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Gunshots in Another Language || Stuart Greenhouse

Gunshots in Another Language

(cf. Tarkovsky’s Stalker)



Richly decaying walls,

rich textured light through decaying still-thick muslin,

walls thick as a keep’s, thicker

than a man by three, their interiors entirely cratered

with expansive sepia blisters

as if celluloid had filmed everything, then burnt

away, clinging; even the river-ice-

thin door, its wood grain light under

the mottled crazing, looks over-recorded, a breathing derived

of something which itself was never alive.

Everywhere, even where no shadow settles, is shadow.

Three of us lonely, silence

and one backpack. Have to go.


It has been intimate, this abandon

to flight, this getting-to-know-you

zone around the zone

we’ve circled so quietly.

What waits there, past

the imbricate fence

the guards’ guns

duck and rise before as they stare

out the back of their barrack-trucks

at the evacuated buildings, one

of which we are crouching through, crepuscular

corpuscles of a breathless machine

dreaming sunlight? A gap

when they whisper, our opening.

Have to go.


Through walls diffuse and far lights

near-black our footsteps’ strokes strike

trees, puddles, fallen windows, boxes, cannot return

to tell us where the traps are, blank killing

spaces of crushing inward pressures.

What tools can do, they will do

to get us past: the rest is

How easy

words come here, where no words

have before, have no names

which know them yet. Only growth

remains: factories flooded

of meaning, railcars inert of it, trees burst

through roofs. What could we

have come for? What intent

to retrieve

when we can carry so little?


A kind of home at last, let us make picnic

of this house’s field, its anosmiac

flowers. The brown river flouts past

paths it won’t take, under a curtain of mist.

No sound escapes its periphery,

no names walk its edges, they’ve collapsed

to the bellies of bugs and a milkweed field

resolving out of the fog or the fog

out of it and the sun not yet

arriving is a shooting star retelling itself

burning itself away.

Nothing knows itself where its names

can do it for them. Let that can go, petrol

is useless here.


Look, the car, the overgrown

weeds and timothy—no, not through it:

weapons in the shapes of fingers

held to the light and

their men decaying

into birds’ nests, who

belonged to them? Over-machined

nuts tied to freshly-torn cloud-pale muslin

strips which flow like the wind they contour

when thrown will test for normal,

resistant ground. That’s where we can

walk, that’s where the crush inward

we can’t move through can’t hide. Past this sharp ridge

is where the camera never moves, and

neither does the muslin. Quick,


Just as it’s supposed to be

between us, around this puddle

central to this final room, this perimeter

the alien gravity nestles to, does not threaten.

Unbarred by light or wall, impenetrable to keeping,

the water drips, envelops each intrusion.

There’s always a new confusion

to be avoided, always the muddle

these ripplings make of our faces; always our waking

tomorrow to the same walls

everywhere and our lonely walk together

outside of them, along the exhausted river

still mysterious as the words it once was were,

behind the apartments, down by the ancient factories.



Stuart Greenhouse is the author of the chapbook “What Remains” (Poetry Society of America), and the recipient of a 2014 New Jersey State Council of the Arts grant. New poems are recently out in Denver Quarterly and Diagram.