These poems circle unexpected, compelling questions, intent on transporting their full measure to the reader (as it might be revealed only in that company). Avid to understand “how we get human every day,” these poems rush and retreat, feint and decide, test and welcome, and always branch. The result is a volume laden with rambunctious splendors and meticulous reflections brought forth in a voice that is musical, witty, perceptive, affecting.
Afternoon and Morning
– for Robert Dana (1929-2010)
An opened drawer in a rented room opening onto the Pacific.
An empty drawer which follows the orphan full of his seven decades.
The drawer he checks one more time every time before his last departure.
The mother drawer, the father drawer, the drawer of each achievement.
He draws in its odor of cedary deal, the faint must of a vanished Bible.
Death remembers each soul only once and then forgets it
but the drawer remembers, the drawer knows what it holds and won’t confide.
Out the window, the curve of his life begins again where sand and cloud meet.
No need to sail to the edge of things, the falling-off place is here–
the sudden plummet through an afternoon that aches now to swell shut . . . .
The old man must be patient company—no one listens to an old man shouting.
The old man must not speak his tears—especially those not quite shed.
The old man is helpless—he hears it in the stories he’s been told.
Their outcomes—how comforting to foresee them, how foolish to believe this death.
He rises now more often before dawn—feels it wasn’t early enough.
So much of . . . it? . . . is ambiguous arrival—blanched afterimage of a flash.
His journal hidden underneath the chair cushion—no one sits there comfortably.
Morning is longer than anyone—he readies himself for its scents.
He gathers a bunch of wildflowers—notes: the hand grasping: eternal spiral.
Let’s talk too much…
Let’s talk too much and wake up tonight and worry
how we get human every day.
Let’s argue for the point we were going to make long ago
and forgot in words that change the room’s dimensions,
whose shame is ours and imperceptible to others
holding forth, interrupting the unexpected.
Let’s scramble the midnight eggs with gossip
and sit in the cinema at 9 a.m.,
whispering that mood where everything could become a poem
(not unlike the money in your pocket
suddenly flying into the river,
becoming the river, becoming
a back stiffening when the sun finally rolls off it
and then bliss ambiguous).
Let’s not so much flatter giants
(who aren’t ordinary as their tells and wiles)
but joke with them like hapless governors, old lovers kept in shape;
they own questions, too, and might
let those disappointments slip.
Yes my broken-windowed friend,
the burrs in Dante’s fur need combing out
like the struggle to submit to each voice we might call mine.
And there’s the old story we wanted told of childhood
that was another frank resistance to the now-shorter life.
On the corner, in that slight at the counter,
and the sense of luck
like a traumatized muscle,
the still beautiful abounds.
Even if boredom seems the way of all flash.
Shall we go down in flaming acquaintanceship?
Shall we balance our blood?
Let’s isolate the matter
neither liquid not solid nor certainly gas.
Let’s help ourselves to the problem.
Those people we want to come back from.
Those we must ignore.
Who could share.
Who would not be ours.
People we dream
and have never met,
and those we wake to.
And those who replace the people
who could not be done without.
And those who return to us
in the mirrors—
Those who would teach us
or kill us.
Who were not always such friends.
Bored ones we feared.
Cruel ones we loved.
Of sawdust and olives,
placebos and pinwheels.
Those searching our belongings.
Who have never been.
Who wait for us . . .
I skin-colored shell ground into sand
shaped into a castle washed out to sea
I the dish of gems to be set in mosaic
Change or die
Die and change
I child in the closet
counting how long it takes to be missed
I blind ballerina
rehearsing steps with fingers on the palm
I the order of importance contingent fired
Five kinds of money in a wallet
Here here each landfall a street
. . . Cities blackening the fingernail.
A donkey’s ear flicking snowflakes.
The whisper in the mind.
And the hurt which, as it passes,
so tightly does it focus a time
(as joy might).
Cool vendetta of self-awareness.
Defeat’s inevitable homecomings.
The palm’s edible heart.
rolling down the inside of the ancient’s shirt
one rib at a time.
Dawn that won’t be kept outside,
the cars on the beach, spreading their wings!
All makes releasing their owners!
The diary and its violation.
Parched, migrant-harvested groves.
Light of unnecessary forgiveness . . .
You the position of tenderness
You a paging god
a carnival of missing fingers
You who travel on the tongue
The vitamin received at the crucial moment
allowing one to think
not at all
Odor of cut grass cheering unseasonably
You romance projected
onto a ripped bed sheet in Bangladesh
You the loneliness just under my skin
You in my mouth can’t write an angry poem
You in my mouth make all statistics smile
. . . Those places we need to drop dead at.
Those places we’ve never touched.
Old woman sweeping Centerville.
Distant thunder rattling the door.
Locations the crow calls uh-uh, uh-uh.
A haven between the eyes.
Children stopping play to watch the stranger pass.
A land where they marry for love!
The assassin bowing,
the explosive strapped to her back.
The hungry archerfish
spitting, bringing down the butterfly
from the twig near the surface.
On the radio, a man summarizing the plot of an opera.
The whole rose bearing its essence
as its lone petals do not . . .
Us the first war bride off the boat
Us poaching dogma
Us the pearls Caligula served to his horse
Flame tree blowing in late May
Us the owl staring ahead it cannot move its eyes
Us the day a scroll painting unrolling rolling up
Odor of love’s nape
Pausing at the rib once to reconsider
Branching shadows on snow
It’s prideful, of course . . .
It’s prideful, of course, but I admit I love poorly—
which is not the same as, in youth, confessing
I’ve been a lousy lover. Age makes us grateful for love,
so attention is welcome even by the suffering and betrayed;
even spouses will hope we might become what they think we were.
They don’t want that so much as the poetry in our pockets now.
The spouses go to bed early, yes, at this time of marriage.
And, remaining, we’re relieved and disturbed by not knowing
how to perform as we have for other years.
We might well perform again when shown how we undid.
There are things to say in this. But the things avoided
are not so much unsaid as wordless.
One sits alone and is not one. One does the last dishes
and wonders should the next page in the novel be turned?
Should the wine in the glass enter one? The triumph
is discovering that there’s still pleasure and satisfaction,
though it’s difficult without the unmockable look.
How far dare I go with this before I fall asleep and sober up?
How far does anybody go when they enter or receive?
No one knows when it’s the beginning. Oh, the hands,
my hands, are assured in memory. My heart—
not much different from every protagonist.
I’m faithful to habit, hating its romance, and I’m breaking.
Love, I know you are, too, and just as frightened.
Yet there are no words because time is with us and against us.
Now that leaders tell us peace . . .
Now that leaders tell us peace must be of war,
and we dream each night of war—
with Justice under house arrest again
and Doubt a mere redoubt—
I remember that half-skeleton in April
peeping from the dovecote,
as though the instinct to abandon winter
failed against familiar straw.
I want to blame you, Nature, for our silent tongues
weighted by the Holy Wafer, the coin;
for old wrongs spawning wrongs
secreted beneath each last reprisal.
Forgive my presumption. I’m just another kook
raging from a public mirror
at the likeness of a righteous grimace,
at the damage carved in peoples.
Our day swirls in its test tube, our publicity
glistens with art crawling up a twig
to see it, finally, as a twig;
with consolation planning a monument.
And more to suffer now than ever, for awhile—
and more relief beside the doomed.
Not even joy is stopped.
Who’s worthy to accept surrender?
The lies don’t cut their own throats,
whatever some might wish.
And your wild iris doesn’t bloom in certainty.
You didn’t make us. No, you’re not alone.