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Stephen Kampa

Too Much Success

The blindfolded water diviner wandered
      confidently off a cliff and drowned.
Who can say he failed? He found the sea, so died
      succeeding too spectacularly,

much like the mad piano tuner certain
      he could tighten the wires of the sky,
who sizzled with success when struck by lightning
      while holding up his tuning fork, much

like the boy who built an apocalyptic
      slingshot and shot at a meadowlark
with such quick hands and such a sharpshooter’s eye,
      he had to hold it while he watched it

die. He learned success is that for which we most
      often atone. Sometimes I’m afraid,
or know, my heart would stop if I should end up
      holding the big half of the wishbone.

Overside Load

One sees that yellow banner
so often on the highway
one almost doesn’t see it:

there goes the semi pulling
airplane parts, concrete tubes,
bulldozers too dawdle-prone

to toddle on their own,
enormous tires (for what
possible conveyance?),

or worst of all, wealth
turned incontrovertible:
convertibles in rows

poised to be overpriced,
a swimming pool or whole
log cabin being carried

to some second estate,
another goddamned boat . . .
and mostly what one feels

is make-good-time frustration
as one tailgates the truck,
wondering why there isn’t

a better way to transport
something so slow. Imagine
what people must have felt—

I mean, how could they know?—
while they were stuck, for miles
at ten miles per, behind

the huge magnetic racetrack
traveling cross-country
to Fermilab: that whatsit

would one day disassemble
what only prodigies
had really understood

in the first place, it looked
fresh-crashed from outer space,
yet even once they knew—

standing beside the earnest
physicist who guarded it
there in the Costco lot

overnight, explaining
what it could do (in terms
so technical they seemed

like time machine instructions,
in sentences so precise
they sounded paragraphic)

and why the doing mattered—
for them, those long-delayed
and long-dismayed drivers,

it had meant less the end
of universal truths
and more a snag in traffic.

Stephen Kampa is the author of four collections of poetry: Cracks in the Invisible (2011), Bachelor Pad (2014), Articulate as Rain (2018), and World Too Loud to Hear (2023). His work has appeared in the Yale Review, Cincinnati Review, Southwest Review, Hopkins Review, Poetry Northwest, Subtropics, and Smartish Pace. He was also included in Best American Poetry 2018 and Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic (2020).

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