Strictly Speaking

David Rivard - 1953-
There is the question
of bearing witness, of being yourself seen
by yourself, & seen clearly, cleanly,
without weapon or bible in hand;
as this was the wish,
the sturdy & not-so-secret wish
of those who named us—
 
our parents wanted us to be
known to ourselves without confusion:
without judgment,
sans suffering. Never force it,
they said, always find it.
 
OK, strictly speaking, that’s not entirely true.
My particular, sole, insistent, moody mother & father
probably never thought much about it at all.
Those two anxious citizens,
they were never exemplars of patience.
The weightlessness of detachment & acceptance
as I think of it now
would have frightened them—
for good reason.
 
If you could see these words
I’m speaking to you tonight printed on a page 
as typeface & magnified x 500
you would feel just how ragged & coarse
they really are, heavy. 
 
Well, playing the part of a butterfly
must be tiring, right?
I’m happier being the old ox, right?
 
On some plane of existence
these two scraps are all my news:
where the mess is
that’s where my heart is.
 

More by David Rivard

God the Broken Lock

I've died enough by now I trust
just what's imperfect or ruined.  I mean God,
God who is in the stop sign
asking to be shotgunned, the ocean that evaporates even
as we float.  God the bent nail & broken lock,
and God the hangnail.  The hangnail.
And a million others might be like me, our hopes
a kind of illegal entry, a belief in smashed windows,
every breakage
like breaking & entering into a concert hall,
the place my friend & I crawled into an air shaft, & later
fell asleep.  After breakage
there is always sleep.
We woke to gospel hymns from the dressing room
below, songs commending
embrace to the fists, & return to the prodigal.
And hasn't my luck always been a shadow, stepping out, stretching?
I mean I trust what breaks.
A broken bone elicits condolence,
and the phone call sounds French if the transmission fritzes,
and our brains--our blessed, desirable brains--are composed
of infinitesimal magnets, millions of them
a billionth-of-a-milligram in weight, so
they make us knock our heads against hard walls.
When we pushed through the air vent,
the men singing seemed only a little surprised,
just slightly freaked,
three of them in black tuxes, & the fourth in red satin,
crimson, lit up like a furnace trimmed with paisley swirls,
the furnace of a planet, or of a fatalistic ocean liner
crisscrossing a planet we've not discovered yet,
a fire you might love to be thrown into.
That night they would perform the songs half
the country kept on its lips half of every day.
Songs mostly praising or lamenting or accusing some loved one
of some beautiful, horrendous betrayal or affection.
But dressing, between primping & joking about
their thinning afros, they sang of Jesus.  Jesus,
who said, "Split a stick, & you shall find me inside."
It was the winter we put on asbestos gloves, & flameproof
stuck our hands in the fireplace, adjusting logs.
Jesus, we told them, left no proof of having sung a single note.
And that, said the lead singer, is why we are all sinners.
What he meant was
we are all like the saints on my neighbors' lawns--
whose plaster shoulders & noses,
chipped cloaks & tiaras, have to be bundled
in plastic sheets, each winter, blanketed
from the wind & the cold.  That was what he meant,
though I couldn't know it then.

The Moon in Time Lapse

The moon in time lapse sliding over skyline
the way a remote frisbee might wheel through air
as slowly as a banjo once floated across the wide
Missouri River in my mind when as a boy
the devil to pay permitted me to dream-up
my get-away from home, far from my parents'
witchy vigilance & the wine-barrel cellars
of their household—this after my experimental
stuffing of a dinner fork into a light socket
in the green gazebo under backyard grapevines.
That fuse box blown & blackened was the bliss
of departure—it was thrilling, but sometimes
I have to stop to touch my life & see if it's real.
How surprising to find that I wanted so much,
and mostly got it. My fantasies are fewer now
(one involves living through a day without
resentments, the other getting seated next to
gorgeous Fanny Ardant on a puddle jumper).
No need to see my life as a story the world
has to read, no need for sentimental
mooning & nostalgia—blessed with a bit
of amnesia anyway, I don't recall much
of what went down. I know that it's engraved
there on some cellular level, & that I can't
command the consequences. Like a spider
who has climbed atop a survey stake in a bull-
dozed field, I feel slightly truer in any case.

Plural Happiness

A curtain bellying like a pregnant cloud, warm white
light refracted through a tumbler of peat-smoked scotch—
a scorcher of a day at cooling end, with stupendous berries
to eat in lieu of supper, the scoffed pint box of blueberries
chased by a half of cantaloupe & Maytag blue cheese
spread across the remains of last night's baguette—
a plural happiness—I feel encouraged for all
within range—even the hang-gliding error that sent
Jesus spiraling down to earth seems a commitment.
Tomorrow we'll go to Alison's wedding, who
at age 2 & 3/4 attended our wedding 26 years ago,
her blond curls a mystery to be held up & photographed
between her mother & father dark-haired Diane & Larry—
in the riddle of our recessive genes once in a while
something surprising waits for anybody out & about.
Like hearing for the first time a blind preacher or waking
in a Gros Vent campground south of Jenny Lake,
the best happiness is always accidental,—& why not?
I was going to say something about boundlessness
back there (or was it getting gassed I meant?), but that
isn't it exactly either. Tho it is pretty close. Close
enough. And real. Real enough, & sure. God it felt good
to heat water on a primus stove while yawning
and to wash my face in cold Gros Vent & love Michaela.

Related Poems

Dear Millennium, Inadequate Witness

Say we no longer bear witness to a body-politic of trauma
after revolution
                by anesthesia or erasure. Say we cover our eyes 
to crossed olive-wood beams on a hill.  Modes of witness   
expose our inadequacy, the human.  Forgetting
is a sign—yes, a thing once existed. Say we are unworthy
of witness, internal or external—
                         our damaged wisdom, for instance,
our diminished capacity for empathy
             and heightened apathy to torture
mingled with doves     
                      of unfettered desire
                                         or an eclipsed divine.