brown cartography

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"Naming, however kind, is always an act of estrangement."
                                                                   ~ Aracelis Girmay

brown the soil, brown the sand we call sable that water 
               paints before it recedes into itself; brown 
the shutters of heaven from which the eyes of ancients 
               regard the world they left with us.

brown the sides of wooden ships swelled with 
               elegies of blind ambition, so certain
of following the fateful stars. brown the beautiful 
               bark of cassia shavings, the dark-

tipped nails of clove, the red-tinged roots
               of galangal. burnish the sides of brass
hawk bells until you can no longer tell their gleam
              from gold. the reefs are lined with coral,

the straits with subterranean eyes and mangrove 
             roots. crack open a rock to learn of lineage—
turn up the earth, run your brown fingers along 
             the burns and fading scars.  

Physiology of the Blood

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Blood cells are born 
in the marrow. They flood 
the columns of the pelvis, 
the ladders of the spine, the bones 
armoring the breast and its collection 
of soft organs. Somewhere in the factory,
a lever or switch flips the numbers,
electrifies the circuitry, multiplies. 
One day you're born or wake 
with too many lunettes; unchecked, 
they'd proliferate so skin bruises easy, 
as if a crimson dew formed beneath 
its outer walls. I don't know how
to keep you from this delirium 
that seethes within, mostly
unseen. In early morning light,
I scan your body for tell-
tale marks, watch as breath 
curls around the curve of your throat: 
in the shape of a stone fruit, in the guise 
of a hive clotted thick with syrup. Aspirate, 
from aspiratio: an exhalation. How a mouth 
forms the sound of audible breath,
the low hum of a quiet engine.

Automatic Writing

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Spores that flower along the grassy edge:
bread-like and brown, fruit of the lightning.

I don't talk to God much these days
except through words scratched on the sill.

Of questions, of rants, and bottled pleas:
more than enough to fill empires of pages.

You think I play in the dirt when I keep to my silent labors

—more than enough to fill empires of pages;
of questions, of rants, and bottled pleas.

Except through words scratched on the sill,
I don't talk to God much these days.

Bread-like and brown, fruit of the lightning:
spores that flower along the grassy edge. 

Millions of Monarchs Make the Rarest Sound

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"...for the world is laboring
to eclipse us" ~ D. Bonta

 As waterfall— rain of wings
and bodies that did not perish,
purling from the arms of pine: 
clouds that feed on milkweed 
and wildflowers, that filter
light down to the forest  
floor.  What bright-striped
tribes, what vapory tapestries
made to make themselves
over every season. Who 
taught each one to bear one
flimsy pane of light, one flap 
of sound through the bars?
A maw opens at the top
of the canopy, waiting 
for the unbearable 
cascade of beauty:
for now, this certainty
that they will come,  
until they don't.

A Rapture

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
About the hawk and the bluejay 
             with the torn wing dangling from its beak;
                           about sugars in the blood, how 
too much may in the end prove lethal. 
             And about the mandible, the skull's 
                           only movable bone, faithful
to the one task it understands— 
             From this distance, we wouldn't have
                          heard the click and snap of the hinge; 
not even the final tremor that fluffed 
             the jay's neck feathers.  Aren't we built 
                           for all kinds of potential purpose, 
something that presents an occasion 
             to which  we might rise? Raptor, from rapere, 
                          meaning to seize or take by force. Also
the swoon before the moment of release or
              submission: a rapture. Which is not to say
                           there is no grief or grieving; nor 
that no other blue will ever flutter across the sky.


The Oldest Light in the Universe

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
A cosmic day is longer 
than any of our ordinary 
days: delirium of time 
ticking in expanding circles,
distributing the slow-built 
honey of the universe. 
Telephone coil, endless 
transmitting chain drive, 
celestial ladder: the bounded 
seas and rivers' continuous 
movements shadowing
the heavens, partitioning
these puny hours. What
is the actual length 
of wars, of the track
by which both soldiers
and prisoners return?
And the years wrapped
as circlets of gold around
ring fingers, or the time
it takes for a branch
to break out in doubloons
of persimmon? Smoke 
from a thurible lofts 
and holds in the air:
threads of frankincense
write a long letter in
the coals after burning.
What is it we hold on
our tongues, mouthing
love for the other? Echo
of bodies that cleaved 
together: outlasting 
the swing of the chain,
its pulleys, crescents, 

Lyric with Nothing to Lose

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Hemlock and Queen Anne's lace, 
bird's nest; long-toothed parsnips 

sunk in loose soil. Every world, 
every time I've lived through, 

has been edged with darkness. Our bodies, 
streaked  in rainforest hues: shadowed

by spoonbills, streaked bulbuls, 
bleeding heart pigeons. Yet even when 

unaware, my body was becoming fluent 
in defiance. Dear world, would you care

about what we'll call each other 
when no one is looking, listening?   

Lyric at Dusk

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
City of bell towers, of clappers 
struck together to praise the mud 

out of which they were delivered. 
The damp leaves of willows tremble 

toward their hallmark shimmering. 
Saints stand on rooftops in waning light, 

their stone garments almost softening. 
Attend the gestures that survive 

the centuries: hand open in welcome, 
hand gently warding off. Lifting 

a face out of layers of shadow as if
some things weigh nothing at all.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
Father, you were the most high 
magistrate of superstition, dying
intestate because you feared 
making a will would hasten the end.  

Before the end, your palms came 
together every morning; your mouth 
tumbled each round bead of prayer
until they lay smooth in a heap again.

My hand hovers, uncertain, above  
the key to complete any transaction. 
It's you I miss, not what wasn't there; 
not the wealth you wanted to bequeath.