The nights must’ve been the worst,
trapped in that half-crumpled house
no longer a home
with the decomposing bodies
no longer their mothers
& the explosions & tracer fire lighting up
the sky no longer a place
for flights of imagination.
By the time the Red Crescent people
got to them, their child eyes
had been emptied & replaced
by the hungry unblinking heart-
shaped faces of praying mantises
& the rats had made off with
their voices, leaving little more
than the crumbs of a squeak.
Also in the news: scientists have learned
that stones in a desert, toppling
forward bit by bit as the sand
is blown out from in front of them,
move in recognizable formations into
the prevailing wind, the sand
forming protective windrows against
the close approach of other stones,
& this holds true even
on distant planets where
the air is so lacking, you’d see
the blackness of space at high noon.
Blood shows you things: the way the rabbit fell
when the owl raked its back; the manner in which
my grandmother’s stroke shut down the left side
of her body; the tug of the ocean’s tide on my wife
as she bleeds with the possibility of making
yet another life. At twelve, when I cut my hand
cleaning the barbershop—straight-razor slipping
into the pad of my thumb—I became an ornate
fountain, the kind the wealthy put in the middle
of their circle drives, my own heart’s well pumping
onto the mirror. Blood fresh from the body
is so brilliant: deep hues of crimson.
But the longer it sits on the ground, or dries
against the wall or windowpane, the darker
it becomes, more brown than ruddy, like the life
that departs: husk hollowed out, rigid frame
with nothing to fill it.
I hope your mother’s heart has settled
& ceased its flutter. I’d like to add
some wish about hearts in general
in this time of rage & sadness,
but I’m not sure poets should perpetuate
such outdated metaphysics about
a thing that turns out to be little more
than an organ, a nest of fat roots
that can be transplanted like a tree
from one body to another, even
across species lines.
I am still agog at this, recalling
my Great Aunt Thera’s pride & wonder
as a former farm girl that she owed
her last years of life to a sacrificial pig.
If there’s a soul, then, I wonder
where it might sit?
I picture a yellow canary flitting
anxiously from perch to perch as
its cage travels deeper into the mine.
I picture the trees our primate bodies
evolved to navigate, their ladders,
their heartwood neither alive
nor clearly dead. I remember
the blossoming branches of a wild
sweet cherry tree one spring,
after an ice storm had toppled it
& a chainsaw had severed the trunk
from the tangle of roots and soil.
Even decapitated, it bloomed with abandon,
it bloomed as if there were no tomorrow:
clouds of white against the brown woods.
The wasps & bees didn’t seem
to know the difference, & surely
their grubs grew just as fat
on that deathless honey.
I have no answers, & am afraid
for those who do. The Aztecs
suffered no shortage of poets, all
wringing their hands at the sweet
ephemerality of life. Their stock
metaphor for a heart was a blossom,
& the chest cavity of a human being
was the sacred ground over which
they fought their wars.
What have we learned?
The Holy Land itself has been vivisected
into slivers that can’t survive in isolation.
Broken sewers on one side of the wall
mean poisoned wells on the other,
& blood spilled in one place
travels who knows how far
through the imperilled veins
of a single subterranean heart.
Don’t miss “Men Without Weakness.” Dale’s take on imperialism is very much like my own, and I link it here to provide perspective on my ongoing series, Postcards from a Conquistador. Stonewall Jackson and William Tecumseh Sherman were cut from the same cloth as Hernán Cortés, I think.
The cold blue eyes look down history, finding us with contempt. He gave up drinking whiskey when he found that he liked the taste of it; he gave up reading the newspapers when they started to praise him. He did take pride in winning battles, but he knew it was a sin: the victories belonged to God, not to him. In winning a battle he found spiritual ecstasy: it was, maybe, the only token of God’s love he would ever believe.
Though I suppose Dale’s perspective, like my own, must’ve been shaped by leftist critiques of imperialism, this post could just as easily have been penned by a disciple of Ron Paul, and I like the fact that he tries to get inside the heads and hearts of men who are all too easily dismissed as monsters, or adulated by latter-day partisans. By the end of it — it’s not long — you’ll also understand why Dale named his blog mole, after the homebody protagonist of The Wind in the Willows. Go read.
Is it wrong to make a song
stucco walls turning crimson
through the alchemy of war,
rich & poor apartments ground together,
schools collapsed on collateral schoolchildren,
mosques hollowed into husks,
houses crushed in snuff films,
the missiles’ jizz,
a blizzard of shards small enough
for a gizzard, some red-eyed
rock dove’s crop?
Yes. Violence has
too strong a valence.