I have three turnips:
sharpness gathered in softening rinds
like new wine in old wineskins,
pink & white carousels
from a run-down amusement park
graffitoed by nematodes.
They fit oddly in the palm
with their rats’ tails & severed tops.
What planet are they from?
They’re marooned—no eyes
to sprout grappling hooks,
no way to win back the sun.
But when I slice them open:
unriffled by any wind.
To hold the attention of a Sunday
school class, my brother said
he once had to eat a piece of chalk.
He never said what the lesson was about,
just that the chalk was tasteless
& thoroughly indigestible.
When Borges came to speak
at Penn State, he sat folded
into an easy chair on stage,
still as a lizard on a heat rock.
He quoted Basho to show
that metaphor isn’t essential—
the “ancient pond” haiku.
But as he delivered his pronouncements,
he kept smiling at something
three feet above our heads.
And seeing the smiles pass
across his blind face, we all
began to smile too,
pleased at our proximity
to such a famous solitude,
which we were sure
must’ve been flooded with light.
I’ve kept all the glass ashtrays
from when I used to smoke, lovely
as the windows of a church
in which I can no longer kneel.
Has it really been 12 years?
Borges said: Life is a dream,
to which someone in the audience objected:
That’s a metaphor!
No, he intoned, it’s the truth.
And for some reason
everyone broke out laughing.
Based on this post from August 2009.
On a windy day in March,
we stop at a Chevy dealership
near Orbisonia, Pennsylvania,
for a closer look at an enormous American flag
on a too-short pole. It seems intent
on demonstrating some elemental
principle of travel.
As we watch, completely straight & sober
but feeling more stoned by the minute,
it becomes a country unto itself,
complete with its own square of sky.
Slow waves of wind beginning
out among the stars find endless,
inventive ways to pass through the striped field,
the alternating strips of crop and fallow
following the contours of a land
continually in flux, like a farmer’s dream
of swimming deep into the soil.
The medium becomes the only message.
And anti-nationalist that I am, I find
I would almost pledge allegiance
to this well-made thing
& the wind that gives it another, freer kind of life.
Where were we going, again?
We both agree we could sit here all day,
if it weren’t for the likelihood that sooner
or later someone would report us
to the police for suspicious activity.
We pull gingerly back
onto the old blue road.
I’m mining the Via Negativa archive for poetic material. This derives from a 2005 post, Stars and stripes.
A sudden south wind buffets the house, roars in the ridgetop trees for a few minutes & dies. I go out to take a leak. The moon hasn’t risen yet & it’s dark. Nightcrawlers rustle under the lilac, dragging fragments of leaves into the ground.
Wood smoke: must be from the Amish in Sinking Valley. I inhale greedily. On the other side of the mountain, the deep labored thrum of a locomotive is followed a long minute later by the whistle—an almost orgasmic release.
At this time of night, it would be perfectly reasonable to confuse a hawk with a handsaw. In the crawlspace under my floor, some small mammal scratches the cold-air return duct with restless, dreaming claws.
Pre-school, we clung to knots
in a long, thick rope
& made our way across the college campus,
orderly as a centipede.
Of our routes or destinations I recall
nothing, I have learned & forgotten
whole languages since then, but
that sense of my place
as node on a travelling rhizome
has stayed with me: I can still feel,
like the final consonant of some forbidden word
the tongue can almost taste,
that fibrous knot.
One day when I was 14
I found a ground
beetle under my bed—
fast & furtive.
I grabbed a thick book
& beat it to death.
I liked beetles but
this one frightened me.
It belonged under rocks
in the forest, not two feet
below my pillow,
burrowing through the carpet
while I slept.
My voice was changing.
The beetle disposed of,
life went on as before
but in a lower key.
in the sink when
I rinse my cup.
I lift the trap so
the water will sweep
it down, wayward
eyelash, eater of books.
And the rest
of the day I’m dogged
by a vague
anxiety, as when
an end parenthesis has
failed to put in its
replaced perhaps by
a small hole clear
through the page
& an italic f
just visible beyond.