I know it isn’t just time
that gives every relic
the look of diminishment—
From the depths of the closet,
I shake out the brown folds
of your coat, try to smooth
the creased lapels. They are
broad, of a cut and style
favored either in the decade
you came of age, or the year
you started your first job.
How do the sleeves look almost
like they were measured
for a child? Houndstooth
and stripe, musk of mothballed
skins. What will be said
of the wardrobe I’ll also leave
behind? Big bones, an appetite
for more that jostled with
the appetite for less? But this
I know: to don the garment, one side
is slipped on first, and then the other.
In response to Via Negativa: Father to the man.
A synalepha or synaloepha /ˌsɪnəˈliːfə/ is the merging of two syllables into one, especially when it causes two words to be pronounced as one.
the body folds
and the body opens
like a ledger ready
for each accounting
and as the body opens
so does the soul
here my one face turns
toward rain or sun
and in another world
my other face softens
like a roll of wax
or hardens like stone
Two weeks and the doctor’s
prescription does not seem
to have worked…
You walk all day in the sun
and try to do the things
you are used to doing,
and which you call work or routine,
except for the constant, low-level
buzzing under your skin.
You wake in the middle of the night
from a burning sensation— an itch
in the groin, dull throbbing
temples: what is it? What’s set
the little cells ablaze? Why
are they no longer happy
to be fed bread, coffee, soup,
strawberries dipped in cream?
Your joints creak like a boat
left too long in water; knees
swell like cantaloupes, dull
with too much sugar
or salt or ill humor. Is this
what it means to crest the middle?
If so then perhaps you’re
better off taking that long-
deferred vacation, pouring cereal
into your heaviest piece of china.
Use the gifts of wine and scent,
the embroidered scarves someone
sent you from overseas. How
is it better to choose austerity
over the extravagance of using
it all up now, while you can?
In response to Via Negativa: Revision.
In the aviary, brilliance of a blue
peacock pheasant next to the small
lorikeet. The heat’s constant hum
and white flash above low buildings.
Throughout the grounds, in their
solitary spaces, the meerkats
and sloth bears loll on their sides.
Who placed the empty Pampers boxes
next to the hollowed-out log?
In the shallow pool, Caribbean
flamingoes tip their heads into water,
turning their bills into cups.
There are tigers somewhere behind
the glassed-in enclosure. There is
a lion lying in the yellow dust
beside a stone pillar, sadder
than the white flowers on the vine,
that open their throats only once a year.
Grandfather burns away
feathers from flesh.
In the kitchen, the women
cut then soak pieces
of raw meat in water until
the murk runs clear.
There is ginger-root,
salt. Leaves from the alugbati
or the pepper plant, chunks
of green papaya. They tell me:
If you learn how to read, you
could live. You could learn
from the things of this world
how to make what is necessary.
Whether or not you cry, certain
things will or will not get done.
This is not called misfortune.
This is only your life.
In response to Via Negativa: Forestry.
When the hero as suitor stops
to bathe himself in the river,
we don’t know for sure
if it is to meet a ritual
requirement, or simply from
the desire to present
himself in the best possible way
to the girl and her parents.
However it is, the epic narrates
that as he rises from the waters,
all the fish float belly-up to the surface,
not one having survived the stink.
Which is to say, beware when love
goes disguised as valor and vice-
versa; beware the performance
preceding some virtue. It always takes
time for the consequences to clear,
for the water to return to normal.
The Reclining Buddha welcomes you
to his abode as you enter through
the back door. Yes, thirst
is a significant symptom and salt
a dream more potent than water.
It makes bitter fruit sweeter,
can sometimes take away the sting
of thorns. The Medicine Buddha
wants to know if you still dream
in more than one language, if you
remember the first taste placed
on your tongue after you emerged,
frail and wracked, out of a month-
long fever. You’ve heard of cures
for lassitude and sadness,
for anger, lovesickness,
boredom. You can have them all
as long as you drink only one
spoonful out of the right
pewter cup. Lie as still
as you can, look straight
up at the ceiling. Now do you
remember pressed fleur-de-lis
patterns on rose gold tile,
blue tilting shadows under the deck
umbrella? You may remember the voices
that came and hovered over you, brought
morsels of rice to your lips,
precious crust that caramelized
at the bottom of the rice pot.
dangling by their laces
high on an electric wire
the wedding band, the glass eye
that rolled under the bleachers
at a crowded concert
once, the pink semicircle
of dental lowers caught in the maw
of the grocery store’s automatic doors
somewhere underground, plots
of joint- and finger bones, gold
teeth, winking in the dark
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
In the country,
we save all the bits
of leftover string, the fat
that drips from the sides
of rusted nails. Waste not,
sings the crooked bird
in the clock that tells
the time a hundred ways—
or waste away.
In the afternoons,
when the sun begins to drop
through the thin atmosphere,
we sit on the porch
and begin our real work:
someone has to do it,
someone has to find the hollow
reeds through which the wind,
strafing through, might make
a different kind of sound
from the ones we know.
In response to Via Negativa: Open air cure.
Dear solitude, rarest of all
modern conditions, in your true
state you do not ask what it is
that’s brought the seeker
to your door. There is no
requirement to bring so heavy
a raft of troubles, to list
all the tears one has shed week
after week for the innocent
and the dead. And yet, that
being what it is, I wonder
where in your depths is that cell
where the pulsing blue lights
of squad cars cannot follow,
where the dark flares bursting
from the mouths of rifles turn sterile,
then dissipate in the open air…
I want to hide in that silence where
the heart’s furious hammering
returns to the breath only
as a reassurance of stars, rest
from the onslaughts of those armies
whose footfalls I hear marching
through the streets day after day.