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.
Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten,
Forgotten as a fire that once was singing gold,
Let it be forgotten for ever and ever,
Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Long and long ago,
As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall
In a long forgotten snow.
The last time I saw Paul Castle
it was printed in gold on the wall
above the showers in the boys’
locker room, next to the school
record for the mile. I don’t recall
his time, but the year was 1968
and I can look across the infield
of memory to see him on the track,
legs flashing, body bending slightly
beyond the pack of runners at his back.
He couldn’t spare a word for me,
two years younger, junior varsity,
and hardly worth the waste of breath.
He owned the hallways, a cool blonde
at his side, and aimed his interests
further down the line than we could guess.
Now, reading the name again,
I see us standing in the showers,
naked kids beneath his larger,
comprehensive force—the ones who trail
obscurely, in the wake of the swift,
like my shadow on this gleaming wall.
You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.
The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.
Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?
Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.
Some believe there’s somewhere in the brain
that senses minor fluctuations in the Earth’s
magnetic field and uses a sort of memory
of that to travel the same route year after year
over thousands of miles, over open ocean
on moonless, clouded nights, and a built-in clock
that, save for weather’s influence, tells
when it’s time to go. But they utter nothing
of thwarted dreams in birds’ brains, how
a few cubic feet near the ground, however
well-kept and lighted, however large it seems
around a small bright bird, is like a fist
closed tight on feather and bone, how, certain times
of year, the bird’s heart races as if to power flight.
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.
You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.
Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:
head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand
dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only
what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock
where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:
the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return