Because I dream, I’m told my punishment is that I should always be the first to see dawn arrive at the edge of the world. But ever one to question the edict handed down, I demand proof: why punishment? Today it arrives in darkness, like a soft grey scarf of pulled fiber. So fleecy it seems the animal still breathes softly in its tent of skin. Rain ripples along its sequined flanks. There’s enough light soon to see how it noses into the day— and even when light floods the porch, fills the hollows like tea poured into cups, quilts the wooden planks beneath the window— I’ll always have the echo of its first muted sound in my ear. Tendril wound through my hair; small whisk of breath: I love your ambiguous arrivals. Reminder of what might leap into flame, thicken into honey, should I rub my two hands, stone and flint, together.
May the screech owl’s wail fetch you
out of your hiding place, and the crows’
black ink find you and mark you.
May your left hand pluck and pluck
at the thorn in your breast and may
the right hand stay it. May your bones
drift far out to sea like a ship without
bearings. May you stride over the hills
just like you used to do, vowing never
to return; may the road make it true.
May the child’s call in the house
gone quiet, be nevermore for you.
This is the dark tip of the spindle creasing the clouds,
pulling the curtains down; this is the cue stick that flicks
the wobbly moon across a velvet-flocked table, hoping
yet to fill a pocket with casino silver. These are the few
remaining blades of scent from the last of summer’s
herb garden, where hair-thin slivers of frost have begun
to nest. Here are the low-creeping vines that argue in
their own impertinent flowering, for that green hope
which pushes between rocks and over graves. This
is the smolder of sticks, of touchwood and spunk
pushed into the grate as tinder; and this is
the resin that shades the veins copal or brittle
amber, amorphous soul I feed to the fire each day.
The inhabitants of my planet whistle in unison — I hear them through the airlock. It is their first & only dawn, & they emerge with joyful shovels & shadows. When they dance it looks like walking & when they walk it looks like the swaying of a drowned woman’s hair. Pennies from heaven fall into their pockets until, weighed down, they drop to their knees. Or so I imagine. They are too small to see, these natives, most of whom didn’t even exist at the beginning of this sentence. They subsist on a diet of pure sugar spun from sunlight & a few other ingredients (which are proprietary information & therefore may not not be listed). Despite their complete immersion in what passes for primordial soup, they have no time to bathe. It’s already noon. The metronome by which they breathe has slowed enough to permit the formation of a thought: I AM, or some such absurdity. Soon there will be letters of fire where before only lightning had graffitoed the clouds. They will look for ways to reproduce that don’t involve budding, which is frankly beginning to seem backward & provincial. They will discover the others who have been there all along, & what big teeth they have. They will head for the exits.
See Rachel’s photographic response: “Bottle of dreams.”
On the edge of winter, every branch and twig
will soon grow white with rime; and every feeble
plant go under. Not one voice of protest
will we hear when sheets of snow and ice descend,
imperial in their judgment. Which makes me wonder,
in 258 when Emperor Valerian ordered the execution
of the deacon we know as St. Lawrence, what sounds
did the martyr make, roasted alive on a gridiron?
And how far beyond the olive orchards did the smell
of his charred flesh travel? What end?- asks a famous
poem: choose ice, or fire. In most cases it really
isn’t a matter of choice, even when sufficient
will’s involved. Take the graceful Isadora, who danced
barefoot, loved improvisation, and led a troupe of
young pupils called Isadorables— she died
of a broken neck when her long silk scarf
caught in the wheel of a car. What I didn’t know
was that her two young children drowned in the river
with their nanny, when their French driver forgot
to set the parking brake and the car rolled down
the Boulevard Bordon. I doubt any of them
thought this was curtains, fini, the end—
Not even the Kabuki actor who claimed immunity
to puffer-fish poison and asked the fugu chef
for four; or the American statesman who expired
from sticking a piece of whale bone through
his urinary tract to remove a blockage.
Not poor Franz Reichelt, the tailor excited to test
his brilliant invention of an overcoat parachute
(like a cloak with voluminous folds and a hood)
from the first deck of the Tour Eiffel in 1912—
captured on grainy film falling to his death below.
And certainly not the nine people killed in the London
Beer Flood of 1814, when 323,000 imperial gallons
of beer burst out of their vats at the Meux
& Company Brewery. That sudden amber sea,
flecked with foam, gushed into the streets of St.
Giles Parish: destroying homes, knocking down walls,
filling the basements where poor families lived. And they
took the brewery to court, but as in the case of hurricanes
that whirl overhead and ice that hails from the sky,
the jury simply ruled that this was an act of God.
Facing backwards on the train
like a waxing moon, hidden wheel
of my belly a little wobbly,
I watch the hills pile up, blueing
as the gulf between us grows.
Who knows when or if I’ll pass
this way again? And then
I focus on the close-at-hand,
& realize all this time
I’ve been staring straight through
the reflection of a girl
who faces forward, pale
& attentive, hair the color
of autumn fields. We slow
down. The intercom crackles.
A station platform assembles itself
around us & stops, & the doors
slide open. What place is this
whose name requires two
clearings of the throat?
See the photographic response by Rachel Rawlins, “eye.”
Why can’t the Buddha vacuum underneath the sofa?
Because he has no attachments. ~ Kaspalita Thompson
One of the neighbors has a new statue of the Buddha, plunked down in her garden.
Perhaps she got it at a Black Friday sale, camped out all night, came home singing.
The Buddha teaches that we want to work free of delusion and suffering
in order to ascend, like the wren in the lilac, full-throated, singing.
I don’t know too many intimate details about his life but I do know
the Buddha was not a woman doing chores all day, much less singing.
Suffering is a pain in the ass, in the neck, in the heart mostly; since I
suffer knowing my children’s hurts, will I never know that lithe, joyous singing?
So the sacred verses speak of attachment and illusion. I know, but with all due
respect, it’s hard to feel detached when you nick yourself shaving (not singing).
Perhaps in the wilderness, in solitude, there might not be the struggle that comes of engagement: but even then, there is the noise the mind makes in its own singing.
The Buddha can’t vacuum underneath my sofa. Or under the beds. Or do the dishes.
I know, I know. If I were to detach from these tasks, they’d be easy as singing.
And one must sing rather than drone, don’t you think? Even in the bramble, that’s
what the birds are saying: the richer the song, the more complex the singing.
First poem, last poem, I told my class tonight. Confession:
I’m always writing that dream book, wandering with its chimeras.
Wind and fog, and then just wind. Silhouettes of goldfinches
indistinguishable from leaves. Then silence like a caesura.
In the Iliad: a thing of immortal make, not human, lion-fronted,
snake behind; goat in the middle, breath from a hot caldera.
Always I’m of more than two minds: heart ravenous as a craw,
mud-burdened as an ox. My real self, vertiginous in the sierras.
It’s late November and the birds come back in droves to Mt. Ampacao.
In darkness, hunters wait: 20 meters of nylon nets strung along the frontera.
From high up, the flush of bonfires must look like dawn; the terraces,
low stone walls against the mountainside, like streaks of dark mascara.
High-pitched cries, vague feathered bodies in the mesh. I’m not there but I
too pan the air: I want what flies, what lifts my pulleys, bones, my aura.
“If I cried out/ who would hear me up there/ among the angelic orders?” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
We heard the news, we saw on video how
they sat in rows, arms linked, no chorus
sounding anguish from among their ranks.
Or pain, or anger— not that the formality
of silence cannot mean something seethes
beneath the bludgeoned front. Attack the head,
the ribs; pour acids down the throat and
scald the eyes. What civil liberties we take.
A student writes, They’re human too, they hurt
from all this fear. Long days ahead, of vigil;
flushed nights spiked with sudden chill. All’s over-
cast. Phalanx of blue: faces that look, as they
close in, like neighbors’, brothers’, uncles’—
What you see, before the bodies fall to blows.
A sudden south wind buffets the house, roars in the ridgetop trees for a few minutes & dies. I go out to take a leak. The moon hasn’t risen yet & it’s dark. Nightcrawlers rustle under the lilac, dragging fragments of leaves into the ground.
Wood smoke: must be from the Amish in Sinking Valley. I inhale greedily. On the other side of the mountain, the deep labored thrum of a locomotive is followed a long minute later by the whistle—an almost orgasmic release.
At this time of night, it would be perfectly reasonable to confuse a hawk with a handsaw. In the crawlspace under my floor, some small mammal scratches the cold-air return duct with restless, dreaming claws.