My Father’s Tie Rack

Back of the door to his dark closet,
eye height, with clever steel
pegs I could flip both ways.
A row of pendulums. Of tongues.
Words, wordless. Witnesses
waiting to be sworn. The town secret.
A silk body, a man's plenty.
A wild ache, a knot. One painted
with gold mums, one with blood
leaves on mud. Vishnu's skin, twenty
shades of sky. White flag iris.
Slick sheen of a greenblack snake.
Which one went with him into the hole?
Somewhere else: his belts.

More by Joan Larkin


I’m older than my father when he turned
bright gold and left his body with its used-up liver
in the Faulkner Hospital, Jamaica Plain.  I don’t 
believe in the afterlife, don’t know where he is 
now his flesh has finished rotting from his long 
bones in the Jewish Cemetery—he could be the only 
convert under those rows and rows of headstones.  
Once, washing dishes in a narrow kitchen 
I heard him whistling behind me.  My nape froze.  
Nothing like this has happened since.  But this morning 
we were on a plane to Virginia together.  I was 17, 
pregnant and scared.  Abortion was waiting, 
my aunt’s guest bed soaked with blood, my mother 
screaming—and he was saying Kids get into trouble—  
I’m getting it now: this was forgiveness.
I think if he’d lived he’d have changed and grown
but what would he have made of my flood of words			
after he’d said in a low voice as the plane
descended to Richmond in clean daylight
and the stewardess walked between the rows
in her neat skirt and tucked-in blouse
Don’t ever tell this to anyone.

The Combo

In barlight alchemized: gold pate, the bellmouth
tenor, liquor trapped in a glass. The e-flat
clarinet chases time, strings shudder,
remembering the hundred tongues. Here comes old
snakeshine, scrolls stored in the well, here comes
the sobbing chazzan. O my lucky uncle,
you've escaped the Czar's army. Thunder
is sweet. Here comes the boink, boink bossa
nova slant of light. Snow-dollars
dissolve on a satin tongue. The river
swells green, concrete trembles, and we
sweat, leaning toward mikes and wires
as the last tune burns down to embers. Ash-
whispers. We were born before we were born.

Related Poems

The Great Dead, Why Not, May Know

for Joan Paul, d. April 1978

No grief goes unrelieved;
some days, half meaning to,
I turn my undefended back
on the grey & snarling scene
of my dissociating pack
and hope.

Some suppose that this post-natal life
where all we have is time, is fetal life,
is where as we bounce and flex in time
our years of moons change us
into beings viable not here
but somewhere attentive. Suppose,
borne down on, we are birthed
into a universe where love’s not crazy;
and that split out of time is
death into a medium where
love is the element we cry out to breathe,
big love, general as air here,
specific as breath.

I want to talk to those outlanders
whose perspective I admire;
I listen often to the voices of the dead, and
it feels like my turn in the conversation.
I want to ask, say, Yeats (or
someone else it would make sense to,
Crashaw, Blake, H. D. who
worked out Sappho’s honey simile,
Joan word-lover you too, all you
who know what English has to do
with a possible answer)

          * * *

And I’d say, to set up the question:
after over a hundred lifetimes
of summers of honey since Sappho’s,
of beekeepers (who set out orchard
rows of nectarplants to bloom
before and after the appletrees,
          who sow alfalfa or tupelo,
          clover or roses,
          “all roses,” all summer,
then break the combs out of their dark
and decant the honey heavy & flowery)
—listen, it’s no different.
Honey’s still dangerous.
Honey’s pervasive.
Hunger for honey scalds if satisfied.
I know; I walk around dry-lipped;
my throat burns, and the August air at noon
ices it as I breathe because
I’ve been eating honey right from the spoon

and (as you, outside observers, can recall)
though petal & pollen nod golden & mild,
honey here burns like gall
and, having burned bitter
          sweet     raw     hot
generates a language for wild
love not limited to pollensoft
couplings of lovers; it generates
the longing to use that language
though there be not any one
to speak it to. Such honey
expressed as if it must be as love
which colors all encounters and lasts
long after one love has gone to seed,
changes the throat of a speaker
till it aches with expectancy
as it asks:

          * * *

WHAT (as at last I ask
          you of the outland honeyed universe,
          you great dead)
what do you do with love
when it is no more sexual
          than I am sexual,
when it is general
—in me, not mine—
and yet shapes the air,
like breath, like a honeyed
breath of air carrying
meaning between
me and everything there is;
when as if it must it defies
my daily exercise of savagery
and cause for guilt;
when it is absolute,
too sudden to disguise,
stubbornly addressed
to any eyes—
though it find me no less slothful nor
in any way more kind or wise?

What but
(since the love is in the language)
call it hope
—that helps a little—
and hope to imitate your inlands of example
by praising the possible;
what then but praise the ripening
cure of language which plays
among questions and answers
mediating even love and grief,
what but
          —as the window the morning
          as the foot the tilt of the ground
          as the river the lights of its city—
praise how the actions of language or honey
seem in their transport to express,
from the collected heat and sweetness
of hearing and speaking,
smaller and more human than belief,
some reason to read these thick omens
as good and those outlands as relief.