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David Mihalyov lives near Lake Ontario in Webster, NY, with his wife, two daughters, and beagle. His poems and short fiction have appeared in the Concho River Review, Dunes Review, Free State Review, New Plains Review, San Pedro River Review, and other journals. He works at SUNY Brockport, where he received his BA in Communications and MA in English, and volunteers at Writers & Books, a literary arts center based in Rochester.
Mihalyov paints a haunted canvas with great restraint– “The first morning, a dead porcupine / on the side of the road.” In these poems, the water whispers, a lone goose screams. A couple wishes they believed in something greater to quell the panic. This poet is too aware of a hollow-backed, long-tailed thing slipping into the creek beside him to stare at the sky for answers. A Safe Distance is a thrilling debut. ~Barrett Warner
What I admire in Maxine Kumin’s poems I find in abundance in David Mihalyov’s A Safe Distance: an intimate observance of seemingly ordinary things rendered into arresting lyrics. “Burrow[ing] deeper” beneath suburban routines we may assume we know or dismiss outright, these are instructive poems of great tenderness−toward aged parents whose failings the narrator yearns to forgive; toward a soft-bellied crab stranded on rocks; toward farm boys reinvented as World War II’s killing machines; and, perhaps, even the commuter who passes by a “cut-rate Jesus . . . holding a cardboard sign telling us he was a vet, homeless and hungry.” I am grateful for poems that do not overreach, and within that circumference of rare authenticity, achieve an exquisite humaneness. A Safe Distance is such a collection. ~Alison Meyers
I dig deep, plough the land with my arms
and breathe great lung-fulls of earth.
Peat, dirt, soil, clay, loam, sand;
I move through it all with ease.
Earthworms move aside.
Shale and pits, limestone and grit,
wisps of decaying roots
are but cobwebs to sweep away.
My father’s bones rattle
in recognition, and his father’s,
and so on, but bones have no voice,
cannot tell me secrets they have learned.
Lower still, a quiet place
that squeezes, folds
me into submission.
As I burrow deeper,
what made us human is lost.
Garbage and poisons gather
and the aftertaste is sour.
Underfoot is where I will end,
bones or ash, compost of sorts,
mixing with the remains
of those who dug before.
Sunrise above the cloud line, airplane taking
me away. Winter below, overcast skies and
skeletal trees. Last summer,
as we walked the cobblestones
of old town, a man stood on a box,
haranguing me as we passed: Look out, mister, the salvation bus is coming. Get on board or go to hell.
The plane wobbles, bringing
the fasten seat belt sign.
The head on the man in front of me looks
like a topographical map and I fight
the urge to reach and allow
my fingers to feel the furrows.
The window reveals hills
laid bare by strip mining.
The weak sun
moves around the clouds,
searching for something to rest upon
that would cast a shadow.
Finding nothing, it moves on.
Finding nothing, we all move on.
2 a.m. and Steely Dan hovers
in the background, the perfect
soundtrack to one drink too many.
A beauty sits at the bar, indifferent
all night to the stream of men
who approached to see if just maybe . . .
I take my shot and am met by bored eyes
that can’t bother to register a difference
between me and those who came before.
The bartender eyes her protectively—
I move away, swirl
my night’s final bourbon,
ice cubes mostly melted,
and think of why I’m here.
I picture you, and how
this neon oasis beckons
to those of us traveling through
desert country not everyone can see.
There’s So Much for Me to Learn
Your shovel and your scythe, your prayer
book and your tithe.
All the boys will remember you.
Muscle cars humping,
waiting for the clutch’s release,
they’ll race down the street in your name.
Something drove you away.
I’ll pass sidewalk sales and food trucks,
pennants to honor your existence.
Spirited speeches shouted
from a make-shift stage,
a proclamation applauded by all.
I say confetti, but fear
we have no buildings tall enough
from which to toss.
Little girls will one day
dress like you for Halloween,
ask their mothers if they knew you.
I woke, and you were gone.
I don’t remember all I said
but some words must have hurt.