Ballad and Proposition

Bruce Smith
after Alice Oswald

Take away my engine and I shall engineless go
to find you. Take away my bees
and I will flowerless walk the vectors of sweet
nothings until I’m face to face with Monsanto.

In my doomed town where small mechanic skills
make the evenings strung out and shrill
with compressors and vapors, I listen for crows
and wrens to overdub our nation’s ills

which are forgetting and further forgetting
so I don’t recognize my hand,
the length of rope, the knot, the limb
I throw it over, the aid and abetting

of the body, the shadow spans from Senegal
to my doomed town where Mrs. White
cuts off a limb that drops its intractable
leaves in menacing random and illegal

patterns on her lawn. The proposition
is to each cut off a limb, a sacrifice to prevent
destructions more terrible in the future
as did the Sioux. Because I lack imagination

somebody, a Christ, a boy in custody, dies
each evening. Three days wait and I forget
the undertaking, the uprising, that way
of life with redemption. I forget the lies

modified by art. I forget the ongoing
story of love tending toward catastrophe,
the oblique, gaped, murderous corridos
ending in the underworld and unknowing.

More by Bruce Smith

Untitled [I closed the book and changed my life]

I closed the book and changed my life and changed my life and changed my life and one more change and I was back here looking up at a blue sky with russets and the World was hypnotic but it wasn't great. I wanted more range, maybe, more bliss, I didn't know about bliss. Is bliss just a rant about the size of the bowl? The trance was the true thing, no, the rant, no, the sky, now, that icy whiteness.

What Are They Doing in the Next Room

Are they unmaking everything?
Are they tuning the world sitar?
Are they taking an ice pick to being?
Are they enduring freedom in Kandahar?

Sounds, at this distance, like field hollers,
sounds like they’ll be needing CPR.
Sounds like the old complaint of love and dollars.
Sounds like when Coltrane met Ravi Shankar

and the raga met the rag and hearing
became different and you needed CPR
after listening and tearing was tearing
and love was a binary star—

distant bodies eclipsing each other
with versions of gravity and light.
Sounds like someone’s trying to smother
the other—a homicide or a wedding night.

The television derives the half-full hours.
Time exists as mostly what’s to come.
Losing also is ours…
I meant that as a question.

Is I the insomniac’s question?
Are you a dendrite or a dream?
Between oblivion and affection,
which one is fear and which protection?

Are they transitive or in?
Are they process or product?
Are they peeling off the skin?
Are they Paris or the abducted?

They’re reading something after Joyce,
post modern stuff that can be read
but not understood except as voices
rising and falling from the dead.

Do they invent me
as I invent their faces?
I see surveillance gray wasted
with bliss at having thieved identities.

In the AM, when turns to usted,
the sun clocks in to overwrite the night
with hues and saturations and the red
hesitates for a second to be incarnate.

Garden

I walked in the romantic garden and I walked
in the garden of ruin. I walked in the green-skinned,
black-skinned garden of Osiris who was ripped to pieces
and reformed and adored. I walked in that wet,
incestuous plot. Am I the only one who reads
for innocence? I walked in the garden of Amadou Diallo
whose shadow was punctured by unnumbered shafts
of light leading from West Africa to America where wallets
are guns. The chirp you heard in the garden as of two black
holes merging is what we called the soul. And when we cup
our hands to drink at his fountain we make the shape
of his skull. Am I the only one who reads for thirst?
I walked in the gardens of Houston where anole lizards
took their colors at the borders between terror and wonder,
dread and leafy glade, between silence and Sinatra.
I walked in Pope’s garden in Twickenham that rhymed
wilderness and picturesque, walled in and out the stunted
self. In the garden of ruin new growth from the palms
I read as artful, neutral. In the romantic garden the fascists
sing I love you, I love you not. Statues in the gardens
are wrapped in Mylar blankets and blue plastic tarps
like refugees. I read them for reflection. I read for nation.
I read for color and form. In the orangery of Guantanamo,
in the grapevine of Babylon, I’m lost. I went there for the buzz,
the fiction of silence and a better self. Dressed sentimentally
in a dynamite suit in the garden of dates and pomegranates,
I read for patterns of the blast.