Morning Voices

This morning’s raucous quiet: din of a lawnmower
     Pulse-like swell of cicadas chattering in the brush
           Trucks grumbling along a nearby highway.
Under a sea of high thin clouds, a sheer ocean of sky
     The dead are islands: an archipelago
          Of mute echoes, of resonant silence
Their voices still within this gorgeous commotion—
     Crow call, water burbling, wind rough in trees—
          In a weed’s play, against skin, in the heart’s vibrations.
Under the racket of this day’s distractions
     Under the birds’ clamorous singing
          Under lapping waves of noise
Their stopped tongues their stilled voices speaking.

Essay: On Love

We were crossing a wide beach toward a blacktop parking lot.
I forget now who I was with or where we were going the year
The details of that particular beach vacation that summer break.
Morning not long after sunrise the day already hot.

In the parking lot six women wrestled a package of sorts
Emerged from the side door of an SUV onto the beach carrying
A small weight in a blanket like a sling or a makeshift stretcher.
Six women one at each corner of the blanket two at the middle.

I couldn’t see what was in the blanket when they passed.
No one looked at us their expressions solemn touched by grief.
They stopped at the water’s edge and a skeletal head rose up

Out of the blanket to look over the ocean as legs like sea straw
Fell gently to the gentle surf which washed over them.
To see the ocean one last time surrounded by friends.
August the Georgia coast sand dunes trees permanently twisted
Their crowns like long hair in a brisk endless wind blown back.

How many mornings have I walked barefoot along the beach?
Not enough. Never enough. Summer and heat and the ocean.
Dolphins threading waves terns pelicans gulls squawking

The salt smell of ocean and the shore stretching for miles
All the way back to the beginning and before as if the blue
Pool swelling out to the horizon licking wet at our feet is one
Body and the waves repeat a heartbeat that won’t cease

Unlike our own which will. Dying woman at the water’s edge
Carried by friends to be close one more time to the ocean
To sand under bare feet to the seashore on a summer morning.

Essay: On Language

The words we use to instill a sense of the ineffable
Carry us on a journey that’s mysterious
As if your car makes a sudden left turn and accelerates
A child in the road leaps into her mother’s embrace
A deer becomes a child and you hit the brakes
The panjandrum in the driver’s seat this befuddled guy
At the wheel of a eighteen-wheeler hurtling down the road.

Language. He sat at the table, head in hands after work
A long day reminiscent of the day before and before
His child on the other side of the table watching him
A man given to gaucherie but driven by ambitions
A hard worker a laborer who came home at night
Greased in paint and sweat, soul tired and hungry.
He washed his arms and face and body with kerosene
Stripped to his underwear, rinsed off with a garden hose.
The boy watches him this brawny bare-chested man
Who looks up sees the child and asks “What the fuck
do you want?” Says “Get out of here before I beat your ass.”

At night in Brooklyn the moon rises above two-family houses.
The boy stretches out on the roof and looks down to the street.
One evening a young woman a girl appears on a nearby rooftop.
She’s barefoot in a white slip with long dark hair to her breasts.
In moonlight the slip is lucent and she hovers as an apparition
Her feet on the gutter, a gargoyle at her toes before she jumps.

Or falls. In the boy’s memory she’s there and then she isn’t.
For the rest of his life he carries this moment with him.
When his father is dying from cancer (warning: don’t wash
With kerosene) he places a hand on his chest to comfort him.
His father looks to the ceiling and says “Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!
They’re coming for me!” before he takes a growling last breath.

The boy is an old man now and dreams this night of his own death.
He might prink all day getting ready for nothing or everything.
The girl on the rooftop his father at the table the moon and dying
All there on his tongue in every word he’s ever spoken or put down
On paper or swallowed out of fear or fury. Each syllable a gesture
To the dark to the moonlight to that girl on the rooftop to his father
To the city to the angels coming for us all to the silence in between.

Related Poems

A blurry photograph

The tree azalea overwhelms the evening with its scent,
defining everything and the endless fields.

Walking away, suddenly, it slices off and is gone.

The visible object blurs open in front of you,
the outline of a branch folds back into itself, then clarifies—just as you turn away—

and the glass hardens into glass

as you go about taking care of things abstractedly
one thing shelved after another, as if they were already in the past,

needing nothing from you until, smashing itself on the tile floor,
the present cracks open the aftermath of itself.