How the Stars Understand Us

- 1949-2007

...because in the dying world it was set burning.”
                                                            —Galway Kinnell

We are not making love but
all night long we hug each other. 
Your face under my chin is two brown
thoughts with no right name, but opens to
eyes when my beard is brushing you.
The last line of the album playing
is Joan Armatrading’s existential stuff, 
we had fun while it lasted.
You inch your head up toward mine
where your eyes brighten, intense, 
as though I were observer and you
a doppled source. In the blue light
in the air we suddenly leave our selves
and watch two salt-starved bodies
lick the sweat from each others’ lips.
When the one mosquito in the night
comes toward our breathing, the pitch
of its buzz turns higher
till it’s fat like this blue room
and burning on both of us;
now it dies like a siren passing
down a street, the color of blood.
I pull the blanket over our heads
about to despair because I think
everything intense is dying, but you, 
you, even asleep, hold onto all
you think I am, more than I think, 
so intensely you can feel me
hugging back where I have gone. 

More by Christopher Gilbert

Muriel Rukeyser as Energy

She knows the resonant dark
and she won’t be bound.

She goes into. 
A darkness has to touch,
and she wants to be exact.

She knows about the burning.
Her history is binary—
one of her hands is ash.

She’s always being born. 
She doesn’t look away;
her sex is coming forward.

Ask her if there’s laughter.
The frog in her head is jumping.
Myths arise where it sets.

She rides a flying horse.
It’s red; she’s stroking its neck.
She praises where it sweats

because the horse is available,
because it is required;
she loves its rascal mouth.

She wants to celebrate.
You know her reaching for words
and arranging them as fruit

knowing there is war, 
and cities rising and falling, and
a river flowing with at least one shore.

She is the speed of darkness—
witness her mystery, not her gown.
As she tries, as she dies,

Aphrodite is getting smaller
but she’s also burning hotter.
She is the dark one
and she won’t be bound.

Fire Gotten Brighter

Remember that memory.
In this dimness when the sounds I make
are foreign, my home is not my own.
when I think of another winter
and the distant whiteness of its walls—
when even the sun seems set
outside the world. In this dimness
the edge of things removed
to thought the numb call touch,
remember that memory—
the young black self
the whole black body painted hot
by the fresh orange scene in the basement
of our old house when I was nine.
When it was my turn
to keep the fire going while my family slept —
my father off divorced somewhere, my older brother resting
after work, and what shadows hovered at the fringe of light
spilt from the furnace’s mouth—
I stuck my shovel in the flame,
had its intensity
its heat travel through a vein in the handle
to a part of my head.
The coals gotten smaller, brighter.
Out of that fire, my frightened shovelling in the night
now a framed power, that young effort
made a little orange scene
kept the whole world excited—
gathered near its center.

In this dimness where I can’t tell
if my longing is my own, it is gotten winter.
Above me I watch a jet
that be’s perfectly still, yet gets so distant,
goes so pointless. I could take a plane,
fly from here to somewhere small
till I’m ashes of myself—
but everything burns repeatedly
or keeps burning. Remember that memory.
I am dark with effort, back at my mother’s house
someone’s thinking of me, and old and smothered flame
gets waked, and it warms the gap
between image and real light.

This Bridge Across

A moment comes to me
and it’s a lot like the dead
who get in the way sometimes
hanging around, with their ranks
growing bigger by the second
and the game of tag they play
claiming whoever happens by.
I try to put them off
but the space between us
is like a country growing closer
which has a language I know
more and more of me is
growing up inside of, and
the clincher is the nothing
for me to do inside here
except to face my dead
as the spirits they are,
find the parts of me in them—
call them back with my words.
Ancestor worship or prayer?
It’s a kind of getting by—
an extension of living
beyond my self my people taught me,
and each moment is a boundary
I will throw this bridge across.

Related Poems

Untitled [Do you still remember: falling stars]

Do you still remember: falling stars,
how they leapt slantwise through the sky
like horses over suddenly held-out hurdles
of our wishes—did we have so many?—
for stars, innumerable, leapt everywhere;
almost every gaze upward became
wedded to the swift hazard of their play,
and our heart felt like a single thing
beneath that vast disintegration of their brilliance—
and was whole, as if it would survive them!

How the Milky Way Was Made

My river was once unseparated. Was Colorado. Red-
fast flood. Able to take

       anything it could wet—in a wild rush—

                                 all the way to Mexico.

Now it is shattered by fifteen dams
over one-thousand four-hundred and fifty miles,

pipes and pumps filling
swimming pools and sprinklers

      in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

To save our fish, we lifted them from our skeletoned river beds,
loosed them in our heavens, set them aster —

      ‘Achii ‘ahan, Mojave salmon,

                                Colorado pikeminnow—

Up there they glide, gilled with stars.
You see them now—

      god-large, gold-green sides,

                                moon-white belly and breast—

making their great speeded way across the darkest hours,
rippling the sapphired sky-water into a galaxy road.

The blurred wake they drag as they make their path
through the night sky is called

      ‘Achii ‘ahan nyuunye—

                                our words for Milky Way.

Coyote too is up there, crouched in the moon,
after his failed attempt to leap it, fishing net wet

      and empty, slung over his back—

                                a prisoner blue and dreaming

of unzipping the salmon’s silked skins with his teeth.
O, the weakness of any mouth

      as it gives itself away to the universe

                                of a sweet-milk body.

Just as my own mouth is dreamed to thirst
the long desire-ways, the hundred-thousand light year roads

      of your throat and thighs.

three thousand lost kisses

the night swoons
               to the hip-hop
               of gunshots
               and stars.

a young woman’s teeth
               challenge
               everything

about sorrow’s suitcase
of explanations

and i am learning to hope
               like a bird
               learns
               its first
               affair
               with wind
               and sun

               like an orange
               learns
               to take flight
               into the mouth
               of a boy
               in summer.

the trees are prophesying.
the mountains are waiting
for the long trek to the sea

and the sea
               waits
               like a lover
anticipating the kiss
               of three thousand
               lost kisses.

the night swoons
               and the trees
               begin their blue-black
               dance
in the wind.