David Southward – Three Poems


Dürer’s Self-Portrait at 26

He catches you in the act
of looking—
at the cleft fruit of his lips,

at the insidiously tangled
wavelets of
cornsilk hair cascading

to his shoulder. A silvery link
of rope
secures his cape, drawn taut

against the luminous hues
of lean flesh.
You think, here is a man

who knows what he wants,
who can face
the sun of his own pride

fearlessly. And isn’t that
a telltale mark
of genius? Never to blink,

squint, or look away
from the blaze
and lose oneself in shadows?

In Paradise with Jane Austen

The psycholinguists call them “garden paths”—
those awkward sites of ambiguity
in sentences, where meaning bifurcates
so wantonly it stops us in our tracks,
leaving us at a loss which way to take.

Jane Austen never does this. Her deft prose
conducts us on a solitary path
whose fragrant nooks and arbors are designed
to fill the senses as her discourse flows
toward some hidden clearing of the mind:

a landscape of intelligence to match
one’s deepest need; communion from which all
the nuisance of uncertainty is purged—
with every footstep measured, every hedge
articulated with uncommon love.

The Peeper

Drawing the curtains of my hotel room
to bask in the view of Green Lake,
I discover a cedar waxwing
at his after-bath ritual.

He has landed in the branches
of a crabapple shading my window,
and thinking himself secluded,
proceeds with his grooming.

The clockwise flicking of his fidgety head
as it strokes and inspects
a grey topcoat; the earnest combing
of June’s mites and floral
cinders from the saffron
silk of his breast—till it bristles
like the puffed hair of dandelions;
the sheer abandon with which he pokes
into each wing’s nether parts—
while I watch unobserved
behind soundproof glass—

reminds me how difficult it is
for nature to conceal her propriety.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty is a full moon over Lake Michigan, shrouded in smoky, backlit clouds and illuminating the rippled path of a sailboat. You can’t look away. It’s both exquisite and excruciating—causing the face to wince in the same way it would to express pain. And that’s what beauty is: pained gratitude for what can be endlessly contemplated yet never possessed. Even as it inflames our acquisitive, collector’s instincts, the beautiful eludes our grasp. It humbles us with wonder and desire. We despair of communicating all the ideas it sets in motion. But since silence is equally unbearable, we pick up the pen (brush, camera, stylus) and do what we can.

David Southward grew up in southwest Florida and earned degrees in English from Northwestern and Yale. He teaches literature, film, and comics in the Honors College at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He and his husband Geoff enjoy cooking, gardening, travel, and taking adventurous walks with their beagle, Sammy. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Lyric, Verse-Virtual, St. Sebastian Review, Measure, and Unsplendid.