Stephen Roger Powers

Pretending We Live at Highclere Castle, Where Downton Abbey Is Filmed

My eyes can’t stay open anymore, let’s say.
In this game it’ll just be pretend. Climb up these stairs with me
and call down goodnight to the other tourists in the foyer,
never mind what they might think of us.
Hampshire is full of poseurs who write their own chronicles,
and for now this house is ours.

Evening has ended, imagine, and a few from our modest dinner
soiree might linger for a while after we’ve gone up
to retire. Attendants will have spread our bedclothes out
for us. Water basins stand arranged. Ixion couldn’t have sought
this more completely, you know. Leave me
in the corner with my Latakia for a quarter
hour while you get ready, and when you come out
I will have bluebells crowning
the trunk at the foot of the bed.
Lausanne will be waiting for our arrival
in the morning, like all the other cities
we dream of. Youngberries in a china bowl
next to a bottle of champagne, for midnight, beg
to be eaten one by one, sweeter
by hand, in the dark. One-horse carriages pass by
on a dirt road, their lanterns reflecting in the mirror
above the fireplace. Unbolt the door and let in
the hall breeze when the candlelight gets too airless.

Masquerades such as these end at the top
of the stairs, where we pretenders must turn back because
the sleeping suites are closed to visitors today.
And so now here we are. Rhododendrons
grow more colorful when you pronounce
them rhodendenrods. Right down this gravel pathway
we can find a park with enough for the taking.
Yellowhammers have beaten us there. Marzipan shared
from a rucksack-tattered box is plenty for both of us.
Extravagance like this worries me that your gentle
breathing will tickle my shoulder just one night,
and that’s all there is.

The Sunless Bottom of a Blue Hole

Some days I imagine
myself a freediving
champion who leaves
her husband
at their connecting
gate and carries
on alone to the baggage
claim, where she finds her
old friend by himself
in the bar with a double
Ancient Age on the rocks,
and her face blanches
like a cloudburst.
Before she touches him
and says “Hello, old friend,”
she stands by the service
rails, holds her breath
for five minutes
like she’s been trained,
ears pulsing
with remembered pressure
in darkness, where
oceanic whitetip sharks
circled at the cusp
of a black-out, and,
while staring at the back
of her old friend’s
broad-shouldered,
blood-spatter-on-the-collar
brown leather jacket,
she decides, after confirming
the long stagnant
line back through
security, that she will miss
the flight to Nice
because her husband—
her trainer
who coached her
166-meter record—
is lately pushing
her to go
just a little
too deep.

Viewing Platform at Horton Pond on Jekyll Island

My black Pomeranian, a clockwise
hurricane of excitement,

stalls on the planks above
an alligator’s olive-pit eyes.

Terrapin noses break the pond
surface. Fish comets thread

crescent tails below orbit ripples.
The alligator sinks and kicks away,

soon unseen, but no dog would deny
it was still there watching and waiting.

First-time visitors believe
Jekyll’s beaches are dirty.

They post complaints online
as if that will clean the ocean.

It isn’t worth explaining tannins
stain marsh drainage like tea,

because first perceptions prefer
brown water be dangerous.

Some argue prayer will fix
the genetic breakdown in my ears

that barricades the cries,
the murbles, the skitter-skitters,

the thrums, the cuck-a-cuck-a-cucks
from arriving at my brain.

I am grateful a honed extra sense
stenographs them onto my nerves.

Years ago in a Munich subway car,
a woman in love with New York

touched my ears to heal them.
She disembarked testifying she created

a miracle. Could I have convinced her
the real magic was her fingers

were incapable of pressing deeper?
I offer fresh water in a bottle cap,

but my black Pomeranian licks my wrist.
That’s all the prayer I need.