What They Talked About and What They Said

John Ruff


Speaking for the world, which seldom knows exactly

     what it's talking about,

a disc jockey promised more hits and non-stop music

     to a man and a woman and their baby

driving on the first day of their vacation to a church.

Of course a funeral was the only thing they hadn't

     thought to pack for. 

And what they couldn't talk about?  What they'd say

     to the mother, whose boy

was the only one not to walk away without a scratch.

So they talked about the weather, the look of the clouds,

     the height of the corn,

if they were wrong to bring the baby, if the woman's skirt

     was right.  The road was

under construction, full of holes and heavy equipment.

"Teach me to operate one of those things," the woman

     said of a backhoe, "and

I'll bet I could handle anything, even this."  Just then

     in the windshield

the sky shorted out, flicking off then suddenly on—there

and gone whatever it was like the next unuttered word. 

     "An owl," the man said

when he had breath again to speak, and he spoke

     of its wingspan and its speed.

"Crow," said the woman, "not as big as it was black."

"And the speed," she said, "was ours."


De Chirico Shaving

John Ruff

In his old age De Chirico so admired

the paintings of his youth that he painted

new paintings of the old ones, smaller

De Chirico's of De Chirico's.

"May I quote you on that?" he would say

to the mirror, making bold flourishes

with his razor, sketching the air

in the manner of Marinetti.

And deep in his own eyes an empty piazza

appears, the colonnade stretching back,

etching bold shadows into which nothing

creeps, a precise nothing, diminishing

in the distance to a single black line.

The train waits, the clock is struck at three.

The lonely figures, minuscule stick people—

they too cast shadows in the empty piazza.

High above this Rome of his vision

death's tiny flag is flapping.

Says the ornamental cannon to the oversized

artichoke, "How do you do?  How do you do?"

To which the artichoke says nothing, merely

bristling in its armor, merely bristling.