In my placemat I am the dragon who fishlike
provides his own light,
whose tracks are these letters tracing back
to a hill above Trastevere.
All the lights of sky and Italy as perfect strangers
met in a vast splatter,
another ceiling for which they became justly famous.
And past that to the Ox,
my father as it says, and to Mother, Snake, she will
take as a slap against her.
And to childhood in their war, on top of Europe and Japan.
That was years back.
That was the desperately peaceable distance made of stars,
where photons arrived
with the rooster to make room for the monkey and the dog.
So the rat could marry the catwalk,
so the lion might lie down with the iamb.
The shape of thunder you hear
is where you stand and what is in the way
I had been thinking the meander of an ear
because I am my first listener
and showed it flared open like a cornet
like the goblet Rob Levín blew out of soda/lime
I was hearing the deck of cards
field sparrows carry in their wings
and shuffle as they fly from spartina to the fence
I wrote down daphina daphina
that appear in water a disturbance of pearls
In the natural progression
the longer you write to be lucid to yourself
the more obscure you may be to others
I am hearing a bird rumble
through my deep delicate calcium devices
while the sparrow apparently
hears the need to avoid the polka dot wasp moth
whose larvae gorge on oleander
for Bob and Janice Kanyusik
Dandelion rings were the first jewelry
that glittered in the yard like bug lights.
On a given finger a yellow dwarf rested
-Star of Wisconsin- the stalk that slips into itself
like a wish, and the sap that sticks first to memory
then to everything like the earliest question:
who was graphite, who pearls.
I would say Bob gives Janice a float for her ankles.
I would say the lake is married to the shore
and a wetsuit blooms in the screen house because of October,
taking a last look before it freezes.
Someone drifting by might say look how the lake
of plique à jour fits the rocks perfectly. Say I do. I do.
How a figure backlit even in full sun faces forward
and backward at the same time like the spirits of doorways.
How the space of Euclid is the platter of the sun
and leaving the water each late droplet has its own.
Wisconsin opens its jeweled connection to the galaxy.
Bob says something circular to her. The planets dance.
FOUR GONE CONCLUSIONS
One that the newsreels might be different the second time.
That after the moon evaporates, the ocean
will finally make up its mind and come in for good, but kindly.
The river at Quincy will be passive as hypoglycemia
as it eats the shore every summer
and will not start turning the farmhouses back into boards.
That the lynchings at Marion Indiana might never have happened.
The crowd at the court house only an extraordinary number
of people seeking a breeze on a hot night.
James Cameron would speak and everyone would listen
till it hurt to the soothing gusts of his words,
and Singapore might be a musical city like its name.
A small someone, maybe Karen Dickenson,
who lived out beyond the city limits, might have held up her hands,
a slipper shell on each finger tip, as if a girl became a gecko
in front of everyone. And after these miracles
everyone would have gone home peaceful and marveling.
But in some situations no forgiveness is possible,
as in this version, the one that really happened.
The Emperor thought of his heart as a water wheel
flooding the rice fields of all creation
and bloodied the water for a better harvest.
His warriors hoped for a life with wings.
His swallowtails wrote him the same lines
--the secret of life is a resurrected worm--
He told them eventually time would run backwards
in their hands, now empty where a crossbow went.
A theory works if it answers the exceptions.
The writing in the air of swallowtails,
from here to where the time changes at Mexico Beach,
is like writing all the armies of the afterlife
waiting underground in China.
We are attuned to shadows. They strafe the shore.
An osprey spins above the trees.
But when a large one stops suddenly above the house,
all the laws have been broken.
A theory that a moment is a warehouse where armies are stacked
to the ceiling, then one falls, is the last exception.
The osprey's underside is streaked like a zebra swallowtail.
It misses the fish that dove out of the reach of shadows
as the lovers jumped into theirs from the Bay Bridge in Fort Walton.
If any should meet hovering over a milkweed or reflection,
they might say didn't I know you in another life,
the kind of thing said often in Fort Walton or the Orient.
Didn't plum blossoms freeze in the Emporer's courtyard.
LIVING WITHIN THE SOUND OF MY VOICE
A man on our road photographs a lampshade as a flying saucer
while listening to the same Chuck Berry we sent off in Voyager.
And people are talking to themselves about confusions.
A flutter of sulfurs became a mile of aspens while they watched.
All this is intolerable to us.
Uncertainties magnified, consequences lacking definable origins.
We give up in frustration because we cannot order by counting.
We lose track on the first thing, the florets of goldenrod.
We take whatever comes along: merchandise, stock,
ransom from torment by some flimsy angel cold-calling from Miami.
Because we have divided attention and forgone conclusions,
twigs are easily femurs and we think a white something
lightens our bodies at the last minute.
With such deficiencies, all we can do is listen through dishes,
through the twelve bones of thoracic spine, attend to speeches
from the long papery miles of Illinois corn, the blacksnake
Arkansas, caverns in the interstices of sand, enormous Arizonas
where voices rebound like rubber in the rocks.
As radios used to say: A gift is waiting and this offer
is open to anyone living within the sound of my voice,
open to me as I see from my window a Nike of Samothrace,
key-chain size, though it is a man standing in an overmotored boat.
Instead of wings, two water plumes rise behind him.
This is the prize, isn't it, multiple originals, time brushed up in a dustpan,
answers arriving suddenly as if from Mars, one thing leading to another,
wind unruffling in its victory over preciseness, rods of my eyes at work
in poor light, my closet full of ghosts, arms down, silently resigned,
the blue river in my forearm an assurance they are one, blood and cosmos,
a heart among the trees, heading for Venus or oxygen, that time settles
like dust over a supposition, blurring outlines, that we have the right
to remain silent, to warble at the top of our lungs nonsense, Missa Solemnis,
Boulder to Birmingham, to testify, confirm, rebut, say the end of synchrony
is coming starting now, listen to the test promises of space ships,
heart speeds, bodies and voices coming from the sky with time shares,
make no everlasting bones about it, not needing to be present to win.
I am thinking about the last day of the century
in front of a zinc bay,
people behind me saving water, hoarding food.
like an elephant's heart to the number of dreams
in the Old Testament.
Suddenly a Willet cries alarm,
and seven Christs lift from their treated pilings,
bark on the tree turns lizards.
Leaves that were Live Oak, Lantana,
startle into doves.
This is the effect some are expecting in Jerusalem
awaiting an avatar,
sky turning metal, nature trembling, transforming.
But here it's a seaside in Florida,
a Turner turning Bosch as neighbors drop fireworks
from their dock to watch explosions
underwater, shouting, a disguise for gleeful and afraid.
WHERE SHOULD I BEGIN
I am statistical and not
as they used to say about Amelia
a long drink of water
In the history of large behaviors I am not mentioned
In the small I am equally left out
On the last train to maximize disorder
my car sits on a siding my bags go on without me
labeled density and pressure
It's nothing personal I am not diminished
It cannot be worse than this neutral
the point beyond which disarrangement cannot go
I cannot begin to tell you
how this morning touching the oak
cracked in half by the hurricane that did not even hit here
directly but flattened Mississippi
I found it soft I made it waver with a touch
Years of fungus beetles and woodpeckers
had turned it to sponge
So I grew it back in my mind like one of the pleasures
of early schoolhood
getting the AV boys to run the films backward in Hygiene
or Sociology and the water disappeared
the children at school backed once more into their houses
and were wrapped again in their bedcovers
bedouins returned to their tents
to refill their glasses with tea from their own mouths
And it was not true that I cannot begin to tell you
I can I cannot finish I mean
First appeared in Montserrat Review
HITTING THE HOT SPOTS
Carol who would not hurt the fruit flies heat-stunned
on the red bedspread under her goose-neck reading lamp
slipped paper we still call typewriter under two and moved
them closer to the phone hoping they'd recover.
She imagined how things small as punkies or dixie midges are
picked up in storms or tornadoes and live a whole life moving
from the first fingering updraft in Texarkana through the dust
-fisted dynamo sidewinder ending the other side of the trailer
park in Mission Kansas--that standing in the stereo half-acre
of Vivaldi cranked to nine is a kind of pressured equivalent
to an afternoon alone in Denali's live silence or Biscayne afloat
above coral with a snorkle a larva turning slowly as one
of the Gulf Stream's glassy animals Jeffersonian and Emersonian
at once and closer to the sun. When she whirled and slapped
a mosquito and missed a red hand stayed on her leg throughout
most of the chapter on Self Reliance.
First appeared in The Gettysburg Review
The body is never out of style,
unlike some frescoes in Bologna.
The earth never stops roasting and freezing by turns.
There are always the poles of diaphysis
and epiphysis of the long bones, for those who have them.
Reluctant to let go, we might try on a funeral
or two as a last chance.
If we can't keep the body, maybe just the heart
like Egyptians in small jars.
And maybe by staring one might see a wisp
lighten the body, as dreams may evaporate
from the muscleless condition of paradoxical sleep,
that the portion of the horse we are born with,
cauda equina, might be set free in the pasture,
while the rest of the body is removed by the back door,
serenely and with flowers,
perhaps painted and dressed atmospherically,
as might Masaccio.
First appeared in Into The Teeth Of The Wind
RIGHT BEFORE YOUR EYES
It doesn't take disaster.
Your life is always passing before your eyes, and through
as radar through clouds, reshaping into beasts and boulders,
amazing forests, under them sorrowing lawns
in the Western penchant for grass.
Elephants, once clouds in India,
were condensed out of mythology by curses of a holy man.
Now they are among us as we wait to exit the sedimentary epoch
of wars, if someone will curse us sufficiently.
It seems possible.
Today, for the first time, I saw a Carolina mantis,
though they are the most common, against the flat desert
color of the house. I would have missed it on oak bark,
itself a mystery, on which all the plurals are confused,
the opposite of martyred.
And in that blessing I share a great secret.
I know she laid eggs on the phone wire, more between the steps.
Little grey clouds in the battle to be both hidden and alive.
First appeared in Notre Dame Review
Ok there was the sky woman and the earth
man, there was the original snake and the three fire stones,
stars as a river and strewn coals;
there was everything from nothing, from three or four
elements to more than a hundred with the theoretical
metaphors of shepherds from herding peoples,
fish from fishers, kings from cats,
world as a flat circle with a bowl over it marked with stars,
figures of the dead watching for failures;
there was the monkey in a tree that came down
to be us on the grand savannas
that gave us sore backs, the couple in a garden asked to leave
from some of the same presumptions of innocence
all the stories of something using a language with no words
for what it really is, or even that you could know it,
determine the true past from here,
that whatever we suggest, there is always something
behind it, or beside it, or many at the same time. Mythology
is a caster for the mind, a cushion like a rubber cup
under the sofa to protect the floor.
That is why we can't get there, why sacred and scared
are anagrams of each other.
When my grandfather, who had only the day before
axed the head off a chicken
and let it run ragged till dead dry in the driveway,
came at me with a switch
on a dead run, shouting blood as I was playing pioneer
and axing with an oar the young maple he planted,
I saw between strokes the end of imagination,
and would have said it then, but was struck dumb:
I'm sorry. I promise
to abandon the ground level fixity of purpose,
making things worse. I promise
to undo the mildewed grout of the worse for wear,
to improve from erosion, corruption, gangrene and mischief.
I promise to reform North America,
profess the inheritibilty of guilt and sorrow for Hiroshima
that will come later in 44,
regardless of who prevails militarily. I promise
on the stellar interiors, mitochrondria, ionized trails
in the atmosphere, the galvanized tub as my wading pool.
I promise not to misuse the past or the future
if I should have one.
ANSWERS TO ANCESTRY
History's in a fix.
In my notebook the long lines disappear in the gutter,
I can't write slow enough to save them. The little stresses in the skin
that become wrinkles, maps in the hands acted on,
like Sister Rose likes to say from her trailer, by the future.
But it's the past that spread to my fingers. My papers unstable,
soon to be ash.
I am one of the reberberates whose backbones echo like bells
and whose hearts are repeatedly struck.
They clang back, till it is decided This will be Michigan,
that can be Rome. Soon you are unrecognizable
as a boy with origins in Iowa.
Each utopia comes with denials, sex, decoration, something
essential to this life. Something once accomplished is easier next time,
having a history in the abuse of advantages, in the tyranny
of nothing stays put, over the edge, beyond the pale.
Write them off. The impact of St. Augustine is grass.
This is one of the bequests from bacteria. To get here,
we had to incorporate the better and the worst. They changed places.
When nostalgic, we say play
us something from the fossil record, Greatest Hits,
the long-playing choir of the increasingly human from the small.
Wing beats attracting males
make even the bare walls hungry
There was to be a wedding so they fixed the fountain
and the courtyard
took on the focus of a flower but enlarged
Fountain the pistil white chairs
flocked like pollen
windows and roofline crinkled into Spanish formality
at the Best Western Granada
as snowflakes form around particles
dust a new star
For us symmetry is dignity
and so the words spoken at the apex
of one-point perspective are a spell of assurance
The air organized to song by the hired DJ
sets up celebrity
in the atrium like a heart for a period of hours
Satins start appearing
lace and nine white teaspoons -bridesmaids-
their pathway crystallized with name cards
I think love arises from complexity
well above the wasps
so we love its forms the very idea
that organization is iconic and effective
at the vanishing point where light scares shadows
off the floor
BACK TO US LAST NIGHT
All this is biography,
some of it auto, some manual, much of it
laughing within a shirt.
The dust reads back to us last night
as soon as it settles down.
The edges of footprints weather with time
As they do, the rest pass by without ever
This is concentration, untangling the brainstem
thread by thread.
The bone moon, the single thumb print,
sometimes partial, sometimes full,
maybe enough to be traceable, the sky
handled like worry beads.
Everything we touch leaves prints.
Some of us comes off on the furniture,
some on time.
We can be tracked back where we came from.
It takes all night to recover.
Only the little compact of light
that came through two rooms to rest on the dresser
was for sure. Things have their reasons.
Black-paged albums stare back at us
like our room at night.