I just saw two boys. One of them gets paid for distributing circulars and he throws it down the sewer. I said, Are you a Boy Scout? He said, no. The other one was. I have implicit faith in the Boy Scouts If you talk about it long enough you'll finally write it— If you get by the stage when nothing can make you write— If you don't die first I keep those bests that love has given me Nothing of them escapes— I have proved it proven once more in your eyes Go marry! your son will have blue eyes and still there'll be no answer you have not found a cure No more have I for that enormous wedged flower, my mind miraculously upon the dead stick of night
You’ll find labels describing what is gone:
an empress’s bones, a stolen painting
of a man in a feathered helmet
holding a flag-draped spear.
A vellum gospel, hidden somewhere long ago
forgotten, would have sat on that pedestal;
this glass cabinet could have kept the first
salts carried back from the Levant.
To help us comprehend the magnitude
of absence, huge rooms
lie empty of their wonders—the Colossus,
Babylon’s Hanging Gardens and
in this gallery, empty shelves enough to hold
all the scrolls of Alexandria.
My love, I’ve petitioned the curator
who has acquired an empty chest
representing all the poems you will
now never write. It will be kept with others
in the poet’s gallery. Next door,
a vacant room echoes with the spill
of jewels buried by a pirate who died
before disclosing their whereabouts.
I hope you don’t mind, but I have kept
a few of your pieces
for my private collection. I think
you know the ones I mean.
Sheaves of wheat in cement relief Supply the beauties of Archer Ave. Past the scaffolded brick church spire We turn on the vacant corner lot Through winds worthy of Hopkins (Gerard M.) New words — Alexus — Everything must go "Include everything in poetry" Even the things you think are nothing Like the way the new white snowflake Decoration waves its wild tentacles against the high blue sky loop and angle Black graffiti palimpsests the yellow official sign of Danger in bus stairwell She stares at me unsmiling with cold Northface Notices me writing but says nothing with her eye The corner lot I used to chart or cheat in its ‘vacancies' Configures new blown trash and walk through paths Subjected to random search Has grown a mouth of gravel Constructed in a cone Surrounded by temporary fence Of blue nailed board Now on Roti Avenue Cutlery & Wang Quai Amalgam of chairs, Jamaica Island Center
I’m jotting down these lines,
having borrowed a pen from a waitress
in this roadside restaurant. Three rusty pines
prop up the sky in the windows.
My soup gets cold, which implies
I’ll eat it cold. Soon I too
will leave a tip on the table, merge
into the beehive of travelers
and board one of the ferries,
where there’s always a line to the loo
and no one knows where the captain is.
Slightly seasick, I keep on writing
of the wind-rose and lobster traps,
seagulls, if any—and there always are.
Check the air and you’ll see them
above straw hats and caps.
The sun at noon glides like a monstrous star-
fish through clouds. Others drink iced tea,
training binoculars on a tugboat.
When I finish this letter, I’ll take a gulp
from the flask you gave me for the road
in days when I was too young to care about
those on the pier who waved goodbye.
I miss them now: cousins in linen dresses,
my mother, you, boys in light summer shirts.
Life is too long. The compass needle dances.
Everything passes by. The ferry passes
by ragged yellow shores.
The past lies in the brine Of equatorial water, Parchment-folded, Black ink veining where the quill paused. Rich doldrums Full of gold Where Spanish sailors Threw the Queen’s horses, Palomino, the color of her hair. On the Outer Banks Each wave a breaking Promise of the New World, Lost colonies, Lost ships, wild ponies Swimming even now.
Every day try and write down one terrible thing.
One terrible thing—I’m filled with them,
carry each one
like an organ locked in a Coleman cooler.
Add a little color for emphasis.
I say my father’s surname to a migration of crows.
His name like a figure jumping out of an aerodynamic object
through a burning hoop
into a glass of still water.
My history is comprised of the inappropriate.
I look into the mirror and see disturbed human qualities,
my face like grass in a summer essay
like a senator stepping into an empty room
to hate his speech,
the almost symmetrical science of it.
Trying to feel something.
Covering rented light with a curtain.
Today make nothing happen very slowly.
I can see through the atmosphere’s silk chemise
all the way to the faint constellation in the southern sky
and it’s making me want to shake my head
and ask a question
to the clairvoyant 8-Ball in my hands—ask
if we are among those left in a dark forest
with our flare guns pointed at the ground
or among those loved by our parents’ parents
on the paternal side we never see.
Hell If I know, the 8-Ball says
drunk in its dark blue alcohol.
Winter breathed out all language.
My father appeared
and began taking my hair
one follicle at a time.
He worked his way to the neural tissue
threw himself down
in a tantrum.
I listen attentively to the wind
and cannot compute this.
I sell my letter to the sentimentalists
leaving behind a trail of fuck you
crumbs the largest of birds cannot tear.
Despite the parables I keep close
I won’t be mythologized by my father
who moves like an incoherent, boozing breeze
through my life’s antechambers.
I won’t admire the west vestibule of the Frick with him
not with this roast on a spit in my chest
the mind like a database of rage-expressions
the mind like a bottle of loose glitter—
so shadowy, my people, you begin
to see the blueprints in all things
until you can’t hold a book without
blowing on it to see if it will scatter
or laying on a bed, waiting to fall through
into the particle-laden apartment below—
to each his own until it ruins pleasure.
Where is the rain
when I am feeling this
I went to a doctor and she said
There’s a little you in there who feels
the little me fell
like a grand piano into my lap
Visualize a knock-knock joke with yourself
in a white noise somewhere
on the Upper West Side
a box of Kleenex in your hand.
memory swam through the grotesque
with its spoon paddle.
My dreams always fell flat.
The doctor said:
Start with finding out where your hands go
when you say your father’s name.
I say his name and I can see him.
He squats in the corner computing Zeno’s paradox.
He fills another glass and pukes,
starts in again about the illusion of motion—
If I’m coming toward you on the street
I will never reach you, he raves.
I’ll go half way and there will be another half and another half and another half.
He stands in infinite points on the distance
assuring with his ancient terrible glee
that I am going to go out and get a drink with him.
Deep within some cell
the nucleus grows unstable
I used to put a miniature rosebush
in the ground each year
to counteract my squalor.
Don’t tell me that definition of madness,
doing the same thing over again etcetera.
The definition of madness
is a certain enthusiasm, then there has
to be another person there
to not share in it—who is oppressed by it
who can only stare into it.
Tell it to the bluebird rustling over my head.
Tell it to a satellite orbiting in its delusion of being a moon.
I’m coaxing the black bull out of my mouth
with a red flag and a beer. I’m constructing
out of my faulty genes,
my last sentence, my last thing
which addresses the dilemma obliquely:
we will perceive our own pain in others.
And we will know if we are capable of loving them.
The telephone never rings. Still
you pick it up, smile into the static,
the breath of those you’ve loved; long dead.
The leaf you pick from the fall
rises and dips away with every ridge.
Fingers stiff from time, you trace.
Staring off into a distance limned
by cataracts and other collected debris,
you have forgotten none of the long-ago joy
of an ice-cream truck and its summer song.
Between the paving stones;
between tea, a cup, and the sound
of you pouring;
between the time you woke that morning
and the time when the letter came,
a tired sorrow: like an old flagellant
able only to tease with a weak sting.
Riding the elevator all day,
floor after floor after floor,
each stop some small victory whittled
from the hard stone of death, you smile.
They used to write epics about moments like this.