The Rock Balancer

David Yezzi

Dead still, as if breathing with the rock,
he holds a boulder in his grit-flecked hands.
He tilts it to its base of smaller stones,
rotating it minutely back and forth,until he feels it grab, or leap up, freed
of gravity by keeping faithful to it,
an arabesque on pointe, antic inversion,
a chair poised on an acrobat’s raised chin,or climber taking slack above a vale.
Harsh granite makes a harmony with air.
Most days the cairns survey the beach alone,
a stark coast guard outfacing a cold sea,but today he’s with them, kneeling on the sand,
their maker, Ben Gunn-bearded, driftwood boned.
He rents a room near here. By afternoon,
save for the odd seabird, they’ll keep their ownmute company, the big-heads, standing out
in a steady drizzle, as across the street
the cafés cover tables in blue tarps
and the tide draws off the shore as they look on.

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David Yezzi’s books of poems include Birds of the Air (Carnegie Mellon, 2013), Azores, and The Hidden Model. He is the editor of The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets. A former director of the Unterberg Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York, he is chair of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins and editor of The Hopkins Review.

David Yezzi’s fourth book of poems considers what it’s like, during times of roiling change, to feel like a stranger on one’s own street and in one’s own country. This uprooting is partly geographic, partly psychic: what was familiar has become as foreign as the fabled Black Sea (the site of the Roman poet Ovid’s exile). The emotional pressure of this dislocation pushes his poems into lyric fragments and mordant humor. Home, once a comfort, now hides a threat.

“I have loved David Yezzi’s work for years, both the dramatic subtlety of his narrative poems and the cold fire of his lyrics. Black Sea builds on, and refines, both impulses. Everywhere it evinces the kind of energy that can happen when an ancient art is enlivened by a thoroughly modern mind.”
—Christian Wiman

“David Yezzi has a good ear for crass vernacular, and a good eye for danger lurking in the commonplace. At its best, his snappy metrical verse castigates pretension. But he’s also an artist of tart melancholia and tenderness. His ‘Keats in Louisville’ achieves real dignity in its understatement.”
—Rosanna Warren

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