What Are Years?
Thursday, September 29, 2022
What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt --
dumbly calling, deafly listening -- that
in misfortune, even death,
and in its defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
The God of Nothingness
My father fell from the boat.
His balance had been poor for some time.
He had gone out in the boat with his dog
hunting ducks in a marsh near Trempealeau, Wisconsin.
No one else was near
save the wiry farmer scraping the gutters in the cow barn
who was deaf in one ear from years of machines—
and he was half a mile away.
My father fell from the boat
and the water pulled up around him, filled
his waders and this drew him down.
He descended into water the color of weak coffee.
The dog went into the water too,
thinking perhaps this was a game.
I must correct myself—dogs do not think as we do—
they react, and the dog reacted by swimming
around my father’s head. This is not a reassuring story
about a dog signaling for help by barking,
or, how by licking my father’s face, encouraged him
to hold on. The dog eventually tired and went ashore
to sniff through the grass, enjoy his new freedom
from the attentions of his master,
indifferent to my father’s plight.
The water was cold, I know that,
and my father has always chilled easily.
That he was cold is a certainty, though
I have never asked him about this event.
I do not know how he got out of the water.
I believe the farmer went looking for him
after my mother called in distress, and then drove
to the farm after my father did not return home.
My mother told me of this event in a hushed voice,
cupping her hand over the phone and interjecting
cheerful non sequiturs so as not to be overheard.
To admit my father’s infirmity
would bring down the wrath of the God of Nothingness
who listens for a tremulous voice and comes rushing in
to sweep away the weak with icy, unloving breath.
But that god was called years before
during which time he planted a kernel in my father’s brain
which grew, freezing his tongue,
robbing him of his equilibrium.
The god was there when he fell from the boat,
whispering from the warren of my father’s brain,
and it was there when my mother, noting the time,
knew that something was amiss. This god is a cold god,
a hungry god, selfish and with poor sight.
This god has the head of a dog.
Saturday, September 24, 2022
The Man Who Owned Me
It was a man I’m sure of it.
Though I never saw him
I felt him rise, climbing up
Through me until I bent
To a devotion not my own.
I felt him in my belly, low
In my hips. I carried him
Like I carried my own children.
I have no idea if he was old
Or young, what his face
Would have been had he flesh.
He did in me whatever an ember does
Burning slowly until all of a piece
What it feeds on falls to ash.
Sometimes I miss what he taught me
To see, the hunger it gave me.
I think he must wait now just
Beside my body, believing I’ll
One day fall back to my knees.
If he had hands, they would be
The kind of hands I open for.
Friday, September 23, 2022
A Farewell, Age Ten
While its owner looks away I touch the rabbit.
Its long soft ears fold back under my hand.
Miles of yellow wheat bend; their leaves
rustle away and wait for the sun and wind.
This day belongs to my uncle. This is his farm.
We have stopped on our journey; when my father says to
we will go on, leaving this paradise, leaving
the family place. We have my father's job.
Like him, I will be strong all of my life.
We are men. If we squint our eyes in the sun
we will see far. I'm ready. It's good, this resolve.
But I will never pet the rabbit again.
Explaining the Divorce to Our Dog
There will be walks. You will
still get your walks, with one
of us, or sometimes both
when the little girl
There will still be walks. We
will all be walking and
walking. We just won’t always
Monday, September 19, 2022
The Horse Fell Off the Poem
The horse fell off the poem
and the Galilean women were wet
with butterflies and dew,
dancing above chrysanthemum
The two absent ones: you and I
you and I are the two absent ones
A pair of white doves
chatting on the branches of a holm oak
No love, but I love ancient
love poems that guard
the sick moon from smoke
I attack and retreat, like the violin in quatrains
I get far from my time when I am near
the topography of place ...
There is no margin in modern language left
to celebrate what we love,
because all that will be ... was
The horse fell bloodied
with my poem
and I fell bloodied
with the horse’s blood ...
(Translated by Fady Joudah)
Saturday, September 17, 2022
Do not think I am not grateful for your small
kindness to me.
I like small kindnesses.
In fact I actually prefer them to the more
substantial kindness, that is always eyeing you,
like a large animal on a run,
until your while life reduces
to nothing but waking up morning after morning
cramped, and the bright sun shining on its tusks.
Friday, September 16, 2022
‘I can almost see again: we’ll drown anyway’
Deep from within the changing colors of a life
that itself keeps changing, I know the leaves prove
nothing – though it
does seem otherwise – about
how helplessness is not a luxury, not a hurt by
now worth all the struggling to take back, but
instead what we each, inevitably, stumble
and sometimes through … As for
that grove-within-a-grove that desire has, so long,
looked like – falling, proof of nothing, carrion-birds
clouding the slumped boughs of the mountain ash –
I can almost see again: we’ll drown anyway – why not
in color? You’re no more to me a mystery, than I to you.
Saturday, September 10, 2022
A Fox in the Dark
A fox goes by in the headlights like an electric shock.
Then he pauses at the edge of the road
and the heart, if it is still alive,
feels something--a yearning for which we have no name
but which we may remember, years later, in the darkness,
upon some other empty road.
Reemergence of the Noose
Some lamp sputters
its dusty light
across some desk.
Some hand, shaking,
works the strained
rope, twisting and knifing,
weaving, tugging tight
a bellowing circle. Randy
Travis, steamy drawl
and hiccup on the staticky
AM, backs the ritual
of drooping loop.
Sweat drips an awful
hallelujah. God glares
askance, but the artist
click cadence, knots
become a path to what
makes saviors. The sagging
hoop bemoans a need
to squeeze, its craving
for a breath within the ring.
Friday, September 9, 2022
Only my mouth taking you in, the greenery splayed deep green.
Within my mouth, your arm inserted, a stem of gestures, breaking gracefully.
Into each other we root arbitrarily, like bushes, silken, and guttural.
Palaver, we open for the thrill of closing, for the thrill of it: opening.
The night was so humid when I knelt on the steps, wet and cold, of prewar stone.
A charm bracelet of sorts we budded, handmade but brazen, as if organic.
I cannot imagine the end of my fascination, emblazoned but feather-white too.
The gold closure of this like a gold coin is, of course, ancient.
Why can't experience disseminate itself, be silken and brazen yet underwater?
A miniature Eiffel Tower, an enameled shamrock, a charm owned by its bracelet.
Saturday, September 3, 2022
This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in a bedroom gently shakes.
Dawn freshens, Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends,
Towards the steam tugs yelping down a glade of cranes
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In dark glens, beside pale-green lochs
Men long for news.
Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from girl and boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or to visit relations,
And applications for situations,
And timid lovers' declarations,
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled on the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, the adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.
Thousands are still asleep,
Dreaming of terrifying monsters
Or of friendly tea beside the band in Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
But shall wake soon and hope for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
Friday, September 2, 2022
Excerpt from An Otherwise
Downwind from a British Petroleum refinery, my mother is removing the books she was ordered to remove from the school library. Russians, mostly. Gorky’s “Mother” among them. The Shah is coming to tour the school. It is winter.
In the cold, the schoolgirls line up along the front of the main building and wait for his motorcade. Knee-highs and pleated skirts. Shivering in the refined air.
Wave, girls, the teacher says.
My mother, waving.
Put another way:
The must of the glued
spines and silverfish, metal
shelves, my mother
reaching on tiptoe
to take down Gorky,
filling her arms
with stacks of books.
The Dickens could stay.
And the air is important to note
for what it is doing
to the pink
a life of inflammation.
Wave, girls, the teacher says
to the shivering
and ironed line of them.
And wave she did.
And if he cared
into the minds of teen-aged girls,
would’ve seen then
the rifles pointed at him.
When I was a small child,
I think, about five or six, I must’ve
heard something, some cassette turning
to dust in the car’s player,
notes stretched, song
that quieted, in the front seat,
my parents, some tape spooled back
with a ballpoint pen and worn
to mica in the car’s player as the turn signal
clicked its quiet, and the keys
clicked with the wide and final turn—
song which was, I’m sure,
an ancient poem sung and filled
with cypresses, their upright
windscreen for what must be grown.
Downwind, I walked the wide hallways
of a great endowment.
It didn’t matter if I did or didn’t.
It changed only myself, the doing.
It fed down to one knuckle
then the next, this compromise.
It fed down to one frequency
and another, leaving me only a scrambled sound.
It would burn your fingertips
to walk the length of the hall
dragging them along the grass-papered walls
where they punished you
wanting enough. For not wanting
to be nonbelligerent
by naming the terms
shelves, the softly shaking
pens in their pen case.
What was given there
could be taken, and
quietly, you were reminded of this.
You were reminded all
was property of the West.
The mess of a raven’s nest
built behind a donor’s great bust
The mess of bird shit on the steps
then gone. All dismantled and scrubbed
sensibility. And this was it.
My school of resentment commenced.
What awaits us on the other side
serrated, all slit,
red with scream,
I do not know.
The knowing is the dullest part of all.
Someone posts a picture of the Poet’s tomb
and I want to say,
That’s my city—
but I am left with the lie of my.
I said what I said and stayed
what I came to say
long after the people left.
A poet as a fixed position
most cannot stand to be in
Someone snaps a photo and moves on.
Someone provides a corpse for this great wall.
Maybe I shouldn’t have taken you there,
she said of our trip
to her childhood home.
For years, I wrote of the bumps
left by the tanks
churning over her roads
as braille messages from the martyrs,
which meant I missed
my mother’s face
the passenger window,
Summer. Harvest done.
The last stone fruit
spoiling the last white shirt—
Row of cypress,
Solid and settled masonry.
The unseen town
and town just
as if inside
a room of stone.
I felt each world
was one cypress-lined path
and each path had
one of us, bagless
and awake, walking
wind and footfalls.
I felt we were heading
to meet somewhere.
I tried to say it was dead, the song,
but then it came, my mother singing
I tried to leave the literal,
but it got lonely—
I tried to leave desire,
but it scratched at the door, tapped
its empty bowl against the floor—
I tried not to answer,
but the bulb shone—
I saw that the head bent over
a book I couldn’t see
beneath a single yellow lamp
through the evening window
of a childhood not mine
was my mother’s
learning to oil a rifle.
It seemed the astrologer might back away
from the stench—
There are too many and it is hard
to tell what is for you
in the noise.
I didn’t ask if the prisoner
with the sharpened spoon handle
to the wrist
came, saying, Tell my mother—
or the mother
salting a meal she won’t taste herself.
At a gate, it seemed
the officers knew I was coming.
Their questions tailored.
At a gate, I was asked
the name of my father,
my father’s father,
beneath a shivering bulb,
and whether I write
At a gate, one man
wrapped in plastic
out of a black bucket.
One selling wreaths.
One selling water.
At a gate, the men gathered to discuss
over the unmarked graves.
At a gate, I watched one hand
I thought it was loss—
language, its little
when it’s a beckoning,
At one gate, my mother waving.
Enough, I said.
In the mornings, I wrote.
In my sleep, I wrote
with fancier, more elaborate inks.
And in my writing I began to write of cypresses.
And of small and sharp stone.
And I, on this path, a wooden handle in my palm, and a blade at the end of it.
And beyond, their windscreen, the unseen.
I knew not the poem, only the weather.
I knew not the listening, only this landscape, its one clear channel.
The metal in my teeth caught its frequency.
The iron shavings of my blood pulled toward this otherwise.
The White City
I will not toy with it nor bend an inch.
Deep in the secret chambers of my heart
I muse my life-long hate, and without flinch
I bear it nobly as I live my part.
My being would be a skeleton, a shell,
If this dark Passion that fills my every mood,
And makes my heaven in the white world's hell,
Did not forever feed me vital blood.
I see the mighty city through a mist--
The strident trains that speed the goaded mass,
The poles and spires and towers vapor-kissed,
The fortressed port through which the great ships pass,
The tides, the wharves, the dens I contemplate,
Are sweet like wanton loves because I hate.