the poetry that matters

Michael J. Opperman

Michael J. Opperman lives and work in Minneapolis.  His work has appeared in the Coe Review, New Hampshire Review, Maverick Magazine, Dislocate, and MARGIE Review.  He  was a finalist for the Marjorie J. Wilson Prize for Best Poem Contest and winner of the Academy of America Poets James Wright Prize for Poetry.

Parts 37 & 57

My father was a wishing machine,
An expandable system.  Composed
of “Beyond” Parts 2-34 and a new version
of the gears numbered 123-146.  The manufacturer
provided no warranty.

He attempted to act on revolutionary promises.  Never
were there dreams so dark.  We lived within
Lawrence Weiner’s conceptual work for years.  The vision
dropping in solid elegance to the bottoms of our stomachs,
plumb line by flint-stringed plumb line.

My father believed his son to be Parts 37 & 57, rusty from disuse.

Last year, my father’s father died – legless and diabetic.
From the estate, I acquired a box of letters
written near the Dutch Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair (1939). 

Dear Accumulation/Classification.  Followed by long paragraphs
expressing love and regret, signed
Sincerely, Decay. 
Next to postage stamps, a photograph
Of a wrist with a nickel-sized burn, healed to redolent darkness.
Another to My Beloved Gateway to Reverie.
Fondly, Your Servant.

I sealed them in a crate that I labeled Untitled Box with Night Sky and
stored them under my bed.
I didn’t attend the funeral, but I know from stories that my father and his brothers
carried the casket, delivering Parts 600-920 to a hole in the ground. 






Apple Tree


Guiltier than Russell.  Assigning p to the birch outside the house.  In the fall,

she told me, the leaves are like tiny flames.

Fp or Pf; it will happen every year.  & she will stand near the tree, point 'See.'

Fp.  More sound than valid, more true than beautiful.


The tree that acts every fall like logic, convincing me that she will fall asleep

beside me each night. 

Doubt & fealty kept at the gates by truth tables Full of Ts & Fs.  The birch

     dies despite (x)((Kx & (y)(Ky→y=x))&Wx).

She was angry. I was angry.  Even though. We fought in silence for two days,

fell asleep each night in a manner similar the days of the birch.


Found one compromise, but not another & considered planting an apple tree.






The Limits of the World




I am sleeping.  This failed town

my dream.  Branches crowd the streets, forgotten by a storm.

The sidewalks are empty. 


At docks, boats are covered in white like the dead.


Across the backdrop of darkness,

a waterspout whirls on the bay. Waves fill the harbor.


All the imagined day, we have been planting

rose bushes.  Working after the rain,

to beat the next downpour.


Soil under fingernails.  My back hurts.

You are angry.  Somewhere in a dream,

I know why.

You say,

your words are beautiful, but you walk

around them.  How to tell you

                I abandoned language years ago.


I find the dream of yellow

hanging in the folds of the green plant.

Hidden among the stems of Rosa rugosa. 


Imagining itself with faith in my mercy to leave it grow.

Color heaving into the clouded night.


I wonder how I will hide the yellow from you.

Then I am distracted again.


Lost through my forgetting, the sorrel


disappears.   Again there are only rose bushes.

Only soil under fingernails. 

The rain is coming again.


We are tiring.  Sparrows pause in midair.

Even the speed at which we rush away

from ourselves is slowed.





You are no longer angry.  Hovering above me

in the fraction-inch

                of unbreathable air lying upon my skin.


Our thighs struggle under sheets.  Only,

I realize you are thinking of something else.


my body grows lighter and lighter until,


slipping back,


I am outside the house.  Standing on the lawn

that will not grow.  Next to rose bushes

fresh in the ground.


This used to be lakebottom,

 you know.  Our neighbor moves from her house.

I am surprised she is more than shadow

playing against siding.


The soil is mostly sand. 

Has she been watching us all day?  Her eyes

move quick as watch parts. 


Talking   talking.  I can’t catch everything.


She tells me about a film

in which parents shove their children

into the middle of traffic.  I would never


do something like that.

By her saying it,

I know she would.  That she dreams about it.


Suddenly, like the yellow wood sorrel, she is gone.

I am remembered back.


You are sleeping.  Watching the movement

                beneath your eyelids,


the trembling at the smell of a ragdoll

lost in a drainage ditch,  I know you


believe you’re holding my head as you press


your hands together.  I have my cup and a magazine

                at the edge of the bed.  Forgotten


into and out of


the world of our neighbor, explosions

                of yellow.


From the bed, I see all that is left of the day.

A bright bone


lopsided in the sky.

A bulb exposed by a flap

of night cloth torn near the seam.


Swinging     swinging


on a frayed cord.  In the moments

before waking, I am unable

to swim out through that messed stitch.





On the other side,

monarchs, pinned dead and dried to cardboard,

wrench themselves, steel rod

in soft belly and wing off into sun.


I hold brilliantly still, watching through

that opening.

I am awakened by a heartbeat.


A sparrow


the size of my fist


hurls itself against the skylight

until nothing remains but the memory of flight.


I am broken unto morning.  I wonder

where do my nights go?


When did you wake and go into the kitchen?

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