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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 15: Sept. 2022
Sequence: Prose Poetry
4: 115 words
14: 118 words
15: 120 words
16: 114 words
17: 120 words
+ Poet’s Notes: 249 words
By Jonathan Yungkans

[A Quintet of Prose Poems]


Answering Neruda (4)
How do the oranges divide up
sunlight in the orange tree?

August blazed. My brother and I ran as kids through an orange grove near Redlands. Deep-green rows of trees stretched farther the more we ran. Fruit unreal as labels pasted to wooden crates. Labels

like those pinned and framed on walls inside Whittier’s Sunkist packing house, now an antique store. Something of fiery air and baked ground of that afternoon,

like a tree full of oranges at the end of my street. Christmas Day. Storm clouds more smoke than sky. The oranges, too high to reach, almost glow. First raindrops pock the sidewalk like pores in a citrus peel.



Answering Neruda (14)
What will your disintegrated bones do,
search once more for your form?

Tree roots cross one another like memories, deep and wide. Fungi in soil nurtures roots to take water and nutrients. To let trunk rise, limbs stretch. Like wrapping myself in a comforter from a closet shelf, not from night turning cool but to keep from screaming. Room a bottomless pool and my never having been a strong swimmer. Deep-green knife-edged leaves catch the eye. The clicking, popping language of ravens perched and gossiping likewise the ear. Hints. Accusations. Nevermores. What holds the heart between topsoil and pages of shale? To grow amid disintegration? For dust to reach for sunlight, air?



Answering Neruda (15)
What did the tree learn from the earth
to be able to talk with the sky?

A friend is researching this from beyond the grave, taking in the sunlight and wishing someone would place a bench above him to enjoy the fresh air and paint or sketch together. As an artist, he feels strongly about California Oaks tracing patterns on blue paper, letting imagination go cumulous or stratus, depending on mood or wind. Van Gogh, with his ear for cerulean tree roots growing along roadsides, may encourage my friend to be more vibrant with his hues. To taste the August heat without a spoon. A diatribe forms black outlines but there are also tubes of aquamarine.



Answering Neruda (16)
Do you not also sense danger
in the sea’s laughter?

Portuguese Bend kept slipping through childhood toward Hawaii from the Palos Verdes Peninsula. And part of San Pedro really had a good time when the ground took a deep breath and went swimming. Streetcar bells clanged. Rails beneath turned on dimes and prayers. Houses divorced. Walls went to live separate lives. On the rock beach below, someone painted a black background onto a square of cement sidewalk that had run away from home and added the pink outline of a heart. Isolated near a tide pool, it reminded me of parking at the Bend before dawn, listening for something unknown.



Answering Neruda (17)
Yesterday, yesterday, I asked my eyes
when will we ever see each other again?

There’s only so much road to view in the mirror before that first cup of coffee. A hundred years’ worth of ghosts sleep and wander in this rooming house, not to mention the loaded lifeboat I drag to the table. Or is it a U-Haul? One ghost keeps dropping pennies into sight, reminding me that I’m not alone, to be careful lowering raw eggs into boiling water. Twelve minutes and an ice bath for the eggs. That and two slices of 12-grain toast. Don’t chew on reflections so much that the world implodes and floats away—just enough to swallow.




Epigraphs are from The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda (copyrighted 1974), translated by William O’Daly (copyrighted 1991), and published by Copper Canyon Press (2001):

1. From Poem XIII (13).

2. From Poem XXXVI (36).

3. From Poem XLI (41).

4. From Poem XXXIX (39).

5. From Poem XXII (22).

Poet’s Notes

Maybe these needed to be prose poems all along. “Answering Neruda” started as a series of poems based on William O’Daly’s translation of The Book of Questions (Copper Canyon Press, 2001), after I had read Whittier poet Terri Niccum’s “Poem Beginning with a Question from Neruda” in her chapbook Dead Letter Box (Moon Tide Press, 2019). Even with a couple of my efforts published, the series seemed extremely hit-and-miss, so I set it aside.

I had wanted to write prose poems for some time, thanks in part to writing creative non-fiction under Lisa Glatt during my final semester at Cal State Long Beach. The combination of extreme economy (the body of each poem contains 100 words) and extreme freedom in conception works much better in this format. This, along with the initial prod from Niccum’s poem, made for a happy marriage. I am glad the offspring turned out as well as they did.

The questions Neruda poses are technically unanswerable but encourage thought and discourse. My responses are meant in the same spirit. In their associative leaps, they also take a cue from Robert Bly; and, in their grounding in nature, from Charles Wright (a crossover from the initial poems). My proximity to Turnbull Canyon in the Whittier hills and the subsequent encroachment of its population also had their say. These “answers” alternate from meandering like coyotes on their twilight forage to the more precise tactics of hawks by day or owls by night.

Jonathan Yungkans
Issue 15, September 2022

is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer with an MFA from California State University, Long Beach. His work has appeared in San Pedro Poetry Review, Synkroniciti, West Texas Literary Review, Gleam: Journal of the Cadralor, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and other publications. His second poetry chapbook, Beneath a Glazed Shimmer, won the 2019 Clockwise Chapbook Prize and was published in February 2021 by Tebor Bach.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Le Grand Matin by Jonathan Yungkans, a Finalist in MacQ’s Triple-Q Writing Challenge (Issue 11, January 2022)

La Porte by Yungkans in MacQ’s special Christmas Eve issue (10X, December 2021)

Two Duplex Poems, plus author’s notes on the poems and on the form, by Yungkans in Issue 10 of MacQ (October 2021)

Lawful and Proper, poem in Rise Up Review (Fall 2020)

Cadralor in the Key of F-Sharp as It Cuts into My Spine, in the inaugural issue of Gleam (Fall 2020)

I’d Love to Cook Like Hannibal Lecter [video], read by the poet at an event sponsored by Moon Tide Press (10 October 2019) celebrating the anthology Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror

Saving the Patient, poem in The Voices Project (18 January 2018)


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