translated by William O’Daly
Today is that day, the day that carried
a desperate light that since has died.
Don’t let the squatters know:
let’s keep it all between us,
day, between your bell
and my secret.
Today is dead winter in the forgotten land
that comes to visit me, with a cross on the map
and a volcano in the snow, to return to me,
to return again the water
fallen on the roof of my childhood.
Today when the sun began with its shafts
to tell the story, so clear, so old,
the slanting rain fell like a sword,
the rain my hard heart welcomes.
You, my love, still asleep in August,
my queen, my woman, my vastness, my geography
kiss of mud, the carbon-coated zither,
you, vestment of my persistent song,
today you are reborn again and with the sky’s
black water confuse me and compel me:
I must renew my bones in your kingdom,
I must still uncloud my earthly duties.
I spent what light Saturday sent sweating
And learned to cuss cutting grass for women
Kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned
Difference between their mowed lawns
And their vacuumed carpets just before
Handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter
Than a joint and asking me in to change
A few light bulbs. I called those women old
Because they wouldn’t move out of a chair
Without my help or walk without a hand
At the base of their backs. I called them
Old, and they must have been; they’re all dead
Now, dead and in the earth I once tended.
The loneliest people have the earth to love
And not one friend their own age—only
Mothers to baby them and big sisters to boss
Them around, women they want to please
And pray for the chance to say please to.
I don’t do that kind of work anymore. My job
Is to look at the childhood I hated and say
I once had something to do with my hands.
Despite that you
wrote your name
on its fuselage
in magic marker
neither your quiet
hours at the kitchen
it with glue
nor your choice of
paint and lacquer
nor your seemingly
choice of a seemingly
for the launch of
nor the thrill
of its swift ignition
nor the heights
nor the dancing
way you chase
will ever be
restored to you
by the people
in the topmost
branches of whose trees
it may yet from
Let me tell you about suffering
because I was a boy cold without love
in a large house, so dark it stifled laughs.
I would run to my mother with stones
only to drop them under a grim gaze
so harsh I felt tossed in a freezing bath.
Her words, like a cicada’s shrill chirp, pierced
the long summer afternoons of my hopes.
I can still remember my brother’s folded hands
in the coffin, how kissing them burnt me.
I cried uncontrollably, torched inside
with processional fires held by shadowed monks
cowled in their black walk through narrow streets
of my town, terrifying my heart forever.
I noticed the mockingbirds first,
not for their call but the broad white bands,
like reverse mourning bands on gunmetal
gray, exposed during flight
then tucked into their chests. A thing
seen once, then everywhere—
the top of the gazebo, the little cracked statue,
along the barbed fence. Noticed because
I know first with my eyes, then followed
their several songs braiding the trees.
Only later, this other, same-same-again song,
a bird I could not see but heard
when I walked from the house to the studio,
studio to the house, its three notes
repeated like a child’s up and down
on a trampoline looping
the ground to the sky—
When I remember being a child like this
I think I wouldn’t mind living alone
on a mountain, stilled into the daily
which isn’t stillness at all but a whirring
gone deep. The composer shows how
the hands, palms down, thumb to thumb
and forefinger to mirrored finger, make
a shape like a cone, a honeybee hive, and then
how that cone moves across the piano—
notes in groups fluttering fast back-and-forth
and it sounds difficult but it isn’t
really, how the hand likes to hover each patch
of sound. Likes gesture. To hold. Listening
is like this. How it took me a week to hear
the ever-there wren. And the bees
are like this, intent on their nectar,
their waggle dance better than any GPS.
A threatened thing. A no-one-knows-why.
But the wrens’ invisible looping their loop—
And I, for a moment, pinned to the ground.
Pinned and spinning in the sound of it.
Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I’m not sure is there.
for matthew z and matthew r
I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like a can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.