A kid said you could chew road tar if you got it before it cooled, black globule with a just-forming skin. He said it was better than cigarettes. He said he had a taste for it. On the same road, a squirrel was doing the Watusi to free itself from its crushed hindquarters. A man on a bicycle stomped on its head, then wiped his shoe on the grass. It was autumn, the adult word for fall. In school we saw a film called Reproduction. The little snake-father poked his head into the slippery future, and a girl with a burned tongue was conceived.
When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,
the brain's hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.
They come out glamorous and simplified,
even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.
Maybe those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge
nostalgia drives into our dreaming.
Maybe our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight
of apples in the blossoms overhead.
Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade
thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.
Childhood, first love, first loss of love--
the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.
What must happen now
is that the small funerals
celebrated in the left-behind life
for their black exotica, their high relief,
their candles and withered wreaths,
must be allowed to pass through
into the sleeping world,
there to be preserved and honored
in the fullness and color of their forms,
their past lives their coffins.
Goodbye then to all innocent surprise
at mortality's panache,
and goodbye to the children fallen
ahead of me into the slow whirlpool
I conceal within myself, my death,
into its snow-froth and the green-black
muscle of its persuasion.
The spirits of children
must look like the spirits of animals,
though in the adult human
the vacancy left by the child
probably darkens the surviving form.
The apples drop their blossom-shadows
onto the still-brown grass.
Old selves, this is partly for you,
there at the edge of the woods
like a troop of boy soldiers.
You can go on living with the blade
of nostalgia in your hearts forever,
my pale darlings. It changes nothing.
Don't you recognize me? I admit
I too am almost invisible now, almost.
Like everything else, I take on
light and color from outside myself,
but it is old light, old paint.
The first shadows are supple ones,
school of gray glimpses, insubstantial.
In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,
and the ghost of child-grime--
that infinite smudge of no color--
blows off into the afterlife.