The Cryptic Placement of things
a selection of poetry from a completed
Romance perhaps was not yet conceived of, let alone myself,
when my parents in hats and serious postures, afternooned on the cliffs of Santander, Spain, held fast in an independent light I equate, for some reason, with the fifties.
My father was painting, my mother, holding her hat against a breeze,
studying the separation of sky and sea.
Years later and often I was told how the wave, already huge,
seemed to mount over the horizon as over the edge of the earth
and before they had a name for the size of it, it was on them
and they were dragged under, skin and nails on rocks,
dense water forcing over and over them
until their bodies, each, apart, seemed to lose all form and distinction but that of the breaths
held against the end.
It happens again and again and again.
I am on a beach. My dream's hand holds a shell: opalescent, cold.
I study it carefully. I note its sweet size, its tender weight,
each grain of sand lining its bumpy, lunar rim,
each gradation of wet, pearl pink.
It lets go a drop and I mention to myself how it looks, how it feels this cold tear
tracing down my wrist
as the beach below begins to rush
sucked out from under me.
I don't need to look up. I think,
It will hit me before I turn the shell,
before I can be sure there is nothing
The Cryptic Placement of Things
Look, these seven purple petals,
thin-veined, fallen to the black cobblestone.
One half of one flutters under a pebble.
Another cradles water.
I swear, I don't want to be a child again,
but I sympathize, for a rhythm
has been lost in this translation of form,
a correspondence to order - abandoned.
The petals have forgotten the laws that arranged them
and cannot know where the flower has gone.
It is Sunday and the city is empty.
It is good to be alone, to sort through what's left.
Pattern or chaos I do not know. Evidence only of wind
and gravity, still this slash, this curve, this violet M
read as hieroglyphic directions to some construction
of myself, referents to my dim tangle
But that's not how I'd have it.
I don't want to go over it again.
I need this cold sun, this indifferent afternoon.
I shift, take the sharp wind to my face.
The sun strokes my back, my hair.
It wants me
but it's late and I can't help it.
I'm tucked in,
lavender in the damp soil of dreaming.
Advice for an Imaginary Child
Hiding in a Tree in Suburbia
I admire your silhouette.
Now at twilight you black and stiffen
and look just like a branch. I miss being that well-hidden
myself. I miss believing that one really could hide,
that to perceive with green eyes from behind green leaves
was enough to grant dominion.
I am older now and must ask you to come down.
Trust me. Once I had a house with a donkey
and soft ground messed with persimmons and thorny oak leaves.
In a week the trees were plucked and the birds scattered.
The soft ground, cluttered, weedy and beloved, was flipped
and patted clean. Now, a family walks the new floor,
cemented level where the orchard once dipped
into our wet grove of vines.
The wild peacock sometimes was there.
It came out one night, near us in the dark,
dragging one hundred eyes under the moon.
I wish I could be you, simple as a silhouette.
But I cannot. Light hits at me from all angles
and I change. And so my advice to you is this:
Come down from there and stay.
Hide the tree inside you
and will a fine anger
to root where you stand.
The Sick Man
I cannot go see the sick man.
There is nothing one can do in a room full of that air
but look at his hands abandoned on the sheets,
skin: white-blue and loose, stranger to knuckles
and the instinct of touch or move.
I cannot go see the sick man.
I must go to the pharmacy and buy cigarettes.
I'll hide behind a counter of creams and pills and smoke.
And let it snow outside. And let them step over me
for lotions and solutions and dyes.
Five houses up the hill. Six stairs up. Three doors in.
The sick man has forgotten he is waiting.
His body is becoming sand to him, particulate, indefinite.
And the sheet licks around his neck like waves.
And his hands lie presented before him like shells,
Maybe he doesn't think - they're what's left after the animal goes.
Maybe he thinks they look soft as pearls.
Maybe he already sees all colors in white.
Mexico: Double Exposure
There at eight I found my niche, my quiet, too early. Playing
music for myself, half-hidden under silver leaves, adoring donkeys,
avoiding strangers, stock-piling stones. Evenings I ate my first clams
with the yet-to-be dead drunk and spit them up when he turned his head.
Some appreciations come later.
But I understood early the preference for black and white
when wanting to see the world as is later again. And so, his upside
down lens squared on the Aztec sun dial and the donkey he took for me
and the goats stilled in the market, the live next to the dead -
both blurred by the steam of the flipped tortillas.
Was there a picture of the cocoon? I saw it first. Worried
for it, there by the laundry sink the size of my hand in the thin film
of transition, fluttering inverted. I rattled it once. Thought
I killed it. But it came out regardless. It must have. It left a shell,
left without waiting for me, my eyes, my young sense of import.
almost dreaming, I felt the chrysalis detach and go, colored, light,
but I turned back wanting to remember what I was, had been
wrapped up, protected, developing in the dark.
In my own skin I died and changed too - not then,
but that was the lesson - sleep and dream he called it. Sweet dreams.
But now I dream he is paper. Not the image. Just the paper. And I wonder
at how I fight for the color, for the scent and the hair, for the sensation
of rise, vanish, going, going.
From frame to frame I lift my new eyes and still depart
from that cool tiled room, from my unchanged self.
We said goodnight.
The fire's glow was yellow. Our skin was orange, familiar but flickering.
When there wasn't trouble we all slept together -sweet dreams -
forgetting almost everything, dumb even then to the facts and footage.
In his camera on the table, by the grapes, in the dark, there waited rolled up
undeveloped shots of overexposed church gold. The photographer's shadow
staggered on the stone steps.
Others, too dark, of the procession through the flood tunnel,
mourners ankle deep. And the one I took: the young girl, my age,
preserved in the armory.
Still hair and teeth in tact.
By now my father lies stripped of all
but the basic structure, in the cast of a cross,
shoulder blades pointing north-south like the star
five measures from the side of the dipper.
But it's difficult in daylight to imagine no eyes -
those that (struck by certain slants of light)
filled up and overflowed
as if spring was liquid,
as if light on weeds was made of tears.
Gone, the vagabond sight,
that in sleep revolved and searched, gathered
and spilled. Going, at burial,
the pupils, stones sinking in a bottomless lake.
I feel awkward now, with sockets.
I consider them, take one for an open door, travel
through the body's architecture as if walking a nave.
Outside there could be hot gravel and bees and brightness
but inside the vertebrae arch above me, simple, cold.
At once I am abandoned and absorbed.
I float to the feet.
Once soft, once standing, they curl in now,
martyred, exhausted, touching each other
as carefully as hands.
The bones always did love death more than daughters.
Difficult white. Inviolate bones. I beg them to want me.
I beg the bones to hurt me, to settle in a gesture I remember.
From joint to knuckle I string tears like cranberries,
like quarter notes.
My prayers are tied and flap to dry
on these bones I could strangle for information.
I could kick them, spin in them, cast the parts in all directions like seeds
like leaves, like I'd lost something underneath. Or -
I could be reasonable
get my knees wet on the body grass grown here,
press my mouth to the earth and kiss.
Or - should I curl my live bones into a knot and knock
bone to dirt, bone to bone?
What if my tongue were made of pink chalk
and to describe for you how,
just now behind your head
the blackbirds exploded off the wire
and stuck for a moment in the sky like shrapnel,
I'd have to kneel on the asphalt
and with one sweep of the neck,
in one long, raspy lick
mark out the air thrown away
on the downbeat of wings?
There are times when want goes down smooth,
times when the French horn makes me rotate my shoulders
and fire a look through this strange, buzzing air,
choking back tears that climb on impatience,
needing to know, to name
Beauty: so fine. And me: of fortune: of molecules: mute.
I am not large.
I am a moth, small, gray, dusty with the company of space.
I was born with this no-mouth, lifting my little seriousness
from dark to dark, alighting on silence after peaceful silence
in the company of my precious dead.
They say nothing, but speak to me in flickers
in the candlelit language of memory,
searching for its own clarity, its own illumination.
They say, "Come and be warmed. Life is precious."
They are repetitive, my precious dead,
as if I couldn't get it.
They want me to know that life is precious
and here in my sweet quiet it is, always is.
I am not large.
I am a moth, small, gray dusty with the company of space.
Sometimes it feels good
space receding and receding and black.
Sometimes I turn frightened and wonder:
how can I understand the true size of things
when I measure distance in heartbeats
and the blood is tiny and the heart beats fast?.
How can I love when I am this afraid of fire, or -
how accept solitude when instinct
drives me straight into flame
and the flame is more flight than I am?
I am all of this:
this blind sensation of air, a fluttering of wants.
In cool corners, my wings close, my false eyes touch
and I reflect on this:
my composition of ash.
I know if someone found me, if someone touched me now,
the fine powder of my vulnerability, my own most dangerous dust,
would cling to moist fingers and be lifted
perhaps to the lips in the sign of "shh",
perhaps in a kiss,
and I would be loved maybe.
Or maybe lost.
It is like polishing a shoe in the dark.
It is like polishing a shoe in the dark
to wear in a house that is dark.
It is like polishing a shoe in the dark
to wear in a house that is dark
and has just one other room and in it a space of open dirt.
It is like walking finally into the all black room
on dark and shiny shoes
and digging in a heel to loosen up the dirt.
It is like digging in a heel to loosen up the dirt
with dark and less than shiny shoes
and dropping in perhaps a seed
into just tilled dirt
in a just dark house.
It is like cupping black water then letting go
as it should fall like rain.
It is like listening in a dark house
and suspecting the water suspended
not like a cloud, not like a frozen lake, but still somehow
not falling or not at all heard falling.
It is like kneeling in a dark house
like digging around and under a just-dropped seed
to test if it has broken open, to see if it could grow.
It is like waiting like a child.
It is like digging too soon.
It is like opening your eyes underground
or into a room that is black.
It is like listening to ones listening and hearing
only the self, the dark self, listening.
It wants a way to listen no more.
It is like this in a house that is dark.
The Church of the Reincarnation
The angels are trying to escape.
I see them out of the corner of my eye
inching up out of their wrought iron skirts,
slowly, in secret, trying not to awaken the Father.
I am not praying seriously. I am listening to the sound
of their light-soaked wings being pulled feather by painted
feather over the hard, black lines that hold them down to stone,
their bodies broken into parts of glass.
I know they want out. I know they are tired of holding still,
tired of answering tears and fists with pure colors in straight beams.
I know they are moving, but when I look full on them their look goes flat
and reverent. They are masters of deception, imitating the inanimate, faking
ecstasy, holding light in their folds as if pregnant with it.
If I could I would take them down.
They would be light in my arms, light as hope, light as the fingers of the near-dead
whose hands we hold, or inevitably will hold, living already in the future without them.
Our beloved will die and are not coming back.
We will die and are not coming back. No.
Nor going elsewhere neither.
I will tell these angels how the feel of flesh
on flesh is as certain and unbelievable as infinite space.
I will hang a clock on their weak necks each. Let them double
with the weight. Let their sweet round eyes burn with tears as they learn
through a body's pain, that fragility will not bear this pressure, nor purity of intent
still the tick and tick of the incessant precision of their passage.
I will tell these angels that yet the finitude of a minute, then an hour,
then a day, is the singular cause for joy. Look, there what you will never see again.
You are not coming back, nor going elsewhere neither. But look.
You are looking.
Okay. I am taking them.
I will wrap these angels in overcoats and sighs,
let them leave through the door, let them loose on the world.
Please. Give them time to see everything once,
to wander the hot streets, doubting themselves,
learning the pressure of shoes. Please.
Give them time to feel love, to discover it is translucent. That it is like light and is cut like glass and is just art, just praise.
Give them time.
And nothing else.