Therefore, Am

Mount Vesuvius eruption: Extreme heat 
"turned man's brain to glass" - BBC News

Before the blanket and surge,
before the seared
arms of trees. We would have been
face-down in bed, lying
along the sandbar, wondering
at the rattle in the throat
of the sky and the sudden
radiance, distilling all
we ever knew or remembered.
Uncovered from sand—obsidian
sliver, spherulites, feldspar.



Evacuation


of the bees from hives
collapsing from within;
of the mouse-sized dunmarts
and cockatoos, the wallabies
and koalas that firefighters
worked feverishly to save;
of the towns that woke
as the mouth of a crater
spewed pent-up heat
and ash; of the blood or
of the bowels and their
discharge from the body:
of the organs made empty
or void; of the place
or position one used to hold
but is now forced to abandon
or give out; of withdrawal
from a place in some
orderly fashion,
for safety or in
surrender.

Depth Perception

There's an experiment I read about
where they laid a sheet of Plexiglas

like a bridge between two raised,
solid surfaces, and coaxed babies

to crawl across to the other side.
Some of them trustingly made

their way; a few were hesitant,
because they were confused

about the drop they perceived
though their hands told them

there should be nothing to doubt.
What is space anyway but a checker-

board of moments that light
can melt or fracture? A staircase

swings around to the other side
of the hall and back down to its

starting point. A hand is a hand
but a pair can turn into wings.

In Praise of Rain

I saw 
a photograph
of animals praising
the rain that finally
fell on their nearly
scorched backs— they
raised up themselves
on their hind legs
& their fore-
legs made a kind
of tent above
their heads &
no one saw
where they went
afterwards but
after the fire they
left hoof prints
in the clay

Fable

(with a line from Louise Erdrich)



All the fables I recall end
with an illustrated moral: not so much truth, not
beauty nor patience, but more an
idea of choice. For instance, the youngest daughter
could choose to defy the father
who wants to give her to some beast of a man who has him
disturbingly in his thrall, and over
half the village as well. Or she could choose to
end the narrative early, refuse
the role of sacrifice. But the way these stories go,
fairest equals having the least
freedom to assert a difference in worldview.
Given three gates and the knowledge
that behind one lurks a lion waiting to tear you
heart from limb, and behind the second
a flaming sword: only one leads to the mythical
island where all that the heroine
has lost shall be restored. We should all be so lucky:
jinn in a hip pocket, an app
to scan terrain ahead in real time. After weeks of fire,
kangaroos praise the rain
that finally pours from the heavens. Elsewhere: pooled
lava gushes from the earth; sulfur
and ashes spew out of a volcano in a crater lake, one of
many in the ring of fire. Who'd
willingly choose disaster, stay behind while
neighbors flee to evacuation
shelters? By an act of God, we mean what's
out of the range of our control,
outside further capacity to choose. All my life I've tried to
play the parts that I've been given,
seen how to turn accidents into opportunities or salvage
quests gone awry. But you know?
The heart can only take so much
repetition without relief.
The heart wants to sometimes not have to choose, instead
surrender; to not pretend to know
all the answers, or where to find them;
to quietly admit there's only
so much it can do, despite the largeness of its desire,
unstinting hope, unlimited
ambition. I read about someone sitting under an apple tree,
vivid witness to fruit
taken past ripeness and falling toward rot in heaps,
wasting their sweetness
.
And yet somehow not one was wasted, not even those
exempt from the maw assigned
to eat them whole, take them alive.
You try to be like the fruit: you give
as much as you can in leaf, in flower,
zest and bud, before you too are taken.





Before Joy

Before joy, the moments that could be
but are clearly not yet joy. The pause,
the windless plain; then, curtain
after curtain saying not this one yet,
perhaps the next. You might as well
slow down and learn all this other
rhetoric of passing for. The orator,
speaker, teacher, master, pulls
a line of knotted squares
from out of the liquid air; look how
they ripple, peach and lime-green,
burnished gold. You love most
the moment before or the moment
after because it is how you know
something bloomed briefly there.

Verdict

Everything I said in the throes
of darkness was taken from me,

then turned into a cloth
of a different weave. Try

as I might, I could not return
the original color of my speech

or thought. I touched the out-
line of my knuckles and felt

with the tip of my tongue
the small gaps between

my teeth. I wondered how
others could be so sure

of themselves, how quickly
they could call up different

selves and still say I: one
wearing the coat of self-

righteous fury, another the robes
and gavel of a judge; a gallery

of hairy gods who, out of boredom,
paper the gates with fireflies.

Invocation

For days now, geckos and lizards 
have slid up and down the walls,
not only at dusk. The air smells
of burnt rice, boiled green shoots.
When the sun comes out, it tints
small portraits through any surface
with holes. Therefore my children
are offended when I talk of having
the sense of running out of time.
If only the light could carve
amulets on my arms, on my body.
If only words were not fevers.

After Disaster

Cradle the heads of pineapples
dusted with ash; go from one

statue in the garden to another
to make sure which ones are animals

not completely turned to stone.
Rub the hem of the Virgin's

robe to see if she can remember
at least two words for blue.

Understand that what burns
in the sky has come up

through the earth from long
before you. So when your tears

make tracks on the floured table
of your cheeks, remember how far

away stars are from the wounds
that made them. Pray for rain,

for the earth to finish rocking.
Sparks flare; wings darken the skies

and the blacksmith sees how, after
the blows, his hands are still shaking.




Sweeping the Rain

There were no armoires there anymore,
no libraries of dust competing with
the weave of cotton; no scroll-
backed chairs resting like guests
at a garden party organized for you
years ago, to which no child
had been invited. Water moved
through the pipes like an unmarried
aunt taking her time, sweeping
the rain with a broom fashioned from
a handful of sticks; every excess
dumped from the heavens must be
carefully tended. When the sky
filled with sand, it was
the volcano waking up, finally
able to sing the song stuck
in its throat for decades. This
is how you know the dead
still love you. They have not
forgotten. They will take you back.