The Celebrated Colors of the Local Sunsets

The day feels as thin
as the letters fading from
half a can of spray paint
a decade ago on the brick wall
of the closed down
Suder Feed Supply where we used
to skateboard and think
of all the crimes the police
could punish us with
for being poor, and teenagers,
for wearing skin-tight jeans
and growing our hair
like a girl’s, for almost anything—
at least it felt like it then.
I can’t imagine home
without thinking of the past
and the faintest stir
of indignation. It’s beside the point.
Today, I’m revisiting Miłosz
with a pen pressed to the pages
making notes in the margins.
In 1987, in Berkeley,
he is doing the same, and thinking
back on the end of his countries, their
“posthumous existence.” Like him
I know a place
I can’t return to, and without
much imagination can picture
everything coming apart, one way
or another. When I imagine
how it might go, it is
just like this: I am memorizing
bird calls and wild
plants which become a blur
at the far edge of my yard,
their Latin names tangled
in my mouth. Didn’t I
already show you this?
The country at twilight
and a far-off darkness
of pines, a deep red sky
imagined for this page. What I left out
wasn’t meant to be remarkable—
a bruise faded from the surface,
the wounds buried
like overwintered wasps
plotting assassinations
beneath the snow. So let’s see
if I can draw it into focus,
like the truant daydreaming in class
suddenly with something to say—
the one end I know complete.
Once, I thanked my father
for the gift of this life,
something he didn’t hear.
It was two years before he died
and he was high
on the translucent painkillers
the hospital ordered to keep him
comfortable after surgery.
It was as real as anything
I ever told him. I stood
over him in the hospital bed
and traced the outline of his body
under the gown, the collar and hip bones,
his stomach, his penis, and balls,
numbered the black stars
printed on the cotton and listened
to him breathe, mouth
open, just so, a way
into the hive growing in his chest.
He didn’t hear, and then, he couldn’t.
In those years, I barely spoke to him
and now not an hour can pass
I don’t hear him, now that
what he has to say is always
final, always a last word. And
Miłosz is buried in Kraków
and my father has entered
eternity as ash, and I am
certain what doesn’t last
lasts—Hydrangea quercifolia,
Hypericum densiflorum,
Solidago rugosa

Materials for a Gravestone Rubbing

I have long wanted to be starlight in spring
and the late snow that lingers there, coming down
at Harpers Ferry over the river or gathered 
on a windowsill on third street in Brooklyn 
when I was twenty-two—the potpourri 
of sky the wind carries after a storm. 
The gray darkening on a far ridge. If you are reading this
there is still a way. I can take your smooth palm in mine
and lead you toward a distant city and a night
when you were on the mountain and dreaming of the other world
and we can walk together past the pre-war homes 
converted now to low-rent apartments for college students
or workers come in from long days on a road crew,
coveralls draped over the backs of kitchen chairs
and the light swaying just so. We can go on—
along the cracked sidewalks above the train tracks
that can’t exist again even as the grasses come up between them
and look through a fog and a single pair of headlights
making definite beams in the material cold. 
No moonlight to get netted up in on the surface of the water
no traffic at this hour just the scraps of paper blown
into gutters and the electric hum of streetlights,
a few voices, which almost walk like footfall down alleys
overgrown with briars and creeping vines, their crude
latticework against the brick and the exhale
of a bartender on a smoke break and the smoke
which still drifts. Now it must be all worn through
but then it was barely remarkable though I stop
to look back at the homes and at snow melt on roads
the flat glitter on the black road, the moiré pattern 
yet to be captured by language—and for a minute believe
in something as my stepfather believed in the smell of fire
whenever he left in the middle of the night
and returned before dawn and spoke to no one, didn’t
wake anyone up. Sometimes I feel that alone, 
that pure, as if looking back at myself
through the scrim of time and you are there 
standing in our kitchen at this hour and I can almost 
hear you and the first singing caught-up there in the back 
of your throat. Lately I’ve stopped worrying about the end. 
Each day my hand is smaller on your shoulders. New birds
still return and the hillsides green all around, the stars 
have traveled over the horizon and in the blink 
of an eye you are here—grape-vine charcoal in your hand;
little hyphen I have become.

Related Poems

A Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Little Father

I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning   
and pull the blanket up to his chin   
every night.

I buried my father underground.   
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house   
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors   
stand open at evening, receiving   
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.

I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,   
my little root who won’t drink milk,   
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,   
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future   
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,   
little father I ransom with my life.


Now is the time of year when bees are wild 
and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped 
loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants 
in the bright, late-September out-of-doors. 
I have found their dried husks in my clothes. 

They are dervishes because they are dying, 
one last sting, a warm place to squeeze 
a drop of venom or of honey. 
After the stroke we thought would be her last 
my grandmother came back, reared back and slapped 

a nurse across the face. Then she stood up, 
walked outside, and lay down in the snow. 
Two years later there is no other way 
to say, we are waiting. She is silent, light 
as an empty hive, and she is breathing.