The moon ran on and on toward the morning.
It distilled all disasters as it did so.
I became afraid of the sounds it seemed to be making.
A brandy was brought to me but I
Am no longer interested in alcohol.
I rose to close the door, to stop the noise.
I began to feel as if I were
Reading everything that had just occurred.
It began to snow. I watched
The large flakes climb down
The sky from the gray. They landed
On my hands and sleeves. The moon
Made them seem even more real
Than these words could ever do.
I am not the person I was was when
I began saying these things. I now
Realize that they are not mine.
They can never be mine. I have
A vague plan about giving them to you.
If you are reading this
The infinite has already been
Breached. We have found you
Close to this very place, near these
Words, but the silk of the moment
Has created corridors and stairwells
Upon stairwells and it has become
More and more difficult to translate
Exactly what we are trying to say
Into words. We thought you,
You of all people would have
Brought some special words, some
Compendium with the names
Attached to it so that we could
Begin to understand how we all
Managed to find this place, of
All places, and these people, all
These people here waiting.
Thunder has been turning its volume
To hallucinatory levels. We will
Shortly not be able to identify anything.
A large tan dog has just run across the page.
for Prissy, dead these 30 years
—Taylor Graham, Placerville
How to translate into words?
In dream, you cross your paws, primly,
German-Shepherd odalisque on the couch,
and ever-so slightly cross your eyes
at my human blindness. Caprice—sweet
Prissy. You could see in the dark
through tangles of poison-ivy, berry-
bramble, creeper. I was lost as a flower-
picker in Virginia woods; as the man
who hanged himself on the Blue Ridge,
or the boy flash-flooded away.
You found them all.
I keep a compendium of names
of the missing. But how could you
disappear so soon?
Dark-eyed to see beyond my limits—
what have you found on the other side?
Dogs don't write letters home. Yet
sometimes, by caprice of night, the moon
makes you real again—
a young, live
seeker-dog running across the page.
HAVE I TOLD YOU HOW MUCH I HATE STAIRS:
everything about them—stairwells that echo
with every step, swallowing the climbers,
but leaving sounds of footfalls multiplying
in concrete caverns—endless Mobius loops
of drops and landings, drops and landings.
Unforgiving stairs that catch a heel
or shift mid-stride, or climb ladder-steep
into or out of high places—open metal stairs
switchbacking up to lookouts; stone stairs laid by
penitent stonemasons waiting for a absolution.
I hate the minimalist crispness of stairways
without handrails—those death-traps
set in whitewashed lofts; or the over-wide stairs
where only fearless climbers can step out
to pass a creeping child or hobbling elder.
I still remember when I was two—
full of two-year-old pride. I woke early
from my nap, climbed from my crib,
and decided to go down the stairs on my own.
My foot slipped on the top step. I
tumbled all the way to the first landing,
where I slammed into the wall. I still have
the scar where I bit through my lower lip.
Half-way down, I knew—
for the first time—that I could die.
—Katy Brown, Davis
NET OF WORDS
I’ve read your last letter over
and over, again; the folds nearly
worn through. Is it the end
of another summer?
As lightly as an owl steps
from the upper branches
of a starlit yew,
you lifted into the shadows—
silent as angels or
the faith that lifts them.
Without the framework of your words,
I no longer remember
how to tie the net to pull phrases
from the roiling sea of language.
I sound like I’m speaking in code
or like a befuddled aphasiac.
I need to write to you—
not for you to read—
but so I can remember how
to capture what I want to say:
to understand what is in my heart.
It has come to this:
if I am to make peace with myself,
I must start posting letters to the dead.
The sun's stabilizer has slipped
a notch toward fall.
Why, suddenly, does the taste
of sardines make you
want to travel? Sardinia or Norway,
Peru—anywhere you've never
been. I'm hearing
Celtic music—it's nothing
but a bit of Delta breeze.
And the boy who walks the railroad-
ties at twilight—that point
in time that keeps its own
revolving schedule—he, too,
has been changed in his
turn, to 7th grade.
Just this morning's sunrise,
the clouds wore queen's-violet
on their bellies, as if someone
were prophesying rain.
END-OF-SUMMER FIELD NOTES: MADIA
Early on the ridgetop trail. September.
Smoke from distant fires blues the canyon.
Lavender, antique gold rubbed and tarnished.
Smoke from distant fires blues the canyon
dry grasses. Everything is aftertaste.
Sudden flowers—madia, tarweed. Among
dry grasses, everything is aftertaste,
spurts of yellow blooming—distillation
of a season's near disasters, wildfire—
spurts of yellow blooming. Distillation:
this sweet scum on boots and cuffs, late summer
pleasures. An early walk with my dog—
this sweet scum on boots and cuffs—late summer
sun on a spider web, and breakfast peach
still warm, foreseeing the fall's golden chill.
Of a summer's near disasters, wildfire.
Pleasures: an early walk with my dog.
Sudden flowers—madia, tarweed—among
lavender, antique gold rubbed and tarnished,
still warm. Foreseeing the fall's golden chill.
THEY TELL US
The palace has gone now that
The poem has been recited and the
Entire place has disappeared as if it were
A line of language only, a magic
Breath might work had it the power
Fiction imparts to the greatest
Poets. But no...
The room remained unchanged. One
Could still look at the photographs
In the open book, on the table
Near the kitchen, light streaming
Through the window, soft voices
Coming from the adjoining room.
Perhaps the palace is completely
Gone now? If this is true we will not know
How long ago this happened. In this kind
Of poetry there is no time. Quixote can
Sit down next to you at luncheon
And begin a story which will totally
Captivate you right up to the point
Where the last syllable is uttered.
When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation.
—Jorge Luis Borges
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R., K.B., and T.G. for today's "conversation"