Origin Story

“What is dying is the willingness to be in denial.”
            —angel Kyodo williams

The heron flew away 
and I wanted to tell someone   

how long it stayed,  
how close I got, 

how much I missed it
even as it stood

to watch me, 
large-eyed animal

that I am, terrible 
at believing what I can’t see.

You see fire in the home
where we live: the world

in cardiac arrest.
A heart attack

is not the onset I want to say
to someone, it’s the flare.

It illuminates what’s already here:
the forests

illuminated, the earth
lit as an origin story.

Here you are, 
I say instead, 

aloud, surprised
at how close 

I’ve been holding you
in the dark.

Flame yields 
no new landscape.

It bares the contours 
like a map

so we can see
where we’ve been all along, 

can see one another 
as we walk, and say,

for once, nothing 
at the fire’s steady flight, 

like a heron 
lifting in loud beats, 

our silent mouths open   
as if to give it a tunnel.

Field Guide to the Chaparral

The fire beetle only mates
when the chaparral is burning,

and the water beetle
will only mate in the rain.

In the monastery’s kitchen, the nuns
don’t believe me when I tell them how old I am,
that you were married before.

The woman you find attractive
does not believe me when I look at her kindly. 

There are candescent people in the world.
It will only be love
 
that I love you with.
When we get home,
 
there will be our kitchen, the dishes undone.
There will be our bedroom.
 
What is it you eventually recognized
in my face that allowed you to believe me?
 
Beauty that did not come from you—
remember how it did not come from you?
 
As white sage does not come from the moon
but is found by it and lit.
 
The Buddhists say
that the front of the paper
 
cannot exist without the back.
Because there is a there,
 
there is a here. Chaparral,
the density of growth,
 
and the tattered chaps
the mappers wore
 
through it because they had to,
to keep walking without
 
being hurt. It is OK if we hurt
one another.
 
Chaparral needs fire.
(The pinecones would not open
 
otherwise.) Love needs lover,
whose last lover was flood.

To the Cardinal, Attacking His Reflection in the Window

“It is your very self” I tell him.  
He has never seen me.  

His quick coin of breath disappears on the glass as it forms: air 
that feeds his bones their portion

willingly as it feeds mine.  He spends his here, 
besieged by the dull birds who gather 

and whom he cannot touch, his own feathers 
red as wrought blood.  

Dear bird, how many selves 
must you vanquish? 

In the mornings, his wings are backlit.  They are beating, 
delicate, cruciform, hollow feather, hollow bone.  

In the blizzard his furor is the only color, 
the only shape.  He is waiting 

for the coward to come out.  There is nothing 
all winter he has saved to eat.  

I saw a female the day before he disappeared.  
Her beak just as orange, her body, calm, watched his.  

I made voices for her: variations on the pride 
and hemmed patience of women I’d known 

whose husbands did insistent, strong, 
and strange things.  Maybe she knew it was spring.  I didn’t.  

The next day he came once 
to throw the bright dime of his life to the walled world, 

as if to make sure 
it was not feather against feather that hurt him. 

Narration, Transubstantiation

“God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”
                                                              —Borges


1.

The peony, which was not open this morning, has opened,
falling over its edges 

like the circumference of God, still clasped 
at the center:

my two-month-old daughter’s hand 
in Palmer reflex, having endured 

from the apes: ontogeny
recapitulating phylogeny, clutching for fur.  

Her face is always tilted up when I carry her,  
her eyes, always blue.  

She is asking nothing of the sky, nothing 
of the pileated woodpeckers,

their directionless wings, directed bodies,
the unmoved moving.


2.

Hold still, 
song of the wood thrush, 

twin voice boxes poised, smell of the creek
and the locust flowers, white as wafers 

on the branches, communion: pistil, stamen, bee.  
Hold still.   

She doesn’t say 
a word.

 

3.

When we eat, 
what we eat is the body 

of the world.  
Also when we do not eat.  

She is asking the sky for milk.  
Take and eat, we tell her, 

this is my body 
which is given for you, child,

who are here now, 
though you were not, 

though you will be old 
then absent again: sad 

to us going forward in time
but not back.  Not sad to you at all.  

The peony whose circumference 
is nowhere, you, whose head 

now is weighted to my chest, 
the creek stringing lights 

along next to us,
the peony which has opened.

Related Poems

Riverkeeper

Wanting to be that place where inner
and outer meet, this morning
I’m listening to the river inside—
also to the river out the window, river
of sun and branch shadow, muskrat
and mallard, heron, and the rattled cry
of the kingfisher. Out there is a tree
whose roots the river has washed so often
the tree stretches beyond itself, its spirit
like mine, leaning out over the water, held
only by the poised astonishment
of being here. This morning, listening
to the river inside, I’m sinking into a stillness
where what can’t be said stirs beneath
currents of image and memory, below strata
of muons and quarks, now rushes, now hushes
and pools, now casts a net of bright light
so loosely woven there’s a constellation
afloat on the surface of the river, so still
I can almost hear it weave in and out—
interstellar, intercellular—and isn’t it
truly all one, one world, no in or out, no here
or there, seamless, as a lily about to open
from just here into everywhere, is. Just is.
Restful lily. Lucky lily. To bloom must feel
like a river’s brightening at daybreak,
or a slow kiss, a throb in the elapse of time,
a shudder of heron shadow flying over
shallows that are merely the apparent
skim of a depth whose bottomless surface
seeps everywhere, bloom and retraction,
an anchored flow that upholds city
and cathedral, bridge and gate,
Orion, odd toad in the Amazon, blue dragonfly,
what it is to love... Spoil a river, you spoil all this.

Divergence

Pristine the ash                                   no one has touched yet
before wind sweeps it along                         across the altar
                         dusting chrysanthemum and bees
before it is swept off again                
                                                              the way the body burns
            part by part
particle by particulate
                                                              particularly diverging
                                                              its tiny cinders
                        of moth wings.
After sound                                        there is no sound
                                                              a wolf sanctuary
           void of howling
                        headlights on the winding road
picking up snow
                                     a tuft falling on the heron
                         as her wingtips dip into water.
Evolution:    
                         bat wing
                         whale fin
                         my hand shielding myself from light
as I adjust
                                                              frames along the wall
barefoot on the black bookcase
                                     the heat of my footprint
             disappearing though no hand wipes it.
In taking inventory of what’s left
                         what the dead have cleared in space
             a question
                                      like the body of a boy
curled inside his dog’s bed
                                      a boy filling his own rice bowl
                                      until he doesn’t want to
anymore.
                        I want to be beside him in the dark
to hear his voice again
                                      to stop seeing him on the street
                         in the back row         
                                      of a classroom where I teach.
            Is there no end to this need
mushrooms inching along
                         blades of grass after a field of rain
                                                             the heron fishing
wings spread to lure prey into her shade.
In war they say We’re not the top species because we’re nice
In life I say Let me come closer
                                      even if it kills me.