The morning is clouded and the birds are hunched,
More cold than hungry, more numb than loud,
This crisp, Arizona shore, where desert meets
The coming edge of the winter world.
It is a cold news in stark announcement,
The myriad stars making bright the black,
As if the sky itself had been snowed upon.
But the stars—all those stars,
Where does the sure noise of their hard work go?
These plugs sparking the motor of an otherwise quiet sky,
Their flickering work everywhere in a white vastness:
We should hear the stars as a great roar
Gathered from the moving of their billion parts, this great
Hot rod skid of the Milky Way across the asphalt night,
The assembled, moving glints and far-floating embers
Risen from the hearth-fires of so many other worlds.
Where does the noise of it all go
If not into the ears, then hearts of the birds all around us,
Their hearts beating so fast and their equally fast
Wings and high songs,
And the bees, too, with their lumbering hum,
And the wasps and moths, the bats, and the dragonflies—
None of them sure if any of this is going to work,
This universe—we humans oblivious,
Drinking coffee, not quite awake, calm and moving
Into the slippers of our Monday mornings,
Shivering because, we think,
It’s a little cold out there.
in each hand a disparate dream: in all dreams
too quiet: delirium
of the mask and God behind it: paradise
had no winter like
is the one where the infant sleeps in the dirt
of a dreamless mind so far from home
he no longer resembles anyone:
his mother, thrown
down, hunted, sick
with fear, sleeps next to him among the filth of animals: his father
watches (the imperative
demands), for there is no room for another
sleeper: the desert will keep
bringing its mirage,
the child will walk in his shimmering garden, says
the wilderness, if you just get across:
motes in the light rise and rest:
sole face left (remember you are dust)
of our first lost image:
The world’s largest Confederate monument
was too big to perceive on my earliest trips to the park.
Unlike my parents, I was not an immigrant
but learned, in speech and writing, to represent.
Picnicking at the foot and sometimes peak
of the world’s largest Confederate monument,
we raised our Cokes to the first Georgian president.
His daughter was nine like me, but Jimmy Carter,
unlike my father, was not an immigrant.
Teachers and tour guides stressed the achievement
of turning three vertical granite acres into art.
Since no one called it a Confederate monument,
it remained invisible, like outdated wallpaper meant
long ago to be stripped. Nothing at Stone Mountain Park
echoed my ancestry, but it’s normal for immigrants
not to see themselves in landmarks. On summer nights,
fireworks and laser shows obscured, with sparks,
the world’s largest Confederate monument.
Our story began when my parents arrived as immigrants.
What have I
To say in my wrong tongue
Of what is gone To know something is
Lost but what You have forgotten what
You long forgot If I am
What survives I am here but I am not
Much of anything at all To be what’s left
And all the rest scooped out
And dropped into the sea My flesh
Forming a knot on itself is a habit
Learned from whom A mind reaching back
Into the dark a body releasing itself
Backward into space a faith
I have no prayer in which to keep
Am I home or merely caught
Between two unmarked graves
I’m saying where we live
It’s a mistake A compromise
I’m made to make
I’m told come willingly
Halfway across a bridge to where
I’m halfway human Or else
A door bricked over
Behind which all I am
To be shadow cast by shadows cast
By no one’s hand And now
Whose fault am I It’s said
I stand against the grain
Of natural law A being in chaos
In argument with itself What would it be
To be simply I am here but what of me
That’s gone stays gone
By which a strip of land became a hole in time
Grandfather I cannot find,
flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone,
what country do you belong to:
where is your body buried,
where did your soul go
when the road led nowhere?
Grandfather I’ll never know,
the moment father last saw you
rips open a wormhole
that has no end: the hours
became years, the years
forever: and on the other side
lies a memory of a memory
or a dream of a dream of a dream
of another life, where what happened
never happened, what cannot come true
comes true: and neither erases
the other, or the other others,
world after world, to infinity—
If only I could cross the border
and find you there,
find you anywhere,
as if you could tell me who he is, or was,
or might have become:
no bloodshot eyes, or broken
bottles, or praying with cracked lips
because the past is past and was is not is—
give me back my father—
or not back, not back, give me the father
I might have had:
there, in the country that no longer exists,
on the other side of the war—
During the war, women hid messages
inside white flowers
tucked in their hair. They crossed
enemy lines, slipped the blossoms
into soldiers’ fists. What might
have been a child’s crown
for her communion, an offering
at a grave, might win the war.
The ovule, the style, the stigma—
what seemed to unfurl overnight
took weeks, even years.
Dream your hand plucks the bloom,
its widest petals like porcelain,
and a halo of bees skims your arms.
Upon waking, walk to the docks,
the bloom heavy behind your ear,
and breathe in its sweet persistence,
its scent of sea salt and gutted fish.
I’m wondering about you, chevra kadisha,
the “holy society,” who will prepare my body,
once I’m no longer in it, for the earth.
Will you know me already, or see me for the first time
as you wash and shroud me, as my father was washed
and dressed in simple white tachrichim, for those
about to stand before God. Perhaps by then I’ll know
if I believe in God. I like the democratic
nature of the shroud, an equalizing garment. You
may see a body that surprises you. You may not have seen
a man’s body like this one before you, which I hope is very old,
wrinkled, and (since I’m wishing) fit, muscled
as much as an old man can be. You’ll see scars.
Ragged dog bit forearm, elbow my father picked gravel
from over the sink, then flushed with foaming iodine,
and the long double horizons on my chest, which trunked my body
like a tree. If I am unexpected, let me not seem
grotesque to you, as I have to many people, perhaps
even my own parents, and others whose highest
kindness was to say nothing. Please let me return to dust
in peace, as the others did, and recite those beautiful psalms,
remembering, as you go about your holy ritual,
how frightening it is to be naked before another,
at the mercy of a stranger’s eyes, without even any breath.
Weed-wrack and wild grape
hanging from the dusty trees
that touch above the narrow road.
I’m driving my way back
—rough passage over gravel—
back the slow miles over
the creek, the lapsed meadow
we walked for arrow points
until the road narrows to path.
I park the car. I pick my step
past rusty barbed wire through
a clearing to the house.
Back the house. Back the years.
Back with him now with me
over broken floorboards,
stone footers, the pot stove—
a whippoorwill, years distant
through the paneless frames.
Half a staircase leading up
over the century of beams.
Back now again the old road
disappearing through white woods,
where he lay down and breathed
I cannot consider scent without you, I cannot
think that color so gay, so Japanese, so vernal
without you; not assassination or any death in any spring. I think of you
and I am man-and-woman, flawed as a Lincoln,
welcoming as a window-box, and so tenderly alliterative as to draw one near—
at times, perhaps, to withdraw from all—yes,
without you I am without pulse in that dooryard, that blooming unfurling
so tell me finally, is last as in the last time or to make something last
—to hold, to hold you, to memorize fast—
She, being the midwife
and your mother’s
longtime friend, said
I see a heart; can you
see it? And on the grey
display of the ultrasound
there you were as you were,
our nugget, in that moment
becoming a shrimp
or a comma punctuating
the whole of my life, separating
its parts—before and after—,
a shrimp in the sea
of your mother, and I couldn’t
help but see the fast
beating of your heart
translated on that screen
and think and say to her,
to the room, to your mother,
to myself It looks like
a twinkling star.
I imagine I’m not
the first to say that either.
Unlike the first moments
of my every day,
the new of seeing you was the first
—deserving of the definite article—
moment I saw a star
at once so small and so
big, so close and getting closer
every day, I pray.
He said I must pay special attention in cars. He wasn’t, he assured me, saying that I’d be in an accident but that for two weeks some particular caution was in order, &, he said, all I really needed to do was throw the white light of Alma around any car I entered & then I’d be fine. & when I asked about Alma, he said, Oh, come on, you know Alma well. You two were together first in Egypt & then at Stonehenge, & I nodded though I’ve never been— in this life at least—to Stonehenge; then I said, Shouldn’t I always throw the white light of Alma around a car? & when he said, Well, it wouldn’t hurt, I said, What about around planes, houses? What if I throw the white light of Alma around anyone who might need protection from the reckless speed of driving or the reckless swerve & skid of the world? & the psychic opened his hands & shrugged up his shoulders. So despite your doubt or mine as to why I’d gone there, to a psychic, in—I kid you not—a town of psychics—in the first place, right now, as you read this, let me throw the white light of Alma around you & everyone you pass close to today, beloved or stranger, the grocer, the bus driver, the boy on his longboard, the lady you stand silent beside in the elevator, & also I am throwing it around anyone they care about anywhere in the spin of the world, because, we can agree that these days, everywhere, particular caution is in order &, even if unverifiable, the light of my dear sister Alma, couldn’t hurt.
or. The deer, nearly
Color blind, see blue
Better than we do, more
Blue than we know, a blue
I am not consoled
Lives beyond me. Imagine
Their sky, saturated, how
Do they bear it, and
The alpine lake where
They drink in summer, glacier-
Fed, reflecting back it all back
The glacier, blue at heart deep-
Frozen for millennia, blue
Its core and vanishing
In your lifetime. A rush,
A trickle, this is how
It goes? Around the lake,
Boulders harden themselves.
Green firs. And there, a perfect
Center, the lake’s clear,
The raven stood in a baby carriage and croaked to passersby. Her voice was a purple softness, really not much.
Something about a dingy bird is a question—where shall we work and live—or how did it come to this, a thing called “in public” standing near the ocean among balloons and pies?
Where did the baby vanish to?
A breeze rides in with its assignment. A woman laughs because she thinks she’s partly immortal.
So concludes an essay on “Fern Hill,” in which the student seems
somewhere between jazzed up & pissed off that green might mean
so many things from one stanza to the next: here, a blooming
Eden proxy; here, rot made by the grip of time. For starters. Or
that sun-slaked field, not far from our classroom, as lush-green
as any Welsh farmyard, greyed overnight with frost. Emerald
beer bottle hurled from a car. The slack-jawed lime-green
goblin face spanning a front porch post-Halloween
for so many weeks it looks like it’s here to stay. The long-ago
brown-green of Cleveland, where it rained always & without pity
upon a past I crave despite myself & our team lost always 14—2.
Every time we waited in the bleachers for the game to resume,
my father would look down upon the outfield’s diagonal lines
& proclaim Still a lot of green out there, meaning anything
can happen & will. Have you ever heard in a crowd the saddest part
of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” where everyone lies & pretends
we don’t care if we ever get back & makes the last word echo
twice more? We always want to get back, whether or not
we’re hailing childhood green. Like the student in her essay,
I too could keep rattling off images of spring & decay—June
sunset horizon flash, summer hair stained olive from churning
over-chlorinated pools, green shadow of a hand somewhere
that makes it feel as if owls were bearing everything away—
instead of looking again at the image online I glimpsed before
returning to the still-ungraded hay-high stack of student work.
Maybe you saw it too? Maybe you also had the spellbound luck
of wandering to other tasks instead of asking what it means to know
anything can happen in a wholly different way, instead of looking
once more at the slash of police tape that is the only horizon
that matters just now for the two men in the photograph who sit
together on the curb, faces glowing blue-red in the lights, both of them
bleary-eyed but alive, swaddled in aftermath & a blanket that is green,
a detail that couldn’t matter less, given how the numbers of the dead
still rise. Here we are again, as inevitable as the clock’s tick, looking in
at a place that now will never be young. Is there a way to say it—
There’s been a shooting—that will allow it to be heard, remembered
& heard without the easy glide of our past tense? That will stop us
from wanting to turn to anything under the wide starry sky that is not
the green fire burning in the minds of those men or the green
of a blanket America provides & provides without change?
Only today did I notice the abyss
in abysmal and only because my mind
was generating rhymes for dismal,
and it made of the two a pair,
to which much later it joined
baptismal, as—I think—a joke.
I decided to do nothing with
the rhymes, treating them as one does
the unfortunately frequent appearance
of the “crafts” adults require children
to fashion from pipe cleaners
and plastic beads. One is not permitted
to simply throw them away,
but can designate a drawer
that serves as a kind of trash can
never emptied. I suppose one day
it will be full, and then I will know
it is time to set my child free.
The difficulty is my mind leaks
and so it will never fill, despite
the clumps of language I drop in,
and this means my mind can never
be abandoned in the woods
with a kiss and a wave
and a little red kerchief
tied under its chin.
A knock at the door: it’s the boundary technician—
Dr. Transducer glides out of the blue
and into your pulse, come
to recalibrate your peaks and valleys.
Gloved in hiss, he unfolds the bolts
of your voltage, fiddles
your knobs and bones, bones
your spectral entrails—and deduces your output’s
plagued with fits of hysteretic
backlash. Whatever you utter
is noise shaped, a dizzy signal. The doctor’s
got the fix, and it’s a doozy:
he cleaves you to a graven
waveform erasure. He tunes you to a frequency
that lacks you out
then blows. The door swings
and bangs you shut, clouds pressed to the roof
of your mouth.
The world baffles with sounds,
the worst of which is a human voice.
You would think that with a judgment like that
I would hate crowds, but better a pub’s intermingled dozens
than the sound of one fool speaking his mind.
The dozens drum and buzz and hum.
Against the dozens I could ring a wet glass
and sing C above high C,
could settle a bet with bold harmonics,
could stun down the bark of a barracks of dogs.
But against one idiot all another idiot can do is shout.
Imagine a life in which shouting was the precondition
for every action, if you had to shout to step, shout to sit,
shout loudly to effect any outcome.
What when you did speak would you say?
What wouldn’t sound old to you,
about what could you not say I’ve heard this before?
What a relief it would be to scream yourself hoarse,
to be forced into silence,
the one note you know you can always hold.
In a strait, some things are useful.
Others, true, she turns to ash.
her head thick with arrogance,
infection and futility.
It could be how a young wife went,
strewn with net-veined willow
and mountain aven—
trespass, and wreckage.
She could write about the year
she turned to heat and haze,
to laze: immurmurat-,
imauraaqtuŋa. Of cannula
and silver nitrate. Of petiolus
and achene, about to begin again.
Of greens as they green. Of a man
aged, eskered. Of a confined gleam—
to hereby dissolve and hold for naught
the soil / gravel / silt groaning
as the tools of our penultimate glacier,
a glacier I might pronounce like grief.
One does wish for words to thaw
in the mouth, but find instead a tongue,
welt. Erosional or depositional, raised
& visible, rift into language & grit—
They were calm because it had never happened before,
because they thought it had, it must have, when designed,
a tunnel to fit the child but not the adult. Then how
if a child crawled there and curled and closed her mouth,
how to get the child out? Send another in. Send in
someone small. They were calm because everyone
finds reasons to be calm when there is wind or sun or
this coat at the base of the slide, it must be the child’s,
Come out. It’s fine. Come on, now. Come out.
They were wrong. All of them were wrong. Some thought:
a saw! Some thought: calm down! They were getting
somewhere with their thoughts. Part of the crowd grew
angry with the other part for making a crowd,
so one crawled up into the tube until his chest stopped
like his breath and he saw something wrong:
the sun made blue in the tube. Something about the sun
and black streaks from shoes. The crowd saw the half of him
left out kick then kick wild, so they pulled the other
half out. They sat him up and someone groaned,
someone said Enough, now, come on. Sweetheart, enough.
Come out. Then another crawled inside, left her coat
by the slide, passed the streaks, saw the blue, smelled the plastic
in her mouth that comes from plastic having caught
the sun at noon, the burning soon night-cooled,
a thousand black-streak tallies to mark the cycle of shoes then
wider shoes of older children pressed inside by two
to touch and make the space between them small—
this one heard a sound. Someone’s calling me she thought.
I’m found. So she crawled back. Remembered all.
Moved aside. Another tried. Lost. Another tried.
You’ve just died in my arms,
But suddenly it seems we’re eternal
Cali boys, Afro-haired cohorts in crime,
Racing through intricate lattices
Of quince and lemon tree shadows,
Corridors of Queen Anne’s lace—
On the skip-church Sunday you dubbed me
“Sir Serious” instead of Cyrus—
Then, swift as a deer’s leap, we’re devotees
Of goatees and showy Guatemalan shirts,
Intoxicated lovers for a month
On the northwest coast of Spain—
Praising the irrepressible sounds
Of a crusty Galician bagpiper
On La Coruña’s gripping finisterre,
Then gossiping and climbing
(Like the giddy Argonauts we were)
The lofty, ancient Roman lighthouse,
All the way—Keep on truckin’, we sang—
To the top of the Tower of Hercules—
You crawled back into your motel in a border town near the demarcation line between the nation-state of the living and the underworld. Sleepless, you peered out the window. You could see the neon lights garlanding the Gates of Horn and Ivory. The lights spelled out “OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY” in blinking red cursive. You laughed. Of course, death is the only border crossing still open to all. You watched the illumination from the street pour onto the wall above your bed: a red lasso that looped on the wall, as if the wall had begun to bleed extravagantly. Below, traffic packed the road in both directions. From the two open gates, dreams sailed into the living world from over the deserts. Some dreams true, some false. You recognized some of these dreams (Race, Nation, Gender) and could not tell from which gate they had emerged. Sleepless, you saw the line of pilgrims queued up to enter the underworld. The line seems longer lately, new refugees to the afterlife.