The Incomprehensibility

- 1960-

The newly dead hung on to the ceiling last night  

            like moths, wanting to tell us what they hadn’t

              found words for yet, their bodies still


warm on their mattresses below—they did not look

              comfortable, passing themselves on the way

                      out . . . . Only mystery allows us


to live—Lorca wrote this on the back of one of his many

                drawings of a sailor, or of many sailors. Only

                          mystery & yet or so


I pull myself back again to a place wherein I can com-

               prehend, if only a glimmer, the moment my mother

                   will press a bullet into the chamber of her .38—


think of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation—nothing has happened,

              not yet, Mary’s back is to the Angel, his hand

                 hovers over her shoulder, not touching her, not


yet. It’s still not too late to turn back—a Sunday morning,

              we can hear the ocean, we can smell it, if we could get up

                       we could even see it. Junkies


can go to a clinic in downtown Vancouver now to shoot up

                      in safety—We can help them find

                  the vein, the pretty nurse says,


but we cannot depress the plunger . . . As I write this a Boeing 777

               along with all two hundred & thirty-nine souls onboard  

                        vanishes from the sky—


no distress call, no black box, no wreckage. By the time you

                 read this we will all know what happened (wormhole?  

                      drunk pilot?) but right now it is simply


gone. Let’s look again at the Annunciation, let’s think of

               the angel as a pretty nurse, let’s think of her wings as

                          possibility, her silence


as a syringe. Let’s put my mother in that airplane now, let’s

             let her circle forever, let’s imagine she too is unable to

                land. She glances out the window, sometimes


at the tops of the clouds, sometimes at someone’s sad house

           below. I know you’re still in there, she whispers, raising one

              finger. Poke a hole through the heavy curtains, she


mouths—you’ll see they are not even real.

 

 

 

 

More by Nick Flynn

Father Outside


A black river flows down the center
of each page

& on either side the banks
are wrapped in snow. My father is ink falling

in tiny blossoms, a bottle
wrapped in a paperbag. I want to believe
that if I get the story right

we will rise, newly formed,

that I will stand over him again
as he sleeps outside under the church halogen
only this time I will know

what to say. It is night &
it's snowing & starlings
fill the trees above us, so many it seems

the leaves sing. I can't see them
until they rise together at some hidden signal

& hold the shape of the tree for a moment
before scattering. I wait for his breath
to lift his blanket

so I know he's alive, letting the story settle

into the shape of this city. Three girls in the park
begin to sing something holy, a song
with a lost room inside it

as their prayerbook comes unglued

& scatters. I'll bend
each finger back, until the bottle

falls, until the bone snaps, save him

by destroying his hands. With the thaw
the river will rise & he will be forced
to higher ground. No one

will have to tell him. From my roof I can see
the East River, it looks blackened with oil

but it's only the light. Even now
my father is asleep somewhere. If I followed

the river north I could still reach him.

Swarm

When you see us swarm — rustle of

wingbeat, collapsed air — your mind
tries to make us one, a common

intelligence, a single spirit un-
tethered. You imagine us merely
searching out the next

vessel, anything

that could contain us, as if the hive
were just another jar. You try

to hold the ending, this
unspooling, make it either

zero or many, lack

or flurry. I was born,
you begin, & already each word
makes you smaller. Look at this field —

Cosmos. Lungwort. Utter each
& break

into a thousand versions of yourself.

You can't tell your stories fast enough.
The answer is not one, but also

not two.