flung open.



David Dayton

See Here, you’ll find draft chapters of a memoir and poems I’ll select from to publish a book later this year.