yes, and here's another one
and later it might even end up in one of my
the book will be sitting on a
waiting for you
long after I am
think of that:
in a sense I will be speaking again
just for you.
and remember this:
the page you are looking at
I once typed the words
with you in mind
under a yellow
with the radio
If you think about death
I have found
it makes sense
this match book
this paper clip
the next page
and the next poem
Such things occur: I am driving back to Dunbar
when Shelley strips naked in the passenger seat
to show me the Celtic serpent tattoo
which twists all over the pale force of her body,
the forked tongue flicking the down of her belly.
You must put your faith in something she says.
Yet what has she done but swap one implausible God
for a full menagerie of impossible ones?
What I believe in are those millions of moments
just before the moments when things go wrong.
I tell her of the night I spent in MacDiarmid's bed
at Brownsbank, snow thick for eerie miles each way;
how I lay and imagined him, alight and magisterial,
swaying on the open-topped night bus north through London;
how coals stirred and settled through the hours of dark.
Shelley sighs, says nothing. For the rest of the journey,
there is only the slow pall of the engine,
the occasional cawing of goddesses, the lowing of gods.
For eleven years I have regretted it,
regretted that I did not do what
I wanted to do as I sat there those
four hours watching her die. I wanted
to crawl in among the machinery
and hold her in my arms, knowing
the elementary, leftover bit of her
mind would dimly recognize it was me
carrying her to where she was going.
I went home and climbed back into my mother.
Origami was involved, I was a crane for the first time
in my life, but my older brother was already there,
claiming dibs. In the desert of her womb, he was dressed
as Peter O’Toole dressed as Laurence of Arabia
admiring his robes in the mirror of his knife.
I left with an understanding of why I failed
the essay portion of my sex-ed final. The question was,
is your mother’s vagina an escape hatch, to which I replied
yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes,
since it was an essay question. When I pointed out
to my teacher, who was also the football, wrestling, debate,
intravenous drug use, and jai alai coach, that this
was a yes or no question, not an essay question,
he made me do three hundred thousand squat thrusts, I finished
when I was thirty nine. My mother used to kiss my forehead
as I left my school, put her mouth to my ear and whisper,
you can never go home again. Every day the lock
was changed, or she had moved to another state,
or there was a different little boy in my room, his chakras
more clearly aligned than mine. Still, when things get bad,
as these clouds tell me they’ve gotten now, these clouds
of puss and anthrax, these gray sacks of dumbbells,
this lament whipped into a paste and smeared across our tiny
window onto the universe, I think of myself
inside her, no job, no lovers, no waist line, no fault line
no noise but the oompa of her heart, and feel
the tiniest bit better, like .0001 percent better,
maybe a tenth of that, maybe a tenth of a tenth
of that, which is still, as they say, something.
After your mother dies, you will learn to live
on the edge of life, to brace yourself
like she did, one hand on the dashboard,
the other gripping your purse while you drive
through the stop sign, shoulders tense,
eyes clamped shut, waiting for the collision
that doesn’t come. You will learn
to stay up all night knowing she’s gone,
watching the morning open
like an origami swan, the sky
a widening path, a question
you can’t answer. In prison, women
make tattoos from cigarette ash
and shampoo. It’s what they have.
Imagine the fish, gray scales
and black whiskers, growing slowly
up her back, its lips kissing her neck.
Imagine the letters of her daughter’s name
a black chain around her wrist.
What is the distance between this moment
and the last? The last visit and the next?
I want my mother back. I want
to hunt her down like the perfect gift,
the one you search for from store to store
until your feet ache, delirious with her scent.
This is the baggage of your life, a sign
of your faith, this staying awake
past exhaustion, this needle in your throat.
They lie at rest, our blessed dead;
The dews drop cool above their head,
They knew not when fleet summer fled.
Together all, yet each alone;
Each laid at rest beneath his own
Smooth turf or white allotted stone.
When shall our slumber sink so deep,
And eyes that wept and eyes that weep
Weep not in the sufficient sleep?
God be with you, our great and small,
Our loves, our best beloved of all,
Our own beyond the salt sea-wall.
Love is a staying of desire,
Desire is flight and staying, dies;
Whatever you have heard in song,
This is the truth; the rest is lies.
Nor is there touch or kiss to prove
Love other than a foredoomed thing,
For though it may conceive love's fire,
The heart cannot sustain it long.
Lips heavy with the freight of love
Have hung above me like a bough;
Out of a deep and mastering drouth
I reached and drew the dark fruits low.
The pulps lost savor in my mouth
And straight I heard a dead bird sing
"Love is a staying of desire,
A slackening fire, an unplumed wing."
Yet, yet, in spite of all,
Love is, love lasts.
Though from the lax hand falls
What it at first held fast,
Though custom stills
The heartbeat of delight,
Though day's each joy must pass
Beneath the pall of night,
Yet, yet, in time's despite,
And past all mortal ills,
Love is, love lasts;
If the heart wills.
IF you go over desert and mountain,
Far into the country of Sorrow,
To-day and to-night and to-morrow,
And maybe for months and for years;
You shall come with a heart that is bursting
For trouble and toiling and thirsting,
You shall certainly come to the fountain
At length,—to the Fountain of Tears.
Very peaceful the place is, and solely
For piteous lamenting and sighing,
And those who come living or dying
Alike from their hopes and their fears;
Full of cypress-like shadows the place is,
And statues that cover their faces:
But out of the gloom springs the holy
And beautiful Fountain of Tears.
And it flows and it flows with a motion
So gentle and lovely and listless,
And murmurs a tune so resistless
To him who hath suffer'd and hears—
You shall surely — without a word spoken,
Kneel down there and know your heart broken,
And yield to the long-curb'd emotion
That day by the Fountain of Tears.
For it grows and it grows, as though leaping
Up higher the more one is thinking;
And ever its tunes go on sinking
More poignantly into the ears:
Yea, so blessèd and good seems that fountain,
Reach'd after dry desert and mountain,
You shall fall down at length in your weeping
And bathe your sad face in the tears.
Then alas! while you lie there a season
And sob between living and dying,
And give up the land you were trying
To find 'mid your hopes and your fears;
—O the world shall come up and pass o'er you,
Strong men shall not stay to care for you,
Nor wonder indeed for what reason
Your way should seem harder than theirs.
But perhaps, while you lie, never lifting
Your cheek from the wet leaves it presses,
Nor caring to raise your wet tresses
And look how the cold world appears—
O perhaps the mere silences round you—
All things in that place Grief hath found you—
Yea, e'en to the clouds o'er you drifting,
May soothe you somewhat through your tears.
You may feel, when a falling leaf brushes
Your face, as though some one had kiss'd you,
Or think at least some one who miss'd you
Had sent you a thought,— if that cheers;
Or a bird's little song, faint and broken,
May pass for a tender word spoken:
— Enough, while around you there rushes
That life-drowning torrent of tears.
And the tears shall flow faster and faster,
Brim over and baffle resistance,
And roll down blear'd roads to each distance
Of past desolation and years;
Till they cover the place of each sorrow,
And leave you no past and no morrow:
For what man is able to master
And stem the great Fountain of Tears?
But the floods and the tears meet and gather;
The sound of them all grows like thunder:
— O into what bosom, I wonder,
Is pour'd the whole sorrow of years?
For Eternity only seems keeping
Account of the great human weeping:
May God, then, the Maker and Father —
May He find a place for the tears!
A week after my father died
suddenly I understood
his fondness for me was safe – nothing
could touch it. In that last year,
his face would sometimes brighten when I would
enter the room, and his wife said
that once, when he was half asleep,
he smiled when she said my name. He respected
my spunk – when they tied me to the chair, that time
they were tying up someone he respected, and when
he did not speak, for weeks, I was one of the
beings to whom he was not speaking,
someone with a place in his life. The last
week he even said it, once,
by mistake. I walked into his room
‘How are you’ and he said ‘I love you
too.’ From then on, I had
that word to lose. Right up to the last
moment, I could make some mistake, offend him,
and with one of his old mouths of disgust he could
re-skew my life. I did not think of it much,
I was helping to take care of him,
wiping his face and watching him.
But then, a while after he died,
I suddenly thought, with amazement, he will always
love me now, and I laughed – he was dead, dead!
The Great Sea has set me
Set me adrift
And I move as a weed in
The arch of sky
And mightiness of storms
And I am left
Trembling with joy
The moonlight fades from flower and tree,
And the stars dim one by one;
The tale is told, the song is sung,
And the Fairy feast is done.
The night-wind rocks the sleeping flowers,
And sings to them, soft and low.
The early birds erelong will wake:
'Tis time for the Elves to go.
O'er the sleeping earth we silently pass,
Unseen by mortal eye,
And send sweet dreams, as we lightly float
Through the quiet moonlit sky;--
For the stars' soft eyes alone may see,
And the flowers alone may know,
The feasts we hold, the tales we tell:
So 'tis time for the Elves to go.
From bird, and blossom, and bee,
We learn the lessons they teach;
And seek, by kindly deeds, to win
A loving friend in each.
And though unseen on earth we dwell,
Sweet voices whisper low,
And gentle hearts most joyously greet
The Elves where'er they go.
When next we meet in the Fairy dell,
May the silver moon's soft light
Shine then on faces gay as now,
And Elfin hearts as light.
Now spread each wing, for the eastern sky
With sunlight soon will glow.
The morning star shall light us home:
Farewell! for the Elves must go.
The time I've lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light, that lies
In woman's eyes,
Has been my heart's undoing.
Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorn'd the lore she brought me,
My only books
Were woman's looks,
And folly's all they've taught me.
Her smile when Beauty granted,
I hung with gaze enchanted,
Like him, the sprite,
Whom maids by night
Oft meet in glen that's haunted.
Like him, too, Beauty won me,
But while her eyes were on me,
If once their ray
Was turn'd away
Oh! winds could not outrun me.
And are these follies going?
And is my proud heart growing
Too cold or wise
For brilliant eyes
Again to set it glowing?
No, vain, alas! th' endeavour
From bonds so sweet to sever;
Poor Wisdom's chance
Against a glance
Is now as weak as ever.
When the fountain stream runs clear
And the rose is queen of the woods
And the nightingale on his bough
Trills and beautifies his sweet song
It's only right that I join in with mine.
For you all my heart aches
Nor may I have remedy
If I hearken not to your call:
Oh, for the warmth of love and soft wool,
Among the flowers or between the sheets
With my heart's desire for company.
But I can never have her near
Small wonder then that love's fire consumes me
A nobler Christian, Jew or Saracen
There never was, by God's decree.
He who wins her love
Feeds on manna sublime
I yearn for her night and day,
But desire robs me of that sun
And sharper than any thorn
Is the pain that only joy can heal.
Having no paper, I send
this verse to be sung by Filhol
in the goodly romance tongue
To Messer Hugo,
And the men of Poitou,
Of Berry and Guiana,
And, with joy, to the Bretons.
An old girlfriend would always write on my skin,
in blue or black ink. We both knew she was destined
to be a tattoo artist, though she never would admit it.
Little yin-yangs, tulips, messages like why
are you so nervous, or decisive, or spontaneous.
I let her write a poem down my spine
with a sharp black ball point,
and never found out what it said. It used to tickle
so much that she would get mad at me
for ruining the shapes. I got used to it though,
when the skin art became our ritual of afterplay,
and we kept a pen on the table beside the bed.
When she drew a stick figure angel
in between two little clouds on my thigh,
I took the pen from her and scribbled
“Don’t fake orgasms”
on her rib cage.
Eventually we broke up
because the ink was soaking in and poisoning
the whims, revealing that we didn’t really love
each other. Years later I walked into her tattoo
parlor, on a side street in Chicago.
She smiled to see that I had tracked her down,
but put a finger to my lips. She sat me down
without a word and began stabbing my forearm
with her little machine. When she was done
there was an intricate human heart, that
you could almost see beating,
colorless and real. It hurt more than I’d expected.
“Don’t worry about the girls,” she said,
“Anyone who can’t understand that
doesn’t deserve you.”
For ten centuries
they sent no word
though I often heard
ships whispering for help.
I stuffed my pockets
with the sounds of wrecks.
I still can’t decipher
scripts of storms
as I leaf through
the river’s waves.
I went to the worst of bars
hoping to get
but all I could do was to
worse, the bar patrons even
there I was trying to get
pushed over the dark
and I ended up with
while somewhere else
son-of-a-bitch was in a hospital
tubes sticking out all over
as he fought like hell
nobody would help me
the drinks kept
as the next day
waited for me
with its steel clamps,
death doesn't always
when you call
not even if you
from a shining
or from an ocean liner
or from the best bar
on earth (or the
only makes the gods
ask me: I'm
Between the Pedestals of Night and Morning
Between red death and radiant desire
With not one sound of triumph or of warning
Stands the great sentry on the Bridge of Fire.
O transient soul, thy thought with dreams adorning,
... Cast down the laurel, and unstring the lyre:
the wheels of Time are turning, turning, turning,
The slow stream channels deep and doth not tire.
Gods on their bridge above
Whispering lies and love
Shall mock your passage down the sunless river
Which, rolling all it streams,
shall take you, king of dreams,
-Unthroned and unapproachable for ever-
To where the kings who dreamed of old
Whiten in habitations monumental cold.
After the battle, many new ghosts cry,
The solitary old man murmurs in his grief.
Ragged low cloud thins the light of dusk,
Thick snow dances back and forth in the wind.
The wine ladle's cast aside, the cup not green,
The stove still looks as if a fiery red.
To many places, communications are broken,
I sit, but cannot read my books for sorrow.
She says he isn't as funny as he used to be. About fifty percent as
funny, maybe less. He thinks, but doesn't say, no, it's you, you're
depressed, you don't find anyone funny anymore. She thinks, but
doesn't say, I've always been depressed. I've never found anyone
funny—except you, once.
Out of the bosom of the air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.
Never more will the wind
cherish you again,
never more will the rain.
shall we find you bright
in the snow and wind.
The snow is melted,
the snow is gone,
and you are flown:
Like a bird out of our hand,
like a light out of our heart,
you are gone.
Instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”
She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder-woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.
And “Baby,” I’ll tell her “don’t keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him.”
But I know that she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boats nearby, ‘cause there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything if you let it.
I want her to see the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat, to look through a magnifying glass at the galaxies that exist on the pin point of a human mind. Because that’s how my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this my momma said” when you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you wanna save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say “thank you,” ‘cause there is nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.
You will put the “wind” in win some lose some, you will put the “star” in starting over and over, and no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.
And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting I am pretty damn naive but I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.
“Baby,” I’ll tell her “remember your mama is a worrier but your papa is a warrior and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”
Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.
Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.
A palindrome seen on the side of a barn in Ireland
After Adam broke his rib in two
and ate it for supper,
after Adam, from the waist up,
an old mother,
had begun to question the wonder
Eve was brought forth.
Eve came out of that rib like an angry bird.
She came forth like a bird that got loose
suddenly from its cage.
Out of the cage came Eve,
She was clothed in her skin like the sun
and her ankles were not for sale.
God looked out through his tunnel
and was pleased.
Adam sat like a lawyer
and read the book of life.
Only his eyes were alive.
They did the work of a blast furnace.
Only later did Adam and Eve go galloping,
galloping into the apple.
They made the noise of the moon-chew
and let the juice fall down like tears.
Because of this same apple
Eve gave birth to the evilest of creatures
with its bellyful of dirt
and its hair seven inches long.
It had two eyes full of poison
and routine pointed teeth.
Thus Eve gave birth.
In this unnatural act
she gave birth to a rat.
It slid from her like a pearl.
It was ugly, of course,
but Eve did not know that
and when it died before its time
she placed its tiny body
on that piece of kindergarten called STAR.
Now all us cursed ones falling out after
with our evil mouths and our worried eyes
die before our time
but do not go to some heaven, some hell
but are put on the RAT’S STAR
which is as wide as Asia
and as happy as a barbershop quartet.
We are put there beside the three thieves
for the lowest of us all
deserve to smile in eternity
like a watermelon.
There was a man who dwelt alone,
as day and night went past
he sat as still as carven stone,
and yet no shadow cast.
The white owls perched upon his head
beneath the winter moon;
they wiped their beaks and thought him dead
under the stars in June.
There came a lady clad in grey
in the twilight shining:
one moment she would stand and stay,
her hair with flowers entwining.
He woke, as had he sprung from stone,
and broke the spell that bound him;
he clasped her fast, both flesh and bone,
and wrapped her shadow round him.
There never more she walks her ways
by sun or moon or star;
she dwells below where neither days
nor any nights there are.
But once a year when caverns yawn
and hidden things awake,
they dance together then till dawn
and a single shadow make.
Humanity i love you
because you would rather black the boots of
success than enquire whose soul dangles from his
watch-chain which would be embarrassing for both
parties and because you
unflinchingly applaud all
songs containing the words country home and
mother when sung at the old howard
Humanity i love you because
when you're hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you're flush pride keeps
you from the pawn shops and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house
Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it's there and sitting down
and because you are
forever making poems in the lap
of death Humanity
i hate you
Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.
One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.
It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.
After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.
In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli
Bodies of holy men and women exude
Miraculous oil, odour of violet.
But under heavy loads of trampled clay
Lie bodies of the vampires full of blood;
Their shrouds are bloody and their lips are wet.
The demons were more beautiful than the angels.
They had no qualms about plastic surgery.
They took to wearing black: didn't show dirt
In the city like Innocence, which anyway
Couldn't be worn between Labor Day and Easter.
They tired of grudging angels their gilded hair
& had theirs done. Their complexions were so pale
The blond looked natural, only more so.
They shrunk their wings into fashionable tattoos
So cashmere suits draped better from their shoulders.
Elocution lessons turned hisses to lisps.
The demons converted. They became Episcopalian,
Name-dropped high-ups in the Company of Heaven.
As for Evil, it became too much trouble:
The demons started to shirk the menial jobs
Which like good deeds, took one among the poor,
And bruised the manicure of rose-petal nails.
They preferred to stand by & watch Evil happen,
Or offended by odors & noise, even turned away.
They had become so beautiful, even the angels
(Who never looked in mirrors to comb their hair,
Afraid to be called vain, & never bought clothes
Since the old ones didn't wear out, just got shabby)
Left the lovely demons to languish, dropping all charges
On the spoiled creatures. They were that good.
It all started when I was sent to bed
without supper. I was playing with my flashlight
under the covers and tried shining it in my mouth.
Light flooded my throat like golden syrup.
Soon I was tasting light everywhere,
the icy bitterness of fluorescents, a burst
of intensely spiced flavors from an arc welder,
the dripping red meat of sunsets.
Natural light was most easily digestible,
but at night I was limited to the sparse glow
of fireflies and phosphorescent rotting logs,
and inevitably succumbed to the artificial flavors
of a strip mall’s jittering neon rainbow.
Sodium lamps always had a nasty, putrid aftertaste,
like rotting oranges, which is why I so frequently
vomited in nighttime parking garages,
but mercury-vapor emissions foamed on my tongue,
aromatic, green. Have you ever had key lime mousse,
or lemon-mint custard? It’s nothing like that at all.
Each Hallowe’en I followed trick-or-treaters
from door to door, gorging myself
on jack-o’-lanterns’ sweet candlelight.
Autumn bonfires burnt my lips
with the pungent heat of five-alarm chili,
smoky with the ghost of molé sauce. I hid
strings of holiday lights in my underwear drawer,
in case of a sudden craving.
On a high school field trip to a nuclear facility,
I was finally overcome with an insatiable hunger
for the indigo twilight of a reactor pool, glowing
with the underwater gradient of Cherenkov radiation,
a blue light luscious as chocolate, hypnotic as a liqueur,
decadent as dissolved gemstones.
I am no terrorist — merely an addict.
On a train in Texas German prisoners eat
With white American soldiers, seat by seat,
While black American soldiers sit apart,
The white men eating meat, the black men heart.
Now, with that other war a century done,
Not the live North but the dead South has won,
Not yet a riven nation comes awake.
Whom are we fighting this time, for God's sake?
Mark well the token of the separate seat
It is again ourselves whom we defeat.
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.
Or you can take a length of steel,
shaped and chased in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears.
But for this you need white horses,
English trees, men with bows and arrows,
at least two flags, a prince, and a
castle to hold your banquet in.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud, a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.
In an age of aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation's scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no-one needs for several years.
These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.
A day is vast.
Then it’s over.
braided still wet in my hair.
I don’t know what time is.
You can’t ever find it.
But you can lose it.
The truth is
that I fall in love
so easily because
it’s easy. It happens
a dozen times some days.
I’ve lived whole lives,
grown old, and died
in the arms of other women
in no more time
than it takes the 2-train
to get from City Hall
which always brings me
back to you:
the only one
I fall in love with
at least once every day—
there are no other
lovely women in the world,
but because each time
dying in their arms,
I call your name.
A dandling light and the world sings tremolo;
Even the grass, grown soulful, hangs its head
Over the prim winks of its daisies. Low
In a bush a blackbird trills then chirps instead.
And an old myth tries to heave itself to its feet:
The phoenix newly feathered in the east
Takes wing, blundering; and Phoenix not so fleet
Comes cantering after it, but comes at least.
And the dank grass is tangled with the song
Squirmed from a blackbird by the probe of light:
The hush is over....It will not be long.
Phoenix and blackbird. Bear it without spite.
Only a beauty with no rouge of myth
Walks plain in the plain field. Her decent hand
Will give you a meaning you can wrestle with;
Something to die of, not to understand.
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
became a criminal when I fell in love.
Before that I was a waitress.
I didn't want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.
I wanted her life to be like a play
In which all the parts are sad parts.
Does a good person
Think this way? I deserve
Credit for my courage--
I sat in the dark on your front porch.
Everything was clear to me:
If your wife wouldn't let you go
That proved she didn't love you.
If she loved you
Wouldn't she want you to be happy?
I think now
If I felt less I would be
A better person. I was
A good waitress.
I could carry eight drinks.
I used to tell you my dreams.
Last night I saw a woman sitting in a dark bus--
In the dream, she's weeping, the bus she's on
Is moving away. With one hand
She's waving; the other strokes
An egg carton full of babies.
The dream doesn't rescue the maiden.
When the dead rise in movies they're hideous
and slow. They stagger uphill toward the farmhouse
like drunks headed home from the bar.
Maybe they only want to lie down inside
while some room spins around them, maybe that's why
they bang on the windows while the living
hammer up boards and count out shotgun shells.
The living have plans: to get to the pickup parked
in the yard, to drive like hell to the next town.
The dead with their leaky brains,
their dangling limbs and ruptured hearts,
are sick of all that. They'd rather stumble
blind through the field until they collide
with a tree, or fall through a doorway
like they're the door itself, sprung from its hinges
and slammed flat on the linoleum. That's the life
for a dead person: wham, wham, wham
until you forget your name, your own stinking
face, the reason you jolted awake
in the first place. Why are you here,
whatever were you hoping as you lay
in your casket like a dumb clarinet?
You know better now. The soundtrack's depressing
and the living hate your guts. Come closer
and they'll show you how much. Wham, wham, wham,
you're killed again. Thank God this time
they're burning your body, thank God
it can't drag you around anymore
except in nightmares, late-night reruns
where you lift up the lid, and crawl out
once more, and start up the hill toward the house.
I was young once. I dug holes
near a canal and almost drowned.
I filled notebooks with words
as carefully as a hunter loads his shotgun.
I had a father also, and I came second to an addiction.
I spent a summer swallowing seeds
and nothing ever grew in my stomach.
Every woman I kissed,
I kissed as if I loved her.
My left and right hands were rivals.
After I hit puberty, I was kicked out of my parents’ house
at least twice a year. No matter when you receive this
there was music playing now.
Your grandfather isn’t
my father. I chose to do something with my life
that I knew I could fail at.
I spent my whole life walking
and hid such colorful wings.
I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmatian. I meet
the man walking her on a leash
almost every week. He says good morning
and I stoop down to calm her. He said
once that she was never like that with
other people. Sometimes she is tethered
on the lawn when I go by. If nobody
is around, I sit on the grass. When she
finally quiets, she puts her head in my lap
and we watch each other’s eyes as I whisper
in her soft ears. She cares nothing about
the mystery. She likes it best when
I touch her head and tell her small
things about my days and our friends.
That makes her happy the way it always did.
There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.
And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
I always assumed you were somewhere in the world,
And that someday we’d find each other again
And tell our adventures, like happy heroes
Reunited after years of wandering.
Hard to believe it’s been a dozen years
Since we slogged together through the Iliad,
Longer than the whole of the Trojan War,
Or the wanderings of Odysseus afterward.
When your mother told me you were dead,
All I could think about was our favorite verb,
μέλλω, our rueful shorthand for regret,
To be about to do, but leave undone.
"I meant," you’d say, "to study Greek last night,"
And I’d reply, "I too, O Agathon,
Intended to accomplish many things
Before the light of rosy-fingered dawn."
And now it’s seven years that you’ve been gone.
While I was living my ordinary life,
And carelessly, fondly imagining you in yours,
(Losing, in one of my many moves, the funny,
Wonderful letters you wrote me from Mexico),
I never dreamed that you would not grow old,
That time had stopped for you as suddenly
As for the daughters of weeping Hekabe
In burning Troy—the unremembered ones
You summoned from the ashes in the fall
Of 1983, when you were asked
To translate the catalogue of Priam’s sons.
Hard to believe that you will not return
And tell your adventures in the other world,
No matter how tenderly I brush the dead
Leaves from your sleeping face, and call your name.
You do not come dramatically, with dragons
That rear up with my life between their paws
And dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
The horses panicking; nor as a clause
Clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
What out-of-pocket charges must be borne,
Expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
That’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.
It is these sunless afternoons, I find,
Install you at my elbow like a bore.
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
Aware the days pass quicker than before,
Smell staler too. And once they fall behind
They look like ruin. You have been here some time.