I sit by the window and watch a great mythological bird go down in flames. In fact, it’s a kite the neighborhood troublemaker has set on fire. Twenty-one and still living at home, deciding when to cut through a screen and chop us into little pieces. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” his mother would say, as they packed our parts into black antiseptic body bags. I explain this possibility to the garbage men. I’m trying to make friends with them, unable to understand why they leave our empty cans in the middle of the driveway, then laugh as they walk away. One says, “Another name for moving air is wind, and shade is just a very large shadow”—perhaps a nice way to make me feel less eclipsed. It’s not working, it’s not working. I’m scared for children yet to be abducted, scared for the pregnant woman raped at knife point on the New Jersey Turnpike, scared for what violence does to one’s life, how it squats inside the hollow heart like a dead cricket. My son and his friends found a dead cricket, coffined it in a plastic Easter egg and buried it in the backyard. It was a kind of time capsule, they explained—a surprise for some future boy archeologist, someone much happier than us, who will live during a time when trees don’t look so depressed, and birds and dogs don’t chatter and growl like the chorus in an undiscovered Greek tragedy.
As it happens every night, beloveds, while we turned in the night
sleeping uneasily the world went on without us.
We live in our own time zone and there are only a small million of
us in this time zone and the world as a result has a tendency to
begin and end without us.
While we turned sleeping uneasily at least ten were injured in a
bomb blast in Bombay and four killed in Palestine.
While we turned sleeping uneasily a warehouse of food aid was
destroyed, stocks on upbeat sales soared, Australia threatened first
strikes, there was heavy gunfire in the city of Man, the Belarus
ambassador to Japan went missing, a cruise ship caught fire, on yet
another cruise ship many got sick, and the pope made a statement
While we turned sleeping uneasily perhaps J Lo gave Ben a
prenuptial demand for sex four times a week.
While we turned sleeping uneasily Liam Gallagher brawled and
irate fans complained that “Popstars: The Rivals” was fixed.
While we turned sleeping uneasily the Supreme Court agreed to
hear the case of whether university admissions may favor racial
While we turned sleeping uneasily poachers caught sturgeon in the
reed-filled Caspian, which shelters boar and wolves, and some of
the residents on the space shuttle planned a return flight to the US.
Beloveds, our world is small and isolated.
We live our lives in six hundred square feet about a quarter mile
from the shore on land that is seven hundred square miles and five
thousand miles from the nearest land mass.
Despite our isolation, there is no escape from the news of how
many days are left in the Iraq inspections.
The news poll for today was should we invade Iraq now or should
we wait until the inspections are complete and we tried to laugh
together at this question but our laughter was uneasy and we just
decided to turn off the television that arrives to us from those
other time zones.
Beloveds, we do not know how to live our lives with any agency
outside of our bed.
It makes me angry that how we live in our bed—full of connected
loving and full of isolated sleep and dreaming also—has no
relevance to the rest of the world.
How can the power of our combination of intimacy and isolation
have so little power outside the space of our bed?
Beloveds, the shuttle is set to return home and out the window of
the shuttle one can see the earth.
“How massive the earth is; how minute the atmosphere,” one of
the astronauts notes.
Beloveds, what do we do but keep breathing as best we can this
It was a picture I had after the war.
A bombed English church. I was too young
to know the word English or war,
but I knew the picture.
The ruined city still seemed noble.
The cathedral with its roof blown off
was not less godly. The church was the same
plus rain and sky. Birds flew in and out
of the holes God’s fist made in the walls.
All our desire for love or children
is treated like rags by the enemy.
I knew so much and sang anyway.
Like a bird who will sing until
it is brought down. When they take
away the trees, the child picks up a stick
and says, this is a tree, this the house
and the family. As we might. Through a door
of what had been a house, into the field
of rubble, walks a single lamb, tilting
its head, curious, unafraid, hungry.
Ten years on, I came searching for
war signs of the past
expecting remnants — magazine debris,
that mark bomb wounds.
I came looking for
people past, skeletons charred,
that once housed them.
I could only find whispers —
whispers among the clamour
of a small town outpost
in full throttle —
sketching outward signs
of normality and life.
In that bustle
I spot war-lines of a decade ago,
though the storylines
are kept buried, wrapped
in old newsprint.
There is order amid uneasiness —
the muezzin’s cry,
the monk’s chant —
merging in their separateness.
At the bus station
black coughs of exhaust
The roads meet
and after the crossroad ritual
skating along the undotted lines
A porous garland
with cracked beads
adorns Tiger Hill.
Beyond the mountains
are dark memories,
and beyond them
no one knows,
and beyond them
no one wants to know.
Even the flight of birds
that wing over their crests
don’t know which feathers to down.
they fly, tracing perfect parabolas.
I look up
and calculate their exact arc
and find instead, a flawed theorem.
My roots are deep in southern life; deeper than John Brown
or Nat Turner or Robert Lee. I was sired and weaned
in a tropic world. The palm tree and banana leaf,
mango and coconut, breadfruit and rubber trees know
Warm skies and gulf blue streams are in my blood. I belong
with the smell of fresh pine, with the trail of coon, and
the spring growth of wild onion.
I am no hothouse bulb to be reared in steam-heated flats
with the music of El and subway in my ears, walled in
by steel and wood and brick far from the sky.
I want the cotton fields, tobacco and the cane. I want to
walk along with sacks of seed to drop in fallow ground.
Restless music is in my heart and I am eager to be
O Southland, sorrow home, melody beating in my bone and
blood! How long will the Klan of hate, the hounds and
the chain gangs keep me from my own?
Like Ovid: I’ll have no last words.
This is what it means to die among barbarians. Bar bar bar
was how the Greeks heard our speech—
sheep, beasts—and so we became
barbarians. We make them reveal
the brutes they are, Aleph, by the things
we make them name. David,
they tell me, is the one
one should aspire to, but ever since
I first heard them say Philistine
I’ve known I am Goliath
if I am anything.