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.
After a while I thought of it this way:
It was a town underneath a mountain
crowned by snow and every year a river
rushed through, enveloping the dusk
in a noise everyone knew signaled spring—
a small town, known for a kind of calico,
made there, strong and unglazed,
a makeshift of cotton in which the actual
unseparated husks still remained and
could be found if you looked behind
the coarse daisies and the red-billed bird
with swept-back wings always trying to
arrive safely on the inch or so of cotton it
might have occupied if anyone had offered it.
And if you ask me now what happened to it—
the town that is—the answer is of course
there was no town, it never actually
existed, and the calico, the glazed cotton
on which a bird never landed is not gone,
because it never was, never once, but then
how to explain that sometimes I can hear
the river in those first days of April, making
its way through the dusk, having learned
to speak the way I once spoke, saying
as if I didn’t love you,
as if I wouldn’t have died for you.
When a poem
speaks by itself,
it has a spark
and can be considered
part of a divine
Sometimes the poem weaves
like a basket around
two loaves of yellow bread.
“Break off a piece
of this April with its
raisin nipples,” it says.
“And chew them slowly
under your pillow.
You belong in bed with me.”
On the other hand,
when a poem speaks
in the voice of a celebrity
it is called television
or a movie.
“There is nothing to see,”
say Robert De Niro,
though his poem bleeds
all along the edges
like a puddle
with yellow tape
at the crime scene
“It is an old poem,” he adds.
I was very young
when I made it.”
Children picking through the rocks
beside the river on a spring day.
What are they looking for? Old green
net tangled on broken pilings; a couple
embracing on the tumbledown esplanade.
Some fishermen drinking beer from tall brown bottles.
Broken shells, tire treads, rusted aluminum pull-tabs-
downriver, near the sun, the great echoes
and the embers of the bridge; and upriver,
far away, the echoing spools and dynamos
of the dam, its forces crackling outward
like the giant snow crab’s jointed legs,
like a web in sunlight, a net, a chorus
of embers, like a plan the river is planning,
abstract, afire and electric, glowing
in the levitating rubric, invisible,
visible to children, undiscovered:
is coming to us.
Spring is not so very promising as it is the thing
that looking back was fire, promising:
ignition, aspiration; it was not under my thumb.
Now when I pretend a future it is the moment
he holds the thing I say new-born,
delicate, sure to begin moving but
I am burned out of it like the melody underneath
(still not under my thumb)—
was he ambiguous, amphibian?
Underneath, his voice, the many ways
he gathers oxygen; it will not stop raining
until the buds push through the brittle trees.
If they fail we will not survive,
washed and washed with rain, will we?
No,we are not there yet.
She is pushing me two ways until
I am inside the paradox, the many lungs,
and they’re at it again, gathering oxygen;
no wonder I am wrung out
holding out for the promise of
something secret, after—
Because I was born in a kingdom,
there was a king. At times
the king was a despot; at other times,
not. Axes flashed in the road
at night, but if you closed your eyes
sitting on the well-edge
amongst your kinspeople
and sang the ballads
then the silver did not appear
to be broken.
Such were the circumstances.
They made a liar out of me.
Did they change my spirit?
Kith in the night.
The cry of owls. A bird fight.
We also had a queen,
whetted by the moon. And
we her subjects,
softening in her sight.
What one had
the other had to
have too. Soon
in every garden, and
had a tuning fork
jeweled with emeralds.
Learning to hunt in the new empire,
the king invited his subjects
to send him their knives.
He tested these knives on oranges,
pomegranates, acorn squash,
soft birches, stillborns, prisoners
who had broken rules. He used
them on the teeth of traitors.
When strangers massed at the border,
the courtiers practiced
subjection of the foreign. The court
held a procession
of twine, rope,
gold, knives, and
prostitutes with their vials of white
powder. Smoke coursed into the courtyard,
and we wrought hunger upon
the bodies of strangers. I am sure you
it, really what need
is there for me to tell you.
You were a stranger once too, and I
and let the dealers
come to me alone
with their jewels and
At night, we debated
the skin of language,
questioned what might
be revealed inside:
a soft pink fruit,
a woman in a field…
Or a shadow, sticky and loose
as old jam. Our own
dialect was abstract,
we wished to understand
not how things were
but what spectacle we might
make from them.
One day a merchant came to court
and brought moving pictures,
the emperor’s new delight.
He tacked dark cloth
to the windows and turned off
the lights, cranking the machine and the film
like a needle and thread,
making stories we could
insinuate our cold bodies
into and find warmth. Light;
dark. And the sliding images of courtiers
merrily balancing monkeys
on their heads, as if this
were an adequate story.
And our queen, that hidden
self. What became
of her? Slid into the night
like a statue, shivered
into shadows. Knowing as a spider
in retreat. The web
her mind, and in it, the fly.
On Sundays, we flew kites
to ensure our joy
was seen by those who
to threaten us. The thread
spooling out high
in the purple sky
and silver-gelatin films being made,
sliding through the cranking machine
so that the barbarians could know
we made images of ourselves
coated in precious metal
and sent them away
indifferent to our wealth.
I miss the citrus
smell of spring
on the plaza filled
and long-limbed kite flyers.
Do I have anything
to add? Only that
I obeyed my king, my
kind, I was not faithless.
Should I be punished
for that? It is true
the pictures creaking
through the spindle
cause me pain. I know
the powder we coated our fingers
with made us thirsty
and sometimes cruel. But I was born
with a spirit, like you.
I have woken, you see,
and I wish to be made new.
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.
Imagine—in front of us—they silently pass. And they believe unrelated
objects are machines
for recognizing the human. And, again, we are no longer interruptions.
Imagine—in front of us—the beginning is not a study. And they believe
the cicada’s larva
reveals narrow secrets. And we accompany: to form, to shape.
Imagine—in front of us—a beautiful garden. And they believe color is the
where we abandon our too sudden bodies. And, here, we are carriers of different
Imagine—in front of us—each word devolves a lexicon. And they believe
shape shuts on a hinge
within the voice they fable. And, here, we slaughter the spring lambs.
Imagine—in front of us—they pass us between nature, between history.
And they believe the door
frame alters the curtains’ flow. And we are a dark summer moving against oceans.
Imagine starlings circling in a postcard’s blue. And they believe oration is the living
thing, the end
of geometric space. And here, in full sunlight, we are gifts hoisted to the vanishing
The winter, it was the winter all
the usual things happened,
I have forgotten what
would travel from the north
as a series seen from above
or from below, and the followers,
the flowers, I tore them up
the next summer, or rather
before or immediately after
and thought no more about it.
But then the summer, plans
to sign a contract, the summer
came back for what it was:
a small sprinkling of rue
and a yellow fantasy
and we were invited. It appeared
tall and swaying and deaf
to appeals, and the winter following,
this was the arrangement—
first one and then into
another not yet there,
many years of this refrain
and all the productions within it
coming to mean more
of an intimacy between
musical instruments and still lifes
you lose yourself in again
and probably have now,
what objects have known
in their one dark winter afternoon.
They are still visited
by everything else and together
complete the effect, a distance
which the next day took form.
That winter stopped and probably
on account of summer a spring,
spring with a sturdy fringe
and a local reputation,
it’s outside, in various rooms
and looks at everything,
a few lilacs in awkward
positions, but they were alright,
it was summer, very strong,
which never finished anything
and ended in making
all this, cold coals
of wildflowers, little wars
at the centers, they go on for years
burning near the front
and from below.
A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
There’s an art
to everything. How
the rain means
April and an ongoingness like
that of song until at last
it ends. A centuries-old
set of silver handbells that
once an altar boy swung,
processing…You’re the same
wilderness you’ve always
been, slashing through briars,
of your invasive
self. So he said,
in a dream. But
the rest of it—all the rest—
was waking: more often
than not, to the next
extravagance. Two blackamoor
statues, each mirroring
the other, each hoisting
forever upward his burden of
peacock feathers. Don’t
you know it, don’t you know
I love you, he said. He was
shaking. He said:
I love you. There’s an art
to everything. What I’ve
done with this life,
what I’d meant not to do,
or would have meant, maybe, had I
understood, though I have
no regrets. Not the broken but
still-flowering dogwood. Not
the honey locust, either. Not even
the ghost walnut with its
every shadow is memory,
memory… As he said to me
once, That’s all garbage
down the river, now. Turning,
but as the utterly lost—
resigned all over again. It
only looked, it—
It must only look
like leaving. There’s an art
to everything. Even
turning away. How
eventually even hunger
can become a space
to live in. How they made
out of shamelessness something
beautiful, for as long as they could.