To Yusef Komunyakaa
When I rise from the bank the water's slow as shadow in my steps, thick as blood. The whole river's secretive, still, dark as roux cooled in the skillet, as rank, as sweet, ancient as catfish, ancienter. The moon's sifted light clouds rumor to lilies or daffodils, an egret on the farther shore, a hunger, a stare, a patience I could recite. We have waited all night, nights, like a bridge for something to rise, like water for something to fall. * I know what Bogalusa means, that tea of deadheads and late-fallen leaves no one left can read, snuff-black pools that bathe grandmothers' gums. So many words one has to know not to say. So many names. The young, unconvicted hand. The bricklayer. The deputy. Names of flowers and warblers and stars. Last breaths of the disappeared. I keep my hands folded, my map blank as next week's papers, my ears clams with mouths full of sand. * So many songs I can't sing with my one poor tongue. I need a jukebox for a throat so the midnight's moan translates what a wolf once said to a girl in the trees, so their branches confess what the fog told them not to see. I need the lisp of a horn valved to spit which is the sound of a shadow forgetting what hanged it in the dark. How do I explain the way it slips the steam like a shirt, how it slides beneath the glass and does not rise again, how the halflight fingers the rails of the bridge, how many things no one's done? * Birds the color of history talk in our sleep. Our salts can't forget what water told them, what stars once telegraphed to the river the trees have written in themselves, what they say to the wind, to the sawmill's blades, to flame, to bromine and mercury, what they burn in the air. Dreams walk us back to the shore, pull the shirttail from the milkweed, the cattail from the reed, fold the kerchiefs into herons, questions for the shoals. * Night slips again into its last, locked groove. Mockingbirds stutter the rasp of broken reeds. I lean from the eaves of moss and cypress, the vestibules of the tung. Cormorant, coelacanth, snake, the world below is molten. Dark iridescence, the muscle gives back the bone. The spine's fleer, the orbits' gape, the ghost of a face waking beneath my own. Here, I bent so close breath didn't know which mouth to fill.
Copyright © 2013 by Jake Adam York. Used with permission of the estate. "Letter Written in Black Water and Pearl" comes from York's completed manuscript, Abide.