but constantly remembering: as if this body were
yoked to another, so it becomes impossible to tell
which wing is substance, and which its shadow—
Not how the mouth might sing, but that despite time’s
repertoire, it returns to the same tune. Not the cup
left in the yard overgrown with grass, but that it
has become a little boat run aground in the shoals.
Not the earth punctured with stones, not the bones
interred in its depths: merely the sorrow of water—
how no one will drink from the rain barrels, how no one
runs into the fields anymore to bathe in the rain.
that darkens with moisture, then dries
as the sun comes up; and steam that rims
the spout of the metal kettle condenses on
the surface of a spoon, as the woman bends
to stir sweetener into her coffee. And yesterday,
as she pulled away from traffic and into the church
parking lot, the sun glanced off the steeple to fracture
into green the day’s mosaic of near misses: you would never
even know, except from running a finger along the lower edge
of the bumper: how the truck, coming down the bridge, careened
into her as she waited at the intersection for the light to change
from red. Just enough, thank God, of an impact— hardly noticeable
except for thin jagged strips in the paint; then the muscle aches
when she woke hours afterward, walking back from the bathroom.
So she sat awhile in the pre-dawn hours at her desk, faint
slivers of light from the occasional passing car crossing
the gaps in the blinds. Downstairs, the desultory hum from
the fan in the broken refrigerator; beside it, the white
microwave oven with the loosened plastic handle. Through
the house, tiny parts of old machines gearing up for
another turn, tension springs coiling for the alarm.
In my last dream before waking
I meet a version of myself
from an alternate universe.
We greet each other cautiously.
There’s a slight class difference:
while I flipped burgers at the diner
my alter-ego went to graduate school
& now teaches cultural studies
at the university. He takes me back
to his apartment, which he shares
with two housemates & a dozen cats.
I watch in wonder as
he gives a good-night kiss
to a woman black as coffee.
I gave up poetry years ago, he says.
He asks what I’ve done
to make my beard turn white.
What sounds detach from the rim of a cloud? Tikkittik of a fork against enamel, rippippip as chaff might fly into the sun from grain. Slim ankles of lawn chairs stand in puddles of last night’s rain. Every surface is mottled, like rubbery silk on the backs of frogs. The bees, still drowsy, rise out of their gold-stitched cells. Skins of fruit, just ripening, provide the frontispiece. For the pages of her journal, the youngest daughter gathers leaves. With cellophane tape she conjugates them: verbena, hydrangea, lemon basil, sage. Kumusta ka? we prompt. Mabuti, mabuti. The hummingbird feeder rattles slightly in the wind.
A corrugated pipe
that stopped carrying water 20 years ago
after the hillside was clear-cut,
north side green with algae,
south side red as the center of Australia
& the only rust holes on top
where the rain has sought admittance:
I have been of little use
these past few decades
but I’m as full of holes as a flute
only the rarest wind can play
& in the right light
can almost be said to glow.
I will surrender to dissolution
but not right away.
I will give myself over to the patient
ministrations of the rain.
So much is slight,
and therefore that much
more significant: white
petals that detach
from the tree to number
the grass with asterisks,
thin points of a weathervane
that intersect with sky;
the shy words of a child
who longs to speak and so
has learned to crease paper
into birds; the man who
polishes a knob of driftwood
and teaches it to harbor
birds. A drift of fine
sand passing from one
glass dome to another:
without so much as rising
above a whisper, yoking
this fractured moment
to the next.
We lost two great American artists today, Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich. It’s odd, isn’t it, how chance sometimes brackets two dissimilar lives like this, leading us to ponder each of their legacies in light of the other’s: the revolutionary banjo player and the radical feminist poet, he perhaps more influential in his field than she in hers, but not by much. I’ll let others write the tributes, but I do want to pause for a moment and remember.
And here’s another odd thing: when poets and musicians die, it changes the way we hear their work somehow. The recordings are suddenly colored by our awareness of the fact that there will be no more from them, and what we have is all we’ll get. Such recordings are part of history now in a way they weren’t before, even if they had already been hugely influential. Which is to say, I suppose, that they gain a mythic dimension, since now they connect us to the dead, whose voices or instruments remain as bridges between being and nothingness. Whatever else one may find when diving into a wreck, I think the sound recording is the eeriest of all artifacts, the ultimate in evanescence made nearly permanent.
Going through boxes of old books, you come across
a postcard: here is the president’s summer residence,
the pillars flanked by bougainvillea awash in cerise
and magenta. Here are the scrolled gates, the two
guard houses, the lawn with low foliage spelling Mansion House. Here beyond the gates where
horses saunter at a distance, is a reflecting pool.
The arms of trees are mirrored there; and the bright
striped costumes of the locals; and the gaggle of tourists
who want to pose in souvenir pictures. They have on acrylic
sweaters picked up at the market (they’ll likely wear them
only once a year); they’re toting tubs of strawberries,
carrots thick as their wrists, bundles of straw brooms.
Vendors will try to sell one more box of peanut brittle,
one more carved man-in-the-barrel with a hidden spring.
For all you know, the president’s mother is in the mansion
with her ladies— rumors have it she can outdrink them all,
outdance them all, boogie until dawn in the big ballroom
with crystal chandeliers. Even the skittish horses festooned
with bells and ribbons feel the phosphorescent heat
of here and now. Carve it quick on the side of a bench.
Buy a handful of tinted postcards showing pine trees
and winding roads, before sliding back into the bus.