A big traveler, really
an old globetrotter, the Dragon arrives
in town, wants a room.
Jetsmell, heads in his luggage.
even if you never really meet him
it’s a gas just talking to his bags.
He goes to a dentist.
Don’t cry man, it’s a compliment,
get up, most of your colleagues
would die for this.
But there is no fire.
Other side of the burnt ivory fence
the throat looks like old stones.
The Dragon’s eyes are closed.
The drill echoes.
Far back inside, there’s another sound
like a world of small birds
The dentist hears, starts crying again,
stops to listen,
Then he rises,
climbs into the chimney-mouth
musty and rough.
he crawls out of the fireplace
in his family home.
They are gone, the hearth is damp,
choked with black trash.
In the 2 A. M. dark
he hunts the empty rooms.
The sound he thought was morning
is a pipe leaking.
At sunset, clouds to the south were a shelf of light
keeping something out of reach.
I must turn on some lamps,
The streets of the city are littered with combs.
They are a vain, careless people.
After searching all day for a pencil
I have found it in my pocket.
Because I already smashed her cup against a wall
I now have to throw one of my own.
Not only Venus, but also Mars is well positioned
on April Fool’s.
Perhaps I’ll go march for politics.
Recent observations from a huge ballon show
that black holes may lose entire stars.
I dream of stories with beginnings, middles, and ends,
but all I have gained are some vowels—O, U, and I—
O, U, and I.
I have been preparing for spring so long, and now
I’m not ready.
Not the sea
Though, roughened, the sea
Shouting to be heard.
The spare furniture, spindly,
Insect-like and iron, scattered
On the too-shorn
Lawn of the resort.
Not the sea, though rough, unlovable.
Not the furniture, though harsh.
Something more, else,
The angle perhaps the slow sloping off
The lawn’s roll
The composure of grass, submissiveness of grass
Gone down at subtlest
Slant to meet
And yellow in the roar.
That terror alone.
That slippage, accomplished without a motion.
That green avalanche
Our sitting still set moving all around,
And motionless, down to the roar on fixed and cold chairs
We shivered and rode.
What is rooted
Take a pine: single, stationary.
Immerse it in multiplyings of its kind.
To rub out its singleness
In a flowing
Estate of green.
Time to make more pine.
To move it
Till what is rooted
Over hills to the sea,
Pine by stationary
Pine given up
And green, as if winged,
Gone off into further green
What it may see.
Where something happened. The sequoia
that couldn’t help itself for growing.
The pass between avalanches—miraculously
there as a first blizzard
battered the timberline
and the warm dream of valleys
fell face forward in the settlers’ tracks.
The rock face the ambush party had to climb
or not live to regret it. Events
extreme as love: once or forever,
Cars thread through the eye
in the General Sherman’s trunk.
The pass is triple lanes each way,
no U-turns at the overlook.
Behind the parking lot, the Alpine
Properties home office, a green sign
points up the rock face, pink floodlights
improve upon it every night.
of this ever meant to happen. Macadam
laid once, no going back, Love
foresworn, red tags on stakes
working up the mountain, we put money
down—a green root through basalt.
A marriage of convenience with the stone.
Blue sky, white pigeons.
Young lips on the vulva of a peach.
July afternoons that came and were you
for a while, their endless green maples
blown out like a match. And then
rainy autumn? Mushrooms grown
by the fat of the moon’s last mile—
along that beach you found once in Oregon,
gray gulls dripping into and out of the sea,
the many smooth, featureless stones
teaching how to think deeply.
Even so, these clear summer nights
you’re a boy again, aren’t you?—
looking up through ancestral astronomers
like discarded shores of the sun,
saying, “Yes, let it happen,”
the times, the far people, the places
whose every floating motion
alive for a while in your bloodstream
develops star by slow star
this ancient atlas of the heavens
all over your body.
Three antelope, single file, like wishes
in a prayer: “Be with us in our wanderings.”
You listen to the creek, you breathe
the canyon’s barberry smells under box elder.
And as you rove Utah’s red canyonlands
like the waste places of some great withered heart
where only the past feels endless,
tribal footprints your feet all but touch
make your delight in miles of saltbush
and rice grass grown up from burnt stone
a winged eye.
And if someone who stood here takes shape, vague
as this sage clump’s dust-colored birds,
he’s your own love of touching what’s gone.
So your daydreams of leaving some trace,
though not above nature, within, show up in him
guiding himself by the hand that outlined
two antlered deer, turkey claw, sun-spiral
chipped into dark manganese oxide—
where dozens of stick figures
old and stark as winter trees
hold their arms wide open.
“In bare branches what you see is our summer.
What you hear is the creek as we heard it.
You may come now, alone. Or wait,
and come with the others.”
The street is
a cathedral, even better
because the storefronts’ brick
my eye to earth. While the lame
girl’s lame leg’s
her blue skirt, her mother
yanks her hand, says
which is not so bad as it might sound and is
maybe a kind of prayer, after all: irregular
gait & words, they
walk that way, don’t
get me wrong. There are
lots of junk stores open. Floating
on the lake of a blue-mirrored
Art Deco table, a wicker bait basket
overflows with lures: little radiant
fish, metallic lights
barbed with hooks, who would not
want to eat you? I am so easily
convinced by things—by things, I mean—
I am fluttering, a blue skirt
ruffling like a lake. Rhythm
means fr. rhein to flow—more
at stream. Imagine
how many things there are to buy and imagine
you would never get tired of buying them—
not just the antherium in the slender Steuben vase
but also house slippers, bok choy, fleshy pink
bunion pads, linguine, Sardo, birds’
shadows on sidewalks, the whole
of the Holiness Pentecostal Church.
This is just
one of the reasons
certain poems, the old lady
right now perilously
crossing the street
against traffic, the weighted
left pocket of her
unseasonable cloth coat
against which the rich
of her handbag
My mother said her name meant “Mother of Sorrows.”
And I lay in the Health Room
hoping to be sent home.
Helping me undress, the nurse
said I saddened her.
Lying in the dark
on a cot behind a screen, I could hear
the class next door where a record played.
Then my mother came.
We waded through slush to the car
and pulled off toward home
where I would mend and repaint
my Japanese dolls’
I stand on the side of the road and watch them
pass. The woman plans lunch, and comments
how the air is close; the boy
unrolls his window to ease her.
Her gloves are on the dashboard, soft
leather veined with yellow thread.
Because I had more blind dates
than visible ones at night
I did what I had to
to survive, and so
in the Woodlawn Cemetery I understood
the backhoe waiting by itself,
a Jew who’d scraped for sweet
music in Treblinka and survived
with one arm, the left
not claiming what the right had done.
Like the man there who played cello.
Torn with love
for music, his life, and for those
who would die hearing the notes
condense like past lives,
or live to hide them, to bring them out
when no one’s looking:
poor wounded squirrels with acorns
or just hands moving
through a motion of acorns and worry,
wringing their hands, rolling them
into safe bundles of warm air.
Here was someone who made the cello
a distant heart, soothing it
on his shoulder, luring it back
into his chest, note by note.
And here was Bach whittled
in pure sound beyond feeling
guilt for that impulse to live.
That would come later with the wrens.
Now perched on the long arm of the backhoe,
they were half-notes in a landfill
of blue flowers and derivatives of pink:
mounds of color and promise.
I reassembled them into a potpourri
of those made and broken
and taken home in other forms.
Maybe that’s what the dead want:
to not be so well loved that we forget
to rearrange them in our lives.
If not my father, the cellist,
comparing the blotches on his arm
to those on the Lacebark Pine, then
Reynaldo Monje, exporter of flowers
in El Salvador.
Waiting to be snapped, they look down
like men who’ve learned their wives
have taken other men to bed
or have themselves been taken.
They look down and cover their groins
like little boys on the verge of forgetting
it is Kiev, 1941. It is a photograph,
a paddle-ball on a rubber string.
No matter how hard you strike it,
how much distance you gain
it returns: you lived
by pretending to be dead. All night
you lay face down on the open
shredded chest of a woman, and held her
as if you had too much in common
to say anything of the wind.
You kept still by remembering the wind
once moved across your favorite pond.
There was not one ripple then
nor is there now, forty years later,
as you step from black and white
into this life, this cafe
where you are no longer pretending.
The woman you are with will not ask
why you’re here. She is not the moon.
At the closing of each night she rises
politely and in the bathroom points
one finger deep into her throat
to a place that won’t let her be filled.
This is the happiness you’ve come to.
Like the fragrance of oleanders,
it is the ultimate seduction.
At seven years old, lay on the stone and put her face
against John Noble’s face, so cold.
She chose him like a book, for his good name,
and held the grave like a raft, dreaming of his looks
his fatherly ways. She did not know it then
that further down his body once would rise for him,
she just lay on the stone till it was warm.
Then she sat and devoured a big sweet roll. How could she
have known? While mourners passed and she waved
turning to view that vapory sea, her first death came—
the school boy who had lured her back against the
hanging coats. He drowned, and she dreamed pale,
his small hand and the sand-holes pouring full.
Everything began to smell. The furry coats, the undertow,
the earth like yeast, the steaming soups, the rolls.
Such a fine smell in the arboretum.
Past the rows of pine and larch I find you
looking lost among the green race.
Of course I think of a deer,
the way certain sharp grasses
evoke pineapple fields.
I guess you feel inferior
beside the gingko and the cassia tree,
but your cloven shade
keeps the violets deep as daylight
and the poppies wet, incarnadine.
Here I can breathe.
In my grandmother’s room
it is winter: snow, ice, coma.
The brash wind of the oxygen,
her white insurgent hair
her moon-live skin, and soaked
minerals in her mind going
where, days, where?
You can forget your dead center.
You’ll grow seven new perimeters at least.
And do not worry, Staghorn,
you alone unbeautiful
among the many ferns—my mother’s orchids
are plain except for blooms.
So you don’t bloom.
So you’re not the whole moose.
My grandmother on her cruise-bed
looks like a reverse negative, all
Something of mine held in there too.
If Nietzsche now seems the most prophetic of
the 19th-century philosophers, this is not because
he saw more clearly than the others, but
because all of the terrible things which have
come to pass are such as he wished to see.
Once, in a seedy Mafia bar, near where my father
used to live, I saw a woman walk,
in silver shoes and a black G-string, among
empty tables to a silent jukebox. She popped
a quarter in. I turned away, still cold
from the world, where it was snowing. My father was away.
I’d come up from the city to see him. I was 25.
All my childhood, I always knew where both
my parents were, and now I did not. “That
is the difference,” I said to myself. And, “Gin,” I said
to the bartender, “splash o’ tonic.”
Rock “n” roll.
She had begun to dance in the rosy light
across the dark room. Four or five
other men hunched on their stools by the door
and did not look at her or at each other.
I hunched among them, staring in my glass.
I want to say we were ashamed, that for shame
at our silly sex we could not look at her.
But really, I was afraid.
I have made her in memory
a terrifying beauty, golden-skinned,
Diana among low, moonstruck dogs.
But really, I do not know. I was afraid
to look at her.
Three songs and silence
again. She walked to the far end of the bar
and slipped a dark cloak on, a monk’s
robe almost. In memory I have made it
the color of dried blood, but really I do not
know, I was afraid to look.
it snowed on my childhood, of course, and on the gutted
warehouse across the street. (Fifteen years
before, I saw it burn, on a snowy night.)
Another quick gin, and I went to take a leak.
I had to walk by her. She hunched on her stool, her naked
hand propping a book up on the bar.
Also Sprach Zarathustra, I read and turned
This doesn’t sound true, even to me.
Nonetheless, it is the case. The world
is everything that is the case:
on my father’s empty house, the old geography
I knew by heart, the invisible woman,
rosy light and darkness, German meta-
physics . . . .
So. That bar’s been gone for years,
and the rundown block of flats behind it I’ve just
remembered. “Mark Twain Apartments,” it said
above the crooked door that opened on
a dirty hall of which I was afraid.
I don’t know where my father is. I am afraid
of different things these days. I hope she is happy.
I hope she is however beautiful she cares
to be, however wise, a philosopher,
a woman of the world. “Inyàñ wakàñ,”
an old Lakota woman told me once
in another sleazy bar, in Chamberlain, South
Dakota. “Oyàte hè wakàñ.” The rocks
are holy. Even this world is holy.