Letters swallow themselves in seconds. Notes friends tied to the doorknob, transparent scarlet paper, sizzle like moth wings, marry the air. So much of any year is flammable, lists of vegetables, partial poems. Orange swirling flame of days, so little is a stone. Where there was something and suddenly isn’t, an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space. I begin again with the smallest numbers. Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves, only the things I didn’t do crackle after the blazing dies.
Poems by Our Chancellors
That time my grandmother dragged me through the perfume aisles at Saks, she held me up by my arm, hissing, "Stand up," through clenched teeth, her eyes bright as a dog's cornered in the light. She said it over and over, as if she were Jesus, and I were dead. She had been solid as a tree, a fur around her neck, a light-skinned matron whose car was parked, who walked on swirling marble and passed through brass openings—in 1945. There was not even a black elevator operator at Saks. The saleswoman had brought velvet leggings to lace me in, and cooed, as if in service of all grandmothers. My grandmother had smiled, but not hungrily, not like my mother who hated them, but wanted to please, and they had smiled back, as if they were wearing wooden collars. When my legs gave out, my grandmother dragged me up and held me like God holds saints by the roots of the hair. I begged her to believe I couldn't help it. Stumbling, her face white with sweat, she pushed me through the crowd, rushing away from those eyes that saw through her clothes, under her skin, all the way down to the transparent genes confessing.
Not, exactly, green: closer to bronze preserved in kind brine, something retrieved from a Greco-Roman wreck, patinated and oddly muscular. We cannot know what his fantastic legs were like— though evidence suggests eight complexly folded scuttling works of armament, crowned by the foreclaws' gesture of menace and power. A gull's gobbled the center, leaving this chamber —size of a demitasse— open to reveal a shocking, Giotto blue. Though it smells of seaweed and ruin, this little traveling case comes with such lavish lining! Imagine breathing surrounded by the brilliant rinse of summer's firmament. What color is the underside of skin? Not so bad, to die, if we could be opened into this— if the smallest chambers of ourselves, similarly, revealed some sky.
Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth are small and even. I don't get headaches. Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace. If this were Tennessee and across that river, Arkansas, I'd meet you in West Memphis tonight. We could have a big time. Danger, shoulder soft. Do not lie or lean on me. I'm still trying to find a job for which a simple machine isn't better suited. I've seen people die of money. Look at Admiral Benbow. I wish like certain fishes, we came equipped with light organs. Which reminds me of a little known fact: if we were going the speed of light, this dome would be shrinking while we were gaining weight. Isn't the road crooked and steep. In this humidity, I make repairs by night. I'm not one among millions who saw Monroe's face in the moon. I go blank looking at that face. If I could afford it I'd live in hotels. I won awards in spelling and the Australian crawl. Long long ago. Grandmother married a man named Ivan. The men called him Eve. Stranger, to tell the truth, in dog years I am up there.
see my brother-in-law with a styled shirt in spite of his cancer below then a small dinner in the evening the next day no one knows except I may be on the road Mesquite where my father settled in '31 forty-five minutes west then a left you go in sister Sarita waits for me on Abby Street after decades in separate families we just met now I hear the clock snap I swipe an ant time to walk my dogs five blocks and back a different route to soothe the mind it is the same one but I am hopeful
Will answers be found like seeds planted among rows of song? Will mouths recognize the hunger in their voices, all mouths in unison, the ah in harmony, the way words of hope are more than truth when whispered? Will we turn to each other and ask, how long has it been...how long since? A world now, a world then and each is seeking a foothold, trying to remember when we looked at one another and found—A world again—Surely what we long for is at the wheel contending. Surely, we'll soon hear its unearthly groan.
you no longer believe in anything movement of train, mauve waves grammar's anomie gets you down or war at the back and crown of head PsyOps, o chicken little the sky! the sky! o the fallen sky an edge of blue hanging but still breathing those colors? a garden broken & restored many times how often trying to leave it, bend away words from that beautiful throat listen or break or oscillate or clamor as opposed to "read about" could you be my model human being up there on the dais? o you, she...maybe he's the one & we came back from the cinema glow behind our tears and you saying a woman, a woman! how tragic to be such slender thread of a woman where was I being led? more people thick in space in constant motion twisted around a clock solar wind, solar heat, sociable matrix it's an atavistic mixed-up dream and stirs the branches high in Freedom Park it was the voice of a desultory fragment of speech now, talking about "state" and "union" how darkness turns at the wrist
A Poem for Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other's eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere, with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. A woman and her son wait for the bus. A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider. We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of some one and then others, who said I need to see what's on the other side. I know there's something better down the road. We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Say it plain: that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of. Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables. Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light.
The downward turning touch the cry of time fire falling without sound plunge my hand in the wound children marching and dying all that I do is a crime because I do not reach their mouths silently crying my boychild reaches with his mouth it is easy, being a mother his skin is tender and soft kisses stitch us together we love as long as we may then come years without kisses when he will turn away not to waste breath when I too will fall embracing a pillow at night touching the stone of exile reaching my hand to death
The fine fourth finger of his fine right hand, just slightly, when he's tracking our path on his iPhone or repairing the clasp on my watch I will not think about the myelin sheath. Slight tremor only, transient, so the flaw in the pavement must have been my mother's back.
In the darkened moment a body gifted with the blue light of a flashlight
enters with levity, with or without assumptions, doubts, with desire,
the beating heart, disappointment, with desires—
Stand where you are.
You begin to move around in search of the steps it will take before you
are thrown back into your own body, back into your own need to be found.
Destinations are lost. You raise yourself. No one else is seeking.
You exhaust yourself looking into the blue light. All day blue burrows
the atmosphere. What doesn't belong with you won't be seen.
You could build a world out of need or you could hold everything
back and see. You could hold everything back. You hold back the black.
You hold everything black. You hold this body's lack. You hold yourself
back until nothing's left but the dissolving blues of metaphor.
I’ve heard this thing where, when someone dies,
People close up all the holes around the house—
The keyholes, the chimney, the windows,
Even the mouths of the animals, the dogs and the pigs.
It’s so the soul won’t be confused, or tempted.
It’s so when the soul comes out of the body it’s been in
But that doesn’t work anymore,
It won’t simply go into another one
And try to make itself at home,
Pretending as if nothing happened.
There’s no mystery—it’s too much work to move on.
It isn’t anybody’s fault. A soul is like any of us.
It gets used to things, especially after a long life.
The way I sit in my living-room chair,
The indentation I have put in it now
After so many years—that’s how I understand.
It’s my chair,
And I know how to sit in it.
The dog, dead for years, keeps coming back in the dream.
We look at each other there with the old joy.
It was always her gift to bring me into the present—
Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.
Happiness and unhappiness
differ as a bucket hammered from gold differs from one of pressed tin,
this painting proposes.
Each carries the same water, it says.
Thank you for these tiny particles of ocean salt, pearl-necklace viruses, winged protozoans: for the infinite, intricate shapes of submicroscopic living things. For algae spores and fungus spores, bonded by vital mutual genetic cooperation, spreading their inseparable lives from equator to pole. My hand, my arm, make sweeping circles. Dust climbs the ladder of light. For this infernal, endless chore, for these eternal seeds of rain: Thank you. For dust.
The tide ebbs and reveals orange and purple sea stars. I have no theory of radiance, but after rain evaporates off pine needles, the needles glisten. In the courtyard, we spot the rising shell of a moon, and, at the equinox, bathe in its gleam. Using all the tides of starlight, we find vicissitude is our charm. On the mud flats off Homer, I catch the tremor when waves start to slide back in; and, from Roanoke, you carry the leafing jade smoke of willows. Looping out into the world, we thread and return. The lapping waves cover an expanse of mussels clustered on rocks; and, giving shape to what is unspoken, forsythia buds and blooms in our arms.