I Never Wanted to Die

- 1952-

It’s the best part of the day, morning light sliding
down rooftops, treetops, the birds pulling themselves
up out of whatever stupor darkened their wings,
night still in their throats.

I never wanted to die. Even when those I loved
died around me, away from me, beyond me. 
My life was never in question, if for no other reason
than I wanted to wake up and see what happened next. 

And I continue to want to open like that, like the flowers
who lift their heavy heads as the hills outside the window
flare gold for a moment before they turn
on their sides and bare their creased backs.

Even the cut flowers in a jar of water lift
their soon to be dead heads and open
their eyes, even they want a few more sips,
to dwell here, in paradise, a few days longer.

A Short History of the Apple

The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.
   —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929


Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve's knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber's bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain's honeybees:
white man's flies. O eat. O eat.

Lake Havasu

Man-made, bejesus hot, patches of sand turned to glass.
Home of Iron Mountain and McCulloch chainsaws.

London Bridge, disassembled, shipped, reassembled.
The white sturgeon stocked, found dead, some lost,
hiding in the depths of Parker Dam. Fifty year-old
monsters, maybe twenty feet long. Lake named

for the Mojave word for blue. Havasu. Havasu.
What we called the sky on largemouth bass days,

striped bass nights, carp, catfish, crappie, razorback,
turtles, stocked, caught, restocked. I stood waist deep
in that dammed blue, and I was beautiful, a life saver
resting on my young hips, childless, oblivious

to politics, to the life carted in and dumped
into the cauldron I swam through, going under,

gliding along the cool sand like a human fish,
white bikini-ed shark flashing my blind side.
We heard a woman died, face down in the sand,
drunk on a 125 degree day. That night we slept

on dampened sheets, a hotel ice bucket on the
bedside table. We sucked the cubes round, slid

the beveled edges down our thighs and spines,
let them melt to pools in the small caves
below our sternums. While you slept beside me
I thought of that woman, her body one long

third degree burn, sweating and turning
under a largo moon, the TV on: seven dead

from Tylenol, the etched black wedge of the
Vietnam Memorial, the Commodore Computer
unveiled, the first artificial heart, just beginning
to wonder if something might be wrong.

Related Poems

"Also Birds" [excerpt]

Here, a description of stalemate looking past shore. Here is the fragment, the stunted word store.

Life brings us to the dedication of the droning fisherman, all his preparations for autumn—thermal thigh-high rubbers...

Land trauma, spill snot from earth. A hole so deep on fire and imagined ends/endless. Glory arm reaches in.

Speed is distracting.

I've a faith prescription.

If you multiply geography by time you have right here.

Wake into a dream, or first glimpses of the afterlife, God just beyond the threshold, saying you can have anything you want.

To be held fiercely, a wave: be still.

Sudden awareness of the possibility of absolute loss. From mire, everything's riding on this.

Sunlight, our undertaking.

What it means to, in the absence of wholeness—side of the self, caught by glimpse. How could we have not seen this before?

My bright scarf, a masquerade. Hinter swan.

Bells II

For just as a misunderstanding germinates
in a clear sky, climbing like a comma
from rack to misunderstood rack of worried clouds,
now difficult, now brusque, foregrounded, amoral,
the last birds took off into the abyss.
Now it was just us, though shielded,
separate, disparate. It almost seems—
and yet it doesn't. Broken glass announces
more offenses, home invasions. Seems like
we've been here a long time. And still
ought to do those things. Every murk is a key.

No, it's all right, don't worry.
The long-fingered peninsulas have other fish to fry
as destiny germinates on summer sands, more lap top
than lap dog. And if I'd bargain you around the aisles,
don't touch it, it's a single thing.
We don't know what breviaries are mixing cocktails for us
in the V room. It's essential we be kept
out of the cordon. You should know. This is all about you:
how you arrived one cold day carrying your little knapsack
and crept in with us, to see how we could spell.
Others than old uncles hear us now,
hacking the website's early spoilage distribution plan.

Venice Elegy 2 Rot Poem

Translated by Brian Holton

rot    holds the long rows of this great ship of stone
rot    holds your footstep    my footstep

walking the toppled waste where the Admiral gazes down upon the water
marble window frames    door lintels elaborately carved
the oil paint of the sky    soaks the ebb and flow of tides under the bridge’s parapet
young girls’ eyes sparkle on the decks
never afraid to wave good-bye    poems of setting sail    poems of dreaming

we pass through time    like swallows startled by the bells

walk the inverted rotted underwater forest
a thousand years of tamping
a stinking deep black growth ring holds the palette of the waves
smearing your portrait    my portrait
a rotted portrait is invisible    yet like roots
it grows day after day    poking at the sea’s black-and-blue wound
from deposits of sludge rise pearls and dead bones
in the sound of colored glass violins
a row of dead sailors locked into the struggle to keep paddling

in ship’s holds flooded with brilliant sunshine
                 gold    always pornographic enough
                            to make humans dizzier than yesterday

walk narrow alleys where water can’t turn back
hear seabirds cackle like ghosts
                            howl like infants

rotting branches gently sway in the green waves
rotting fish embedded in the silver-bright seashells under walls
the water level    climbs timber stakes    climbs stone steps
like a curse locks a rusty wooden door
like a collapse    another balcony dragged into black moonlight
bleached skeletons    pull another balcony’s snow-white bones closer
in the pitch black moonlight sway shadows of people   sway reflections in water
illusion is no metaphor
periscoping centuries pursue their own termination

you this instant    I this instant
the little backyard jetty moored where flows a filthy river
tastes unloaded from our flesh    spread out on the breeze
winged lions vacantly stare at the future