for Etta Silver (1913–2013) This is where the poem holds its breath, where the usable truth sways, sorrowing, and the people sway with the truth of it, and this is where the poem enters the dark. This is where the book closes and the clock opens and the clock closes and the book opens to song so the snow geese murmur and the coyote swaggers along the aspens. This is where the geese fly unabashedly out, and the sky turns white and wild with sound. This is where tumult, this is where prophecy. This is where the poem repents of language. This is where the poem enters silence, where the child holds the book in her lap whose pages are aflame with life, whose song sways with a usable truth, sorrowing. And this is where the poem holds its breath, and this is where the poem enters the dark. This is where it leaps wild about the child, where the snow geese seize the seamless sky and the universe splits open for one poem— the way a life lived calls on us to praise it.
The first time I saw hundreds of fiddlehead ferns boiling in an enormous pot I realized
what an odd person I must be to hear tiny cries from the mouths of cooking vegetables.
Similarly, when you hurt me, I curled like a mouse behind my third eye. I realize what an
odd thing it is to believe as I do in my third eye and the mouse behind it that furls like a fern
and whimpers like a fern being boiled on a monster stove beside its brothers and sisters.
Poor mouse. The things that make a person odd are odd themselves. Think of DNA,
the way it resembles the rope Jack climbed to secure his future and that of his aging Mom.
Or the way a sudden wave can drag a child under, that addiction to adrenalin, her
siblings farther away and more powerless than she ever imagined, the pure and ecstatic
irreversibility of undertow. It’s odd to come back to life, as they say, she came back to life.
I think I’ll come back to life now. It’s odd to think of something so big we could miss
the elephant we’re living on, like this planet Earth, is she alive and we’re her brain cells,
each one of us flickering, going out, coming back to life? Even Chicago looks poignant
from the top of the Hancock, organized and sincere. Think if we were photographing
Earth, how dear she would be, how we’d watch her shimmer in the shimmering black soup
of the firmament, how alone she’d look and how we’d long to protect her, the way it feels
to protect a woman at the height of orgasm, the liquid giving, the seawater slide of coming
back to life. When you hurt me, I evolved like a backboned sea creature, translucent
nervous system sparking along in the meanest deep where I was small enough to not care
and my passions ran to swimming, gulping, spitting bubbles back into new oceans.
Once when you hurt me I slept at a Red Roof Inn. I double-locked the door and tried to
watch talk shows to keep my mind off sounds like someone suffocating someone
in the next room. I thought I saw blood on the box spring and imagined needles and bulgy
veins, there’s something odd, I thought, about someone whose imagination runs this wild.
So often I dream you’re here and I wake in the middle of a prayer from my muzzled
childhood. Jesus Mary and Joseph, I say, appalled that I’m stuck in 1955 when I need
something profane to see me through. Serrano’s submerged cross. Ginger tea.
The idea that we’re moving between horizons and the Earth is so wise she sends us
Winter and red-tailed hawks when we least expect them. I can do this, I say,
and the planet shifts imperceptibly. From a great distance she appears to be at peace.