I seem to have come to the end of something, but don't know what, Full moon blood orange just over the top of the redbud tree. Maundy Thursday tomorrow, then Good Friday, then Easter in full drag, Dogwood blossoms like little crosses All down the street, lilies and jonquils bowing their mitred heads. Perhaps it's a sentimentality about such fey things, But I don't think so. One knows There is no end to the other world, no matter where it is. In the event, a reliquary evening for sure, The bones in their tiny boxes, rosettes under glass. Or maybe it's just the way the snow fell a couple of days ago, So white on the white snowdrops. As our fathers were bold to tell us, it's either eat or be eaten. Spring in its starched bib, Winter's cutlery in its hands. Cold grace. Slice and fork.
i. Spring the tips of each pine the spikes of telephone poles hold gathering crows may's errant mustard spreads wild across paved road look both ways roadside treble cleft feeding gopher, paws to mouth cheeks puffed with music yesterday's spring wind ruffling the grey tips of fur rabbit dandelion ii. Summer turkey vulture feeds mechanical as a red oil rig head rocks down up down stiff-legged dog rises goes grumbling after squirrel old ears still flap snowy egret—curves, lines, sculpted against pond blue; white clouds against sky banded headed bird this ballerina killdeer dance on point my heart iii. Fall leaf wind cold through coat wails over hills, through barren trees empty garbage cans dance damp September night lone farmer, lighted tractor drive memory's worn path sky black with migration flocks settle on barren trees leaf birds, travel songs october moon cast over corn, lighted fields crinkled sheaves of white iv. Winter ground painted in frost thirsty morning sun drinks white leaves rust golds return winter bare branches hold tattered cups of summer empty nests trail twigs lace edges of ice manna against darkened sky words turn with weather now one to seven deer or haiku syllables weave through winter trees Northern follows jig body flashes with strike, dive: broken line floats up.
These years lift over coldly now: Aprils
and Augusts are gifted to ice, or sprawl
into mid-summers or year ends—pillars
of lesser standing. Still come no replies
to boyish queries, how the belly sleeper
buoys, begins again, becomes poor soul
or bull of appetite; why when the pearls
drop, no spool dares connect the ripples.
The startling pleasures all broke down,
It was her first arthritic spring.
Inside her furs, her bones, secure,
Suddenly became a source of pain
And froze on a Saturday afternoon
While she was listening to “La Boheme.”
Strength had been her weakness, and
Because it was, she got to like
The exhilaration of catastrophes
That prove our lives as stupid as we think,
But pain, more stupid than stupidity,
Is an accident of animals in which, once caught,
The distances are never again the same.
Yet there was another Jane in Jane:
She smelled the inside of a logarithm,
And felt a Gothic arch rise in her chest,
Her clavicle widening to bear the weight
Of the two smooth plumb lines of her breasts,
The blueprints forming an enormous skirt
Around her body. Arch and star and cross
Swung like little lights inside her head,
A church and temple rising from the floor,
Nave and transept and an altar where,
Unbidden, she saw a kind of sacrifice;
The knife was in her hand, the stick, the whip;
She cried at her cruelty and cried to be
Outside of her defenses. And just then,
The windows buckled in, the paintings cracked,
The furniture went walking by itself,
All out of her control. And it was pain
That let her know she was herself again:
She wore a cloak of fire on her skin,
And power, power floated up to her.
There’s this movie I am watching:
my love’s belly almost five months
pregnant with cancer,
more like a little rock wall
piled and fitted inside her
than some prenatal rounding.
Over there’s her face
near the frying pan she’s bent over,
but there’s no water in the pan,
and so, no reflection. No pool
where I might gather such a thing as a face,
or sew it there on a tablet made of water.
To have and to haul it away,
sometimes dipping into her
in the next room that waits for me.
I am old at this. I am stretching
the wick again into my throat
when the flame burns down.
She’s splashing in the tub
and singing, I love him very much,
though I’m old and tired
and cancerous. It’s spring
and now she’s stopping traffic,
lifting one of her painted turtles
across the road. Someone’s honking,
pumping one arm out the window,
cheering her on.
She falls then like there’s a house
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
and vomits into the ditch.
She keeps her radioactive linen,
Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
we sleep in different rooms.
Over there’s the toilet she’s been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
through the door make a toast to it,
Here’s to you, toilet bowl.
There’s nothing poetic about this.
I have one oar that hangs
from our bedroom window,
and I am rowing our hut
in the same desperate circle.
I warm her tea then spread
cream cheese over her bagel,
and we lie together like two guitars,
A rose like a screw
in each of our mouths.
There’s that liquid river of story
that sometimes sweeps us away
from all this, into the ha ha
and the tender. At night the streetlights
buzz on again with the stars,
and the horses in the field swat their tails
like we will go on forever.
I’m at my desk herding some
lost language when I notice how quiet
she has been. Twice I call her name
and wait after my voice has lost its legs
and she does not ring back.
Dude, I’m still here, she says at last
then the sound of her
stretching her branches, and from them
the rain falling thick through our house.
I’m racing to place pots and pans
everywhere. Bottle her in super canning jars.
For seventeen years, I’ve lined
the shelves of our root cellar with them.
One drop for each jar.
I’ll need them for later.
Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.
I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,
what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this
quirky and lashing stillness of form to see myself,
even as I see laid out on a table for Death
an assortment of pomegranates and gourds.
And what if Death eats a few pomegranate seeds?
Does it insure a few years of pungent spring?
I see one gourd, yellow from midsection to top
and zucchini-green lower down, but
already the big orange gourd is gnawed black.
I have no idea why the one survives the killing nights.
I have to sift what you said, what I felt,
what you hoped, what I knew. I have to sift
death as the stark light sifts the branches of the plum.
The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp
stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,
a loop of intestine poking out.
It wouldn’t live,
so I ran the blades over it again,
and cut it again but didn’t kill it,
and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.
It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard
I tended as a child
for the dead ones, wild and tame:
fish from the bubbling green aquarium,
squirrels from the road,
the bluejay stalked to a raucous death
by Cicero the patient, the tireless hunter,
who himself was laid to rest
one August afternoon
under a rock painted gray, his color,
with a white splash for his white splash.
Once in the woods I found the skeleton
of a deer laid out like a diagram,
long spine curved like a necklace of crude, ochre spools
with the string rotted away,
and the dull metal shaft of the arrow
lying where it must have pierced
not the heart, not the head,
but the underbelly, the soft part
where the sex once was.
I carried home the skull
with its nubs of not-yet-horns
which the mice had overlooked,
and set it on a rock
in my kingdom of the dead.
Before I chopped the little snake
to bits of raw mosaic,
it drew itself
into an upward-straining coil,
head weaving, mouth open,
hissing at the noise that hurt it.
The stripe was made
of tiny paper diamonds,
sharp-edged but insubstantial,
like an x-ray of the spine
or the ghost beginning to pull away.
What taught the snake to make itself
seem bigger than it was,
to spend those last few seconds
dancing in the roar
and shadow of its death?
Now I see, though none exists,
harebells withered in a jar,
a yellow spiral
painted on a green-black stone,
a ring of upright pine cones for a fence.
That’s how the deer skull lay in state
until one of the neighborhood dogs
came to claim it,
and carried it off to bury
in the larger graveyard of the world.