When fiber-optic, sky blue hair became the fashion, my father began the monthly ritual of shaving his head. It was August, and we were still living in the Projects without a refrigerator. The sound of my mother fluttering through the rosaries in another room reminded me of the flies I'd learned to trap in mid- flight and bring to my ear. "Vecchio finally died," my father said, bending to lace his old boots. "You want to come help me?" My grandparents lived in a green-shingled house on the last street before the Jones & Laughlin coke furnaces, the Baltimore & Ohio switching yard, and the sliding banks of the Monongahela. The night was skunk-dark. The spade waited off to the side. Before I could see it, I could smell the box on the porch. We walked down the tight alley between the houses to get to the back yard where fireflies pushed through the heat like slow aircraft and tomato plants hung bandaged to iron poles. My father tore and chewed a creamy yellow flower from the garden. After a few minutes of digging, he said, "Throw him in." I lifted the cardboard box above my head, so I could watch the old white cat tumble down, a quarter moon in the pit of the sky.
Let’s not forget the General
Shuffling out in his gray slippers
To feed the pigeons in Logan Square.
He wore a battered White Sox cap
And a heavy woolen scarf tossed
Over his shoulder, even in summer.
I remember how he muttered to himself
And coughed into his newspaper
And complained about his gout
To the other Latvian exiles,
The physicist who lived on Gogol Street
In Riga, my grandfather’s hometown,
The auxiliary policeman from Daugavpils,
And the chemical engineer,
Who always gave me hard candy,
Though grandfather spit
And grandmother hurried me away
When she saw them coming.
The rain falls on.
Acres of violets unfold.
Myrtle and forsythia follow.
The cardinals call to each other.
Echoes of delicate
I know something now
About subject, object, verb
And about one word that fails
For lack of substance.
Now people say, He passed on
Instead of that. Unit
Of space subtracted by one.
It almost rhymes with earth.
What is a poet but a person
Who lives on the ground
Who laughs and listens
Without pretension of knowing
Anything, driven by the lyric’s
Quest for rest that never
(God willing) will be found?
Concord, kitchen table, 1966.
Corbetts, Creeley, a grandmother
And me. Sweater, glasses,
One wet eye.
Lots of laughter
Before and after. Every meeting
Rhymed and fluttered into meter.
The beat was the message. . . .
(for Robert Creeley)
This, we tiptoe.
This, we flower in euphemism.
The street has swallowed itself into border. Into railroad track.
This, where the bus line ends.
This, where little boys bike across curfew and into eulogy.
This, where board-slapped windows domino into mansions.
Runaway men into joggers.
This, where Oak Park River Forest alumni rep westside,
Redlands East Valley minstrels “Gangsta Day” during spirit week.
This, where the grass and the quiet
lull mothers to sleep.
This, where your heart is not yet
a restless telephone wire shackled to the ankle
of every one you have ever loved after sunset.
This, where the news stations tell you everything you know about
what lives across your street, outside of your living room window,
at the end of your driveway.
This, deliberate. This, abrupt.
This, sloppy stitching.
Here, you are exception,
urban, and articulate.
The black friend that let them poke pencils through your kink that one time
while you curled a trembling smile, pretending not to be
token or voodoo doll,
half house, half field
a Susie Carmichael or Huxtable.
The black family in a White House
ran north and bought the plantation.
This all too familiar of being someplace but not.
You were raised on “twice as good.”
Mama left the westside when you were two.
You were raised into valley-girl accent.
Your voice lost all of its skyline until
you went to high school through metal detectors.
You were raised on ditches and division streets.
Here, where you were born before you were conceived.
Here, where your cousin lives in the basement.
Here is your first real boyfriend
the first tongue in your mouth, and first
call from the county.
Here is the splintered wall your back will know.
Here, where you are no bourgeois success story,
just lucky enough to slip through cracks and make it
to your front door each night.
Here is where your ashes will be scattered.
Here is your home 6 years from now.
Here is your home 50 years ago.
Here is your redemption skin.
Your corner store.
Your corner stone.
Here is your Gramma’s house and dusted porcelain
and stuffed bears on the living room walls.
Here, where everything grows without permission.
Here, where sunflowers rise from the potholes
each and every summer.
weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out.
When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl
of a jump rope song, was on the rage,
you did not swim in public waters.
The awful thing was an iron lung.
We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.
Some kids fainted, we all were stung.
My cousin Speed sat in a vat
of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,
but from then on his heart was not the same.
My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield
by two guys from Springfield.
Linda got a bad thing in her blood.
Everybody’s grandmother died.
Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.
Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.
A famous singer sent condolences.
In the large second floor corner room
of my 4th grade class the windows were open.
Snow, in fat, well-fed flakes
floats in where they and the chalk-motes meet.
And the white rat powder, too, sifts down
into a box of oatmeal
on the shelf below.
She knew how to seduce her destiny,
predict the time of flight
In 1939, dressed in garments
of night and happiness
at the threshold of a fearful
resolved to live,
to Southern seas.
In 1938, the windows
of her house of water and stone
resisted the extreme
horror of that night
of broken crystals.
She, my grandmother,
taught me to recognize
the landscape of danger,
the shards of fear,
the impenetrable faces
audacious in their will to live.
created a domain
of papers, fragile vessels,
clandestine poems and
notes to be made,
With little baggage,
like a frail and ancient
although ready to embark again.
I survived next to her
and I was thankful for the gift of her presence.
Mr. Horowitz clutches a bag of dried apricots to his chest. Although the sun is shining, there will probably be a storm. Electricity will be lost. Possibly forever. When this happens the very nervous family will be the last to starve. Because of the apricots. “Unless,” says Mrs. Horowitz, “the authorities confiscate the apricots.” Mr. Horowitz clutches the bag of dried apricots tighter. He should’ve bought two bags. One for the authorities and one for his very nervous family. Mrs. Horowitz would dead bolt the front door to keep the authorities out, but it is already bolted. Already dead. She doesn’t like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run. “Everyone should have at least a chance to run,” says Mrs. Horowitz. “Don’t you agree, Mr. Horowitz?” Mrs. Horowitz always refers to her husband as Mr. Horowitz should they ever one day become strangers to each other. Mr. Horowitz agrees. When the authorities come they should give the Horowitzs a chance to run before they shoot them for the apricots. Eli Horowitz, their very nervous son, rushes in with his knitting. “Do not rush,” says Mr. Horowitz, “you will fall and you will die.” Eli wanted ice skates for his birthday. “We are not a family who ice skates!” shouts Mrs. Horowitz. She is not angry. She is a mother who simply does not wish to outlive her only son. Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them. “We have survived this long to become our own demise?” asks Mrs. Horowitz. “No,” whispers Eli, “we have not.” Mr. Horowitz removes one dried apricot from the bag and nervously begins to pet it when Mrs. Horowitz suddenly gasps. She thinks she may have forgotten to buy milk. Without milk they will choke on the apricots. Eli rushes to the freezer with his knitting. There is milk. The whole freezer is stuffed with milk. Eli removes a frozen half pint and glides it across the kitchen table. It is like the milk is skating. He wishes he were milk. Brave milk. He throws the half pint on the floor and stomps on it. Now the milk is crushed. Now the milk is dead. Now the Horowitzs are that much closer to choking. Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz are dumbfounded. Their very nervous son might be a maniac. He is eight. God is punishing them for being survivors. God has given them a maniac for a son. All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk. Who will marry their maniac? No one. Who will mother their grandchildren? There will be no grandchildren. All they ask is that there is something left of them when they are shot for the apricots, but now their only son is a maniac who will give them no grandchildren. Mr. Horowitz considers leaving Eli behind when he and Mrs. Horowitz run for their lives.
There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.
There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.
Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.
And I ask myself:
“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.
He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised
I saw his hand at all. The moon, of course, is always
there—day moon, but it’s still there; behind the clouds but
it’s still there. I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice
in a highball glass. The moon? It’s free, it doesn’t
cost you anything so go ahead and look. Sustained attention
to anything—a focus, a scrutiny—always yields results.
I’d live on the moon probably except I think I’d miss
the moonlight, landscaping craters with clay roses in earthshine
and a reasonable excuse to avoid visiting hours
at the mental hospital. In space, no one can hear you
lying to your mom: “Can’t make it, Mom. It’s
a really long schlep.” The coffee’s weak and the coffee cake’s
imaginary. You’re not missing anything. Inside: a day room
and a day pass. Outside: a gazebo under a jackfruit tree.
The other inside: a deeper understanding of the burden
and its domestic infrastructure. Make yourself white.
Make yourself snow but the black bears trample
your landscape like little black dots that show up on x-rays.
It is not enough to be a landscape. One must also become
the path through the landscape, which is creepy. Truly.
The sun melts the snow, the bears wander off, the leaves
tremble like all my sad friends. I can still see his hand.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead. Buried
underground, its light was too much to bear. How did it
get there? Greed. The brothers who owned it had it
buried with them. Later, St. Peter hung it in a tree.
The dead went back to bed, allegedly. One wonders why
a story like this exists. Who wrote it and to what end?
An ingenious solution: trees. Cashew, avocado, fig,
olive. Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb
higher. We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our
overcoats, the snow falling down. Little black dots.
Some dream of tall things—trees, ladders, a rope trick.
My dreams are filled with bricks, or things in the shape
of bricks. Rectangles in the hot sun. A cow, a car,
a carton of cigarettes. Even my imagination sleeps
when I sleep and why not rest? Why crash the party
on the astral plane? You’ll just be too tired to go
to the real party later. Have you ever eaten
Swedish meatballs at a dream party? They taste like
your blanket, because they are your blanket.
My imagination wants breakfast burritos. It refuses
to punch the clock until then. I could eat six but then
I’d need a nap. A breakfast that puts you back to sleep
is useless. Dear bears, we must not hibernate!
The bathroom tile is always wet and slippery and the door
from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeeks
but I have arrived, triumphant, with corporate coffee!
Tawnya has written our names on the paper cups
in her immaculate cursive. Her eyes are dead
and lusterless but her heart is in the right place, I guess.
Somewhere deep in her chest, I guess.
We take our hats off and get down
to business. “You got plans tonight, Dick?”
“Eight dollar spaghetti dinner and all you can sing
karaoke at the Best Western. Gonna school
Pace and Killian in the finer points of falsetto.”
Not even one hour later: smoke break
in the breezeway by the handicapped bathroom.
Why is it we believe we only have one soul?
Because it’s easier to set the table for one. And you can
sing your dinner tune to yourself while you eat over the sink.
The throat of the sink: silent. The throat of the argument:
more silverware, a tablecloth, gratitude, more souls.
A kid under a tablecloth isnists he’s a ghost. A table
underneath a tablecloth is, I guess, like the rest of us,
only pretending to be invisible. Or worse:
dressed for work and not in the mood for, you know,
how it all plays out, always the same ways, boring times infinity.
“When I grow up I’m going to be a truck,”
says the kid underneath the tablecloth, and that’s one way
to deflect the weight of the inevitable, to insist on possibility
in the face of grownups and the pumace of their compromises.
The trees die standing. My Spanish teacher told me this.
I had conjugated the verbs beforehand and taped them
to the bottom of my sneaker. Cheater, yes. Also uninvested
in the outcome. She could tell. Nothing to be done about it.
Verbs of being and verbs of action. We, neither
of us, were doing much anyway at the time and the room was
too hot. I think she meant unroot, which is a good thing to mean
but a difficult thing to hear when you’re living under someone
else’s roof. I climbed trees then, too. Then climbed back down.
How do I tell you how I got here without getting trapped
in the past? I suppose that’s a bigger question than I expected.
“Hey Dick, tell ‘em about that one time when we made out.
That was a good time.” Yes, it was. And yet
should we really spend our velocities on backwards motion?
Yes. Any motion, every motion. It’s spring, green, take off
your coat, pull down your cap, roll up your sleeves, we’re
hunting, we’re arrows, we’re stag in a meadow, in a frenzy.
“Like I said, Dick. That was a good time.”
Soul 1: Was it a good time?
Soul 2: I had fun. You seemed to like it.
Soul 3: He’s no Neil Armstrong.
Soul 2: Few are.
Neil Armstrong: Hush.
“He was such a colicky baby. Always fussing and crying.
As if he didn’t want to be here at all. Right, Dicky?”
No, mom. I don’t remember. And you’re not supposed to be
in this part of the poem. You come back later, near the end,
with the ghost and the hand and the moon, after dark, after
the gimlets. “Sweetie, you asked for prompts and it’s getting dark
on the East Coast. Tick tock. And don’t type drunk.”
Dear East Coast, I’m sorry it’s getting dark. It must be problematic,
living in the future, always a few steps ahead, knowing
things you shouldn’t say, since they haven’t happened
to the rest of us yet. And Poland? I don’t dare wonder
what you know about tomorrow. “Your grandma was from Poland.”
I know, mom. And grandpa was handsome and you
were the smart one and the pretty one. “Still am. Poor Barbara.
You know, Dicky, I’ve been out of the hospital for a while now.
Remember how you promised you wouldn’t write about me
while I was alive, Dicky? Remember? So if you’re
writing about me that must mean something, yes?”
You’re not sticking around for the end, then. “No, you’re
doing fine, Squish. And yes, I miss you, too.”
We cannot tarry here. We must march, we must bear the brunt.
Smoke break: in the alley by the oleanders, the pink ones.
Dear East Coast, it is getting dark here too now. Suddenly.
“It’s getting late, Little Moon. Sing them the song.”
It’s not that late, Mr. Kitten.
“You are my moon, Little Moon. And it’s late enough.
So climb down out of the tree.”
Is it safe? “Safe enough.” Are you dead as well?
Soul 1: Sing.
Soul 2: Sing.
Soul 3: Sing.
Stag In The Meadow: Sing.
The Black Bears: Sing.
Kid Under The Tablecloth: Sing.
I’ve been singing all day.
“Yes, you’ve been singing all day. And no, I’m not dead, not
everyone is dead, Little Moon. But the big moon needs the tree.”
There is a ghost at the end of the song.
“Yes, there is. And you see his hand, and then you see the moon.”
Am I the ghost at the end of the song?
“No, you are the way we bounce the light to see the ghost.”
He was looking at the moon by I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised I saw
his hand at all. Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
One wonders why a story like this exists. Who wrote it
and to what end? Sure, everyone wants the same things—
to belong, and to not be left behind—but still, does it help?
Perhaps. Once, in a fable: a man in a tree. Once,
in a fable: the trace of his thinking, the sound of his singing.
I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice in a highball glass.
The light of the mind illuminating the mind itself.
Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb higher.
We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our overcoats,
the snow falling down.
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985
The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor’s buttons. But it isn’t the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it’s
a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother’s garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above–
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we’re
made of, is motion.
for Danny Fletcher
I. Call and Response
Plumbline of disaster, shadow storage
of the way thought travels, the opinion,
the sentiment, only assertion following silence,
only a way of everlasting breathing,
a verb searching for grammar too devoted
to making sense so that the self interrupts
with a final pitch. From stop to stop the mouth
makes music by holding sound in a razz
mixed with spit, air pushing through idea
to a new phrase, followed by a chill,
then riding on the other air. So the moment might live
outside itself, lips vibrate against
the mouthpiece of the horn, the face blooms
in concentration, the idea of interval.
Anoint the valves, they stick — my
it is bright when you bring out your trumpet
William, standing there, tapping your right
foot, bent like a cricket at the knee, slouching.
Whoever hears your Ode to Joy hears your knocking
then setting down of carrying
case, cradling of brass. Dizzy said it took
his whole life to learn what not
to play but in one month you deny nothing,
not even the feel of your embouchere,
who’d been in school all day. Lubricate the valves,
once neighbors lifted up their heads
like lilies in the field, and wind rolled over
the need to stay away.
It’s beauty people fear, bright
rose riding on Aunt Billie’s forehead,
the way light makes green everything
after her pickled okra, stubble
in the hands of day labor, callouses
of a parade of things and
touching them without seeing
or hearing without knowledge,
dumbstruck by a brooding need to define
or look without a place
to grieve, beauty and not faith
in truth in the light of justice —
just reach and nothing’s there
but what’s there already.
William — where — is — your — horn,
did you leave it in math class again
with Fibonacci’s sequence, flaring
bell, flex and curve in sunlight leaning
at a forty-five degree angle,
your teacher Mr. Fletcher having cranked
open the classroom window with an allen wrench,
merged with sunlight so a horsefly wheeled
blue-green in its own wingbeat
by a rote it answered to in music,
lesser to the greater as the greater
to the whole, tube twice bent
on itself, Sin curve on the line of displacement,
sending sound backwards until it’s now?
William, when thirty kids try out for basketball
calculate the odds, the tendency of mind
to see itself in transition — feminine green light
like call waiting — you might be playing trumpet
into the speaker, your girlfriend Corrine might
be listening, exhausting her telephone allotment
of fifteen minutes, holding her ear inches away, glint
of a clipboard watching you both. You might move out of
the paint. The yellow squeak of rubber on oak
wakes rivers of grain — what does it matter
that this matter jumps back or breaks for open court —
sometimes you only stand and scream,
wave both arms, put it on the floor and drive,
lay it up, put it down, take it home.
Let me find the keys says Candace
let’s go says William the water
nibbles at the bank sunlight shafts
the fog wait says Candace
clouds back off the water
what else the boat suspended
glint gray along the gunnels
here they are I’ve found them
the washing machine idles in its cycle
sun shattered in water slaps
let’s go says William the legs follow
the surface tension the door closes
the car starts the green wave slides
under the boat a day begins.
Slow it down, bring it down, bring it
on home, tympanum of the trumpet-
flower, raised hood, swollen yellow face,
pathological woe standing
in rank grass against the Hurricane fence,
half a brick bewildered, half
carried through slatted shadows, cracked
bell shrouded by buildings, doorways
listening, patiently waiting for someone to open
a paper bag and bring out the horn
and this one time it sounds exactly like
laughter, wind blows in your face,
from a high window in metallic light
long green trumpets beat back rain.
When the instruments linger in the band room,
snare leaning into itself,
tuba beached against green cinderblock,
do they riff where a fault opens,
make a crazy line in space, does brass
lie in bronze alloy, does longing
breathe in acoustic energy? Notes hang
to the skirt of the bell
like a city of light for a moment.
A tire spooks the gravel, you hear talk
about the weather, the leaning toward
and then away. Pierce the blind
to better hear the music, the fall
of each sound and pause between.
It damages people when they do not understand
the healing power of friendship.
I am damaged. The left front light of my transport
is out. A day doesn’t pass. An hour
does not go by. There are minutes that glow
in human flesh. A trumpet has a voice.
A place lives in music of people and time.
These are not things I know.
Things of the air are also not thought of
in time of need. That is why the passive
voice is so active in distortion, and well
to note that a slur is more expressive
than a sharp note timed to surface admiration,
though the fool in me shines to perfection.
Soft percussive no-look pass of summer,
flexion of bell, white seed
of longing and forgetfulness — I remember
stopping on the way home from school
at a car showroom, perching on vinyl I could smell
thinking I don’t belong here
and the place about to close. I hold the page
of music so you can see it, William,
your face reddens, your foot taps eight times
to push breath past unbelievable seconds,
a dandelion head floats out of sight
senseless and alive, full of feather
and plume, empty to itself wherever
it flies, drifting from its own heart.
The dog growls, a low unearthed intent stands
up on back of the neck — I am here and
somewhere else — back in time maybe, fingers
tap the valves. Make two trumpets
of silver Yahweh said to Moses —
and make them play flat and sharp notes
at the same time said Ornette Coleman,
no loose lipping. Wake the memory.
Wake the present tense. The tongue wicks the mouthpiece.
Horripilates the cause. Lights up the argument.
A column of air moving through an empty place,
three stops, an opening outward
toward no purpose or proof beyond the time
when people will not hear it.
My father’s there. Like fugitive dust
seeping through cracks and keyholes in Oklahoma
in the early 30’s. What happens when I try
to hold him is my arms pass through air.
Goodbye goodbye to the river and to
green metallic leaves. I leave
the darkness which sat on my shoulders
for love talk and grace of music.
Still, there are strains of darkness
dear to light. I found a photograph
under the couch. My father barbecuing
chicken with his shirt off, skin brown
as a berry. Grinning from the other side.
Into the lens. Of light and song.
II. Shout Trumpet
When passing the Trumpet in Zion Church,
red brick soaked with morning rain,
four cars parked on slickened blacktop,
marked yellow lines, redbud clusters,
heart-shaped lavender pods, I keep hearing
my own minor key. Even so,
a person puts a thumb out, an awning
cantilevers, traffic comes
to a rolling stop. Through an open window
high bright notes clarify the air
back to March wind, locked doors, to those who
have lost their love, decided
to go and not come back: the high C
of incalculable motion.
At the Trumpet in Zion they do the laying
on of hands — your long hair
passes over me, the purpose of
the body hidden in the word.
Thinking nothing. Resembling an eighth note.
If the rapture taketh then where
does the body go when hands lie down on air?
A flag dragged through the iris
upside down. Desire runs through its stops —
the dance rises to water level.
What happens inside music to make it run
over arms and legs like a squirrel?
Toot toot go to the water to the river
of folded wings,
where catalpa shade holds a body of gnats
just the shape of smoke and water
saturates yellow air and a water moccasin
displaces the imagination —
not away from but toward where the world
reaches and a song carries across water,
one they’ve been singing all along,
the same notes and fears,
the sound of pure tones. I wouldn’t know it
if I heard it. I might not
know if it were only mine.
I would like to think I could clearly hear
the music as it calls across so
I could know what you know.
Bats are back. Looping the Mulberry. Concentric
gravitational waves. I think I notice
my own radar. I loll in a yellow chair
with two ear plugs connected to Art Porter.
Art Porter Junior in background on clarinet.
Little Rock’s own. Follow the ogive turns
past Maybelline to Telegraph Road, past
Jimmy Doyle’s and the white birches,
signs for Alltel and Jesus, SunCom,
and Ruby Lube. Are you a holy roller
William asks his grandmother. No but I’m
spirit-filled. Her sisters’ faces
ghost across her own face as it is — Jean,
Billie in her garden, pious Lucille.
I ask myself riddles in sleep and part of me
thinks it knows the answers. My
body leaks, my ignorance, my desire. I keep a
gold tooth which is not the trumpet,
wood landing over water knock, photon locked
in early light wrapped around
a cove, people in a boat, not much talking
but it echoes, love is there, when
will I ever believe, fill the body up and sing.
A wireless chip with beams of light carries
itself in your eye. Who sleeps upside down
on a ledge with toes turned in, dreams of making
love mid-air, only you and me in water? Bats are back.
I feel a scarf of air rush past.
Some mean ass little red bug just bit the shit out of me!
So why does it grease the room with soulless
nasal noise, no antennae for opposites,
alighting on the trumpet case? Seven years
of mending, leaving and coming back through you,
I think I can hear syncopation
in the last half of the beat, cancellation
too, but I only want to touch the button
on your blouse. The hi-hat clears the moment.
Out of nowhere you came to me.
Where is memory with its leaning sideways solo
under a stone weight? Out of nowhere
you came back. Today and today an old wind blows,
music flares above the grasstips.
When the moon stares from its forehead
and sound waves and particles
knock on tiny hairs in the inner ear,
information travels — how can one not know
the only pressure occurs at a molecular
level? A channel forms in the flow of ions.
When one whacks at a cloud of flies,
one clarifies that insects don’t know where
the hell they are — they can’t hear
right so spend their remaining days
complaining that music by itself is trivial.
Their bristles get bent, ions
flow in to trumpet the brain, but still
no hard high note, no upward rip.
Plumbline of the asters, music caught inside
the throat, the implacability, the fluted crescent
of the body, the temple, the infarcted heart,
the age of reason, the tap tap tap of the baton:
one time one steps off the porch two stories high,
next the song sings itself:
the air, the ambient glue, the tongue
in mid-salute, the coup de langue,
the nation at war, the wormhole connecting nothing
to nothing, the creak of heaven over
the creek, the flat speckled rock, the event
horizon, the accretion disk, the no
which means no, the wide swing under stars,
the water, the verb, the hidden grammar.
Not long ago a fly landed in the butter.
The buzz stumbled, the the stared out
from the portable computer, the astral light
combined with the high speed line
to toot back an unheard, unseen opinion
so popular here in the South.
I reach for you and nothing, not anything
from all the days of walking, breathing
in and out, waking to change and resemblance,
quickened to the task of words,
time and timing unsung — belly to belly,
keyboard to hyperthought, one wing
gleaming on a salt sweet brick like a face
in the screen, increased singularity.
I hear the neighbors talking over the fence —
“He came driving up in that turd-colored
convertible and didn’t even open the door
when he saw his stuff all flayed out
in the bushes and grass, his shirt with the sleeve
drooping over the hostas . . .” The glass doors
screech, the monarch glisses over standing water,
the ego in its drifting boat interminably waits.
We have no ideas but why should we say goodbye?
The signature and sign don’t mean
the end of it. White azalea blossom stuck to mud.
That is the end of winter, this
a preoccupation with weather which has nothing
more than last night on its mind.
Thunder and rain all day like the drumming
of Zutty Singleton. Ivy gropes
the fern, a sprig of oak pollen navigates
over two bar breaks. One or two
octaves over, like a ghost flattened out, down
the basement, up one flight
to the dirty silver door with Judas hole, to a few
tables and wicker chairs, late afternoon — that’s
where to hear a phrase turn. The upright
shakes the floor, and when
however fast the falling torrent flows —
stop that please thinks management if people
stand too long and listen — the whole world knows
in wind when self assured, the roses blow.
You know that silo in Oklahoma, the one with
chipped tooth on the way to Grandma’s house
where apple blossoms lit the way to certain hell?
Well, it’s gone now. The leaping light
and silence. Through channels of urgent voluntary
sing-song, passing tones in the hallway
mirror, tension through the saunter of water cooled
air, all is gone. You don’t have to remember.
Only that violation in the upper registers which
sounded and does sound in houses
just a few blocks over, and in fact, in this house
which is hot at night and cunning,
waits for a future. Slap-tongue’s gone. The mouth
meets and notches the music.