Colby Gates

3 Poems

A Poem in Which No God Appears

I tell him about the swans that have appeared at the lake—

stretch of neck, sound of flight.


He says: they are not swans. They are geese.


He puts four of his fingers in my mouth & pulls so hard I think my jaw might break.

He closes his other hand around my neck, pins me with his weight.


He says: why are you so stupid?


The birds at the lake have slender necks

& when they take flight they sound

like broken trumpets.

Body as Pawn

A man chooses my body

from the grid of headless torsos

on his glowing device.


I’ll give him my body

for an hour. He’ll tell me I seem      different.

Every man does.


If there is a god in this machine,

I have been praying to her

for a while. In my mind there are only heroines now.


My father was a welder. I watched him gather metal with light.

He told me his work would blind me.

That is what his dark mask was for.

Move toward your anxiety is the only good piece of advice

my father gave me. Anxiety—

I am always moving toward something. Don’t let me


lie to you; I sometimes stay in one place hours

immoveable     a fixed body    an attempt at fixing.

Lean into my life:


a pair of common house sparrows built a nest in the eave

outside of my apartment door. They eye me.

This isn’t the first time living things have been suspicious. When I was


young— my father put his welding equipment into pawn

for money we needed and didn’t have. He explained

that process, a kind of lien.


Remember that we have to come back

in three weeks. I didn’t remember. The day came

when everything was irretrievable. Father: I inherited


(your charm, the deep lines between your eyebrows,

your ability to survive. Nothing)

a kind of blindness— the hazard of observing.


The sound of the brood in the nest is a sound of helplessness.

I do not have to see to know that bodies are fixed.

I learn my body is an object I can pawn


for a means of existing. I put my body in the hands of a man

I cannot see clearly unless he leans in—



Madonna and Child


I took my mother to see the saint who appeared

as a stalagmite of ice in the frozen food section

of a grocery store in Morton, Texas.

We drove only thirty miles

to see the saint— some traveled millions.

How lucky to be so close to miracles.

We waited in a long line.

A woman showed us pictures

she took on an airplane—

I wanted to get the clouds, she said,

but if you look close you can see angels.

There were angels in the photos.

Or the flash from her disposable camera

and her face reflected in the fingerprinted airplane window.

Either way, her husband saw the angels and quit drinking.

A miracle, my mother said,

how lucky to be so close.

We took a picture of the saint, frozen

among popsicles and breakfast sausage. People prayed

or left letters, a woman declared the cancer gone from her body.

In the car, my mother asked if I saw angels in the photographs.

No, I said.

She looked out the passenger window.

There is nothing wrong, she said, to be close—

to see miracles in a camera flash, a cone of ice.