Hesperine for David Berger

- 1971-

     Begin with the dining room custodian at the university who smashed the stained glass window because we are actually going to change history

     Imagine then in the suburbs of Cleveland a sculpture of steel rings broken in halves but opening up away from the bullet-written history of the burning helicopter toward the open sky

     Seems possible because there is a bridge between relativity and quantum mechanics that no physicist has yet ascertained

     Imagining neither a conditional future if the past was different nor forging ahead from the broken but something newer that bridged that loss

     For example what if a painter who left the canvas entirely and instead looked at all the extant surfaces in the already man-made and man-frayed world

     History then as fragile as stained glass and yet writes new narratives that shape every movement forward

     Both ways of understanding the behavior of matter cannot both be true yet somehow they still behave as true on the lived-in planet

     David Berger at 27 deciding to move across the world to Israel to train and compete in the Olympics, 1972 Munich

     What Corey Menafee did is he reached up without really thinking, he climbed up on top of a table in the dining room and with his broom he

     Sang in bits and pieces to god the road you knew which was the confusion road the one made of all your wrong turns

     Geometry of a building makes it stand math is mighty there are abstractions in every letter their architecture makes sound possible

     “For each of you a practice” Quran 5:48 says, “if God had willed He would have just made you one people”

     Imran Qureishi paints little blossoms on the ground, on the wall, in corners of the room, they bloom like water or blood or light

     While the Qawali singer Amjad Sabri groans his throat open in ecstatic sound aiming to reach from the muck of the earth all the way into heaven

     From the summit I plummet then into the time of unstrung lyres to try to go back into the dark time

     A letter arriving in the night mysterious reads: “A reminder we do not forget we do not forgive”

     Translator of frozen scripts you try to tongue your way through that old score shame that I am still trying to settle

     Sky boat bear me down along these reticent cords while I plumb lupine clouds in search of lingering snow

     Do you know what your body is do you know what god is

     Music that do sound off strings into voice from the body’s drum that sings breathe through as wind

     Shattered the panes of the stained glass window depicting enslaved workers bearing cotton along a road

     Hesperus the evening star shines with a cold light through the tightest drawn evenings sharp edged and dissolute

     He said he didn’t even think about it he came into work in the dining room everyday and he hated that one image in the glass and one day he just

     And of all that was wrong was a pattern painted not last year or a hundred years ago but I mean yesterday or this morning

     Sun is going down on the wrong horizon, the sea glows green then blue then green again this is where I was born this in between place

     And so I curse the fucking dawn that grinds men to powder tears them from their bodies flings them down the hot dark barrel of a gun

     How then to catalog the metadata of all the corpses that locate for us our own bodies and register their Western comfort

     Bullet punching through a body like punching through a ticket registering it for passage

     Do you know what god is what’s not do you know what art is what’s not do you know what a nation is a citizen a crime

     Sir this world has always asked me for my labor then been silent upon delivery

     Star of evening’s twin brother was Phosporos, star of morning, who rose up in the dawn and brought new day, metaphor of course for new life

     Savage spill and splendid this tended plot a plant this polity close to alarm smoke in the hallway the door opening the key stolen shadows appearing

     What is the sound of misdemeanors hefting the minutes like prison tattoos when they took David Berger and his roommates and then five others in the second apartment sought

     I crunch down in the room of my life to draw small blossoms in the corners of the world, flowers or water or light what do I have against the intention of violence but these small chromatic gestures nothing

     While I pretend the sound I howl has some direction this impossible world always a gate opening could be the death of me

     What passes from beyond the horizon of the black hole can define how the universe is made because if we are right we are right but

     The window shattered and glass rained down onto the street outside the worker was arrested but the university dropped the charges

     The beautiful were made beautiful the blood in their bodies sang and in the rain of white phosphorus into the streets of Gaza

     This technique of Qawali it depends on the old belief that God is found in abstraction and in sound say the Sufi teachers is the physical matter of the universe made

     The astrophysicist then plays a Coltrane riff and reveals its score which maps a shape that corresponds to the equation describing a particle of space-time

     You did learn in painting directly on stone or the concrete sidewalk or the notes nesting in the throat or body against body wrestling or tumbling in space

     Register then my ticket on the train in France the machine says “composter” and in that space between languages I am found

     I have come back to this village on the Mediterranean shore after sixteen years who was I then who am I now was the same age as David Berger same age as Mohammed Al-Khatib

     “Compost” as in compost the old tomatoes into the earth make a complete system of the body’s history into the future life

     Are we then only particles of light and liquid and petaled material swirling one into the other lighthouse dark unlit instrument silent

     But then the Greeks learned from the Babylonians that the evening star and the morning star that they had envisioned and made gods of and written poems about were in fact the same heavenly body

     I register the old tomatoes back into the earth try to clear the trail of ants on the counter swarming the counter where I sliced them

     We live by laws of men drawn of laws of god men say are real who then erected the frame for this chainsaw night

     And at this moment on the sea I see in the water a reflection of every face I’ve known each wave contains another wave each moment of violence contains

     Architecture of the museum of history and its archive based on the Hebrew letter “Yud” for memory or remembrance

     In either case we are inventing the past which means it changes the future which means the machine of time is real made of gears and parts

     Register each body like tickets for the train

     Munich 1972 the road leads right through young men’s brightest hours no question of a Palestinian team not then not till years and decades later

     Ramallah 2014 Mohammed Al-Khatib laces up his running shoes ridiculously trying to train as a sprinter with neither spikes nor coach nor starting block

     Each moment of time is a part of space and each piece of space-time is a physical object an object that can be graphed and mapped

     Impossible to see impossible to feel to refract how finished the pattern that is every unfolding

     Bright glass of many colors the slaves hauling cotton shattered and flickering down toward the concrete

     What am I without these things but no question at all

     And yet here is Coltrane mapping the nature of the universe in sound here is David Berger using his body to show the potential of strength Mohammed decides by guts and grit he can imagine himself faster

     And so I shout down with ragged throat this encroaching blue that brings dawn then brightening day then David and his teammates hustled by the kidnappers into a helicopter bound for the airport promised passage out of Germany

     There is no fajr call here on he seaside to alert me to the hour but I can hear creatures stirring from sleep, a gift so like death it reeks

     Night resounding with Coltrane’s whining instrument his breath through brass has somehow arrived at the same calculation as

     Mohammed seeks to shave tenths of seconds off his time there is no accounting for the decision of the body toward its sport

     “He would have made you one people but He wanted to try you, so strive alongside one another toward good deeds, to God you will all return and then he will account and explain to you the differences you had”

     Somehow sound improvised in time creates that geometric pattern of branches swirling or the equation that tells

     At the beginning of the universe Amjad Sabri sings away for all he’s worth, his voice unspooling like a bolt of raw silk untamed spirit

     He hopes to find god, echolocate Him deep in the harmonic overtone  perhaps at precisely the place his voice breaks

     In the end it don’t matter whether blood is particles or rivulets they spill just the same like Qureishi’s painting of little red flowers rosettes of blood on the floor where the mass shooting took place, his flowers covering the place where blood once marked

     Or on walls following blue streams following the sewer pipe or the slicks of sunlight on the window pane

     This unending pattern of abstraction to say we can inscribe ourselves into the landscape we can change the past we can write ourselves as a letter arriving unannounced to god with no return address

     What other explanation does any scholar have for the verses of the Quran that are neither sentences nor sayings but mere glyphs of letters

     Alif Lam Mim

     Ta Ha

     Alif Lam Ra

     And physics knows what Sabri is hungry for: that the point of breaking (a bullet enters David Berger’s left shoulder)

     (unlike the others he is shot while still in the apartment perhaps to intimidate the other prisoners or perhaps he tried to resist)

     Because he saw the lip of the black hole as the possibility to know and it is that which tipped us off that the systems do match

     Everything thought was true still behaves as if it is true but both things cannot in the known universe be actually true

     If we are on a continuum a wave where time and space bend then nothing is supposed to emerge from the event horizon and yet

     Corey climbed up on the table he could not say why he just said Every day I come into work and I see that window

     Mohammed left Palestine to go to Houston Texas where he found enough open space to run and train I only wanted to hear Palestine’s anthem in the stadium he said

     To hear is to make real

     Coltrane was a physicist

     Sabri found a way to god

     David Berger left his home in Cleveland to move to Israel to lift weights and compete and so at the end of it when the bodies of the ten others return to Israel David’s body is flown back to the States alone

     These boys’ bodies are made of particles that travel one into the other and I curse the crepuscular moment dark and light what are you what is god what isn’t

     Not until epochs of time later did the Romans look into the sky at Phosphoros whose name means “Bearer of Light” and translate into their own language as “Lucifer”

     Does every journey continue down the barrel of a gun from the Olympic village to the helicopter to the airport where the trick was played to the shootout to the firestorm

     What sound breaks the circle of action and reaction

     If space do bend then time

     Can history be unwoven the tightness released to make it possible to breathe and write anew

     Are we pieces made up of pieces made up of pieces

     In little licks like a month cleaning a baby with her animal tongue Sabri draws red petals into the air in sound

     David Berger’s body straining to life or Mohammed’s body racing

     Grey endless stone in the cemetery in the suburb of Cleveland I wandered looking for the grave

     Sound emerges the sound of the sea from the blue saxophone notes trickling from Qureishi’s paintbrush

     Glass littering down the window to the street clear the sun shines through

     In the suburbs of Cleveland past the shopping mall through the office park nestled up against the interstate is a pedestal of black steel broken rings

     Do you even know at all or do you just have to sing to find the place a voice breaks

     There is no tradition in the literature of the world of the “hesperine”: an ode to the darkness itself to beg it not to fall a poem against the falling of night to ward off death the first mortal death was murder and so all this geometry may be inevitable a tired rehearsal

     The stones I left on David’s tomb mark what in the end just my passing that a living person was very briefly here looking to touch the dead

     So do we have to just reach up and shatter it that image of David and his teammates sleeping in the apartment the police so anxious to move them from the Olympic Village

     Broken circles that approach the sky the way a flower would or a fountain or a bird

     Can we sing over the noise or paint down on the stone once marked by flesh and death can we move forward without breaking

     As Sabri’s voice breaks his body breaks he wonders does it always happen that the divine begins when the mortal is shattered

     A gunshot begins the race

     Dusk turns then to night turns to dawn then turns to day bodies infect and inflect each other with particles small moments of light and dark

     Qureishi paints another little red flower down do he pray that history may be erased by beauty

     How can one create in painting in sound in the poetry of the body the new and abiding future life

     Bodies separated by years and miles and religion and law may release their own energy may transfer into one another may be the same body

     Is the reality of the physical universe a continuum of time and space or is it made of moments that can move backward and forward can the past be changed

     Hesperus makes a play for the sacred space of grief Phosporos rains down upon Gaza into the bodies of unmade sprinters weightlifters pole vaulters gymnasts

     What if god is improvising like Coltrane

     Ta Sin Mim

     There’s no time left David has a plane to catch says goodbye to his parents

     Ain Sin Qaf

     The broomstick shatters the glass window and the image litters down

     Kaf Ha Ya Ain Sad

     My voice then breaks as evening covers us in a downpour

     Ta Sin

     End then not in the present moment nor in some deathless wished for past but somewhere very ordinary a normal day perhaps a little chilly and there is Mohammed in the hills above Ramallah lacing up his shoes even though there is no open ground no coach to train him no spikes for his shoes no starting blocks

Sleep Door

a light knocking on the sleep door
like the sound of a rope striking the side of a boat

heard underwater
boats pulling up alongside each other

beneath the surface we rub up against each other
will we capsize in

the surge and silence
of waking from sleep

you are a lost canoe, navigating by me
I am the star map tonight

all the failed echoes
don't matter

the painted-over murals
don't matter

you can find your way to me 
by the faint star-lamp

we are a fleet now
our prows zeroing in

praying in the wind
to spin like haywire compasses

toward whichever direction
will have us

Marble Hill

Paradise lies beneath the feet of your mother. A verse I've heard recited so frequently I do not know if it is scripture or hadith.

Hadith, meaning traditions of the prophet, are always accompanied by a careful oral lineage of who said what to whom, and who heard who say they heard what. Usually back to one of the prophet's wives who heard the prophet say it.

The veil also between what you want to see and cannot see, what you wish to have heard but did not hear.

In butoh the dancers are rendered in white smoke, ghosts traversing the stage-as-womb, moving so slowly you do not even know they are there.

If paradise lies beneath the feet of my mother then how will I find my way inside unless she admits me.

Now I look at each face, each body, as it moves around the subway platform, down the stairs and around the platform, onto trains, off of them.

After my aunt Chand-mumani's death I thought of them each as flames, in each the body is combusting, burning up the fuel of the soul.

Michelle after giving birth walked around the city imagining everyone glistening, bordered in amniotic grit.

But is it really like Fanny writes, the body only a car the soul is driving.

Or something of us sunk into the matter of the body, part of us actually flesh, inseparable from it and upon death, truly dispersed, smoke.

The body of the prophet's wife always between us. Who said what.

In which case there really is something to grieve at death: that the soul is wind, not immortal.

A middle-aged woman, in the seat in front of me on the train, wearing a green puffy winter jacket. Her hair, though pulled back, frizzy and unkempt.

It's the unkempt I feel tenderness towards.

Have always felt about myself a messiness, an awkwardness, an ugliness.

As a child, such an envy of birds, of graceful slopes, of muscular boys.

In the train rushing above ground at 125th Street. Thinking about stumbling.

House by house, walking down this street or the other one. Going into the library, going into the school.

Where every middle-aged woman is my mother.

Waiting to be trusted with the truth.

I have nearly as much silver in my hair as she does.

Any pronoun here can be misread. He can mean you can mean I.

An odd list of things I want to do in the next five years: study butoh. Write an autobiography. Go back to Paris. Get lost somewhere I haven't been.

Also begin to say it.

Marco and I moved to Marble Hill in the summer of 2006.

Let me tell you a story about a city that floats onto the ocean. Opposite of Atlantis which fell into the sea or Cascadia which threatens to rise back out of it.

Marble Hill, a real hill, perched at the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island, a promontory out into the conjunction of the Hudson River and Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

The wind is an instrument, its own section of the sky orchestra.

Today I read of a Turkish mullah who is canceling 800 different hadith regarding treatment of women found now or believed at least to be untrue.

Untrue is it.

Untrue the laws that were graven in fire or graven in stone.

Says the Quran, "This is the Book. In it there is no doubt."

All for a belief that a human animal is a wicked one and requires a law.

Which requires if not actual violence then at least the threat of it.

At least fury.

Here in Marble Hill you are where you aren't.

Orchestral the river that curves and curves north of the island.

Ships bound for the upper east side from Albany have a harder and harder time negotiating the torturous and twisting Spuyten Duyvil.

So a canal is blasted through and what was once the northern tip of Manhattan became an island.

Walking across one of the bridges in Paris I came to a place called Les Mauvaises Garçons. Being afraid to enter I crossed the street to another tavern.

I stayed for three hours.

Radiant with traffic, the streets do not remember the gone.

The pillar at the Place de Bastille does not put back brick or bar.

Ten miles out of Chartres nothing but grain across and gray above a dark raven emerges screaming from the fields.

These thoughts are nothing, following one after the other.

Somali lesbians scheduled for their execution. Two boys in Iran convicted of drunken and lewd behavior and hanged for it. Boys. 16 and 18. There was video footage of the actual hanging on the internet.

I watched it myself.

"You wear your fingers down copying sacred texts," sang Lalla, "but still the rage inside you has no way to leave."

The Arabic line "This is the Book. In it there is no doubt" can also be read as "This is, no doubt, the Book . . . "

Dear mother, there is a folder of my loose poems lost somewhere during the summer of 2006 when I traveled between Pennsylvania, New York City, Virginia, Maine, and your house in Buffalo. There was a letter inside the folder to you.

Though I've looked and looked and failed to find it, I am sure it is still in the house in Buffalo somewhere. An envelope with a folder inside. Inside the folder loose poems. Tucked into poems, there was a letter.

The veil between what you want to see and what you cannot see.

Emily Dickinson sent her first letter to Thomas Higginson unsigned. She included with the unsigned letter a smaller sealed envelope in which there was a calling card upon which she had written her name.

When Colin Powell spoke at the UN about the invasion of Iraq, workers were asked to hang a black drape over Picasso's Guernica.

Which would have otherwise been in the background, surrounding him, as he spoke.

There is a body and a boy between you and utterance, the boy you were who could never speak.

Bright red bracelet of time.

"Fury," is how Galway Kinnell explained Dickinson's intent in writing her poems.

Poetry and fury in the time of war. Civil War for her.

What is my war? Not the one you think.

I won't say.

Constant state, sure as the white noise on the television after the station has gone off the air.

But who goes off the air any more.

And whose air.

Come to Marble Hill then.

Each night sleep is pierced by someone outside gunning their car engine over and over again before driving off.

A car alarm or two.

There is a streetlight outside the window that shines into the bedroom, bright as the moon but more orange.

Orange like the saffron scarf I wore to Tokudo.—"leaving home." When Ansho became a monk and took a new name.

The day I sat down next to a young man with a sweet smile. A gardener. Name of Marco.

The train runs the next block over. We are on the second floor so hear it if we really pay attention.

By now its rumble on the tracks, the chiming when the doors are about to close, are on the order of background noise.

I have not yet learned how to sleep through the night.

Marble Hill was an island for twenty years before the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, still running, underground below 228th Street, was filled in and joined to the mainland.

The city itself, my life, that first butoh performance I saw.

A man with such slow and intense movements, so internal.

You hardly knew he had moved at all and suddenly he was all the way across the stage, contorted, holding a glass bowl aloft in which a fish swam.

None of which you had even noticed was on the stage.

As I write this, a car alarm. The train.

Then silence.


My father's silence I cannot brook. By now he must know I live and well.

My heart is nickel, unearthed and sent. We are a manmade catastrophe.

Unable to forgive, deeply mine this earthly light that swells sickly inside.

Like wind I drift westward and profane when the doors of ice slide open.

While he prays my father swallows the sickle moon, its bone sharp path spent.

Preyed upon by calendars of stone unbound the nickel of the mountain in streams.

Mine this awful empty night. Mine this unchiming bell, his unanswered prayers.

Mine the rain-filled sandals, the road out of town. Like a wind unbound this shining river mine.