Ghazals for Jim Foley: Two Poems

What Comes Home

“Were you free then all along, Jim, free at last….” Adrienne Rich, from Ghazals:  Homage to Ghalib (1968)

The vanishing point where your bodies appear,
A desert horizon where nothing but light comes

Into being.  I sit with two letters, one from a
Journalist and another from a soldier, overcome

With the heat and the violence. “We killed 137 people 
And a dog,” B writes, “all but the dog had it coming

To them.”  From Jim:  “A picture is a way to structure suffering
You cannot capture it but you can keep reality from coming

Apart.”  Last night on the South Side I saw a body slumped
In the back seat of a police car as two cops waved the oncoming 

Traffic to pass on by.  I let the scene pass.  The horizon
Where I see both your hands aiming a camera and a gun comes

To almost seem identical:  bodies fall into line, seized 
By acts of capture.  I move on in ways so unencumbered

By the weights of your discoveries. Jim, I do not
Know where you body is buried.  I cannot come 

To terms with this. In the same way I cannot unsee B drive 
The aimless hours into the dark:  bodies that cannot come

Home. I hold your two letters the way I hold my two 
Countries in my heart:  what we must and will never overcome.  

On Grace

It’s from a 90s flick, this black, graceful 
Bag blowing all grande jete to arabesque among 

The blunt rush of cars, breathing with the grace
Of a beggar, or the dry, October leaves 

Swept from their branches, even as the graceful
First flakes of snow still lay behind a blue weight

Of sky.  I get why we are asked to love the graceful 
Lung-soft stretches of plastic: they are accidents

Of beauty, metaphors for the excess of feeling that grace 
Our days:  the chance encounter, a stranger filling their

Mouth with your own, the fall between steps, the ungraced 
way we find ourselves suddenly lost and yet asked, by no one, 

To speak, turn, and dance, as if grace 
Is just a performance to make others feel whole: 

Our silence as a dead friend gracelessly
Ages through dozens of lonely afternoons,

Blown between cars, behind chairs, saying grace
At quickly eaten dinners, the failure of winter 

light to cheat cold of its bite:  we drift, blown by the wind in the grace
Of our own making, lit from within, weightless and un-ending.

Benjamin Balthaser is associate professor of multi-ethnic US literature at Indiana University, South Bend. His poetry collection on Jewish victims of the Red Scare, Dedication, appeared from Partisan Press in 2011, and his monograph, Anti-Imperialist Modernism, appeared from University of Michigan Press in 2016. His critical and creative work has also appeared in journals such as Massachusetts Review, Minnesota Review, Boston Review, and elsewhere. He and Jim Foley (to whom his poems in this issue are dedicated) were classmates at the UMass-Amherst MFA program from 1999 to 2002.