1 / On the Train
Outback of the mind. Shiver of the fens
in oily desolation staining the swamp water
frozen over. Newark up ahead, the telephoto lens
of the heart homing in on a dead son or daughter.
If you wait long enough, the oil tanks and refineries
will stand up cleanly in the train windows
while light falling through itself falls through the gantries
trapping waste ground and weeds in cats-cradle shadows.
And in the ghost train the guy in uniform scared to be going
reminds me of you, pinned up on my wall,
Sgt. K. I. S. discharged Jan. 17 in Chaffee, Arkansas:
eyes averted from the stares of the living
who never called your name at roll call or mail call
and, failing to take your hand then, can’t do so now.
2 / Trash Flowers
When you look at them, they look right back:
bareheaded survivors, one-eyed, soot-choked,
growing up out of rubble. The anti-garden where
whatever takes root just happens to find home
across the border from kids scrawling their names on bombs.
And among weeds camouflaging a fire-gutted tank,
a donkey, grazing, sniffs at the hot armor,
a stream of piss hissing past its flank …
Would my barking dogs of Brooklyn know their odor?
Piss on them too, just a drop for form’s sake
and pass on? And the upstart narrator
gets out of the way of the olive trees
launching themselves root and branch into the sky
while oil tankers vaporize into ether.
3 / Ballad
When prayers were said, throats cut, the gods were thrown
in the ditch alongside the sacrifice.
But buoyed up out of blood by their boat of stone,
they sailed beyond the limits of this life.
And when I left the sandbagged museum
I thought of the mankilling time
of the fathers when True Thomas walked
past the end of night and could never come home
from Elfland if he spoke one word to the dark—
and before the garden green could he reach
and pull for his wages an apple from a tree
he waded through blood red to the knee,
for all the blood that’s shed on earth
runs through the springs of that country.