Language of the Moon

- 1968-

As a child I wanted as many letters
in my bloodstream as the planet Mercury
would allow and so traveled the city
on buses late afternoons and read all the billboards
high above the streets and byways,
on sides of factories and churches and never
heard the sermons of the displaced
or blustery talk of founding fathers, and saddened
when a route snaked through long tunnels,
and then eased when reemerged
out of the murder of light.

I could feel my veins thicken like the winnings
of a Powerball, and the mystery of women
lounging around a gray-bearded man in a silk
smoking jacket drinking a tumbler of cognac
was like the easeful glide of a narcotic dream.
My mouth puckered whenever lemon-colored
arches appeared five stories above the city
like golden gates to an unforeseen heaven.

As a rule, I never glanced at other commuters
or curators in loosened ties and tuxedos
who clutched brown-papered bottles
and nodded to a stillness as though murdered in a film.
Instead, I glimpsed myself looking out a window,
awed by Cartier timepieces and luxury cars
that asked was I hungry for speed
or ordered me to let my body drive.

I ate advertisements like sea waves eating a coastline,
and though my sense of self was as bruised as a moldy peach,
I learned to infrared my longings from the inside
and to tally my suspicions from a distance, and now,
when I read a newspaper, I flutter like a sparrow
at a birdfeeder, and when language spills out
of my skull like a massive cruise ship docked
and towering over a line of ramshackle huts
on an island whose blessed poor gaze up
as though a locker of dollars fell at their feet,
my brain closes and my veins burst
as if pollinating the white face of the moon.

Letter to Brooks [Spring Garden]


When you have forgotten (to bring into 
   Play that fragrant morsel of rhetoric, 
Crisp as autumnal air), when you 
   Have forgotten, say, sun-lit corners, brick 
   Full of skyline, rowhomes, smokestacks, 
Billboards, littered rooftops & wondered 
What bread wrappers reflect of our hunger, 


When you have forgotten wide-brimmed hats, 
   Sunday back-seat leather rides & church, 
The doorlock like a silver cane, the broad backs 
   Swaying or the great moan deep churning, 
   & the shimmer flick of flat sticks, the lurch 
Forward, skip, hands up Ailey-esque drop, 
When you have forgotten the meaningful bop, 


Hustlers and their care-what-may, blasé 
   Ballet and flight, when you have forgotten 
Scruffy yards, miniature escapes, the way   
   Laundry lines strung up sag like shortened 
   Smiles, when you have forgotten the Fish Man
Barking his catch in inches up the street 
"I've got porgies. I've got trout. Feeesh 


Man," or his scoop and chain scale, 
   His belief in shad and amberjack; when 
You have forgotten Ajax and tin pails, 
   Blue crystals frothing on marble front 
   Steps Saturday mornings, or the garden 
Of old men playing checkers, the curbs 
White-washed like two lines out to the burbs, 


Or the hopscotch squares painted new 
   In the street, the pitter-patter of feet 
Landing on rhymes. "How do you 
   Like the weather, girls? All in together girls,
   January, February, March, April... " 
The jump ropes' portentous looming, 
Their great, aching love blooming. 


When you have forgotten packs of grape 
   Flavored Now & Laters, the squares 
Of sugar flattening on the tongue, the elation 
   You felt reaching into the corner-store jar, 
   Grasping a handful of Blow Pops, candy bars 
With names you didn't recognize but came 
To learn. All the turf battles. All the war games. 


When you have forgotten popsicle stick 
   Races along the curb and hydrant fights,
Then, retrieve this letter from your stack 
   I've sent by clairvoyant post & read by light.
   For it brought me as much longing and delight. 
This week's Father's Day; I've a long ride to Philly.
I'll give this to Gramps, then head to Black Lily. 

Related Poems

La Biblioteca is a Doula

When my saddle shoes were too big
so they might last beyond the year
I ran away from home
where yelling to be heard by the unheard
rattled in my skull; burial ground of secrets.

One foot met the other
like long lost friends
awkwardly skipping their way
into Saturdays, towards stacked
protective fortresses from
childhood’s dark labyrinths;
where underestimated
eyes of innocence
found immortal truths
understood more deeply
than the tall ones
with sour faces
who had dropped their smiles
on brutal roads of hunger,
on endless days of
earning just enough
from tightened fists
that grabbed too much.

The library door
where I found my Narnia.
Where I fell in love with Emerson.
Where I read Chinese women poets
and wrapped myself
in the silk of words,
of punctuation strung like pearls
stitching together the stops, the starts,
the questions, the breaths,
the echoes and exclamations unleashed
from a soul so new to the world,
so old to life.

Where I stood on tippy toes
to find the vast longings
of human history;
to find myself
gathering lost smiles
into dreamscapes of resilience.
Musty books perfumed my imagination.
Crisp new books fell open
in my tiny hands
like tomorrow’s gold that promised
there would always be enough
in the temple where anything
is possible.

Where now, pressing into
Winter’s whim I am consoled
by the Velveteen Rabbit.


I saw my grandmother on a billboard
stretched out in a green dress like a snake
out on a walk alone in swamp maples.
Reclining, smoking a cigarette as though
an advertisement for bourbon in a casino,
watching me and never intending to speak.
Not a single wood chip of a word,
would not give up a single playing card of a leaf.
All I could think was, Who was she
to sell anything to, her poles rusty
in that expanse of reeds and skunk cabbage,
with a weasel animal that slipped off into shallows...?
Replaced in a few weeks by an ad for a local optometrist.
That was the one time I saw my grandmother.
Such was the first and last time I saw my grandmother.

Hunter heart a lonely is the

Dream I have a little   of a mathematics         Child again absorbed
in novels from my sickbed     Bright clutch of what is recognition

somewhere avant meridian     Another child leaving in the novel
I am reading    Light in me     a sleep a pool of neither

thought nor feeling     not of things but of     their elements
escaping          Slips away the child    in the book from a party        

her birthday from        the other children        she is leaving  
I am tired        I am reading    I am adding I am                  trying

not to understand        To undo the will         to understand 
Must relinquish must and trying         Reading free from I

I read a child   listening for the first time       to music for the first time
in the sense     of recognition             What is it that sees me

child in a novel           that has neither                   person nor a substance                      
music              mathematics is a dream                   makes me see myself 

more loving     when I listen               makes my heart go     
the hunter and a lonely           Remembering  is a mathematics         

and the body in its illnesses    the stamina has symphonic               
calculus of living        in a sickness    I can listen now          

learn I have a mind     listening          heart I have    
remembers      what the seeing was    a dream a reading is    

a feeling          I have every time I have         first comes     
the listening    then memory     dream            the sense

of speech         is mathematics                        to see a means of feeling
there is always then    the leaving       and undoing            Life I was

a fraction         will not see      the world that I am making    
I knew in my additions           I was nothing more than

almost             child again      in the middle distance speaking
to his apparition          Speak              you have a history