I Never Knew I Loved Dean Rader

after Hikmet/O’Hara/Reeves/Vuong

Someday, I’ll love Dean Rader
                                                          the way the blue jay
loves the sparrow egg,
or perhaps the way the waves love the curve they give
themselves to when giving is no longer an option
like falling or dreaming
                                           or even being on this earth,
in this body.
                          Someday I’ll love my body, itself a form of silence,
which is not the same as being quiet, 
even though we are sentenced to this language with its strange letters,
their shapes like bowls, small sticks, the bellies of pregnant women, 
as though everything spelled 
                                                      must also be birthed and broken,
cracked open and spilled, 
                                                filled with the absence of what won’t do,
like waiting for the earth to tap out your name.
                                                                            I never knew I loved my name, 
can someone who has never believed his name love it? 

Once on a train to Serbia a soldier woke me from a dream I still remember
and pointed a gun at my right shoulder. 
                                                                                              I never knew 
I loved my shoulder until I placed my son’s head there 
our first night home from the hospital, 
                                                                      his chest lifting like an umbrella
in a storm. I don’t like comparing my son to an umbrella,
though he has known what it is to be folded, 
                                                                                to be wet and cold.
Someday I will love the cold,
                                                     not just as metaphor but as a means to clarity,
which is what I need this November night, 
the moon swinging in its black noose over the city,
the entire world hooded, 
                                             blindfolded perhaps,
lined up against a wall and waiting,
                                                                       the way a reader waits,
for a poem to get where it’s going. 

Someday I will love the poem, 
                                                         the way I will love being afraid,
but this is not what I want to say.
It is something more like this: 
                                                       the future is not what it used to be,
and even that is only part of it.
The other part has something to do with speculation, 
like what awaits us when we remove the hood. 
                                                                           I never knew I loved blindness. 
The punishment for sight is always forgiveness.
Someday I will love forgiveness, 
                                            but it is difficult to love what has not been earned.

My grandfather when he was tenderest would call me Dean Dean,
and I felt like a child 
                          in the body of a boy who believed he had the ideas of a man.
Every morning after breakfast he and my grandmother
would throw leftover toast into the backyard for the birds.
I just remembered the birds and the bread. 
                                                                                          I love them both. 
Someday I will love more things, 
                                                                   and I will not think of death,
and even if I do I will not feel saddened by the end
of the person who wears my name, 
                                                               even though it is always easy to mourn 
                            a stranger.

*To read this poem in its intended format, please click here from your laptop or desktop.

Alternate Self-Portrait

One day

I will drift

into darkness

and know it

perhaps

the way a son

recognizes a mother

after he has returned

from many years

of travel

understanding

the new distance

is neither

beginning nor

end

only stillness
 

Self-Portrait in Charleston, Orlando

The news this morning
said that Ramadi
had fallen to ISIS
and that the president
did not have a plan
to push them back
into the Anbar province
though I have a plan
to walk down to the
beach in silence perhaps
where I will stand
in water the temperature
of most corpses
and look out over
the shapeless ocean—
its waves shifting from
one color to the next,
this moment the shade
of an old bruise—
toward Japan,
which I imagine I see
across the map of
motion, that mystical
country which has
almost completely
ridden itself of guns,
like the one the boy
used to shoot nine
people assembled
to worship a man whose
skin history tells us
was the same color
as theirs, that mythical
man who may have walked
the streets of Ramadi in
those missing years
between his youth and
his destiny, and who
knows how many
of the slain
he may have raised
in those streets,
or pulled up out
of night into the
long daylight of the
not-yet-lived,
birthed back into
the skin of suffering,
or how many the man
might have dipped
into those mythical waters
that eventually emptied into
the Gulf of Oman and then
into the Arabian Sea
before their long walk
of waves across
time and history
to South Carolina and
into Charleston
but then retreating to
work their way down
the Eastern coast of
Florida and perhaps
even inland to
Orlando and then
back out again around
every country, every
boat, every body before
arriving on the beaches
of San Francisco on
the far end of the other
side of that mythical
continent, perhaps
even where I am
standing, the water’s
color like a bullet, and I
wonder if all life is
somehow loaded into
the chamber of a rifle,
the long tunnel of
darkness before us
our birthright and even
our destiny, all of it
as close to the hammer
as the width of these
lines, themselves an
inheritance of something
I am only now
beginning to understand,
like an insurrection
that no one saw,
not even those
in it, not even the man
with his hand on the trigger
or the people ready to rise.

Poem Begun on the Day of My Father's funeral and Completed on the first Day of the New Year

Light the last light and lift—
                                                                                                  and lift again in to that obscurity—

blue-skinned sky & what it cannot lead to—

                                                 the always immolated flesh of this world’s bone-shell—

what lasts? what goes like a trumpet blast

                                                                                                  through the feathered

                        ear of the angel? There

                                                                                                          & being & the evening air—

is in everything plummet—
                                                                                                                               & yet we go even some-
         times rise—have you wondered?

                                                                                                                               that dark wick—flame both
inward & below light the first fire—

                                                                                                                               what does not burn

                                                      might still die—& yet

                                                                                              what does not might grow—may graft—

                           like leaf & branch together—
                                                                                                                                              live this long lull
before the last:
                                                                let this
                                                                                                    let my words

leave their black axe next to the tree
                                                                                                                             & may
                         the grace
                                                of grace

feel through its fall

                                                                        the way—

Related Poems

Things I Didn't Know I Loved

it's 1962 March 28th
I'm sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
night is falling
I never knew I liked
night descending like a tired bird on a smoky wet plain
I don't like
comparing nightfall to a tired bird

I didn't know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn't worked the earth love it
I've never worked the earth
it must be my only Platonic love

and here I've loved rivers all this time
whether motionless like this they curl skirting the hills
European hills crowned with chateaus
or whether stretched out flat as far as the eye can see
I know you can't wash in the same river even once
I know the river will bring new lights you'll never see
I know we live slightly longer than a horse but not nearly as long as a crow
I know this has troubled people before
                         and will trouble those after me
I know all this has been said a thousand times before
                         and will be said after me

I didn't know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear
the blue vault Andrei studied on his back at Borodino
in prison I translated both volumes of War and Peace into Turkish
I hear voices
not from the blue vault but from the yard
the guards are beating someone again
I didn't know I loved trees
bare beeches near Moscow in Peredelkino
they come upon me in winter noble and modest
beeches are Russian the way poplars are Turkish
"the poplars of Izmir
losing their leaves. . .
they call me The Knife. . .
                         lover like a young tree. . .
I blow stately mansions sky-high"
in the Ilgaz woods in 1920 I tied an embroidered linen handkerchief
                                        to a pine bough for luck

I never knew I loved roads
even the asphalt kind
Vera's behind the wheel we're driving from Moscow to the Crimea
                                                          Koktebele
                               formerly "Goktepé ili" in Turkish
the two of us inside a closed box
the world flows past on both sides distant and mute
I was never so close to anyone in my life
bandits stopped me on the red road between Bolu and Geredé
                                        when I was eighteen
apart from my life I didn't have anything in the wagon they could take
and at eighteen our lives are what we value least
I've written this somewhere before
wading through a dark muddy street I'm going to the shadow play
Ramazan night
a paper lantern leading the way
maybe nothing like this ever happened
maybe I read it somewhere an eight-year-old boy
                                       going to the shadow play
Ramazan night in Istanbul holding his grandfather's hand
   his grandfather has on a fez and is wearing the fur coat
      with a sable collar over his robe
   and there's a lantern in the servant's hand
   and I can't contain myself for joy
flowers come to mind for some reason
poppies cactuses jonquils
in the jonquil garden in Kadikoy Istanbul I kissed Marika
fresh almonds on her breath
I was seventeen
my heart on a swing touched the sky
I didn't know I loved flowers
friends sent me three red carnations in prison

I just remembered the stars
I love them too
whether I'm floored watching them from below
or whether I'm flying at their side

I have some questions for the cosmonauts
were the stars much bigger
did they look like huge jewels on black velvet
                             or apricots on orange
did you feel proud to get closer to the stars
I saw color photos of the cosmos in Ogonek magazine now don't
   be upset comrades but nonfigurative shall we say or abstract
   well some of them looked just like such paintings which is to
   say they were terribly figurative and concrete
my heart was in my mouth looking at them
they are our endless desire to grasp things
seeing them I could even think of death and not feel at all sad
I never knew I loved the cosmos

snow flashes in front of my eyes
both heavy wet steady snow and the dry whirling kind
I didn't know I liked snow

I never knew I loved the sun
even when setting cherry-red as now
in Istanbul too it sometimes sets in postcard colors
but you aren't about to paint it that way
I didn't know I loved the sea
                             except the Sea of Azov
or how much

I didn't know I loved clouds
whether I'm under or up above them
whether they look like giants or shaggy white beasts

moonlight the falsest the most languid the most petit-bourgeois
strikes me
I like it

I didn't know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass my
   heart leaves me tangled up in a net or trapped inside a drop
   and takes off for uncharted countries I didn't know I loved
   rain but why did I suddenly discover all these passions sitting
   by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
is it because I lit my sixth cigarette
one alone could kill me
is it because I'm half dead from thinking about someone back in Moscow
her hair straw-blond eyelashes blue

the train plunges on through the pitch-black night
I never knew I liked the night pitch-black
sparks fly from the engine
I didn't know I loved sparks
I didn't know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
   to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
   watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return

                                                     19 April 1962
                                                     Moscow

Personal Poem

Now when I walk around at lunchtime
I have only two charms in my pocket
an old Roman coin Mike Kanemitsu gave me
and a bolt-head that broke off a packing case
when I was in Madrid the others never
brought me too much luck though they did
help keep me in New York against coercion
but now I'm happy for a time and interested

I walk through the luminous humidity
passing the House of Seagram with its wet
and its loungers and the construction to
the left that closed the sidewalk if
I ever get to be a construction worker
I'd like to have a silver hat please
and get to Moriarty's where I wait for
LeRoi and hear who wants to be a mover and
shaker the last five years my batting average
is .016 that's that, and LeRoi comes in
and tells me Miles Davis was clubbed 12
times last night outside BIRDLAND by a cop
a lady asks us for a nickel for a terrible
disease but we don't give her one we
don't like terrible diseases, then
we go eat some fish and some ale it's
cool but crowded we don't like Lionel Trilling
we decide, we like Don Allen we don't like
Henry James so much we like Herman Melville
we don't want to be in the poets' walk in
San Francisco even we just want to be rich
and walk on girders in our silver hats
I wonder if one person out of the 8,000,000 is
thinking of me as I shake hands with LeRoi
and buy a strap for my wristwatch and go
back to work happy at the thought possibly so