Gravel

- 1954-

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
                                                      no more.

 

More by David Baker

Patriotics

Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy,
   out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river. 
America, it's hard to get your attention politely.
   America, the beautiful night is about to blow up

and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops 
   is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt,
and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park. 
   It's the Big One one more time, July the 4th,

our country's perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war, 
   we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans,
spray the streets and neighbors' yards with the machine-gun crack 
   of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate.

It's hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine,
   the entire county must be here--the acned faces of neglect,
the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives,
   jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy

all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight
   when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor 
the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal
   halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears.

We'll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow
   get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others 
in the back rooms of our courts and malls--yet what
   will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war

but her family's own? The comfort of a welfare plot,
   a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers' dreams come true as 
   nightmare.
So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs:
   red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague

of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks. 
   America, I'd swear I don't believe in you, but here I am,
and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.

The Feast

The moon tonight is
the cup of a
     scar. I hate the moon.
     I hate—more—that scar. My love waited

one day, then half
the next. One 
     cyst drained of fluid that looked,
     she said, like icing for

a cake. Red-
laced, she said, gold,
      tan, thick, rich. Kind of
      beautiful.

One cyst 
was not a cyst. One
      —small one, hard, its edges jagged— 
     like a snow ball. 

This one scared 
the house on-
     cologist into 
     lab work: stat.

Once the snow melts the birds 
will be back.
     Once
     many men were masked

in front of their
families. Were gunned down
     to shallow graves, together, there.
     Basra. Kaechon. East 

St. Louis, Illinois. Nowhere
we don’t know about  
     and nothing yet is done.  
     This is what we watch while

we wait.
Twelve little cysts 
     of snow in the red-
      bud. I watched each one, having 

counted, once more, and then one
more time, as
     the news reports reported
     and the cold early 

northern wind shook
out there the bare, still-budded small
     bush. Balls of crust shuddered
     in the bush.

Birds will be
back as 
     though nothing has happened. 
     I am here to report that
		
nothing happened. Except
the oncologist said, then, 
     benign.
     But now I hate 

the moon. Hate the scar,
though it shines 
     on her breast
     like the moon at my lips.

Forced Bloom

1.

Such pleasure one needs to make for oneself. 
She has snipped the paltry forsythia 
to force the bloom, has cut each stem on 
the slant and sprinkled brown sugar in a vase, 
so the wintered reeds will take their water. 
It hurts her to do this but she does it. 
When are we most ourselves, and when the least? 
Last night, the man in the recessed doorway, 
homeless or searching for something, or sought—
all he needed was one hand and quiet. 
The city around him was one small room. 
He leaned into the dark portal, gray 
shade in a door, a shadow of himself. 
His eyes were closed. His rhythm became him. 
So we have shut our eyes, as dead or as 
other, and held the thought of another 
whose pleasure is need, face over a face ... 

2. 

It hurts her to use her hands, to hold 
a cup or bud or touch a thing. The doctors 
have turned her burning hands in their hands. 
The tests have shown a problem, but no cause, 
a neuropathology of mere touch. 
We have all made love in the dark, small room 
of such need, without shame, to our comfort, 
our compulsion. I know I have. She has. 
We have held or helped each other, sometimes 
watching from the doorway of a warm house 
where candletips of new growth light the walls, 
the city in likeness beyond, our hands 
on the swollen damp branch or bud or cup. 
Sometimes we are most ourselves when we are 
least, or hurt, or lost, face over a face—. 
You have, too. It's your secret, your delight. 
You smell the wild scent all day on your hand. 

Related Poems

Where the Sky Meets the Earth

A man can’t die where there is no earth
 
because there will be no place
to bury him. His body is the sky
and understands the language of birds.
 
His body says the earth is made of everything
that has fallen from Heaven
 
while no one was looking. He promises
to defy gravity and then return home.
 
A man can’t reach for the sky and not feel
he is falling. It goes on forever and the birds
talk about the awesomeness of flight
 
while the oxen labor in the fields,
while the cows eat grass and dream
 
of slaughter. A man can’t talk about flight
because one day, there will be no sky,
just the body covered in earth.
 
And now the sky is empty of birds.
And now the earth is covered in flowers.

My Father's Kites

were crude assemblages of paper sacks and twine,
amalgams of pilfered string and whittled sticks,
twigs pulled straight from his garden, dry patch

of stony land before our house only he
could tend into beauty, thorny roses goaded
into color. How did he make those makeshift

diamonds rise, grab ahold of the wind to sail
into sky like nothing in our neighborhood
of dented cars and stolid brick houses could?

It wasn’t through faith or belief in otherworldly
grace, but rather a metaphor from moving
on a street where cars rusted up on blocks,

monstrously immobile, and planes, bound
for that world we could not see, roared
above our heads, our houses pawns

in a bigger flight path. How tricky the launch
into air, the wait for the right eddy to lift
our homemade contraption into the sullen

blue sky above us, our eyes stinging
with the glut of the sun. And the sad tangle
after flight, collapse of grocery bags

and broken branches, snaggle of string
I still cannot unfurl. Father, you left me
with this unsated need to find the most

delicately useful of breezes, to send
myself into the untenable, balance my weight
as if on paper wings, a flutter then fall,

a stutter back to earth, an elastic sense
of being and becoming forged in our front
yard, your hand over mine over balled string.

Natural History

Late afternoon, autumn equinox,
and my daughter and I
are at the table silently
eating fried eggs and muffins,
sharp cheese, and yesterday’s
rice warmed over. We put
our paper plates in the woodstove
and go outside:
                                 sunlight
fills the alders with
the geometries of long
blonde hair, and twin ravens
ride the rollercoasters
of warm September air
out, toward Protection Island.

Together, we enter the roughed-in
room beside our cabin
and begin our toil together:
she, cutting and stapling
insulation; I, cutting
and nailing the tight rows
of cedar. We work in a silence
broken only by occasional banter.
I wipe the cobwebs
from nooks and sills, working
on my knees as though this prayer
of labor could save me, as though
the itch of fiberglass
and sawdust were an answer
to some old incessant question
I never dare to remember.

And when the evening comes on
at last, cooling our arms
and faces, we stop
and stand back to assess
our work together.
                                 And I
remember the face
of my father climbing down
from a long wooden ladder
thirty years before. He
was a tall strong sapling
smelling of tar and leather,
his pate bald and burned
to umber by a sun
that blistered the Utah desert.
He strode the rows of coops
with a red cocker spaniel
and tousled boy-child
at his heel.
                         I turn to look
at my daughter: her mop
of blonde curls catches
the last trembling light
of the day, her lean body
sways with weariness. I try,
but cannot remember
the wisdom of fourteen years,
the pleasures of that
discovery. Eron smiles.

At the stove, we wash up
as the sun dies in a candle-flame.
A light breeze tears
the first leaves of autumn
from boughs that slowly darken.
A squirrel, enraged,
castigates the dog
for some inscrutable intrusion,
and Eron climbs the ladder
to her loft.
                         Suddenly
I am utterly alone,
I am a child
gazing up at a father, a father
looking down at his daughter.
A strange shudder
comes over me like a chill.
Is this what there is
to remember – the long days
roofing coops, the building
of rooms on a cabin, the in
significant meal? The shadows
of moments mean everything
and nothing, the dying
landscapes of remembered
human faces freeze
into a moment.
                         My room
was in the basement, was
knotty pine, back there,
in diamondback country.
The night swings over
the cold Pacific. I pour
a cup of coffee, heavy
in my bones. Soon, this fine
young woman will stare into
the face of her own son
or daughter, the years
gone suddenly behind her.
Will she remember only
the ache, the immense satisfaction
of that longing?
                         May she
be happy, filled
with the essential,
working in the twilight,
on her knees, at autumn equinox,
gathering the stories
of silence together,
preparing to meet the winter.