Late Summer

Late Summer


Afternoons languish like untensed muscles,

like a mind gone slack peering into a screen,

whole days awash in faint light, feint wind,

cloudless blue of old paint, dust-covered.

Time lowers down in the dry grass,

crunches under foot, whispering

softly to mask the speed of its passing. 

A crackling hush, a hushed absence.


Warm dry months stretch ahead like waves

glimmering ghostly above the ground, 

ocean of air, streaked window of the future.

Tonight’s moon is a waning gibbous,

ever-fading, ever-seeming to retreat.

Orbits break, patterns vanish like ash in water, 

vastness and sorrow, oceans of summer,

most ships safely reaching port.


Late summer days scatter like money

after a bubble implodes, stunned people

who thought it would last forever

scramble for all their pockets will hold.

The ship of living sails the ocean of time,

some of us dreaming close to the prow,

others below deck, clutching our bags.

Late summer, as though it has already died.


Mostly we lived in great seclusion, far from

events and people of worldly importance.

When the rains finally came, we soaked up

all we could, we mirrored the leaves,

turning our insides up, downsides out, 

stretching through multiple contortions

to nourish our blanched bodies, dry roots,

water, seclusion, turbulent screens of cloud.


We pretended to be sleepwalkers, romantics,

anarchists, realists, anything but what we were,

which we never determined, moving about

with eyes closed and hands at our sides,

hoping to feel something without reaching for it.

Money was the great mystery of our days,

which people gave us freely until they realized

we had no way or plan to give it back.


Every summer unreels like another childhood,

terrors of whispered-about corridors,

passageways through shrouded woodland trails,

night hovering within midday shadows,

undersides of leaves, stones, unfound doors.

Always some haunted tale awaiting the children,

doors into darkness locked behind them.

Somewhere out there an ocean, a wave cresting.


Somewhere awaits a shore, a homeland,

ships have been sailing toward it 

for centuries, guided by tremulous captains,

steering their crews within sight of land,

before twists and turns of fate drive them

back out to sea, cruel fate, indifferent hand.

The long fingers of summer evenings close

around the wan throats of summer days. 

Jesse Graves

Jesse Graves is the Poet-in-Residence and Professor of English at East Tennessee State University. He was awarded the 2015 James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the 2014 Phillip H. Freund Award in Creative Writing from Cornell University. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in issues of Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Carolina Quarterly, Southern Cultures, andThe Missouri Review. Graves’ first poetry collection, Tennessee Landscape with Blighted Pine, was published in 2011, and was awarded the Weatherford Award in Poetry from Berea College, and the Book of the Year Award in Poetry from the Appalachian Writers’ Association. He is the co-editor of three volumes of The Southern Poetry Anthology, and of the forthcoming Complete Poems of James Agee. Basin Ghosts, his second book of poems, was released in spring of 2014, and received the Weatherford Award for Poetry that year. His third collection of poems, Specter Mountain, co-authored with William Wright, was published by Mercer University Press in 2018; and his fourth collection, Merciful Days, was released in 2020. Graves holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee.

NOVUS Literary and Arts Journal
Lebanon, TN