Letter to My Great, Great Grandchild

               after Matthew Olzmann 

Oh button, don’t go thinking we loved pianos
more than elephants, air conditioning more than air.

We loved honey, just loved it, and went into stores
to smell the sweet perfume of unworn leather shoes.

Did you know, on the coast of Africa, the Sea Rose
and Carpenter Bee used to depend on each other?

The petals only opened for the Middle C their wings
beat, so in the end, we protested with tuning forks.

You must think we hated the stars, the empty ladles,
because they conjured thirst. We didn’t. We thanked

them and called them lucky, we even bought the rights
to name them for our sweethearts. Believe it or not,

most people kept plants like pets and hired kids
like you to water them, whenever they went away.

And ice! Can you imagine? We put it in our coffee
and dumped it out at traffic lights, when it plugged up

our drinking straws. I had a dog once, a real dog,
who ate venison and golden yams from a plastic dish.

He was stubborn, but I taught him to dance and play
dead with a bucket full of chicken livers. And we danced

too, you know, at weddings and wakes, in basements
and churches, even when the war was on. Our cars

we mostly named for animals, and sometimes we drove
just to drive, to clear our heads of everything but wind.

Related Poems

My Debt

Like all
who believe in the senses,
I was an accountant,
copyist,
statistician.

Not registrar,
witness.

Permitted to touch
the leaf of a thistle,
the trembling
work of a spider.

To ponder the Hubble’s recordings.

It did not matter
if I believed in
the party of particle or of wave,
as I carried no weapon.

It did not matter if I believed.

I weighed ashes,
actions,
cities that glittered like rubies,
on the scales I was given,
calibrated
in units of fear and amazement.

I wrote the word it, the word is.

I entered the debt that is owed to the real.

Forgive,
spine-covered leaf, soft-bodied spider,
octopus lifting
one curious tentacle back toward the hand of the diver
that in such black ink
I set down your flammable colors.

—2018

Endangered Species

Even this
brief thought is endless. A
man speaks as if unaware of the
erotic life of the ampersand. In the
isolate field he comes to count one by
one the rare butterflies as they
die. He says witness is to say what
you mean as if you mean it. So many
of them are the color of the leaves
they feed on, he calls sympathy a fact, a
word by which he means to make a claim
about grace. I have in my

life said many things I did not
exactly mean. Walk
graceless through the field. Graceless so
the insects leap up into the blank
page where the margins fill
with numbers that speak diminishment.
Absence as it nears also offers astonishment.
Absence riddles even this
briefest thought, here
is your introduction to desire, time’s
underneath where the roots root down
into nothing like loose threads
hanging from the weaving’s underside.
No one seeing the roots
can guess

at the field above. Green
equation that ends in yellow
occasions. Theory is
insubstantial. The eye latches on
to the butterflies as they fly
and the quick heart follows, not
a root in nothing but a thread across
abstraction. They fly away.
What in us follows we do not name.
What the butterflies pull out us
as in battle horses pull
chariot, we do not

name. But there is none, no battle,
no surge, no retreat, a field
full not of danger, but the endangered,
where dust-wings pull from us
what we thought we lost, what theory
denies, where in us ideas go to die,
and thought with the quaking grass quakes.
Some call it breath but I’m still breathing.
So empty I know I’m not any emptier.
On slim threads they pull it out me,
disperse—no
one takes notes—disappear, &
 

Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.