Unmake

Whose idea was that: You made 
your bed,
you lie in it? Isn't it

rather the bed's unmade in order
for anyone to lie in it? You reap

what you sow, you dig your own grave
and sleep in a field forever. Such

bitterness, yellow as a plot of tansy
ragwort, toxic as yew: a single mouthful

would stop the heart of a horse
in minutes. Therefore give me back

the flax before the weave, the seed
ahead of the furrow, the animal

need before the yoke, the hairline
tremor before lightning stroke.





 

In response to Via Negativa: Reader's Remorse.

Landscape, with Sunset and Wings

Before fading, light paints the sky the shade of a ripe papaya, the swollen hip of a mango. Who will help me peel away their shawls so I can pluck the seeds out of their flesh? The wind whips my hair into a basket of twigs. My bones don’t fold as easily as they used to, but my mind is still my sharpest knife. What voice are you using today, asks one of my daughters; is it the one with the blade, the one with the wing, or the one that sings to the roses? There are many more lights to dapple the afternoons between those scores: sandpaper pink, steely grey, white coral. I want to know how to fashion a bridge that fixes one continent to another, a garment that velvets widows begging for alms on the streets.  But I am not a falcon cast off from the gauntlet, plummeting down without error to bind to its quarry. I am not even a dove on the balcony of heaven. With every climb, the bells around my ankles ring their green warnings. The sea plays overture upon overture of scales. None of this means I have no love for you. None of this delivers us from our sorrows, from the flock of our migratory desires. 

 

 

In response to Via Negativa: Sublimation.

Self-portrait, with Out-of-Body Experience

"Everything has two handles: one
by which it may be carried, the other
by which it can't." ~ Epictetus


On a day of continuous rain, I start
again to make inventory: the shirt

that no longer buttons in the middle,
the trousers with broken zippers.

But I would rather try to bring shine
back to the scuffed hardwood floor

than put things in either of two bags
marked donation or trash; would rather

sweep up the dust and wipe last night's
cooking stains off the counter. We're almost

out of rice but the fig tree in the yard
has showered us daily with fruit. All

the money I earned in summer is gone,
but work starts again in three weeks.

We have possibly more books than I
could finish in one lifetime,

but since I've started slowly reading
through them, perhaps this doesn't strictly

qualify as tsundoku. My horoscope says
memories weigh down my thoughts; and so

I might find myself overreacting, discarding
items from the past without remembering

how much they mean to me. Sometimes
the moment between one effort and the next

is loud as the alarm triggered by a trip-
wire. Sometimes, it is the briefest

shimmer of quiet when I feel my ghost
unlatches: it walks around the kitchen

island without picking up a knife to slice
tomatoes, without gathering into its arms

a warm new load of laundry with that faint
human smell which soap can't quite dispel.

Instructions for Passage

There, that one: and fingers point 
at this body. It doesn't know
itself except for how it occupies
space and is anxious about time.
How is it responsible for the lamp
that didn't shine in the room,
for the clothes shredded under
the weight of neglect or bread
that the crow stole from the sill?
A roach climbs out of the drain
and flees at the strike of a match.
This body traces the grooves
of its ruefulness and lo
and behold, canals spring up
overnight, littered with flat-
bottomed craft and boatmen
calling out their one-way
fares. Don't feed the monkeys.
Don't look over your shoulder.
The sun that rose in the east
will set in the west.

Argument, with Fig Tree in Summer

What we can't reach, 
we say we leave

for the gods
or the birds. The low-

hanging fruit,
the heaviest, is always

ours for the taking.
Sometimes, the eye drifts

to the middle levels, where
smooth bell shapes chime

their question: how
will your spirit find its

destination if it won't
venture out of itself?






In the mountains,

 
who still remembers your name?
The night-blooming cereus opens once a year
and the moon pours milk down its throat.
The man with the limp and the blind
man with the cane tap their way
down the road and bow before parting ways.
After women have hung the laundry on the line,
the earth relaxes toward dawn and exhales:
and this is what feeds the rain.
How can you tell that the hummingbird
doesn't sleep between each small
shudder of its wings?
In the garden, stones lay their cheeks
on pillows of moss but keep their eyes
open through the night.
That's how the stars can still
telegraph messages that the birds
have been unable to deliver.





Toward the end

it's said the body can muster
a last gust of energy, show of bravura,
strength enough to spring up from bed
and hurl a chair or dinner plate
at the figure it senses is just waiting
for the appointed hour—He's the one
who must have left those piles of mud
and streaks of mildew on bathroom tile,
left clumps of hair and trays of rotting
food on the kitchen counter. He's taken
books off the shelves, ashtrays from the end
tables. It wouldn't come as a surprise if one
morning he slid a fold of skin open
and slipped a stone into the place
where the heart used to be.

Poem of Yard Work, with Confederate Jasmine

We drag to the curb for bulk
waste pickup the limbs and branches

shorn off the confederate jasmine
at the end of the yard: they'd bent

too far over the neighbor's fence,
they might be felled by wind or

rain and cause unwanted damage
to others' property. We don

garden gloves just to be sure
there's no skin contact with

its milky, rubbery sap. After
effort, the skin cools as sweat 

dries; and any clustered blooms
among the debris soon shrivel

in high heat. So far from Asia,
where other names for it are star

jasmine and trader's compass, here
in the North American south I can't

think of it now except for its
association with that history

of civil war. Seven slave-
holding states against the Union,

their plantation economies dependent
on the labor of dark slave bodies;

Fire-Eaters whose cornerstone
beliefs were based on the idea

that subordination to the white
man is the black race's God-

ordained, natural condition.
I too would have been indentured

at that time; or made to suckle
my master's white child like a cow

with a teat full of milk. When I crush
a sprig in my brown hands, a faint

perfume still rises from out
of the lanceolate leaves: fetid note

from history our pruning still
hasn't managed to extinguish.


Study: Day, Night, Rain

I like when it's quiet, 
when the rain has passed

but there's enough water
still coating the leaves

so my face gets drenched
when I walk under them.

I like when the dark
presses on my lids

in a quiet room
after everyone has gone

to sleep, and I like
the sudden flare

that sharpens the contours
of lamps and desks and chairs

when I open my eyes again.
In summer, when night

comes over the town after hours
and hours of steady blazing,

small winged creatures rise
in a frenzy when someone

opens the door. I've seen
them: some with wings and bodies

as if pieced together from
squares: white, orange, bright

yellow. Each one outlined as if
in kohl, or soldered by night.


 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Folk Remedies

Ashes from 
the burned skin
a reptile shed,
dissolved in water
to cure wheezing.
Your very first
period blood
applied
like a light
facial mask,
to ward off
pimples and
zits. A smear
of saliva
on hand or foot
to calm the pins
and needles—
because the soul
is so susceptible
to any tremor
that disturbs
its homeostasis:
an egg,
rice grains,
or melted tallow
dropped into
a bowl of water.
See what floats,
what sinks
to the bottom.
See where the red
membrane reappears
after you drink
it all up.