“You whose name is aggressor and devourer.” ~ Czeslaw Milosz
You whose name is Eigengrau, intrinsic grey in perfect darkness,
intrinsic light made to wear a uniform of drab in the open-air—
When I heard you fumbling among the crates and boxes I hid
in sheets of newsprint, panicked at first I cowered
in my own darkness and muted my breath. When you took
me from myself I learned to adjust sight to the optic
edges, learned to gather pinpricks from among the softer
gradients. I don’t refute you, in the way one never
can refute the looming presence of that teacher,
the one who made you kneel on dry beans
on the dusty schoolroom floor, your punishment
for refusing to take to heart his lessons.
“…you, who forever elude me” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
You will deny it, but the same bird echoes
through us mornings and evenings; and in the sultry
afternoons when pigeons and stray dogs scratch
the untranslatable into the hard baked mud
of the square. I can name so many things
that come to have the shape they have
by virtue of sheer repetition. The heart builds
one ring upon another; and the peeled-back bark’s
already healing even as the white sap
spirals down a groove into the waiting tin.
To live in the eloquent gaps of contradiction
which spurn and enchant at every turn: how
is one to survive? A voice calls,
and the body turns: its learned habits
of obligation. The body twitches each night,
before dropping into the ravine of sleep.
“Everything goes into me.” ~ Tomaž Šalamun
Curse and blessing, blessing
and curse: to want everything,
deplore the wanting, then plunge
a whole hand into the bowl anyway;
to eat like the world was ending,
which you know it will in time
but just not yet, and to feel
ashamed that you have shown
the size of the hunger in your gut—
And the birds in the nest open their mouths
and cry, and something comes through the mist
to soothe them: Who is it then
that will succor and feed
the one that is sent, the one called to serve;
the one that lies prone at the base of the tree,
dizzy with the ache of the unknown?
In response to Via Negativa: Mortality.
~ with a line from Rubén Darío
Just because I’ve had to wear the oily green
floating on the surface of the pond
does not mean there is in me
no bud of thought seeking to be
a rose, does not mean my heart has not
looked with longing upon the moon
or caved open to a rain of blows
from some god’s hands— At least
a few times in this life I’ve seen the clearly
knighted edge of a moment: one in which
the present leaped, ecstatic tinder, toward a future
reaching across the barrier with its flame.
In response to Via Negativa: A soft storm in the skull....
Visiting the poet’s shrine, I rubbed
a stick of graphite with my fingers
across a sheet of paper laid on stone—
To take away what: a letter? a vowel?
semblance of thin speech sent forward
across the void? Whatever it is
that transferred there is willful:
my doing, applied to a text that hardly
knows the compound altered by the years.
In response to Via Negativa: Thinned.
meaning the mouth
unhinged, gone slack,
open, unguarded— perhaps
the soul dumbstruck
or riven by lightning;
a tunnel in a mountainside
into which the wind, the night,
the feeble light by the roadside,
and a blind seam of winged
insects can go careening:
meaning a thing has moved,
casualty of wonder.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
They ask her where she was born,
despite the team sweatshirt she wears
as she works quietly at the cutter
on the floor. At her feet, a litter of pieces
and the sift from contact of fiber with the blades.
Twice a month the machines need oiling: a smell
like old mushrooms lingering in the air.
Her bones? They are small and well suited
for the minute labors repeating like seconds
around the hour— Or so she is told.
She knows how to duck out the door at the sound
of the bell, how to disappear in a sea of faces
divided into shifts: resembling hers,
resembling no one really, she knows.
In response to Via Negativa: Hillbilly.
If the character had told the hungry children
they must earn their keep by begging in the streets,
if she had sold them surreptitiously
to the recruiter who wanted to know if they
were virgins; if the trail of bread or pebbles
shining in the moonlight was replaced
by coils of concertina wire, and the house
of sugar dreams boiled down into a soup
of rubber sap and insect wings— There’d be
no chance to buy time with a chicken bone
held up between the slats of a cage. Only the fire
would be a constant, a raging eager to be fed.
In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.
at the spires of the old cathedral—
The world is a wheel and the trees
form a ring of spokes; when it turns,
the edge of the sky catches fire
and the soul wants a hand to hold
in such a flurry of dizzying purple
and gold. Still shy as when first
it ventured abroad, there it stands
tongue-tied in a roomful of people,
easily overlooked in the streets
with their theatre of noise.
Eat, says the matriarch. Have you eaten?
say the elders in lieu of hello. It takes years
before you understand: each grain under the tongue,
each mouthful of rice wine protects— Since your breath
has warmed the pocked bowl of the spoon, the goats
will take salt from your hands. Clotheslines sag
with the weight of damp coats and ghost hands.
You know when the sky turns milky, when the house
fills with the sound of mandibles clicking. Eat,
they tell you again. Our troubles are nothing.
In response to Via Negativa: Surfeit.