I sit by the window and watch a great mythological bird go down in flames. In fact, it’s a kite the neighborhood troublemaker has set on fire. Twenty-one and still living at home, deciding when to cut through a screen and chop us into little pieces. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” his mother would say, as they packed our parts into black antiseptic body bags. I explain this possibility to the garbage men. I’m trying to make friends with them, unable to understand why they leave our empty cans in the middle of the driveway, then laugh as they walk away. One says, “Another name for moving air is wind, and shade is just a very large shadow”—perhaps a nice way to make me feel less eclipsed. It’s not working, it’s not working. I’m scared for children yet to be abducted, scared for the pregnant woman raped at knife point on the New Jersey Turnpike, scared for what violence does to one’s life, how it squats inside the hollow heart like a dead cricket. My son and his friends found a dead cricket, coffined it in a plastic Easter egg and buried it in the backyard. It was a kind of time capsule, they explained—a surprise for some future boy archeologist, someone much happier than us, who will live during a time when trees don’t look so depressed, and birds and dogs don’t chatter and growl like the chorus in an undiscovered Greek tragedy.
Evening: the nervous suburbs levitate.
Height does us no harm, now we are high above the mineral pools,
above the flash hotel whose only use is treachery.
Someone knocks on a door and you crouch behind the bed.
Down in the bar, the small girls toast their parents,
the brother breaks a large bone for its marrow.
I’m thinking of a challenge for us all. The star in the sky
has traveled all the way from home. Now follow that!
It’s so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I’ve done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers’ breath.
But instead of resting, I’d smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I’m not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything’s fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I’m driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I’ve got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I’ll be home by dawn.
Was with the pudgy hands of a thirteen-year-old
that I took the marble of his head
just barely balanced on his reedy neck
and with the brute tutelage
of years fighting the neighbor kids
and too the lightning of my father’s
stiff palm I leaned the boy’s head
full force into the rattly pane of glass
on the school bus and did so with the eagle of justice
screaming in my ear as he always does
for the irate and stupid I made the window sing
and bend and the skinny boy too
whose eyes grew to lakes lit by mortar fire
bleating with his glasses crooked
I’m not an animal walking in place
on the green vinyl seat looking far away
and me watching him and probably almost smiling
at the song and dance I made of the weak
and skinny boy who towering above me
became even smaller and bizarre and birdlike
pinned and beating his wings frantically
against his cage and me probably
almost smiling as is the way of the stupid
and cruel watching the weak and small
and innocent not getting away.
Because I have come to the fence at night,
the horses arrive also from their ancient stable.
They let me stroke their long faces, and I note
in the light of the now-merging moon
how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been
by shake-guttered raindrops
spotted around their rumps and thus made
Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.
Maybe because it is night, they are nervous,
or maybe because they too sense
what they have become, they seem
to be waiting for me to say something
to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here,
that they might awaken from this strange dream,
in which there are fences and stables and a man
who doesn’t know a single word they understand.
I skim sadness like fat off the surface
of cooling soup. Don’t care about
metaphor but wish it would arrive
me. There’s a cool current of air
this hot day I want to ride.
I have no lover, not even my love.
I have no other, not even I.
The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor’wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.
They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But ‘twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops’l, and stood by to go about.
All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.
We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So’s we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.
The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every ‘long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.
The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it’s just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard’s was the house where I was born.
O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother’s silver spectacles, my father’s silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.
And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.
They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
“All hands to loose topgallant sails,” I heard the captain call.
“By the Lord, she’ll never stand it,” our first mate Jackson, cried.
…”It’s the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,” he replied.
She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter’s day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.
And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.
I just saw two boys. One of them gets paid for distributing circulars and he throws it down the sewer. I said, Are you a Boy Scout? He said, no. The other one was. I have implicit faith in the Boy Scouts If you talk about it long enough you'll finally write it— If you get by the stage when nothing can make you write— If you don't die first I keep those bests that love has given me Nothing of them escapes— I have proved it proven once more in your eyes Go marry! your son will have blue eyes and still there'll be no answer you have not found a cure No more have I for that enormous wedged flower, my mind miraculously upon the dead stick of night
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, and is always to come unfolded; Unfolded only out of the superbest woman of the earth, is to come the superbest man of the earth; Unfolded out of the friendliest woman, is to come the friendliest man; Unfolded only out of the perfect body of a woman, can a man be form'd of perfect body; Unfolded only out of the inimitable poem of the woman, can come the poems of man—(only thence have my poems come;) Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love, only thence can appear the strong and arrogant man I love; Unfolded by brawny embraces from the well-muscled woman I love, only thence come the brawny embraces of the man; Unfolded out of the folds of the woman's brain, come all the folds of the man's brain, duly obedient; Unfolded out of the justice of the woman, all justice is unfolded; Unfolded out of the sympathy of the woman is all sympathy: A man is a great thing upon the earth, and through eternity—but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman, First the man is shaped in the woman, he can then be shaped in himself.
I’m traveling back home to you but it’s an omen:
my road map’s creased and torn along dead straight lines.
The hill and gully ride is over now and I’m flat out
on the dead straight highway with a toll.
Not a glimmer of the coastline as I try to make it home
to you through a forest of hotels as thick as thieves.
For the sea, the coves and beaches once seen through
seaside shacks and palm trees have been sold.
And the rest of us are herded to the verge by this new
highway while over there our beauty is extolled,
bottled and sold. And gated. In this new paradise the only
palms are greased. And somebody’s beach umbrella
has replaced the shade tree we once sat under and the
towns and settlements molder as they are bypassed.
I can no longer witness on this highway with a toll that
makes us seem as modern as elsewhere. For elsewhere
is not where I’m meant to be. And a dead straight
highway leaves no scent, no monument to the past,
no scenic beauty for the curvature of my eye to take in.
And endless empty space is not inviting. But perhaps
there’s no social meaning to this tirade after all. I’m just
feeling lost without a map as I make it home to you
and pay the toll. You could see it simply as a love song.
To the curving of your cheekbones, to the mountains
of your thighs, the hill and gully passion of your eyes, and
your hair that is not dead straight but very much otherwise.
What we’re drawn to is proof enough:
these pills, other acts of disappearance.
I’ve written a song about a girl who swallowed the blue planets:
Kevlar, Caroline, O Beautiful Bomb.
So perfectly haplessly cruel the world we’ve made.
Let’s meet back here in 5 minutes, you say, you always say.
I’ll bring the Lite-Brite.
I’ll bring the hole in my heart, a white star burning.
More and more, the rock show.
Venus rising is a glass wrecking ball,
inside red harbors, red sails.
Rain interchangeable with
the walls it falls against
alphabetless like a neon
ring above an extincted
window showcasing something
formerly fabulous now
kinda poignantly disappeared.
I guess that means we’re back
in Seaside (since we must
begin somewhere) and it’s
probably summer but
can’t be as long ago
as the date you suggest
since I wouldn’t have been
born, or quietly gagging
at the sentence re: photographs
being “fairly far removed” from
sculpture anyway belied by
a euthanized block
of period tract housing
the loading dock’s pair
of refrigerated trucks
the guileless curbs below
the blandishing panes
of all those plate windows
the corrugated doors
rolled shut against a
statement the curves
of the cars as they
throw back their throats
to the light the furtive
things people do in the night
(or don’t do) bluely
compiled screen by screen
in perfervid surveillance
I just want to say yes
to you, yes and
All I ever wanted was that living room, Sunday evening, chicken
In the roaster, that deep orange sofa, that maple table
Spread out like a wagon wheel upon which cups of tea floated
And macramé or puzzles could be assembled. Don’t tell me
Disney isn’t reality: whole cities have ticked by in nylon print
T-shirts, under lithographs of the Blue Boy in plastic K-Mart frames.
Poets, don’t let your poems grow up to be idealists. I want in.
I agree we need to rethink everything from landfills to the accumulation
Of fat around the heart, but there really is nothing like a castle
Under a neon moon ringed with LED flowers. Also, dogs do
Find their way home, and while beds can’t fly you can wake
From a good trip around the Internet and be hungry for a Pop-Tart.
Don’t say you can’t, or won’t, or that my dream is flimsy: there is nothing
Less thrilling than a critique of others, how they do or do not, twirl.
around 530 is
a beautiful peaceful
you can just
hear the dog
David lifts his smoke
in the middle
bout the top shelf
or so. The party
I sd that’s my col-
works and every
stared my home
was so small
I’m not particularly
into the task
at the moment
it’s like that
on a tiny
I think of as
with the larger
one on a
floating in air
love made it
me love made
I love a house
I fear a house
a house never
I live in a
room a personal
one. A young
much like me
please it was
for a party
going fast. How
of a drug
want to go
slow. To drink
thing for a
to lick my
I met a dog
dog named Alan
now & then
her chest &
thing. You didn’t
I don’t want
the mother of
when she squeezes
cozy I know
to say. I can open
what I mean
At the top of the stairs
I ask for her hand. O.K.
She gives it to me.
How her fist fits my palm,
A bunch of consolation.
We take our time
Down the steep carpetway
As I wish silently
That the stairs were endless.
While jogging on the treadmill at the gym,
that exercise in getting nowhere fast,
I realized we need a health pandemic.
Obesity writ large no more, Alzheimer’s
forgotten, we could live carefree again.
We’d chant the painted shaman’s sweaty oaths,
We’d kiss the awful relics of the saints,
we’d sip the bitter tea from twisted roots,
we’d listen to our grandmothers’ advice.
We’d understand the moonlight’s whispering.
We’d exercise by making love outside,
and afterwards, while thinking only of
how much we’d lived in just one moment’s time,
forgive ourselves for wanting something more:
to praise the memory of long-lost need,
or not to live forever in a world
made painless by our incurable joy.
crowded Monday subway its mindlessness botanical you take the first seat claim it for your age your figural effaced your t-shirt smelling already like somebody else's sweat a toddler is crashing against your leg his mom gives him a sucker he hasn't figured out how to fit inside his mouth you taste the instant's sumptuous pause between confused and choking on surfaces you can't fit your lips around and swallow incentivizing short terms that electronically spit you out your genes passed on without you in the pool you didn't know how soon would drown you
Evening, and all my ghosts come back to me
like red banty hens to catalpa limbs
and chicken-wired hutches, clucking, clucking,
and falling, at last, into their head-under-wing sleep.
I think about the field of grass I lay in once,
between Omaha and Lincoln. It was summer, I think.
The air smelled green, and wands of windy green, a-sway,
a-sway, swayed over me. I lay on green sod
like a prairie snake letting the sun warm me.
What does a girl think about alone
in a field of grass, beneath a sky as bright
as an Easter dress, beneath a green wind?
Maybe I have not shaken the grass.
All is vanity.
Maybe I never rose from that green field.
All is vanity.
Maybe I did no more than swallow deep, deep breaths
and spill them out into story: all is vanity.
Maybe I listened to the wind sighing and shivered,
spinning, awhirl amidst the bluestem
and green lashes: O my beloved! O my beloved!
I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made is gone.
I don’t think they’ll find the new weaving
anywhere finer than truth.
I’ve tried to sift a truth finer than salt
from my mouth. It matters: I get up
or I do not. The books can wait, leaves
burn themselves these days, and the day
begins or it does not. Now wingless,
a wasp masquerading as the sun crawls—
a harmless razor—across the backlit
curtain. No city trembles on the verge
of the sea. No stupid bird threatens
to dissolve me if I forget my species
in the official questionnaire. I could
put my ten bureaucrats to their task.
The dusting and polishing. There’s a point,
a mirror for me to enumerate my teeth.
Beyond these walls, there’s only the snowed-in
field, an egg just opened but empty.
and at noon I will fall in love
and nothing will have meaning
except for the brownness of
the sky, and tradition, and water
and in the water off the railway
in New Haven all the lights
go on across the sun, and for
millennia those who kiss fall into
hospitals, riding trains, wearing
black shoes, pursued by those
they love, the Chinese in the armies
with the shiny sound of Johnny Cash,
and in my plan to be myself
I became someone else with
soft lips and a secret life,
and I left, from an airport,
in tradition of the water
on the plains, until the train
started moving and yesterday
it seemed true that suddenly
inside of the newspaper
there was a powerline and
my heart stopped, and everything
leaned down from the sky to kill me
and now the cattails sing.
Once in a cradle in Norway folded
like Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir
as a ship in full sail transported the dead to Valhalla
Once on a mountain in Taos after making love
in my thirties the decade of turquoise and silver
After your brother walked into the Atlantic
to scatter your mothers ashes his khakis soaked
to the knees his shirtsleeves blowing
At the top of the cottage in a thunderstorm
once or twice each summer covetous of my solitude
Immediately following lunch
against circadian rhythms, once
in a bunk bed in a dormitory in the White Mountains
Once in a hollow tree in Wyoming
A snow squall blew in the guide said tie up your horses
The last night in the Katmandu guest house
where I saw a bird fly from a monk’s mouth
a consolidated sleep of East and West
Once on a horsehair mattress two feet thick
I woke up singing
as in the apocryphal story of my birth
at Temple University Hospital
On the mesa with the burrowing owls
on the mesa with the prairie dogs
Willing to be lucky
I ran the perimeter road in my sleep
entrained to the cycles of light and dark
Sometimes my dead sister visited my dreams
Once on the beach in New Jersey
after the turtles deposited their eggs
before my parents grew old, nocturnal
With practice I could fold a rose
Or a theory of prose or some treason
But what is to be got—a satire?
Expedience? the opera of laughter?
I know conviction from the convict,
The senator from February.
Waking on the train, I thought we were attacked by light: chrome-winged birds hatching from the lagoon. That first day the buoys were all that made the harbor bearable: pennies sewn into a hemline. Later I learned to live in it, to walk through the alien city— a beekeeper's habit— with fierce light clinging to my head and hands. Treated as gently as every other guest— each house's barbed antennae trawling for any kind of weather— still I sobbed in a glass box on an unswept street with the last few lire ticking like fleas off my phonecard I'm sorry I can't stand this, which one of us do you love?
This evening, I sat by an open window
and read till the light was gone and the book
was no more than a part of the darkness.
I could easily have switched on a lamp,
but I wanted to ride this day down into night,
to sit alone and smooth the unreadable page
with the pale gray ghost of my hand.
we drank in the remains
of ruined buildings
and we sat in a cave or
wrecked houses on farms given back to the bank
listening to men who’d been raised
in ways that were lost
and we strained to make out
the use of their news
they were crazy or passed out
speed notched with a cross
they drank from the flask and the mouth
they came in and shook off the rain
inflamed and dismayed
calm and arcane
the least one seethed chanting whitman for hours
then wept at the dregs of the fire
foam formed at the edge of their lips
we drank and waited for something to drop
you and I looking and sifting
for signs written in wax
we were young we knew how to die
but not how to last
a small man who claimed he was blake raged
all night and probably he was
he had god in his sights
white crosses shone in our eyes or acid mandalic
in the ruins the men talked:
seraphic and broken
glowing with gnosis and rubbish
we sorted their mad sacred words
these dog-headed guides to the life after
and the life after that
Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth
are small and even. I don’t get headaches.
Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench
where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.
If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas,
I’d meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could
have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft.
Do not lie or lean on me. I’m still trying to find a job
for which a simple machine isn’t better suited.
I’ve seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish
like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs.
Which reminds me of a little known fact:
if we were going the speed of light, this dome
would be shrinking while we were gaining weight.
Isn’t the road crooked and steep.
In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I’m not one
among millions who saw Monroe’s face
in the moon. I go blank looking at that face.
If I could afford it I’d live in hotels. I won awards
in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago.
Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him
Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there.
You sleep with a dream of summer weather,
wake to the thrum of rain—roped down by rain.
Nothing out there but drop-heavy feathers of grass
and rainy air. The plastic table on the terrace
has shed three legs on its way to the garden fence.
The mountains have had the sense to disappear.
It’s the Celtic temperament—wind, then torrents, then remorse.
Glory rising like a curtain over distant water.
Old stonehouse, having steered us through the dark,
docks in a pool of shadow all its own.
That widening crack in the gloom is like good luck.
Luck, which neither you nor tomorrow can depend on.
Two women on a train
sit beside me.
I am young and the world
is flying and I am watching.
One of them is frosty.
The other turns like a leaf
to hand me something?—
it looked for all the world like a page.
I thought at the time
that it needed me and I was right.
The letters fell into place
and simple flowers grew.
Now it talks unceasingly
in long white verses
as if at a wedding,
something women understand
and gently want and then regift.
I myself agree with Herbert,
who in a dark mood conjured
the mushrooms underfoot
unseen by bride or groom
and with him I say, Perhaps
the world is unimportant
after all, though this is not
what one discusses with
women on a train, no matter
how long the journey,
or untroubled the land.
Such pejorative deformities of sound Without meaningful speech or musical equipoise, Annoyances none but hoi polloi enjoys, Through our winding whispering galleries resound Unwelcome, & like a tedious siege surround Us with that ubiquitous nuisance, noise, Which may take the shape of inflated reputation, Able neither to stun, astonish nor astound Those whom obscene publicity annoys, Who prefer the decent obscurity of publication. & Regardless of the weird world's disregard, These works may be devoted to the wastebasket Like the forgotten forgeries of some casket Letters, scored for posterity & scarred By repentance. Sentenced to a futility of hard Leisure, answer nothing but the task it Asks, apart from any eternal return. Perhaps a masterpiece, unmade, unmarred, Awaits the patient skill that will unmask it. A lifetime passes as the phrases turn. & Immured in a single-occupancy cell, Each day indistinguishable from the next, & nearly inextinguishable, perplexed How all manner of things shall nevertheless be well, Will a celibate selfish as a shellfish spell Out a corrupt & uncorrected text So that each deleted syllable counts? Solitude is helpless to dispel Questions as exceptionably vexed As unaccountable love's unaudited accounts. & To keep your cell the way you keep your soul, Untidy-minded, neither soiled nor sold For next to nothing, a treasury of old Notions like the notes of a piano-roll Which cannot improvise though it knows a whole Repertoire, what ought one to withhold? Idiosyncrasy is nobody else's business. Of all omens the soul provides the sole Depository. How many oceans can it hold In its infinite & unfathomable isness? & Sealed & secured, the contents of this room Turned our intimate alcove into a closet Concealed behind a dirty bookcase: was it A conservatory or a living room, This stanza become a catacomb or tomb That serves as a temporary safe deposit Vault for your perduring lost & found Mind, which articulately could presume To ask of being what could cause it, A question as unanswerable as profound. & Up the steps of imperfection we stumble & stall, Blind upstarts, our feeble feet astray & unstable, Panting after perfections we are no more able To encompass than an imaginative animal. While some describe the world as round as a ball, Others maintain that it is flat like a table. Its shape is immaterial, there like the air. Better, perhaps, to be sorry than safe after all, Seeing no security could enable One to scale unscathed the inexorable stair.
Below the gardens and the darkening pines
The living water sinks among the stones,
Sinking yet foaming till the snowy tones
Merge with the fog drawn landward in dim lines.
The cloud dissolves among the flowering vines,
And now the definite mountain-side disowns
The fluid world, the immeasurable zones.
Then white oblivion swallows all designs.
But still the rich confusion of the sea,
Unceasing voice, sombre and solacing,
Rises through veils of silence past the trees;
In restless repetition bound, yet free,
Wave after wave in deluge fresh releasing
An ancient speech, hushed in tremendous ease.
translated by Clayton Eshleman A bit of light that descends the springhead of a gaze twin shadow of the eyelash and the rainbow on a face and round about who goes there angelically ambling Woman the current weather the current weather matters little to me my life is always ahead of a hurricane you are the morning that swoops down on the lamp a night stone between its teeth you are the passage of seabirds as well you who are the wind through the salty ipomeas of consciousness insinuating yourself from another world Woman you are a dragon whose lovely color is dispersed and darkens so as to constitute the inevitable tenor of things I am used to brush fires I am used to ashen bush rats and the bronze ibis of the flame Woman binder of the foresail gorgeous ghost helmet of algae of eucalyptus dawn isn't it and in the abandon of the ribbands very savory swimmer
I am a shell. From me you shall not hear
The splendid tramplings of insistent drums,
The orbed gold of the viol’s voice that comes,
Heavy with radiance, languorous and clear.
Yet, if you hold me close against the ear,
A dim, far whisper rises clamorously,
The thunderous beat and passion of the sea,
The slow surge of the tides that drown the mere.
Others with subtle hands may pluck the strings,
Making even Love in music audible,
And earth one glory. I am but a shell
That moves, not of itself, and moving sings;
Leaving a fragrance, faint as wine new-shed,
A tremulous murmur from great days long dead.
After reading Ash Wednesday
she looked once at the baked beans
and fled. Luncheonless, poor girl,
she observed a kind of poetic Lent—
and I had thought I liked poetry
better than she did.
I do. But to me its most endearing
quality is its unsuitableness;
and, conversely, the chief wonder in heaven
(whither I also am sometimes transported)
is the kind of baggage I bring with me.
Surely there is no more exquisite jointure
in the anatomy of life than that at which
poetry dovetails with the inevitable meal
and Mrs. B. sits murmuring of avocados.
In the nearby plaza, musicians would often gather.
The eternal flame was fueled by propane tank.
An old man sold chive dumplings from a rolling cart,
while another grilled skewers of paprika beef.
Male turtledoves would puff their breasts, woo-ing,
and for a few coins, we each bought an hour with
the grief puppet. It had two eyes, enough teeth,
a black tangle of something like hair or fur,
a flexible spine that ran the length of your arm.
Flick your wrist, and at the end of long rods
it raised its hands as if conducting the weather.
Tilt the other wrist, and it nodded. No effort
was ever lost on its waiting face. It never
needed a nap or was too hungry to think straight.
You could have your conversation over and over,
past dusk when old men doused their charcoal,
into rising day when they warmed their skillets.
The puppet only asked what we could answer.
Some towns had their wall, others their well;
we never gave the stupid thing a name, nor
asked the name of the woman who took our coins.
But later, we could all remember that dank felt,
and how the last of grief’s flock lifted from our chests.
Do nothing and everything will be done,
that’s what Mr. Lao Tzu said, who walked
around talking 2,500 years ago and
now his books practically grow on trees
they’re so popular and if he were
alive today beautiful women would
rush up to him like waves lapping
at the shores of his wisdom.
That’s the way it is, I guess: humbling.
But if I could just unclench my fists,
empty out my eyes, turn my mind into
a prayer flag for the wind to play with,
we could be brothers, him the older one
who’s seen and not done it all and me
still unlearning, both of us slung low
in our hammocks, our hats tipped
forwards, hands folded neatly,
like bamboo huts, above our hearts.
On the eighth day he coined the word “alone”
and saw that it was as good as everything else.
A yellow school bus rattled down the lane,
a wind blew in a drainpipe, strong, mellifluous.
I brought two empty crates to the parking lot,
watched neighbors with briefcases and car keys.
At noon a mailman passed by where I sat
invisible, like a tree among trees.
Why, why, I asked. I wanted to know why,
but only scared a squirrel that dropped his acorn
when my voice broke silence unexpectedly—
a white noise in a wireless telephone.
My club soda went flat in the bottle. With a spit
of rain, a wind blew again from the lake.
I raised my index finger and touched it,
pleading, give me a break, give me a break.
Here, where you all are,
language is an accessory
to bodies lying in the street,
prone in government rooms,
bloated in the waterways.
Or language is an accessory
to the refutation of bodies
lying etc. This too will pass
as search vessels in the delta
pass for smuggling operations
bringing illicit food to refugees
being autocued for media
appearances. What commerce
would you with us all. What
coverage can you offer for
coastal breach, aid refusal,
for the taut sinews and caught
breath of seated uprisen monks.
Through an accidental crack in the curtain
I can see the eight o’clock light change from
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things
in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone,
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be
for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood
no match for the mindless chill that’s settled in,
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff
from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage
in which all the warmth we were is shivering.
The trees in time
have something else to do
besides their treeing. What is it.
I’m a starving to death
man myself, and thirsty, thirsty
by their fountains but I cannot drink
their mud and sunlight to be whole.
I do not understand these presences
that drink for months
in the dirt, eat light,
and then fast dry in the cold.
They stand it out somehow,
and how, the Botanists will tell me.
It is the “something else” that bothers
me, so I often go back to the forests.
The trees hang silent In the heat . . . . . Undo your heart Tell me your thoughts What you were And what you are . . . . . Like bells no one Has ever rung.
You’ll find labels describing what is gone:
an empress’s bones, a stolen painting
of a man in a feathered helmet
holding a flag-draped spear.
A vellum gospel, hidden somewhere long ago
forgotten, would have sat on that pedestal;
this glass cabinet could have kept the first
salts carried back from the Levant.
To help us comprehend the magnitude
of absence, huge rooms
lie empty of their wonders—the Colossus,
Babylon’s Hanging Gardens and
in this gallery, empty shelves enough to hold
all the scrolls of Alexandria.
My love, I’ve petitioned the curator
who has acquired an empty chest
representing all the poems you will
now never write. It will be kept with others
in the poet’s gallery. Next door,
a vacant room echoes with the spill
of jewels buried by a pirate who died
before disclosing their whereabouts.
I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept
a few of your pieces
for my private collection. I think
you know the ones I mean.
The black Mercedes
with the Ayn Rand
the glass bus stop
and came to rest
among a bakery’s
In the stunned silence,
fat pigeons descended
to the wreckage
and pecked at
bread and cake.
The driver slept,
head to the wheel.
The pigeons grew
rich with crumbs.
The broken glass winked.
In night when colors all to black are cast,
Distinction lost, or gone down with the light;
The eye a watch to inward senses placed,
Not seeing, yet still having powers of sight,
Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,
Where fear stirred up with witty tyranny,
Confounds all powers, and thorough self-offense,
Doth forge and raise impossibility:
Such as in thick depriving darknesses,
Proper reflections of the error be,
And images of self-confusednesses,
Which hurt imaginations only see;
And from this nothing seen, tells news of devils,
Which but expressions be of inward evils.
Because so much consequential thinking
happens in the rain. A steady mist
to recall departures, a bitter downpour
for betrayal. As if the first thing
a man wants to do when he learns his wife
is sleeping with his best friend, and has been
for years, the very first thing
is not to make a drink, and drink it,
and make another, but to walk outside
into bad weather. It’s true
that the way we look doesn’t always
reveal our feelings. Which is a problem
for the movies. And why somebody has to smash
a mirror, for example, to show he’s angry
and full of self-hate, whereas actual people
rarely do this. And rarely sit on benches
in the pouring rain to weep. Is he wondering
why he didn’t see it long ago? Is he wondering
if in fact he did, and lied to himself?
And perhaps she also saw the many ways
he’d allowed himself to be deceived. In this city
it will rain all night. So the three of them
return to their houses, and the wife
and her lover go upstairs to bed
while the husband takes a small black pistol
from a drawer, turns it over in his hands,
then puts it back. Thus demonstrating
his inability to respond to passion
with passion. But we don’t want him
to shoot his wife, or his friend, or himself.
And we’ve begun to suspect
that none of this is going to work out,
that we’ll leave the theater feeling
vaguely cheated, just as the movie,
turning away from the husband’s sorrow,
leaves him to be a man who must continue,
day after day, to walk outside into the rain,
outside and back again, since now there can be
nowhere in this world for him to rest.
Held in a late season
At a shifting of worlds,
In the golden balance of autumn,
Out of love and reason
We made our peace;
Stood still in October
In the failing light and sought,
Each in the other, ease
And release from silence,
From the slow damnation
Of speech that is weak
And falls from silence.
In the October sun
By the green river we spoke,
Late in October, the leaves
Of the water maples had fallen.
But whatever we said
In the bright leaves was lost,
Quick as the leaf-fall,
Brittle and blood red.
For Kenneth Rexroth, 1950
Two shall be born the whole world wide apart,
And speak in different tongues, and pay their debts
In different kinds of coin; and give no heed
Each to the other’s being. And know not
That each might suit the other to a T,
If they were but correctly introduced.
And these, unconsciously, shall bend their steps,
Escaping Spaniards and defying war,
Unerringly toward the same trysting-place,
Albeit they know it not. Until at last
They enter the same door, and suddenly
They meet. And ere they’ve seen each other’s face
They fall into each other’s arms, upon
The Broadway cable car — and this is Fate!
Reading in the paper a summary
of a five-year psychological study
that shows those perceived as most beautiful
are treated differently,
I think they could have just asked me,
remembering a kind of pudgy kid
and late puberty, the bloody noses
and wisecracks because I wore glasses,
though we all know by now how awful it is
for the busty starlet no one takes seriously,
the loveliest women I’ve lunched with
lamenting the opacity of the body,
they can never trust a man’s interest
even when he seems not just out for sex
(eyes focus on me above rim of wineglass),
and who would want to live like this?
And what does beauty do to a man?—
Don Juan, Casanova, Lord Byron—
those fiery eyes and steel jawlines
can front a furnace of self-loathing,
all those breathless women rushing to him
while hubby’s at the office or ball game,
primed to be consumed by his beauty
while he stands next to it, watching.
So maybe the looks we’re dealt are best.
It’s only common sense that happiness
depends on some bearable deprivation
or defect, and who knows what conflicts
great beauty could have caused,
what cruelties one might have suffered
from those now friends, what unmanageable
possibilities smiling at every small turn?
So if I get up to draw a tumbler
of ordinary tap water and think what if this were
nectar dripping from delicious burning fingers,
will all I’ve missed knock me senseless?
No. Of course not. It won’t.
As it happens every night, beloveds, while we turned in the night
sleeping uneasily the world went on without us.
We live in our own time zone and there are only a small million of
us in this time zone and the world as a result has a tendency to
begin and end without us.
While we turned sleeping uneasily at least ten were injured in a
bomb blast in Bombay and four killed in Palestine.
While we turned sleeping uneasily a warehouse of food aid was
destroyed, stocks on upbeat sales soared, Australia threatened first
strikes, there was heavy gunfire in the city of Man, the Belarus
ambassador to Japan went missing, a cruise ship caught fire, on yet
another cruise ship many got sick, and the pope made a statement
While we turned sleeping uneasily perhaps J Lo gave Ben a
prenuptial demand for sex four times a week.
While we turned sleeping uneasily Liam Gallagher brawled and
irate fans complained that “Popstars: The Rivals” was fixed.
While we turned sleeping uneasily the Supreme Court agreed to
hear the case of whether university admissions may favor racial
While we turned sleeping uneasily poachers caught sturgeon in the
reed-filled Caspian, which shelters boar and wolves, and some of
the residents on the space shuttle planned a return flight to the US.
Beloveds, our world is small and isolated.
We live our lives in six hundred square feet about a quarter mile
from the shore on land that is seven hundred square miles and five
thousand miles from the nearest land mass.
Despite our isolation, there is no escape from the news of how
many days are left in the Iraq inspections.
The news poll for today was should we invade Iraq now or should
we wait until the inspections are complete and we tried to laugh
together at this question but our laughter was uneasy and we just
decided to turn off the television that arrives to us from those
other time zones.
Beloveds, we do not know how to live our lives with any agency
outside of our bed.
It makes me angry that how we live in our bed—full of connected
loving and full of isolated sleep and dreaming also—has no
relevance to the rest of the world.
How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation
have so little power outside the space of our bed?
Beloveds, the shuttle is set to return home and out the window of
the shuttle one can see the earth.
“How massive the earth is; how minute the atmosphere,” one of
the astronauts notes.
Beloveds, what do we do but keep breathing as best we can this
The psychotherapist has a sad dove
dying in his eye. He looks at the light
like wood holding fire in it
reflected in small caves
and tells me there is a window where love weeps
over what it cannot know. The dove’s
trembling, flickering like a sun alone
in the dark nest of his face, and the psychotherapist
is saying, there is nothing like losing your Self
for a Demon. We walk in to each other
as into a museum, and our portraits gleam. This sounds
like he’s saying our deaths are old, they
may not even belong to us. In the end, our meeting
is just the fantasy
we’ve been looking for all along. Yes,
Yes, I say, I’ve come here to burn for you
all my illusions. Yes, I say, I can see
you for who you are like I can see
the mother huddling her chicks in the sea cliff
in your inkblot, before she pecks their eyes large
as blood grapes and eats them
alive, the storm
clouds rupturing that purple
slag of lightning. What I want is to hold you
like a bell holds space
between the hours. What I want is to get back
one with the other, self
with dove, desire with the storm
inside that destroys
absence like a murderous blood. What I want
is a therapy like a first love—merciless
fascination—my eyes looking in
like the crazed bells of silence
to startle the mortal
romance of self
you can’t escape, and you don’t want to.
I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and shut my eyes
while you sit at the wheel,
awake and assured
in your own private world,
seeing all the lines
on the road ahead,
down a long stretch
of empty highway
without any other
faces in sight.
I want to be a passenger
in your car again
and put my life back
in your hands.