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.
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.
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.
Am I not alone, as I thought I was, as I thought
The day was, the hour I walked into, morning
When I felt night fly from my chest where prospect had
Slackened, and close itself off, understanding, as I thought I did,
That the ground would resist my legs and not let them
Break nor let them be released into air as my heart, in its
Muscle, might be released from the body that surrounds it,
Like someone who, placing a hand on a shoulder’s
Blade, felt a life move inside an hour and a day
Break from the day the hour meant something more than weakness,
More than fear, and flew forward into the depths of
Prospect, your arms, where you’d been, before me, waiting
For me, the way the body has always been waiting for the heart to sense
It is housed, it is needed, it will not be harmed.
As I walk up the rise into the silence of snow, in the sough of brittle snowflakes,
you are breathing shallow breaths in bed.
A paper tissue lies discarded where I dabbed a drip from your nose.
As I sit in another room you are swishing your lips.
You have become the inside of my body. I am gasping for the crackle
and whistle of your chest. My body is your world under a blanket of snow.
The wolf leaves paw prints on it, catching a niff of tussocky breasts,
dipping thighs, flat tummy, tight skin, the mutter of a bony outcrop.
Hills rise and fall with your breathing, its spate and its whisper.
The snow is lisping from the eaves as I listen for the blab of your heart.
You stir to speak. Your chest heaves. Fistfuls of ice slack off and pelt the stones,
sluds of snow stretch and slide under the window.
There is a quiver, a tingle, then icy water stutters after the snow in a stream.
The night before last, you stopped.
There was a gulp, then stillness and listening — for the lick
of the meniscus on a swollen river, for a trickle in the dried-out bed
of a beck, the jostle of fingertips, snapping of feet. You nestled in a heap
under jacket, quilt, hat, light, scarf, shawl, sheet,
you were all twined and tangled up,
your suck held back by a puff, a spanking sea breeze,
then, flat out, pillows concertinaed, released a salty waft, a redolence
while you held one slippered foot under the sinews, stung and docketed
the twisted jumble, face motionless apart from spitting pith,
and I hoicked you up, straightened the pillows in your shadow
and your voice spurted out as I kibbled your lungs in my own chest’s thump.
A sky flipped open when you breathed again, like the tilt over Hartside Top.
No birds. No scratchings. Just rustling of clothes and clacking of teeth.
You ignore the way light filters through my cells,
the way I have of fading out—still
there is a constant tug, a stretching,
what is left of me is coming loose. Soon,
I will be only crumbs of popcorn,
a blue ring in the tub, an empty
toilet paper roll, black mold
misted on old sponges,
strands of hair woven into
carpet, a warped door
that won’t open, the soft spot
in an avocado, celery, a pear,
a metallic taste in the beer, a cold sore
on your lip—and when I finally lose my hold
you will hear a rustle and watch me spill
grains of rice across the cracked tile.
When the white trees are no longer in sight
they are telling us something,
like the body that undresses
when someone is around,
like the woman who wants
to read what her nude curves
are trying to say,
of what it was to be together,
lips on lips
but it’s over now, the town
we once loved in, the maps
we once drew, the echoes that
once passed through us
as if they needed something we had.
My dolls have been put away like dead
children in a chest I will carry
with me when I marry.
I reach under my skirt to feel
a satin slip bought for this day. It is soft
as the inside of my thighs. My hair
has been nailed back with my mother’s
black hairpins to my skull. Her hands
stretched my eyes open as she twisted
braids into a tight circle at the nape
of my neck. I am to wash my own clothes
and sheets from this day on, as if
the fluids of my body were poison, as if
the little trickle of blood I believe
travels from my heart to the world were
shameful. Is not the blood of saints and
men in battle beautiful? Do Christ’s hands
not bleed into your eyes from His cross?
At night I hear myself growing and wake
to find my hands drifting of their own will
to soothe skin stretched tight
over my bones,
I am wound like the guts of a clock,
waiting for each hour to release me.
The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls
reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.
I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find
the song in this day’s summons?
I’ve been accused of darkness
by my inner light. My brother sits
in the chemo chair another long day
of toxic infusion, the house of his body—
bones, brain and balls gone skeltering.
I sit in my parked car listening
to Robert Plant recall how the English
envied the Americans for getting
the blues, getting all of it, into song.
I remember the dream where
brother and sister, adult and equal,
lean and white as lilies, as bare,
dove into a mountain lake, black water,
high elevation, fir trees growing
in flood water that had joined
two lakes into one. Do you ever dream
of animals, I ask him, hospice bed
looking out on a plywood squirrel
perched on cement block wall.
Frequently. A lilt of surprising joy. What kind?
Mostly the jungle animals. Then: I’m going
to do my exercises now. What exercises?
I like pacing, he said, immobilized
upon his death nest of nine pillows.
Then he closed his eyes to become the inward one
whose only work was to wear a pathway
back and forth within his enclosure.
At forty-eight, to be given water,
which is most of the world, given life
in water, which is most of me, given ease,
which is most of what I lack, here, where walls
don’t part to my hands, is to be born
as of three weeks ago. Taking nothing
from you, mother, or you, sky, or you,
mountain, that you wouldn’t take
if offered by the sea, any sea, or river,
any river, or the pool, beside which
a woman sits who would save me
if I needed saving, in a red suit, as if flame
is the color of emergency, as I do,
need saving, from solid things,
most of all, their dissolve.
We live on a holy mountain
where the crows and the Crown Plaza
rise higher than our expectations
and the golden dome is only
a restored reflection
of the absolute.
All night the bodies of prophets
break out of the clouds
calling, “Doom, doom.”
Like the carp we bring home
from the market, our lives
are wrapped up in newsprint.
My friend says she’d like to
cut off her head and let all
the Jewish history run out.
We lift weights together
twice a week to increase
our bone density.
I walk the purple carpet into your eye carrying the silver butter server but a truck rumbles by, leaving its black tire prints on my foot and old images the sound of banging screen doors on hot afternoons and a fly buzzing over the Kool-Aid spilled on the sink flicker, as reflections on the metal surface. Come in, you said, inside your paintings, inside the blood factory, inside the old songs that line your hands, inside eyes that change like a snowflake every second, inside spinach leaves holding that one piece of gravel, inside the whiskers of a cat, inside your old hat, and most of all inside your mouth where you grind the pigments with your teeth, painting with a broken bottle on the floor, and painting with an ostrich feather on the moon that rolls out of my mouth. You cannot let me walk inside you too long inside the veins where my small feet touch bottom. You must reach inside and pull me like a silver bullet from your arm.
(translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld)
I am not here.
I am on those craggy eastern hills
streaked with ice
where grass doesn’t grow
and a sweeping shadow overruns the slope.
A little shepherd girl
with a herd of goats,
from an unseen tent.
She won’t live out the day, that girl,
in the pasture.
I am not here.
Inside the gaping mouth of the mountain
a red globe flares,
not yet a sun.
A lesion of frost, flushed and sickly,
revolves in that maw.
And the little one rose so early
to go to the pasture.
She doesn’t walk with neck outstretched
and wanton glances.
She doesn’t paint her eyes with kohl.
She doesn’t ask, Whence cometh my help.
I am not here.
I’ve been in the mountains many days now.
The light will not scorch me. The frost cannot touch me.
Nothing can amaze me now.
I’ve seen worse things in my life.
I tuck my dress tight around my legs and hover
very close to the ground.
What ever was she thinking, that girl?
Wild to look at, unwashed.
For a moment she crouches down.
Her cheeks soft silk,
frostbite on the back of her hand.
She seems distracted, but no,
in fact she’s alert.
She still has a few hours left.
But that’s hardly the object of my meditations.
My thoughts, soft as down, cushion me comfortably.
I’ve found a very simple method,
not so much as a foot-breadth on land
and not flying, either—
hovering at a low altitude.
But as day tends toward noon,
that man makes his way up the mountain.
He looks innocent enough.
The girl is right there, near him,
not another soul around.
And if she runs for cover, or cries out—
there’s no place to hide in the mountains.
I am not here.
I’m above those savage mountain ranges
in the farthest reaches of the East.
No need to elaborate.
With a single hurling thrust one can hover
and whirl about with the speed of the wind.
Can make a getaway and persuade myself:
I haven’t seen a thing.
And the little one, her eyes start from their sockets,
her palate is dry as a potsherd,
when a hard hand grasps her hair, gripping her
without a shred of pity.
I touch my palms to the floor
and granite rhinos surge up my arms
and lock in my shoulders.
Water flecks on my back
and my head is shaved
by bladed cream.
But then my time in my body is up
and it’s time for my mind:
It seeks wisdom
and the rhinos fall into a well,
their faces falling apart—
I want to know what their last words are
but their lips are fading into the purple.
I put my hands into the ground again
but rhinos come only for the body
and never for the mind.
I used to want infinite time with my thoughts.
Now I’d prefer to give all my time
to a body that’s dying
For the father who wakes
and wakes himself, eyes full of himself
and for the one, who when the sun descends
slips into the stormy
smite flat the rotundity o’ the world.
Done in with conspiracy and murder
in his sleep (his eye-tooth finally unfixed
and tucked into a cheek for safekeeping)
he dreams of a three-armed garment
unable to wonder or comprehend
how he has come to this blurred ridge and broken—
I try to fix in my mind, his shining eyes
the terrors he shut his lips against
and his early morning utterly lucid accusation:
“I never would have believed,” he said to me
“that you would be among them.”
About this Poem
“‘King Lear’ is part of a sequence of poems that explore the intersection of reading and the construction of identity. Many of the different relationships in King Lear have resonated for me at different points in my life and by the time I wrote this poem, I had already written two other poems with this title. During the last days of his life, my father, mad with what the hospice nurse called ‘sundowner syndrome,’ made me understand the play again in a completely unexpected and heartbreaking way.”
But I know that you know how your palms itch when you’re alone,
when the electricity goes off,
and the silence whirls in your stomach.
I know that you know how hard it is
to dress in white after wearing black,
to have your arms not merge into the day
but be signs by the road,
and to have nobody, Laurie, nobody travel
down your roads.
For our own private reasons
We live in each other for an hour.
Stranger, I take your body and its seasons,
Aware the moon has gone a little sour
For us. The moon hangs up there like a stone
Shaken out of its proper setting.
We lie down in each other. We lie down alone
and watch the moon’s flawed marble getting
Out of hand. What are the dead doing tonight?
The padlocks of their tongues embrace the black,
Each syllable locked in place, tucked out of sight.
Even this moon could never pull them back,
Even if it held them in its arms
And weighed them down with stones,
Took them entirely on their own terms
And piled the orchard’s blossom on their bones.
I am aware of your body and its dangers.
I spread my cloak for you in leafy weather
Where other fugitives and other strangers
Will put their mouths together.
My language has its own world
where he doesn’t know how to live,
but he should learn my language;
then he can call my mother to say
that I am dead. I drive too fast
and someone else drives too fast
and we crash on the icy road.
The death sweeps me away.
He can tell this to my mother
if he learns my language.
Her large yellow voice travels
and hits his body, but at least she knows
that I am dead, and if I die,
I want him to tell my mother
with his deep voice shaking.
She breathed a chill that slowed the sap
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field
where the distance crooned in a small
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed
in a northern wind, then headed back
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap.
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound
then hear it boom inside her heart.
To quicken her mind to the speed of light
with another suck from the flooded tap.
I like to think of your silence as the love letters you will not write me,
as two sax solos from two ages across a stage, learning the languages
of kissing with your eyes closed. I like to think of you as a god
to whom I no longer pray, as a god I aspire to. I like the opening of your joined palms,
which is like an urn where my ashes find a home. The music of your lashes;
the silent way your body wears out mine.
Mostly, I like to think of you at night when a black screen of shining dust shines
from your mines to the edge of my skin, where you are a lamp of flutters.
I remember the spectral lashes–marigold, tamarind, secret thing between your thighs,
of closed kissing eyes. At night, the possibility of you is a heavy
sculpture of heavy bronze at the side of my bed,
a god. And I pray you into life. Into flesh.
Because I am not married, I have the skin of an orange
that has spent its life in the dark. Inside the orange
I am blind. I cannot tell when a hand reaches in
and breaks the atoms of the blood. Sometimes
a blackbird will bring the wind into my hair.
Or the yellow clouds falling on the cold floor are animals
beginning to fight each other out of their drifting misery.
All the women I have known have been ruined by fog
and the deer crossing the field at night.
To the night I offered a flower
and the dark sky accepted it
like earth, bedding
To the desert I offered an apple
and the dunes received it
like a mouth, speaking
To the installation I offered a tree
and the museum planted it
like a man, viewing
To the ocean I offered a seed
and its body dissolved it
like time, composing
Listen to me as one listens to the rain,
not attentive, not distracted,
light footsteps, thin drizzle,
water that is air, air that is time,
the day is still leaving,
the night has yet to arrive,
figurations of mist
at the turn of the corner,
figurations of time
at the bend in this pause,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
without listening, hear what I say
with eyes open inward, asleep
with all five senses awake,
it’s raining, light footsteps, a murmur of syllables,
air and water, words with no weight:
what we are and are,
the days and years, this moment,
weightless time and heavy sorrow,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
wet asphalt is shining,
steam rises and walks away,
night unfolds and looks at me,
you are you and your body of steam,
you and your face of night,
you and your hair, unhurried lightning,
you cross the street and enter my forehead,
footsteps of water across my eyes,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the asphalt’s shining, you cross the street,
it is the mist, wandering in the night,
it is the night, asleep in your bed,
it is the surge of waves in your breath,
your fingers of water dampen my forehead,
your fingers of flame burn my eyes,
your fingers of air open eyelids of time,
a spring of visions and resurrections,
listen to me as one listens to the rain,
the years go by, the moments return,
do you hear the footsteps in the next room?
not here, not there: you hear them
in another time that is now,
listen to the footsteps of time,
inventor of places with no weight, nowhere,
listen to the rain running over the terrace,
the night is now more night in the grove,
lightning has nestled among the leaves,
a restless garden adrift-go in,
your shadow covers this page.
If not for flesh’s pretty paint, we’re just a bunch of skeletons, working hard to deny the fact of bones. Teeth remind me that we die. That’s why I never smile, except when looking at a picture of a ghost, captured by a camera lens, in a book about the paranormal. When someone takes a picture of a spirit, it gives me hope. I admire the ones who refuse to go away. Lovers scorned and criminals burned. I love the dead little girl who plays in her yard, a spectral game of hide and seek. It’s the fact they don’t know they’re dead that appeals to me most. Like a man once said to me, Do you ever feel like you’re a ghost? Sure, I answered, every day. He laughed at that and disappeared. All I could think was he beat me to it.
They keep telling me why I do what I do. I do it so that one day someone will do for me what I’m doing for her. They’re saying, then, that my motivation is to be, down the line, the recipient of the doing. According to their logic, I buy her the Times and irises for the bed table, renew the nitroglycerin and Cardia, throw in the chocolate that isn’t allowed, and, back home, scour the tub, scrub the toilet—I do these things in order to have them done for me, if not by her, who can’t do them (let’s be honest), then, second best, by someone else. They say that’s the reason I study so closely her happiness, her lack of happiness. And their gentleness in the telling, the lowered chin and eyes, the slow enunciation, the hand reaching toward my wrist—it all tells me that things won’t end where I think they will, that what I do isn’t like a mitral valve (thrust open, clamp shut), an act without volition, but is, like the refusal finally to turn away, something chosen, which may or may not do anything like what one hopes it will.
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Love gives all its reasons
as if they were terms for peace.
Love is this but not that
that but not this.
Love as it always was.
But there is no peace in the mountain
cleft where the fruit bats scatter
from the light.
There is no peace in the hollow when
the heat snuffs night’s blue candle.
The outline of brown leaves on
the beach is the wind’s body.
A crow is squawking at the sun
as if the screech itself is dawn.
Let me hear every perfect note.
How I loved that jasper morning.
Tu Fu, "Thoughts While Traveling at Night" There’s a wind in the grass— Is there here a boat’s mast claiming my lonely night too? I see the stars can’t be called hanged, exactly, just hanging down, not over emptiness, but honest ground, the moon trying the black skin of this river, black corpse... But, even plainer— I wonder if these words, my words, will ever bring me fame. I have my age, my injuries. They limit me. I’m like some spook bird I know, solo and roped between where rotting happens and a sky.
Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.
Add a little color for emphasis.
I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object
through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.
My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,
my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room
to hate his speech,
the almost symmetrical science of it.
Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.
Today make nothing happen very slowly.
I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise
all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head
and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask
if we are among those left in a dark forest
with our flare guns pointed at the ground
or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.
Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.
Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.
Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—
so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.
Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap
Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.
memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.
My dreams always fell flat.
The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.
I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,
starts in again about the illusion of motion—
If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.
He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.
Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable
I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.
I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:
we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.
The last full moon of February
stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.
Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position
until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.
I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.
Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns.
oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.
I am almost the dead woman’s age times two.
I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night. return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother’s calling,
her young voice humming my name.
Nature, that washed her hands in milk,
And had forgot to dry them,
Instead of earth took snow and silk,
At love’s request to try them,
If she a mistress could compose
To please love’s fancy out of those.
Her eyes he would should be of light,
A violet breath, and lips of jelly;
Her hair not black, nor overbright,
And of the softest down her belly;
As for her inside he’d have it
Only of wantonness and wit.
At love’s entreaty such a one
Nature made, but with her beauty
She hath framed a heart of stone;
So as love, by ill destiny,
Must die for her whom nature gave him,
Because her darling would not save him.
But time (which nature doth despise,
And rudely gives her love the lie,
Makes hope a fool, and sorrow wise)
His hands do neither wash nor dry;
But being made of steel and rust,
Turns snow and silk and milk to dust.
The light, the belly, lips, and breath,
He dims, discolors, and destroys;
With those he feeds but fills not death,
Which sometimes were the food of joys.
Yea, time doth dull each lively wit,
And dries all wantonness with it.
Oh, cruel time! which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.
His unset eyes — containing water — become expression, or color.
They cloud in changing — though the change is never marked, it
may eventually be seen.
The cloud is green
His hand is light
He watches this first finding — pulling a hand in and out of a living
His newness betokens him all color. He passes through color —
setting each resonance for light.
The sound includes experience which is remembered, though from
not remote occasions, which swell upon his passing. Looking up with
different thought filled hands.
Why then does experience comb the onlooker away from the child,
when the child includes changing eyes in every picture?
It was a bright inviting, freely formed,
though I suppose it was I who brightened,
with an internal scattering of light,
as though weather maps were more real
than the breath of autumn.
The low colourfulness
of the broken and dying leaves
was no embrittlement
to every decided colour on the sunlighted grass
and the warm-hued wood of his door.
But with the dust descending
in the glaring white gap
my backbone pulped and I closed up
like a concertina.
His tongue was hushed as Christ’s lips
or once-red grapes permitting
each touch to spread only
when the turn of the violet comes.
Hardly a ghost left to talk with. The slavs moved on
or changed their names to something green. Greeks gave up
old dishes and slid into repose. Runs of salmon thin
and thin until a ripple in October might mean carp.
Huge mills bang and smoke. Day hangs thick with commerce
and my favorite home, always overgrown with roses,
collapsed like moral advice. Tugs still pound against
the outtide pour but real, running on some definite fuel.
I can’t dream anything, not some lovely woman
murdered in a shack, not saw mills going broke,
not even wild wine and a landslide though I knew both well.
The blood still begs direction home. This river points
the way north to the blood, the blue stars certain
in their swing, their fix. I pass the backwash where
the cattails still lean north, familiar grebes pop up,
the windchill is the same. And it comes back with the odor
of the river, some way I know the lonely sources
of despair break down from too much love. No matter
how this water fragments in the reeds, it rejoins
the river and the bright bay north receives it all,
new salmon on their way to open ocean,
the easy tub returned.
Yardley, Pennsylvania, an expensive dump
and the van seats shake their broken bones.
Duty-free liquor and cigarettes,
the refineries and the harbor’s cranes.
The moon digs its way out of the dirt.
The branches of an evergreen sway.
the woman you don’t love.
She kisses you hard and often
holding your face in her big hands.
Remembering the past And gloating at it now, I know the frozen brow And shaking sides of lust Will dog me at my death To catch my ghostly breath. I think that Yeats was right, That lust and love are one. The body of this night May beggar me to death, But we are not undone Who love with all our breath. I know that Proust was wrong, His wheeze: love, to survive, Needs jealousy, and death And lust, to make it strong Or goose it back alive. Proust took away my breath. The later Yeats was right To think of sex and death And nothing else. Why wait Till we are turning old? My thoughts are hot and cold. I do not waste my breath.
In the days of yore I was a parakeet and my mouth a river The lights low to see into other worlds Vessels completing circuits Ancient conjurings and obscure geometries Screens so lovely If I have a true self it is you Blood, slow Dimensionally agnostic and lost in the loam A gun- powder portrait or arc that ends with smashing into glass Skeletons scanned An imaged sky If you hold me in your head I will be happy An edible ghost Encoded identity in a cloud of processors The difference you experience entirely different Perforated form Sad appendage The heart, a stencil
Both lying on our sides, making love in
spoon position when she’s startled, What’s that?
She means the enormous ship passing before you-
maybe not that large, is it a freighter
or a passenger ship? But it seems huge in the dark
and it’s so close. That’s a poem you say, D. H.
Lawrence-Have you built your ship of death,
have you? O build your ship of death,
For you will need it. Right here it would be good
if there were a small orchestra on board, you’d hear
them and say to her, That piece is called Autumn
that’s what the brave musicians played as the Titanic
went under-and then you could name this poem “Autumn.”
But no, the ship is silent, its white lights glow in the darkness.
My friend says she is like an empty drawer
being pulled out of the earth.
I am the long neck of the giraffe coming down
to see what she doesn’t have.
What holds us chained to the same cold river,
where we are surprised by the circles
we make in the ice? When we talk about the past
it is like pushing stones back into the earth.
Sometimes she digs her nails into her leather bag
to find out where my heart is. The white sleeves
of her shirt are bright with waves when I visit.
When we lie, we live a little longer—
which is unbelievable. If you love
someone, the water moves up from the well.
When I ride the adventures of my legs through your
or complain of bathroom spiders crawling up my ankles
as I wash blood from my thighs,
when I call to you from nightmares,
want you to be a wave pulling me out to sea,
or beg you to assure my voice is etched on glass
when I go leaving behind a sink full of winter,
I need to swallow my agony,
be told, “You are, you are a child again!”
I poke at your petals like a child,
twisting your stem until you break
and your pollen falls around you.
I gather and examine it in trembling hands.
I know that you are pure, the ideal idiot,
but I am trying to understand you
through a periscope.
I’m a lonely submarine of ripe flesh
swimming with the blind,
crusted creatures of the deep.
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.
I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,
selling suits to men I call “Sir.”
These men are muscled, groomed and cropped—
with wives and families that grow exponentially.
Mostly I talk of rep ties and bow ties,
of full-Windsor knots and half-Windsor knots,
of tattersall, French cuff, and English spread collars,
of foulards, neats, and internationals,
of pincord, houndstooth, nailhead, and sharkskin.
I often wear a blue pin-striped suit.
My hair recedes and is going gray at the temples.
On my cheeks there are a few pimples.
For my terrible eyesight, horn-rimmed spectacles.
One of my fellow-workers is an old homosexual
who works hard and wears bracelets with jewels.
No one can rival his commission checks.
On his break he smokes a Benson & Hedges cigarette,
puffing expectantly as a Hollywood starlet.
He has carefully applied a layer of Clinique bronzer
to enhance the tan on his face and neck.
His hair is gone except for a few strands
which are combed across his scalp.
He examines his manicured lacquered nails.
I admire his studied attention to details:
his tie stuck to his shirt with masking tape,
his teeth capped, his breath mint in place.
The old homosexual and I laugh in the back
over a coarse joke involving an octopus.
Our banter is staccato, staged and close
like those “Spanish Dances” by Granados.
I sometimes feel we are in a musical—
gossiping backstage between our numbers.
He drags deeply on his cigarette.
Most of his life is over.
Often he refers to himself as “an old faggot.”
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet. Our hours are long. Our backs bent.
We are more gracious than English royalty.
We dart amongst the aisles tall as hedgerows.
Watch us face into the merchandise.
How we set up and take apart mannequins
as if we were performing autopsies.
A naked body, without pretense, is of no use.
It grows late.
I hear the front metal gate close down.
We begin folding the ties correctly according to color.
The shirts—Oxfords, broadcloths, pinpoints—
must be sized, stacked, or rehashed.
The old homosexual removes his right shoe,
allowing his gigantic bunion to swell.
There is the sound of cash being counted—
coins clinking, bills swishing, numbers whispered—
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. . .
We are changed when the transactions are done—
older, dirtier, dwarfed.
A few late customers gawk in at us.
We say nothing. Our silence will not be breached.
The lights go off, one by one—
the dressing room lights, the mirror lights.
Then it is very late. How late? Eleven?
We move to the gate. It goes up.
The gate’s grating checkers our cheeks.
This is the Mall of America.
The light is bright and artificial,
yet not dissimilar to that found in a Gothic cathedral.
You must travel down the long hallways to the exits
before you encounter natural light.
One final formality: the manager checks out bags.
The old homosexual reaches into his over-the-shoulder leather bag—
the one he bought on his European travels
with his companion of many years.
He finds a stick of lip balm and applies it to his lips
liberally, as if shellacking them.
Then he inserts one last breath mint
and offers one to me. The gesture is fraternal
and occurs between us many times.
At last, we bid each other good night.
I watch him fade into the many-tiered parking lot,
where the thousands of cars have come
and are now gone. This is how our day ends.
This is how our day always ends.
Sometimes snow falls like rice.
See us take to our dimly lit exits,
disappearing into the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul;
Minneapolis is sleek and St. Paul,
named after the man who had to be shown,
is smaller, older, and somewhat withdrawn.
Behind us, the moon pauses over the vast egg-like dome of the mall.
See us loosening our ties among you.
We are alone.
There is no longer any need to express ourselves.
Soon the rushlights will go out in the flesh
of sympathetic bodies once close to my own hand
and I will go to my hammock, thinking of little
except the numbness that alone makes bearable
the wind’s twisting. I want atoms to separate
like hairs or dust onto the heads of my daughters.
I want to violate the edict that traps my hunger
in cages and away from her rough shoulder
and once to be enough for this and all the loves
that flicker through my bedroom before sleep.
They keep me awake, and tonight they are fierce
as whips or as needles to make the skin crawl.
I want to drift like the poui in a southerly wind
and settle where I need to before the faces erode,
my appetite of iron caulking the egg-shell heart.
There are many people who come back
After the doctor has smoothed the sheet
Around their body
And left the room to make his call.
They die but they live.
They are called the dead who lived through their deaths,
And among my people
They are considered wise and honest.
They float out of their bodies
And light on the ceiling like a moth,
Watching the efforts of everyone around them.
The voices and the images of the living
A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.
The light grows, a white flower.
It becomes very intense, like music.
They see the faces of those they loved,
The truly dead who speak kindly.
They see their father sitting in a field.
The harvest is over and his cane chair is mended.
There is a towel around his neck,
The odor of bay rum.
Then they see their mother
Standing behind him with a pair of shears.
The wind is blowing.
She is cutting his hair.
The dead have told these stories
To the living.
Fiercely I remove from you
All the little vestiges—
Garments that confine you,
Things that touch the flesh,
The wool and the silk
And the linen that entwine you,
Tear them all away from you,
Bare you from the mesh.
And now I have you as you are,
Nothing to encumber you—
But now I see, caressing you,
Colder hands than mine.
They take away your flesh and bone,
And, utterly undressing you,
They tear you from your beauty
And they leave no sign.
Once you saw a drove of young pigs
crossing the highway. One of them
pulling his body by the front feet,
the hind legs dragging flat.
you called the Humane Society.
They came with a net and went for him.
They were matter of fact, uniformed;
there were two of them,
their truck ominous, with a cage.
He was hiding in the weeds. It was then
you saw his eyes. He understood.
He was trembling.
After they took him, you began to suffer regret.
Years later, you remember his misfit body
scrambling to reach the others.
Even at this moment, your heart
is going too fast; your hands sweat.
You were having a stroke – i
did not grasp what was going on you
standing almost half ways up half
ways down the colors what were they
i was frozen both us us staring
woman with parasol behind me
are you drunk she said facing
you and the deli behind you you
leaned shivered dropped your coat
brain sweat eyes your eyes moving
seeing me behind me what
black man brown man no man no
pushed something away i was
in a rush en route to big time
poetry Biz duded up ironed shirt
the rain was in my way i was not
breathing you were losing yourself i
was gaining something you
stumbled out of your coat unrolled
a stranger’s language from your lips
pushed your feet down to
the depths of the tiny sidewalk even
though it was infinite burning
ahead of me to
the food truck at the corner yellow chips
corn violet green sugar drops
fiery torn packs flaring down and
across the street under the cement i
was moving silent alone a crooked line
going nowhere a woman
touched your hand you were lying
on the dirty shoe ground swimming
up to her i wanted you
i was a man
running for cover from the waters
i could not lift your suffering
it was too late the current pulled
i was floating away (i noticed it)
This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.
Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.
It was like soul-kissing, the way the words
filled my mouth as Mrs. Purdy read from her desk.
All the other kids zoned an hour ahead to 3:15,
but Mrs. Purdy and I wandered lonely as clouds borne
by a breeze off Mount Parnassus. She must have seen
the darkest eyes in the room brim: The next day
she gave me a poem she’d chosen especially for me
to read to the all except for me white class.
She smiled when she told me to read it, smiled harder,
said oh yes I could. She smiled harder and harder
until I stood and opened my mouth to banjo playing
darkies, pickaninnies, disses and dats. When I finished
my classmates stared at the floor. We walked silent
to the buses, awed by the power of words.