Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones
toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire
even the great whale,
throbs with song.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
So many convolutions and not enough simplicity!
When I had you to write to it
Was different. The quiet, dry Z
Leaped up to the front of the alphabet.
You sit, stilling your spoons
With one hand; you move them with the other.
Radio says, “God is a postmaster.”
You said, Zis is lawflee. And in the heat
Of writing to you I wrote simply. I thought
These are the best things I shall ever write
And have ever written. I thought of nothing but touching you
Thought of seeing you and, in a separate thought, of looking at you.
You were concentrated feeling and thought.
You were like the ocean
In which my poems were the swimming. I brought you
Ear rings. You said, these are lawflee. We went
To some beach, where the sand was dirty. Just going in
To the bathing house with you drove me “out of my mind.”
It is wise to be witty. The shirt collar’s far away.
Men tramp up and down the city on this windy day.
I am feeling a-political as a shell
Brought off some fish. Twenty-one years
Ago I saw you and loved you still.
Still! It wasn’t plenty
Of time. Read Anatole France. Bored, a little. Read
Tolstoy, replaced and overcome. You read Stendhal.
I told you to. Where was replacement
Then? I don’t know. He shushed us back in to ourselves.
I used to understand
The highest excitement. Someone died
And you were distant. I went away
And made you distant. Where are you now? I see the chair
And hang onto it for sustenance. Good God how you kissed me
And I held you. You screamed
And I wasn’t bothered by anything. Was nearest you.
And you were so realistic
Preferring the Soviet Bookstore
To my literary dreams.
“You don’t like war,” you said
After reading a poem
In which I’d simply said I hated war
In a whole list of things. To you
It seemed a position, to me
It was all a flux, especially then.
I was in an
Let’s take a walk
I wrote. And I love you as a sheriff
Searches for a walnut. And And so unless
I’m going to see your face
Bien soon, and you said
You must take me away, and
You like everything
To be pleasant. I was burning
Like an arch
Made out of trees.
I’m not sure we ever actually took a walk
We were so damned nervous. I was heading somewhere. And you had to be
At an appointment, or else be found out! Illicit love!
It’s not a thing to think of. Nor is it when it’s licit!
It is too much! And it wasn’t enough. The achievement
I thought I saw possible when I loved you
Was that really achievement? Were you my
Last chance to feel that I had lost my chance?
I grew faint at your voice on the telephone.
Electricty and all colors were mine, and the tops of hills
And everything that breathes. That was a feeling. Certain
Artistic careers had not even started. And I
Could have surpassed them. I could have I think put the
Whole world under our feet. You were in the restaurant. It
Was Chinese. We have walked three blocks. Or four blocks. It is New York
In nineteen fifty-three. Nothing has as yet happened
That will ever happen and will mean as much to me. You smile, and turn
What rocketing there was in my face and in my head
And bombing everywhere in my body
I loved you I knew suddenly
That nothing had meant anything like you
I must have hoped (crazily) that something would
As if thinking you were the person I had become.
My sleep is beginning to be begun. And the sheets were on the bed.
A clock rang a bird’s song rattled into my typewriter.
I had been thinking about songs which were very abstract.
It was really a table. Now, the telephone. Hello, what?
What is my life like now? Engaged, studying and looking around
The library, teaching—I took it rather easy
A little too easy—we went to the ballet
Then dark becomes the light (blinding) of the next eighty days
Orchestra cup become As beautiful as an orchestra or a cup, and
Locked climbs becomes If we were locked, well not quite, rather
Oh penniless could I really die, and I understood everything
Which before was running this way and that in my head
I saw titles, volumes, and suns I felt the hot
Pressure of your hands in that restaurant
To which, along with glasses, plates, lamps, lusters,
Tablecloths, napkins, and all the other junk
You added my life for it was entirely in your hands then—
My life Yours, My Sister Life of Pasternak’s beautiful title
My life without a life, my life in a life, my life impure
And my life pure, life seen as an entity
One death and a variety of days
And only on life.
I wasn’t ready
I understood nothing
Seemingly except my feelings
You were whirling
In your life
I was keeping
Everything in my head
An artist friend’s apartment
Five flights up the
Lower East Side nineteen
Fifty-something I don’t know
What we made love the first time I
Almost died I had never felt
That way it was like being stamped on in Hell
It was roses of Heaven
My friends seemed turned to me to empty shell
On the railroad train’s red velvet back
You put your hand in mine and said
“I told him”
Or was it the time after that?
I said Why did you
Do that you said I thought
It was over. Why Because you were so
Nervous of my being there it was something I thought
I read Tolstoy. You said
I don’t like the way it turns out (Anna
Karenina) I had just liked the strength
Of the feeling you thought
About the end. I wanted
To I don’t know what never leave you
Five flights up the June
Street empties of fans, cups, kites, cops, eats, nights, no
The night was there
And something like air I love you Marina
Four thousand three hundred and sixty-
Two minutes all poetry was changed
For me what did I do in exchange
I am selfish, afraid you are
Overwhelmingly parade, back, sunshine, dreams
Later thousands of dreams
You make me feel nawble (noble). I said
Yes. I said
To nothingness, This is all poems. Another one said (later)
That is so American. You were Russian
You thought of your feelings, one said, not of her,
Not of the real situation. But my feelings were a part,
They were the force of the real situation. Truer to say I thought
Not of the whole situation
For your husband was also a part
And your feelings about your child were a part
And all my other feelings were a part. We
Turned this way and that, up-
Stairs then down
Into the streets.
Did I die because I didn’t stay with you?
Or what did I lose of my life? I lose
You. I put you
In everything I wrote.
I used that precious material I put it in forms
Also I wanted to break down the forms
Poetry was a real occupation
To hell with the norms, with what is already written
Twenty-nine in love finds pure expression
Twenty-nine years you my whole life’s digression
Not taken and Oh Kenneth
Everything afterwards seemed nowhere near
What I could do then in several minutes—
“I want to look at you all day long
Because you are mine.”
I am twenty-nine, pocket flap folded
And I am smiling I am looking out at a world that
I significantly re-created from inside
Out of contradictory actions and emotions. I look like a silly child that
Photograph that year—big glasses, unthought-of clothes,
A suit, slight mess in general, cropped hair. And someone liked me,
Loved me a lot, I think. And someone else had, you had too. I was
Undrenched by the tears I’d shed later about this whole thing when
I’d telephone you I’d be all nerves, though in fact
All life was a factor and all my nerves were in my head. I feel
Peculiar. Or I feel nothing. I am thinking about this poem. I am thinking
about your raincoat,
I am worried about the tactfulness,
About the truth of what I say.
I am thinking about my standards for my actions
About what they were
You raised my standards for harmony and for happiness so much
And, too, the sense of a center
Which did amazing things for my taste
But my taste for action? For honesty, for directness in behavior?
I believe I simply never felt that anything could go wrong
This was abject stupidity
I also was careless in how I drove then and in what I ate
And drank it was easier to feel that nothing could go wrong
I had those feelings. I
Did not those things. I was involved in such and such
A situation, artistically and socially. We never spent a night
Together it is the New York of
Aquamarine sunshine and the Loew’s Theater’s blazing swing of light
In the middle of the day
Let’s take a walk
Into the world
Where if our shoes get white
With snow, is it snow, Marina,
Is it snow or light?
Let’s take a walk
Every detail is everything in its place (Aristotle). Literature is a cup
And we are the malted. The time is a glass. A June bug comes
And a carpenter spits on a plane, the flowers ruffle ear rings.
I am so dumb-looking. And you are so beautiful.
Sitting in the Hudson Tube
Walking up the fusky street
Always waiting to see you
You the original creation of all my You, you the you
In every poem the hidden one whom I am talking to
Worked at Bamberger’s once I went with you to Cerutti’s
Bar—on Madison Avenue? I held your hand and you said
Kenneth you are playing with fire. I said
Something witty in reply.
It was the time of the McCarthy trial
Hot sunlight on lunches. You squirted
Red wine into my mouth.
My feelings were like a fire my words became very clear
My psyche or whatever it is that puts together motions and emotions
Was unprepared. There was a good part
And an alarmingly bad part which didn’t correspond—
No letters! No seeming connection! Your slim pale hand
It actually was, your blondness and your turning-around-to-me look
No, Marina, don’t go
And what had been before would come after
Not to be mysterious we’d be together make love again
It was the wildest thing I’ve done
I can hardly remember it
It has gotten by now
So mixed up with losing you
The two almost seemed in some way the same. You
Wore something soft—angora? Cashmere?
I remember that it was black, You turned around
And on such a spring day which went on and on and on
I actually think I felt that I could keep
The strongest of all feelings contained inside me
Producing endless emotional designs.
With the incomparable feeling of rising and of being like a banner
Twenty seconds worth twenty-five years
With feeling noble extremely mobile and very free
With Taking a Walk With You, West Wind, In Love With You, and
With pleasure I felt my leg muscles and my brain couldn’t hold
With the Empire State Building the restaurant your wrist bones with
In nineteen fifty-one with heat humidity a dog pissing with neon
With the feeling that at last
My body had something to do and so did my mind
At the window. You call
Me, across Paris,
And fall. Do you
Know you have
Missed some of them?
Almost all. I am
Waiting and I
Am fading I
Am fainting I’m
In a degrading state
Of inactivity. A ball
Rolls in the gutter. I have
Two hands to
Stop it. I am
A flower I pick
The vendor his
Clothes getting up
Too early and
What is it makes this rose
Into what is more fragrant than what is not?
I am stunned I am feeling tortured
By “A man of words and not a man of deeds”
I was waiting in a taxicab
It was white letters in white paints it was you
Spring comes, summer, then fall
And winter. We really have missed
All of that, whatever else there was
In those years so sanded by our absence.
I never saw you for as long as half a day
You were crying outside the bus station
And I was crying—
I knew that this really was my life—
I kept thinking of how we were crying
Later, when I was speaking, driving, walking,
Looking at doorways and colors, mysterious entrances
Sometimes I’d be pierced as by a needle
Sometimes be feverish as from a word
Books closed and I’d think
I can’t read this book, I threw away my life
These held on to their lives. I was
Excited by praise from anyone, startled by criticism, always hating it
Traveling around Europe and being excited
It was all in reference to you
And feeling I was not gradually forgetting
What your temples and cheekbones looked like
And always with this secret
Later I thought that what I had done was reasonable
It may have been reasonable
I also thought that I saw what had appealed to me
So much about you, the way you responded
To everything your excitement about
Me, I had never seen that. And the fact
That you were Russian, very mysterious, all that I didn’t know
About you—and you didn’t know
Me, for I was as strange to you as you were to me.
You were like my first trip to France you had
Made no assumptions. I could be
Clearly and Passionately and
Nobly (as you’d said) who I was—at the outer limits of my life
Of my life as my life could be
Ideally. But what about the dark part all this lifted
Me out of? Would my bad moods, my uncertainties, my
Distrust of people I was close to, the
Twisty parts of my ambition, my
Envy, all have gone away? And if
They hadn’t gone, what? For didn’t I need
All the strength you made me feel I had, to deal
With the difficulties of really having you?
Where could we have been? But I saw so many new possibilities
That it made me rather hate reality
Or I think perhaps I already did
I didn’t care about the consequences
Because they weren’t “poetic” weren’t “ideal”
And oh well you said we walk along
Your white dress your blue dress your green
Blouse with sleeves then one without
Sleeves and we are speaking
Of things but not of very much because underneath it
I am raving I am boiling I am afraid
You ask me Kenneth what are you thinking
If I could say
It all then I thought if I could say
Exactly everything and have it still be as beautiful
Billowing over, riding over both our doubts
Some kind of perfection and what did I actually
Say? Marina it’s late. Marina
It’s early. I love you. Or else, What’s this street?
You were the perfection of my life
And I couldn’t have you. That is, I didn’t.
I couldn’t think. I wrote, instead. I would have had
To think hard, to figure everything out
About how I could be with you,
Really, which I couldn’t do
In those moments of permanence we had
As we walked along.
We walk through the park in the sun. It is the end.
You phone me. I send you a telegram. It
Is the end. I keep
Thinking about you, grieving about you. It is the end. I write
Poems about you, to you. They
Are no longer simple. No longer
Are you there to see every day or
Every other or every third or fourth warm day
And now it has been twenty-five years
But those feelings kept orchestrating I mean rehearsing
Rehearsing in my and tuning up
While I was doing a thousand other things, the band
Is ready, I am over fifty years old and there’s no you—
And no me, either, not as I was then,
When it was the Renaissance
Filtered through my nerves and weakness
Of nineteen fifty-four or fifty-three,
When I had you to write to, when I could see you
And it could change.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I chose the book haphazard
from the shelf, but with Nabokov's first
sentence I knew it wasn't the thing
to read to a dying man:
The cradle rocks above an abyss, it began,
and common sense tells us that our existence
is but a brief crack of light
between two eternities of darkness.
The words disturbed both of us immediately,
and I stopped. With music it was the same --
Chopin's Piano Concerto — he asked me
to turn it off. He ceased eating, and drank
little, while the tumors briskly appropriated
what was left of him.
But to return to the cradle rocking. I think
Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss.
That's why babies howl at birth,
and why the dying so often reach
for something only they can apprehend.
At the end they don't want their hands
to be under the covers, and if you should put
your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture
of solidarity, they'll pull the hand free;
and you must honor that desire,
and let them pull it free.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
There you are, exhausted from a night of crying, curled up on the couch,
the floor, at the foot of the bed, anywhere you fall down crying,
half amazed at what the body is capable of, not believing you can cry
anymore. And there they are, his socks, his shirt, your underwear
and your winter gloves, all in a loose pile next to the bathroom door,
and you fall down again. Someday, years from now, things will be
different, the house clean for once, everything in its place, windows
shining, sun coming in easily now, sliding across the high shine of wax
on the wood floor. You'll be peeling an orange or watching a bird
spring from the edge of the rooftop next door, noticing how,
for an instant, its body is stopped on the air, only a moment before
gathering the will to fly into the ruff at its wings and then doing it:
flying. You'll be reading, and for a moment there will be a word
you don't understand, a simple word like now or what or is
and you'll ponder over it like a child discovering language.
Is you'll say over and over until it begins to make sense, and that's
when you'll say it, for the first time, out loud: He's dead. He's not
coming back. And it will be the first time you believe it.
Friday, July 25, 2008
there is no pigment in blue feathers
all other colors are scattered out
blue is what's left
that particular shade of delphinium petals
falling on my mother's white lacquer table
under the rotunda in summer
the color of distance
the pain in my father's watery blues
in that picture in the navy
the faded pinafore in my portrait
hands folded, same pale eyes
the color we love to contemplate
not because it comes to us
but because it draws us after it
the will-o'-the-wisp's bluish glow
that loses us at the crossroads
lures us into swamps
still I would search
and call out
Sunday, July 20, 2008
When the floor drops out, as it has now,
you cannot hear the squirrel on the wire
outside your window, the wheels spinning
on the road below. You want only pity
and are presented with the unbelievable
effrontery of a world that moves on.
But wait: this is not the person you are.
You're the kind of person who
sits in dark theaters crying at the collarbones
that curve across the dancers' chests,
at the proof of a perfection they represent;
a person who goes out walking in a four-day drizzle,
sees a pot of geraniums and is seized, overcome
by how they can bring so much (what else
can you call it?) joy. You love the world,
are sure, at least, that you have. But be truthful:
you only love freely things that have nothing
to do with you. You're like a matchstick house:
intricately constructed but flimsy and hollow inside.
You're a house in love with the trees beside you -
able to look at them all day, aware of how faithful they are -
but unable to forgive that they'd lie down
leaving you exposed and alone in a large enough storm.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which I cannot touch because they are too near
Your slightest look easily will unclose me
though I have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if you wish be to close me, I and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(I do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
Thursday, July 17, 2008
For beyond the blare of sirened afternoons, beyond the motorcades;
The voices and days, the echoing highways; beyond the latescence
Of our dissonant airs; through our curtained eyeballs, through our shuttered sleep,
Onto our forgotten selves, onto our broken images; beyond the barricades
Commandments and edicts, beyond the iron tables beyond the elephant's
Legendary patience, beyond the inviolable bronze bust; beyond our crumbling towers --
Beyond the iron path careering along the same beaten track --
The glimpse of a dream lies smouldering in a cave,
together with the mortally wounded birds.
Earth, unbind me; let me be the prodigal;
let this be the ram's ultimate prayer to the tether ...
An old star departs, leaves us here on the shore
Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching;
The new star appears, foreshadows its going
Before a going and coming that goes on forever ...
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write for example, 'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to a pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Then dirt scared me, because of the dirt
he had put on her face. And her training bra
scared me—the newspapers, morning and evening,
kept saying it, training bra,
as if the cups of it had been calling
the breasts up—he buried her in it,
perhaps he had never bothered to take it
off. They found her underpants
in a garbage can. And I feared the word
eczema, like my acne and like
the X in the paper which marked her body,
as if he had killed her for not being flawless.
the first name that was a last name,
as if he were not someone specific.
It was nothing one could learn from his face.
His face was dull and ordinary,
it took away what I’d thought I could count on
about evil. He looked thin and lonely,
it was horrifying, he looked almost humble.
I felt awe that dirt was so impersonal,
and pity for the training bra,
pity and terror of eczema.
And I could not sit on my mother’s electric
blanket anymore, I began to have a
fear of electricity—
the good people, the parents, were going to
fry him to death. This was what
his parents had been telling us:
Burton Abbott, Burton Abbott,
death to the person, death to the home planet.
The worst thing was to think of her,
of what it had been to be her, alive,
to be walked, alive, into that cabin,
to look into those eyes, and see the human
Monday, July 14, 2008
Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other
he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost
For instance… for instance,
how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush
at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –
two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –
walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.
How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips
from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit
or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart
was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.
Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.
And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,
or knew her
her taste, her flavour,
and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair
into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved
when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home
through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand
to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.
And never almost cried,
and never once described
an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt
nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh
wept by the heart,
where it hurts,
or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.
Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,
a pilot light,
or stayed the night,
or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is
I like you.
I just might do.”
How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand
were a solid ball
of silver foil
and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.
But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.
And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advantage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in the front will want to take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The sun shines down. It is a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not choose sides yet.
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road. Let’s call them Jeff. And because the first Jeff is in the front we’ll consider him the older, and therefore responsible for lending money and the occasional punch in the shoulder. World-wise, world-weary, and not his mother’s favorite, this Jeff will always win when it all comes down to fisticuffs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t always all come down to fisticuffs. Jeff is thinking about his brother down the winding road behind him. He is thinking that only if he could cut him open and peel him back and crawl inside this second skin, then he could relive that last mile again: reborn, wild-eyed, free.
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which Jeff you are. It could have been so beautiful—you scout out the road ahead and I will watch your back, how it was and how it will be, memory and fantasy—but each Jeff wants to be the other one. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of looking at the back of your head. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of seeing my hand me down clothes. Look, Jeff, I’m telling you, for the last time, I mean it, etcetera. They are the same and they are not the same. They are the same and they hate each other for it.
Your name is Jeff and somewhere up ahead of you your brother has pulled to the side of the road and he is waiting for you with a lug wrench clutched in his greasy fist. O how he loves you, darling boy. O how, like always, he invents the monsters underneath the bed to get you to sleep next to him, chest to chest or chest to back, the covers drawn around you in an act of faith against the night. When he throws the wrench into the air it will catch the light as it spins toward you. Look—it looks like a star. You had expected something else, anything else, but the wrench never reaches you. It hangs in the air like that, spinning in the air like that. It’s beautiful.
Let’s say God in his High Heaven is hungry and has decided to make himself some tuna fish sandwiches. He’s already finished making two of them, on sourdough, before he realizes the fish is bad. What is he going to do with these sandwiches? They’re already made, but he doesn’t want to eat them.
Let’s say the Devil is played by two men. We’ll call them Jeff. Dark hair, green eyes, white teeth, pink tongues—they’re twins. The one on the left has gone bad in the middle, and the other one on the left is about to. As they wrestle, you can tell they have forgotten about God, and they are very hungry.
You are playing cards with three men named Jeff. Two of the Jeffs seem somewhat familiar, but the Jeff across from you keeps staring at your hands, your mouth, and you’re certain that you’ve never seen this Jeff before. But he’s on your team, and you’re ahead, you’re winning big, and yet the other Jeffs keep smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. They all have perfect teeth: white, square, clean, even. And, for some reason, the lighting in the room makes their teeth seem closer than they should be, as if each mouth was a place, a living room with pink carpet and the window’s open. Come back from the window, Jefferson. Take off those wet clothes and come over here, by the fire.
You are playing cards with three Jeffs. One is your father, one is your brother, and the other is your current boyfriend. All of them have seen you naked and heard you talking in your sleep. Your boyfriend Jeff gets up to answer the phone. To them he is a mirror, but to you he is a room. Phone’s for you, Jeff says. Hey! It’s Uncle Jeff, who isn’t really your uncle, but you can’t talk right now, one of the Jeffs has put his tongue in your mouth. Please let it be the right one.
Two brothers are fighting by the side of the road. Two motorbikes have fallen over on the shoulder, leaking oil into the dirt, while the inter-locking brothers grapple and swing. You see them through the backseat window as you and your parents drive past. You are twelve years old. You do not have a brother. You have never experienced anything this ferocious or intentional with another person. Your mother is pretending that she hasn’t seen anything. Your father is fiddling with the knobs of the radio. There is an empty space next to you in the backseat of the station wagon. Make it the shape of everything you need. Now say hello.
You are in an ordinary suburban bedroom with bunk beds, a bookshelf, two wooden desks and chairs. You are lying on your back, on the top bunk, very close to the textured ceiling, staring straight at it in fact, and the room is still dark except for a wedge of powdery light that spills in from the adjoining bathroom. The bathroom is covered in mint green tile and someone is in there, singing very softly. Is he singing to you? For you? Black cherries in chocolate, the ring around the moon, a beetle underneath a glass—you cannot make out all the words, but you’re sure he knows you’re in there, and he’s singing to you, even though you don’t know who he is.
You see it as a room, a tabernacle, a dark hotel. You’re in the hallway again, and you open the door, and if you’re ready you’ll see it, but maybe one part of your mind decides that the other parts aren’t ready, and then you don’t remember where you’ve been, and you find yourself down the hall again, the lights gone dim as the left hand sings the right hand back to sleep. It’s a puzzle: each piece, each room, each time you put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, your ear to the wound that whispers.
You’re in the hallway again. The radio is playing your favorite song. You’re in the hallway. Open the door again. Open the door.
Suppose for a moment that the heart has two heads, that the heart has been chained and dunked in a glass booth filled with river water. The heart is monologing about hesitation and fulfillment while behind the red brocade the heart is drowning. Can the heart escape? Does love even care? Snow falls as we dump the booth in the bay.
Suppose for a moment we are crowded around a pier, waiting for something to ripple the water. We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not getting dark, we want to say.
Consider the hairpin turn. It is waiting for you like a red door or the broken leg of a dog. The sun is shining, O how the sun shines down! Your speedometer and your handgrips and the feel of the road below you, how it knows you, the black ribbon spread out on the greens between those lines that suddenly don’t reach the horizon. It is waiting, like a broken door, like the red dog that chases its tail and eats your rosebushes and then must be forgiven. Who do you love, Jeff? Who do you love? You were driving toward something and then, well, then you found yourself driving the other way. The dog is asleep. The road is behind you. O how the sun shines down.
This time everyone has the best intentions. You have cancer. Let’s say you have cancer. Let’s say you’ve swallowed a bad thing and now it’s got its hands inside you. This is the essence of love and failure. You see what I mean but you’re happy anyway, and that’s okay, it’s a love story after all, a lasting love, a wonderful adventure with lots and lots of action, where the mirror says mirror and the hand says hand and the front door never says Sorry Charlie. So the doctor says you need more stitches and the bruise cream isn’t working. So much for the facts. Let’s say you’re still completely in the dark but we love you anyway. We love you. We really do.
After work you go to the grocery store to get some milk and a carton of cigarettes. Where did you get those bruises? You don’t remember. Work was boring. You find a jar of bruise cream and a can of stewed tomatoes. Maybe a salad? Spinach, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and you can’t decide between the Extra Large or Jumbo black olives. Which is bigger anyway? Extra Large has a blue label, Jumbo has a purple label. Both cans cost $1.29. While you’re deciding, the afternoon light is streaming through the windows behind the bank of the checkout counters. Take the light inside you like a blessing, like a knee in the chest, holding onto it and not letting go. Now let go.
Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere, he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind. Or a horse, your favorite horse now raised up again out of the mud and galloping galloping always towards you. In your ruined shirt, on the last day, while the bruise won’t heal, and the stain stays put, the red light streaming in from everywhere at once. Your broken ribs, the back of your head, your hand to mouth or hand to now, right now, like you mean it, like it’s splitting you in two. Now look at the lights, the lights.
You and your lover are making out in the corner booth of a seedy bar. The booths are plush and the drinks are cheap and in this dim and smoky light you can barely tell whose hands are whose. Someone raises their glass for a toast. Is that the Hand of Judgment or the Hand of Mercy? The bartender smiles, running a rag over the burnished wood of the bar. The drink in front of you has already been paid for. Drink it, the bartender says. It’s yours, you deserve it. It’s already been paid for. Somebody’s paid for it, already. There’s no mistake, he says. It’s your drink, the one you asked for, just the way you like it. How can you refuse? Hands of fire, hands of air, hands of water, hands of dirt. Someone’s doing all the talking but no one’s lips move. Consider the hairpin turn.
The motorbikes are neck and neck but where’s the checkered flag we all expected, waving in the distance, telling you you’re home again, home? He’s next to you, right next to you in fact, so close, or … he isn’t. Imagine a room. Yes, imagine a room: two chairs facing the window but nobody moves. Don’t move. Keep staring straight into my eyes. It feels like you’re not moving, the way when, dancing, the room will suddenly fall away. You’re dancing: you’re neck and neck or check to cheek, he’s there or he isn’t, the open road. Imagine a room. Imagine you’re dancing. Imagine the room now falling away. Don’t move.
Two brothers: one of them wants to take you apart. Two brothers: one of them wants to put you back together. It’s time to choose sides now. The stitches or the devouring mouth? You want an alibi? You don’t get an alibi, you get two brothers. Here are two Jeffs. Pick one. This is how you make the meaning, you take two things and try to define the space between them. Jeff or Jeff? Who do you want to be? You just wanted to play in your own backyard, but you don’t know where your own yard is, exactly. You just wanted to prove there was one safe place, just one safe place where you could love him. You have not found that place yet. You have not made that place yet. You are here. You are here. You’re still right here.
Here are your names and here is the list and here are the things you left behind. The mark on the floor from pushing your chair back, your underwear, one half brick of cheese, the kind I don’t like, wrapped up, and poorly, and abandoned on the second shelf next to the poppyseed dressing, which is also yours. Here’s the champagne on the floor, and here are your house keys, and here are the curtains that your cat peed on. And here is your cat, who keeps eating grass and vomiting in the hallway. Here is the list with all of your names, Jeff. They’re not the same name, Jeff. They’re not the same at all.
There are two twins on motorbikes but they are not on motorbikes, they’re in a garden where the flowers are as big as thumbs. Imagine you are in a field of daisies. What are you doing in a field of daisies? Get up! Let’s say you’re not in the field anymore. Let’s say they’re not brothers anymore. That’s right, they’re not brothers, they’re just one guy, and he knows you, and he’s talking to you, but you’re in pain and you cannot understand him. What are you still doing in this field? Get out of the field! You should be in the hotel room! You should, at least, be trying to get back into the hotel room. Ah! Now the field is empty.
Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don’t make a noise, don’t leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to dream about. We used to do a lot of things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the bread and devour it. I’m in the hallway again, I’m in the hallway. The radio’s playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I’ll keep walking toward the sound of your voice.
Someone had a party while you were sleeping but you weren’t really sleeping, you were sick, and parts of you were burning, and you couldn’t move. Perhaps the party was in your honor. You can’t remember. It seems the phone was ringing in the dream you were having but there’s no proof. A dish in the sink that might be yours, some clothes on the floor that might belong to someone else. When was the last time you found yourself looking out of this window. Hey! This is a beautiful window! This is a beautiful view! Those trees lined up like that, and the way the stars are spinning over them like that, spinning in the air like that, like wrenches.
Let’s say that God is the space between two men and the Devil is the space between two men. Here: I’ll be all of them—Jeff and Jeff and Jeff and Jeff are standing on the shoulder of the highway, four motorbikes knocked over, two wrenches spinning in the ordinary air. Two of these Jeffs are windows, and two of these Jeffs are doors, and all of these Jeffs are trying to tell you something. Come closer. We’ll whisper it in your ear. It’s like seeing your face in a bowl of soup, cream of potato, and the eyes shining like spoons. If we wanted to tell you everything, we would leave more footprints in the snow or kiss you harder. One thing. Come closer. Listen …
You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you didn’t even have a name for.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It's not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it's more like a song on a policeman's radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it's noon, that means
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we'll never get used to it.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Bring me the sunflower so I can transplant it
here in my own field burned by salt-spray,
so it can show all day to the blue reflection of the sky
the anxiety of its golden face.
Darker things yearn for a clarity,
bodies fade and exhaust themselves in a flood
of colors, as colors do in music. To vanish,
therefore, is the best of all good luck.
Bring me the plant that leads us
where blond transparencies rise up
and life evaporates like an essence;
bring me the sunflower sent mad with light.
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Saturdays we have dinner in her booth. Red
table cloth. Food she's brought to the car wash
from across town. Lasagna. One week fried chicken.
We sit in our uniforms at the counter, wedged
between the safe and the cash register. Lights out.
Waxy splash of candles making
the booth look adrift from outside.
I turned back once at the pumps,
helping some woman with her gas cap and saw
the lit bubble of it behind me on the asphalt.
Signal, I thought. Lighthouse. Ship at sea.
I came in and told her these things,
but she wasn't interested. Listen,
she said, pouring coke into two plastic cups.
My boyfriend is fucking useless. Doesn't
do shit. Won't do shit. Like those guys.
Like they say on TV. Emotionally reversed.
Reserved, I said. Shut up,
she said. You know what I mean.
I knew what she meant only because I knew her. Dragging
the ladder over the parking lot on Monday
morning, the scrape of it against concrete, because
she's left a note stuck to my stool with gum:
The cube sign isn't revolting.
My body pressed to the steel, hands up
under the plastic skirt. Turn
you bastard. Rotate, swivel, twist, spin.
Pirouette your sad dance of light around this pole.
She doesn't read. (Why? she says.) What she wants
most is money, the shiny lie of the mall.
What she wants is out. Tell me the truth, she said one day.
When will we be gone from here?
I'd like to feed her words. Lying on our backs in the dark.
Lower them to her lips. Incarnadine. Rhodopsin. Sweet
droop of them. The promise on her tongue.
But she doesn't want this. Not at all.
The word lasagna is not the thing lasagna
and that's what matters. You eat it and it's gone.
A word doesn't flicker like a bad light bulb
in the stairwell behind you. (You die
and that's it, she would say.)
Is this how we stop belonging to each other?
Humanity and language emptied to private ritual. The
cloistered whispers of love. (But isn't that why
we fall in love anyway, to be able to say the secret,
dangerous words that are in our heads? To name
each other with them in the dark?)
And the opposite of this--how we lose responsibility
for meaning--the blank, common jargon of cults and
talk shows. Words masticated to drool.
We still need language to find us, to tell us where
we are. Radar. The backlit screen. (That's just crap,
she would say.) The truth
is that these words mean it's over,
that already we are gone from here.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Evenings of sovereign clarity—
Wine and bread on the table,
Father naked in bed.
Was I that skinny boy stretched out
In the field behind the house,
His heart cut out with a toy knife?
Was I the crow hovering over him?
Happiness, you are the bright red lining
Of the dark winter coat
Grief wears inside out.
This is about myself when I’m remembering,
And your long insomniac’s nails,
O Time, I keep chewing and chewing.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Ramón, right now I want to be
the mournful friend who tends the ground
you fertilize and lie in, gave too soon.
Since this useless grief of mine
likes the taste of rain, snail shells,
the organs of the body,
I'll go ahead and feed your heart
to the disheartened poppies.
Grief bunches up between my ribs,
each breath I take is painful.
The hard slap of a hand, an icy fist,
that violent, that fatal, unseen
blow of an ax has cut you down.
There's nothing big enough to stick my hurt in.
I cry anguished tears,
I feel your death more than my life.
I walk across the stubble of the dead:
no warmth, no consolation from a single body.
I leave this heart of mine behind and try to go on living.
Death flew away with you too early,
that morning came before it should have,
before your time you are in the ground.
Lovesick death will get no forgiveness out of me,
none for this thankless life,
none for the earth, nor for the black nothing.
In these hands of mine a storm made of rocks
in brewing, lightning, vicious axes
dry and starving for catastrophes.
I want to dig up the earth with my teeth,
I want to take dry, fiery bites
pulling it apart bit by bit.
I want to tear up the earth until I find you,
so I can kiss your noble skull,
bandage your mouth, and bring you back to life.
You will come back to the fig tree in my backyard:
your soul will be at peace there,
high up among the blossoms, gathering
the wax and honey of angelic hives.
You'll come back to words whispered through
grillwork windows by romantic field hands.
You'll blow away the shadows on my brow,
and your woman and the bees will take
turns claiming your blood as theirs.
Your heart, now only crumpled velvet,
calls from a field of surf-like almond trees
to my voice, wanting and full of love.
And I call you to come to the milky
almond blossoms who are souls flying.
I miss you, Ramón. Ramón, we still have
so many things to talk about.
Out of everything that is not eternal
I deny the patience of water, the divinity of salt, and the persistence of the spider
I would like to write a suicide note in three and a half languages
and travel south on a Thursday towards
some form of life outside of earth
And although people will think I'm no longer there
I will live in geodesic domes
and count only in numbers less than zero
Sometimes when I walk past trees in the city I hear them denying me
Normally this doesn't bother me but today
I'm not going to take any conspiracies
I deny bodies of water smaller than the Great Lakes
I deny any planet larger than America
I deny the fact that when I kill time, time is actually killing me
I am air, light, sound, all of which I deny
I deny the Buddha, I do not deny the Buddha
An exact copy of my life is being lived a million light years away
If there's a way to prove it
If mathematics were the only religion
We are passing an era of turbulence
Make sure your souls are in the upright position
"I am afraid of the profound certitude of things"
Love like an arsonist
steals into my life and burns down all my tenements
(In a court of law, love will deny me
and the burden of proof rests entirely on me)
Thursday, July 03, 2008
I couldn't name it, the sweet
sadness welling up in me for weeks.
So I cleaned, found myself standing
in a room with a rag in my hand,
the birds calling time-to-go, time-to-go.
And like an old woman near the end
of her life I could hear it, the voice
of a man I never loved who pressed
my breasts to his lips and whispered
"My little doves, my white, white lilies."
I could almost cry when I remember it.
I don't remember when I began
to call everyone "sweetie,"
as if they were my daughters,
my darlings, my little birds.
I have always loved too much,
or not enough. Last night
I read a poem about God and almost
believed it--God sipping coffee,
smoking cherry tobacco. I've arrived
at a time in my life when I could believe
Today, pumping gas into my old car, I stood
hatless in the rain and the whole world
went silent--cars on the wet street
sliding past without sound, the attendant's
mouth opening and closing on air
as he walked from pump to pump, his footsteps
erased in the rain--nothing
but the tiny numbers in their square windows
rolling by my shoulder, the unstoppable seconds
gliding by as I stood at the Chevron,
balanced evenly on my two feet, a gas nozzle
gripped in my hand, my hair gathering rain.
And I saw it didn't matter
who had loved me or who I loved. I was alone.
The black oily asphalt, the slick beauty
of the Iranian attendant, the thickening
clouds--nothing was mine. And I understood
finally, after a semester of philosophy,
a thousand books of poetry, after death
and childbirth and the startled cries of men
who called out my name as they entered me,
I finally believed I was alone, felt it
in my actual, visceral heart, heard it echo
like a thin bell. And the sounds
came back, the slish of tires
and footsteps, all the delicate cargo
they carried saying thank you
and yes. So I paid and climbed into my car
as if nothing had happened--
as if everything mattered--What else could I do?
I drove to the grocery store
and bought wheat bread and milk,
a candy bar wrapped in gold foil,
smiled at the teenaged cashier
with the pimpled face and the plastic
name plate pinned above her small breast,
and knew her secret, her sweet fear,
Little bird. Little darling. She handed me
my change, my brown bag, a torn receipt,
pushed the cash drawer in with her hip
and smiled back.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Close your eyes. A lover is standing too close
to focus on. Leave me blurry and fall toward me
with your entire body. Lie under the covers, pretending
to sleep, while I'm in the other room. Imagine
my legs crossed, my hair combed, the shine of my boots
in the slatted light. I'm thinking My plant, his chair,
the ashtray that we bought together. I'm thinking This is where
we live. When we were little we made houses out of
cardboard boxes. We can do anything. It's not because
our hearts are large, they're not, it's what we
struggle with. The attempt to say Come over. Bring
your friends. It's a potluck, I'm making pork chops, I'm making
those long noodles you love so much. My dragonfly,
my black-eyed fire, the knives in the kitchen are singing
for blood, but we are at the crossroads, my little outlaw,
and this is the map of my heart, the landscape
after cruelty which is, of course, a garden, which is
a tenderness, which is a room, a lover saying Hold me
tight, it's getting cold. We have not touched the stars,
nor are we forgiven, which brings us back
to the hero's shoulders and a gentleness that comes,
not from the absence of violence, but despite
the abundance of it. The lawn is drowned, the sky on fire,
the gold light falling backward through the glass
of every room. I'll give you my heart to make a place
for it to happen, evidence of a love that transcends hunger.
Is that too much to expect? That I would name the stars
for you? That I would take you there? The splash
of my tongue melting you like a sugar cube? We've read
the back of the book, we know what's going to happen.
The fields burned, the land destroyed, the lovers left
broken in the brown dirt. And then it's gone.
Makes you sad. All your friends are gone. Goodbye
Goodbye. No more tears. I would like to meet you all
in Heaven. But there's a litany of dreams that happens
somewhere in the middle. Moonlight spilling
on the bathroom floor. A page of the book where we
transcend the story of our lives, past the taco stands
and record stores. Moonlight making crosses
on your body, and me putting my mouth on every one.
We have been very brave, we have wanted to know
the worst, wanted the curtain to be lifted from our eyes.
The dream going on with all of us in it. Penciling in
the bighearted slob. Penciling in his outstretched arms.
Our Father who art in Heaven. Our Father who art buried
in the yard. Someone is digging your grave right now.
Someone is drawing a bath to wash you clean, he said,
so think of the wind, so happy, so warm. It's a fairy tale,
the story underneath the story, sliding down the polished
halls, lightning here and gone. We make these
ridiculous idols so we can pray to what's behind them,
but what happens after we get up the ladder?
Do we simply stare at what is horrible and forgive it?
Here is the river, and here is the box, and here are
the monsters we put in the box to test our strength
against. Here is the cake, and here is the fork, and here's
the desire to put it inside us, and then the question
behind every question: What happens next?
The way you slam your body into mine reminds me
I'm alive, but monsters are always hungry, darling,
and they're only a few steps behind you, finding
the flaw, the poor weld, the place where we weren't
stitched up quite right, the place they could almost
slip right through if the skin wasn't trying to
keep them out, to keep them here, on the other side
of the theater where the curtain keeps rising.
I crawled out the window and ran into the woods.
I had to make up all the words myself. The way
they taste, the way they sound in the air. I passed
through the narrow gate, stumbled in, stumbled
around for a while, and stumbled back out. I made
this place for you. A place for you to love me.
If this isn't the kingdom then I don't know what is.
So how would you catalog it? Dawn in the fields?
Snow and dirty rain? Light brought in in buckets?
I was trying to describe the kingdom, but the letters
kept smudging as I wrote them: the hunter's heart,
the hunter's mouth, the trees and the trees and the
spaces between the trees, swimming in gold. The words
frozen. The creatures frozen. The plum sauce
leaking out of the bag. Explaining will get us nowhere.
I was away, I don't know where, lying on the floor,
pretending I was dead. I wanted to hurt you
but the victory is that I could not stomach it. We have
swallowed him up, they said. It's beautiful, it really is.
I had a dream about you. We were in the gold room
where everyone finally gets what they want.
You said Tell me about your books, your visions made
of flesh and light and I said This is the Moon. This is
the Sun. Let me name the stars for you. Let me take you
there. The splash of my tongue melting you like a sugar
cube... We were in the gold room where everyone
finally gets what they want, so I said What do you
want, sweetheart? and you said Kiss me. Here I am
leaving you clues. I am singing now while Rome
burns. We are all just trying to be holy. My applejack,
my silent night, just mash your lips against me.
We are all going forward. None of us are going back.