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ISSUE:  Winter 2005

Space, this implosion—like a word 
with its walls giving way. 
—Breyten Breytenbach 

[Mise en Scene.]

      Which face to choose?
      Start in the left-hand corner—and speak to it
            as if to a flock of birds
      deserting men in their famished quarters.
                    Like doodling, the idea,

the need, is to have a beautiful shape,

                  a skull that cups the hand …


      Or start with shoes. In boxes, in graves,

             the left one only; 

      one at a time the flowered sandals of children.
      Or hands, severed, with the wrist hairs 
                  lightly bristling.
      Or simply nail the box shut and
                  the hand is inside
      (You cannot speak to hands;
      you touch them.
      Shoes, you crowd out.)
      Children tell the hours until the light
                  swings bad at vespers.
      Winter opens the air. Each banal instruction
                  —Go to the end of the line
                  and wait till I count to ten—
      is clear, a knife in water—below,
      the playground’s bitter primary colors,
                  bright tubes and slides.
      The children’s voices
                  grow shriller, filling
      the spaces between branches
                  in the abandoned acacia …
      and you feel
                  you could speak to them,
                  that they would even understand
      the language of birds.

[But they ignore you.
They pour across the concrete like pestilence,
coiled mufflers unpeeled in a wink,
although it will be weeks before
the windows begin to drip,
lose their waxen resignation.]

      It is true that in winter
      their cries are sharper.



[Deep Focus.]

      Start with the face before morning.
      Kissed off. Crisscrossed with sleep.
      Lids puffed with dreams.
      The plum lip cheesy in corners.
        (This is how we come to ourselves:
        first the splash
        then the body,
        the first gulp of coffee
        straightening us into humanity)
      By the way of the Middle Passage
      I have grown wings.
      By way of the Trail of Tears
      I have turned pale overnight.
      By way of sale of a twelve-year-old in marriage to pay a drinking debt
      I came along: medium tall, medium dark.
      The face I put on mornings:
      smudged orchid petal, crème de cacao,
      fragrant dust.
      Fingernails gilded, heraldic.
      Everything by design.




[Low Angle.]



      I want only the paint:
      swirled ridges, crusts of pigment
      curling off the lip of the knife.
      I want my life to be 
      the story of paint, concrete color:
      a flying fish so orange, it’s a medallion
      cast into ashes. Now I will stop biting
      my cuticles and my back will stop aching
      so I can paint until the sun comes up;
      then I’ll take a cup of sherry to bed
      to calm down. I want to lick the canvas,
      grow buoyant on turpentine, make love
      to every year between eighteen and twenty-five 
      and paint each in its own color—
      reddening branch, emerald caduceus of leaves
      traveling fast over the garden wall.
      I want the cerise of the poisoned berry
      and the blue eel and the gray of the pebble
      you must moisten with your tongue 
      to bring out its platinum sheen. 
      I want you to be that pebble. 
      I want to put you in my mouth.



[Dissolve, and: Pan.]

      I know the silence behind a smile,
      the milky introductions, friendships of embarrassment
      that exhaust the mind: I mean the mind
      either slithers to a stop or veers
      toward violins and cocoa.
      This is the way of the managerial universe. 
      I know how to walk there, sweep into a dimlit room
      and locate the hubs of power before
      my coat has been taken.
      Ah, rectitude.


      There is something to be said for a flaking croissant,
      the contentment of fresh preserves and the correct 
        temperature of 

café au lait

      . Such happiness
      lasts longer than most pleasures.
        Hugo von Hofmannsthal said, 

How we feel is how we want to be heard

      . I wish
      I had said that. I wish I could say that, now.


[Bird’s Eye View.]

      Step onto the ancient veldt:
      kicked-up dust teasing the nostrils
      with a gingery whiff of drought.
      The melancholic call of the blue-crowned Trogon
      who sings only when she sits on her nest.


      Is this what’s meant by the sublime—
      a skimming that shakes the soul to its depths,
      a mesh of elegant solitudes?


      Everywhere, the invisible.


      Is it sweat or a tear which explodes,
      darkens my walking shoe’s filigree imprint?
      But there’s no skill to memory: Cry out
         and Echo answers.



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