How It Slams Back, a Letter Used as a Bookmark
who could figure out
love? Not the old
blues men with
their whiskey and women.
Women who've changed
the lock on the door.
Not Robert Johnson,
busted and poisoned.
Blues all around the bed,
the blues dogging,
dusting his brook.
How could some old
words make me remember?
Baby, won't you follow
me down. Old words.
No words. Even before I
started thinking of
him I knew if he
read this is was way
Arduous the timely tanks
Come creamly into sight
Their threadbare tracks
Righteous over the bones
Of grass left happily dead
Talk to them like crying silhouettes
In orchids mad with unknown Christs
Beam your Baudelaire headlights up my spine
How it hurts to call you home
The Little Damp Foal
The course of western history has been a little damp foal all these years. We call it Wesley and present it to our old parents when they come up for weddings and baptisms but otherwise leave it to roam in the far field with the goats, from whom it has surely learnt its duplicity and sullen ways. However, because it is still technically the course of western history, we bring it into the woodshed after the first frost, a privilege we would never consider bestowing on those rascally goats. There, in the dead of winter, with snow like mallow plummeting as in a silent film, the youngest among us has been known to break in, clad only in her crocheted pajamas and a scarf, to pet the course of western history and kiss its hoary cheek and clutch it about the neck and whisper to it all the clandestine romances and betrayals that have accompanied the past semester. And if it chatters its milky teeth and rolls its swollen eyes and with sullen pomp blows warm jets of loamy air into the twinkling cold of the woodshed, then the smallest among us can be assured of victory in endeavors of the heart and high standing among her peers in the coming spring, when the dirt melts and the course of western history teeters from among the logs and peat stacks to lumber sullenly in the direction of the far field, there to continue its miseducation among the goats until next frost (unless a wedding or a baptism draws our old parents who coo and stroke it with their withered hands, saying, Oh Wesley, haven't you grown so tall and so handsome with such milky white teeth).
Seven Dreams Under the Knife
The hawk tears at my flesh. Imagine that sensation, like being eaten alive. Of course, he only wants to play with me. Leave me a bit unconscious. He rhapsodizes about my taste, comparing it to the most succulent of bivalves. I writhe under his steely beak, his clamoring claws. When he's done, great tragedy, he leaves me alone without a word, his vast wings flapping across the light of the windows.
A wooden house, old bones. In this condition I will strain all through the night. A gentle rain offers no succor, just cools it down. Most days I can feel the earth wanting to sunder from it, render the walls unto dust. A clock ticks, or it's the rain, and I wait for the tremors, hands held out for protection.
When I lived in the tank, I became accustomed to breathing the heady odor of linseed and turpentine. Color here had taste, you can be sure. A cobalt blue was chalk and pomegranate, leaving an insatiable desire for water. Crimson was holy, like the sweet air of one's last moments. Ecstatic, I could barely think about myself then, let alone my undesirable surroundings.
When I made the discovery that I was light and air, suddenly everything was possible. The small confines of my terrestrial life didn't concern me anymore. If the moment was too disorienting, I concentrated on my strengths: the power to burn, the capacity to rive the earth. It was a good lesson.
The stillness of the river is a sadness. For then I know we are going away, never to return. Never to let the bonneted bride lap bare footed in the shallows. Her dance is another kind of bounty. Only a memory. We return to the rage, the canyon and the fall, where we will caress the noble beasts. Our moment of the lily pad, the salmon spawn, forever a mystery.
I've failed to get the word out. Daily they toil on, a juddering mass trying to communicate with an unknown correspondent. I made it as far as I could, knowing that without them I have as little use, as little life. I will die a dry husk under the light of this knowledge.
I will not stop. I have had to forgo the common table, but I make do. Some even see in this effort an inspiration, calling it a spiritual quest. I don't mind, as long as they can offer me tribute, my daily sustenance. The journey only becomes more difficult.
Sense and Antisense
Though quashed by dizziness, I feel supersymmetric today, and I'm taking this microelectronic variance as a good sign. No point in blasting the moon just to control our nucleotides. So Idon't get along with computers. So what. You know, I'll never have to buy a light bulb again. Thank whatever, they're under warranty.
But how's your wife, Phil? Mine's praying for yours. Put a cross in our room. No more half-naked men in the bedroom, I'd say. But I'm not allowed. Wilson was right. Before you know it, they'll breed out balls.
The other night, we had spaghetti--the kid's idea--and she said, "You made this, didn't you angel?" I scoffed; I said, "I boiled it darling; I didn't make it." "So at least admit you had a hand in it," she said. "The spaghetti, pumpkin, was always there." "Well then," she grinned. "We shall forever by satiated, and dinner will have no help from me." So we had take-out last night before she and Tommy went to church. "Jesus Christ, Dad. I'm just curious," he said. Lost and limbic, I'm afraid. "Limbo, Dad. Limbo." The nerve of that boy.
Now look, I'm as soft a determinist as the next geneticist, but I was a mess. I dove back into old dissertations. Adrenal Glands and Defiance. Adolescence and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And suddenly I'm thinking, if I love Thomast, what about Thomast+11? Are they the same? And when I found myself at ego-identity vs. role confusion I started crying. I mean, Erikson--he wasn't even a real scientist. I curled up on the floor, trying to maximize surface area, not rely so heavily on equilibrioception, and I just couldn't stop crying. It felt like the world was snapping back in on itself, furiously imploding intoonedark point of infinite density.
Tommy came in, via the direct route, and squatted down in front of me. "That's really not the way to increase blood flow," he said. "I'll get your some gum." I sat up, wiped my nose. "Histamine--" I said. He returned with some horrifically brignt hexahedron. It couldn't have been organic. I popped it in my mouth. "Enjoy church?" He didn't answer, but his brow gathered. This allowed a strand of black hair to fall over his eyes, all his mother's, that awful penetrating brown. "Did you pray?" He looked away. "Yes." "Well? What did you pray for?" He slid to the ground. I didn't realize how slight he is. You've met him. He seems so large. "Balance. For neurotransmitters," he said. Down the hall, his mother was looking for him. He moved closer. "Tell me about the big bang again, dad," he said. I choked out a laugh. "It's just a theory." "Yeah dad," he said, "but that's all we've got."
So I told him. I'm not sure he was hearing me, but I'm sure he was listening.
Anyhow. Phil. This kid, he will be the greatest thing you've ever done. I only hope yours turns out half as good. Although, I find it a genetic improbability.
Well there's always hope.
love poem 23
is your rust * so tender
as the kiss which these wings
over a liver of watermelon
(my hands) *
spread so clumsily ! a large lank
of monsoon leaf
wet upon this warm * the russet key
of these most intimate hours ...
(wake * wake)
so of the choses you never did
remember * to tell us (to forget) ... ? *
yet your name was
to me * innate
as in the life-
of your loveliness ... * well ! years were
spent at this pale definition : as
beautiful * as the sonnets
in the rose
the rose avowed if : wilts ?
ardent love's * affirmation
will only lead to land's end " Lear's
round deserted rock and the leap
of Gloucester towards
a greater *
its night : its image
where the rose perceives * its brother
and burns in an instant (consumed)
upon the darkened * river's
darker * banks ... as if
in bright as brilliant
lit ... as the fire
in * our hearts is ageless
and lights the thresh of flesh
inside to out : the eyes an inner signal
to the flame's high flare * it's tracer-
arc which a true love promising
signals new ships now ?
It is in the pinnacle of desire
across the room
a skin white as a sheet glows
slowly into sunrise with the receding
pale of moon
it becomes a pink skin fused
with longing and landscaped
with dark brows like trees
groomed hair the tended lawn
the gaze is across acres of fields
the rancher longing for home
a pot of coffee steaming
hot meal for the empty belly
human hands to touch.
There's no reason to go back. I've managed to walk away now, weaving slowly through the muck that surrounds the cabin, my footsteps disappearing into the quicksand of wet Maryland clay. The rain pelts my face, feels good on my not skin. I feel the downpour cleansing my hands, her blood dripping into the red ooze, though it's too dark out here to see.
I remember the hollow tree stump that lays in the east meadow. I turn and head in that direction. It is a place to sit, to take the weight off my wobbly legs. Emma and I used to go out there after supper in the summer, me with a book and her with a piece of sewing or darning, the baby asleep in a basket. The orange sun would set the woods ablaze as it dipped, infusing the air with an uncanny chill as if a furnace was turned off, and we would hurry back inside. That is how I feel now. Like the switch has been pulled and the whole world as I know it has turned cold and dark. But there's no reason to go back.
When we had the child, Emma was ecstatic. She sang and we made love while the baby slept. The infant seemed to bring us luck. I got work in the dairy at the Tuckers, then helped harvest Joe Mason's crops. The diaphanous future was just beginning to take a shape, and even the crowded cabin seemed spacious and full of light. We didn't know how it happened. The doctor said it was viral, possibly from the cow or our sow. He said it could even be from the chickens. The little thing fell into a coma and one morning I woke up to the sound of Emma's screams.
People wouldn't understand what a thing like that can do to a woman. Emma couldn't help herself. I couldn't help myself either. The grief gets you like a big dog shaking you in his jowls and you know you're done for. I couldn't help the drinking. She couldn't help the icy cubicle of her private sorrow or the fiery, pent up rage that would eventually lay me low. She blamed me. She had to blame someone.
I sit on this log and the rain comes down with a final certainty that gives me peace. The wound doesn't hurt much. It is like a foreign thing. A torch burning in my chest. I don't want to touch it. It was Emma's solution, and perhaps it was the right one. Our luck eked out, like my blood, like Emma's blood from the round hole I put in her temple. It was hard to walk away. There's no going back.
From their place of honor, the large pink in the doll case and bookshelf that the father had made for his little girl, the dolls gossiped.
Her button eyes gleaming, the Jamaican doll fluffed her faded skirt of shredded voile and shook her red head wrap, "Sometimes you've just got to laugh. Out of the mouths of babes. To get into such multicultural fervor from Walt Disney!"
The Swedish doll, with little candles in her braids, pretty in gold and blue, purse her lips together, "Imagine, getting the idea for us from such decadent capitalism!"
The Irish doll, her red braids ribboned into loops, fingered her white apron and the thick green cloth of her rickrack trimmed costume and sighed, "O, the irony. Yet at least she figured THEM out," pointing to the Barbies on the peeling bookshelf near the door.
The Barbies pretended not to listen, pinking in indignation. They, like the little girl, loved Disney without question, yet thought she was strange in her disinterest of them. They patiently waited for the next child to be passed along to, one who would appreciate the beauty they knew they had.
"He's strange," the 100 tiny polychromatic woven dolls from Guatemala chorused, motioning to the gangly Pieman who waved an insidious fist amid the sweet faced collection of Strawberry Shortcake dolls on the floor, "but at least the rest of the fruit dolls look like little girls, and smell of innocence."
"It is from the mother, the mother has done a good job teaching her these things, Disney just ignited her imagination," the Filipino doll, in a dress of batik and carabo shells decorating her throat, hurumphed.
"Nonethess ironic," the Swedish doll sniffed.
The Hawaiian doll spoke next,"She doesn't understand that we are not just flowers, song and hula. We are struggle and heartache, this is what makes us women. The mother knows this, but shelters her."
"The mother shelters herself," tisked the Jamaican doll.
"Well she gets that attitude from HER mother," cautioned the Filipino doll, "it always goes back to the mother."
The Korean doll, in a dress of pink rainbow arian satin, sighed, "The mother and grandmothers have given the little girl an inherent goodness. However the girl is very spoiled, hopefully she'll learn."
"Yes," echoed the Filipino doll, "but what I'm worried about now is the grandmother who is the father's mother, the one who took in the girl's mother and taught her things her mother never taught her. The grandmother is sick. Who will help the girl, who will help her mother? The men are so limited in these things, and it will take years for them to recover from the grandmother's death."
The dolls looked to Esperanza.
"You're awfully quiet tonight Esperanza," the Swedish doll quipped, straightening a candle.
Esperanza, sending a silent prayer to Lorca, did not respond to her friends and cried softly into the night.