Sunday, May 29, 2022
To My Seventeen-Year-Old Self
Your friends are sniffing glue
from a paper bag
in the back of an Impala
tooling around Niles
and Morton Grove
looking for something
or childhood damage
but don’t get high
in a sputtering car
that your girlfriend
refuses to enter,
don’t lie to her
after she moves away
and lie down with her friend,
don’t sob in the locker room
after the game
or lose your mind
from repeated blows
to the head
on the football field
at Niles West High School,
I mean whatever locker
you hit or don’t hit
born of the suburbs,
just stand and wait
for the unexpected night
when poetry climbs through
the unlocked window
in the basement
of the split-level house
on Sherwin Avenue
and sits down at your desk.
Saturday, May 28, 2022
One day I come out onto a street in New York. A very old man is on the sidewalk selling antique maps. I smile. I walk up to him.
“Sir, do you have any of the Arctic?”
His eyes look into mine more deeply now. For one quick second, we make love, the way strangers who are not really strangers—they just have never met before—touch each other deep inside with their eyes.
“Of course I do, Darling,” he says in a thick and gorgeous Urdu accent. “But,” he hesitates, and holds up his index finger: “I have only one.”
We smile at each other. We are suddenly in love, and we understand our whole love affair—from beginning to end—will take place right here, between our words, for only these few moments.
I look at the map. On the small sheet of paper, there are two frames: the North Pole is on top, the South Pole on the bottom. All the water is white. The scattered lands are green. Besides the fine black print, these are the only colors. In large bold letters across the middle of both poles is the word UNEXPLORED.
Later I will think: how like this map I am. The top and bottom of me—both—so unknown. My most essential pivots: uncharted yet toggling in perfect geometry. My heart a country called Greenland, yet always covered in ice. My brain an Iceland, but greener than every sea. Prehistoric elephants embedded beneath my skin, along with carved ivory ornaments ten thousand years old that belonged to me when I was someone’s wife during the last ice age. Always something in me freezing harder, while another part insists on melting. And then this equator in the middle of my body—so hot, so lush—I can visit, but only for a day.
I buy the map. It is fifteen dollars. The man and I smile at each other. His face is a whole flock of starlings, which suddenly alights upon me—me, bare winter tree. In one minute, we have lived fifty years together. In one minute, we’ve had ten children. I’ve tended a goat and brought him a cup of its frothy milk. He’s covered my head with a white muslin scarf, then stood beside me while we cremated my father. We’ve grown gray together. I have loved his body and mind thoroughly. I say goodbye. I rub red ochre into the middle part of my hair. I throw garlands of marigolds into his casket before the moment closes the lid.
An Alcoholic Enters the Gates of Heaven
What kind of man I was to be you’ve known since the beginning,
since the beginning of every creature.
It must be horrible to be aware, simultaneously,
of what is, what was,
and what will be.
I began my life confident and happy,
certain that the Sun rose every day for me
and that flowers opened for me every morning.
I ran all day in an enchanted garden.
Not suspecting that you had picked me from the Book of Genes
for another experiment altogether.
As if there were not proof enough
that free will is useless against destiny.
Under your amused glance I suffered
like a caterpillar impaled on the spike of a blackthorn.
The terror of the world opened itself to me.
Could I have avoided escape into illusion?
Into a liquor which stopped the chattering of teeth
and melted the burning ball in my breast
and made me think I could live like others?
I realized I was wandering from hope to hope
and I asked you, All Knowing, why you torture me.
Is it a trial like Job’s, so that I call faith a phantom
and say: You are not, nor do your verdicts exist,
and the earth is ruled by accident?
Who can contemplate
simultaneous, a-billion-times-multiplied pain?
It seems to me that people who cannot believe in you
deserve our praise.
But perhaps because you were overwhelmed by pity,
you descended to the earth
to experience the condition of mortal creatures.
Bore the pain of crucifixion for a sin, but committed by whom?
I pray to you, for I do not know how not to pray.
Because my heart desires you,
though I do not believe you would cure me.
And so it must be, that those who suffer will continue to suffer,
praising your name.
(Translated by Czesław Miłosz and Robert Haas)
Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Privilege of Being
Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal
of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy--
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed--
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly
in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster
skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound
the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold
each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death
for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman
says to the man,
I woke up feeling so sad this morning
because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,
wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside
her, he thinks
of the sadness they have gasped and crooned
their way out of
coming, clutching each other with old, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples
on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy
between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.
Monday, May 23, 2022
What Did You Leave Behind
into the water,
painted a milky
jade. A car
in the driveway.
in the hallway
next to the plastic
after beveled glass.
after beveled secret.
Letters from a
to be asked
of these things.
much of our lives
To tell of them
was to live
scraping the soft
of our early
Saturday, May 21, 2022
A Course in Miracles
Forgive yourself the fire you set in your trash can
And the lemons you stole from the tree in the churchyard.
Forgive yourself what money you spent
On drugs. Forgive yourself the days that soured
Before you had a chance to open them up.
Forgive yourself the melon liqueur
You poured hastily into the grass on the side
Of the highway, and the animal you left for dead.
Forgive yourself the ages of swelling, the ages
Of eating only what’s meant to make you thirsty.
Forgive yourself the fires you didn’t even try
To put out in time. Forgive yourself the ghosts
That follow you around like skinny shelter cats,
And the sugar water you feed them
And the little velvet box you place them in
Before you get into bed each night so that they’ll stay.
You saved me, you should remember me.
The spring of the year; young men buying tickets for the ferryboats.
Laughter, because the air is full of apple blossoms.
When I woke up, I realized I was capable of the same feeling.
I remember sounds like that from my childhood,
laughter for no cause, simply because the world is beautiful,
something like that.
Lugano. Tables under the apple trees.
Deckhands raising and lowering the colored flags.
And by the lake’s edge, a young man throws his hat into the water;
perhaps his sweetheart has accepted him.
sounds or gestures like
a track laid down before the larger themes
and then unused, buried.
Islands in the distance. My mother
holding out a plate of little cakes—
as far as I remember, changed
in no detail, the moment
vivid, intact, having never been
exposed to light, so that I woke elated, at my age
hungry for life, utterly confident—
By the tables, patches of new grass, the pale green
pieced into the dark existing ground.
Surely spring has been returned to me, this time
not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet
it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly.
Saturday, May 14, 2022
The Last Days of April
Through the ceiling comes
the rain to cool my love
and me. The lime carpeting
darkens, and when we cross
to retrieve our glasses
of gin from the mantle, our
feet sink as into drifts
of leaves. We have a deep
thirst, for it is the end
of April, and we know that
a great heat is coming soon
to deaden these passions.
Thursday, May 12, 2022
The Death of Poetry
Enough of osseous and chickadee and sunflower
and snowshoes, maple and seeds, samara and shoot,
enough chiaroscuro, enough of thus and prophecy
and the stoic farmer and faith and our father and tis
of thee, enough of bosom and bud, skin and god
not forgetting and star bodies and frozen birds,
enough of the will to go on and not go on or how
a certain light does a certain thing, enough
of the kneeling and the rising and the looking
inward and the looking up, enough of the gun,
the drama, and the acquaintance’s suicide, the long-lost
letter on the dresser, enough of the longing and
the ego and the obliteration of ego, enough
of the mother and the child and the father and the child
and enough of the pointing to the world, weary
and desperate, enough of the brutal and the border,
enough of can you see me, can you hear me, enough
I am human, enough I am alone and I am desperate,
enough of the animal saving me, enough of the high
water, enough sorrow, enough of the air and its ease,
I am asking you to touch me.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
There Is Absolutely Nothing Lonelier
There is absolutely nothing lonelier
than the little Mars rover
never shutting down, digging up
rocks, so far away from Bond street
in a light rain. I wonder
if he makes little beeps? If so
he is lonelier still. He fires a laser
into the dust. He coughs. A shiny
thing in the sand turns out to be his.
Monday, May 9, 2022
[I hope when it happens]
I hope when it happens I have time to say oh so this is how it is happening
unlike Frank hit by a jeep on Fire Island but not like dad who knew too
long six goddamn years in a young man’s life so long it made a sweet guy sarcastic
I want enough time to say oh so this is how I’ll go and smirk at that last rhyme
I rhymed at times because I wanted to make something pretty especially for Mikel
who liked pretty things soft and small things who cried into a white towel when I hurt
myself when it happens I don’t want to be afraid I want to be curious was Mikel curious
I’m afraid by then he was only sad he had no money left was living on green oranges
had kissed all his friends goodbye I kissed lips that kissed Frank’s lips though not
for me a willing kiss I willingly kissed lips that kissed Howard’s deathbed lips
I happily kissed lips that kissed lips that kissed Basquiat’s lips I know a man who said
he kissed lips that kissed lips that kissed lips that kissed Whitman’s
lips who will say of me I kissed her who will say of me I kissed someone who kissed
her or I kissed someone who kissed someone who kissed someone who kissed her.