—D.R. Wagner, Elk Grove
What things are the poem?
Not your lips. They are made so
I close my eyes to taste them.
Not the fires outside my windows.
They are special treasure.
I have no idea why they should
Be precious. Here I am. What
More do you want of me?
A special color envelops me.
I beg you to come back tomorrow
When I might be ready for you
But you flutter before me.
A siren, a harp, a steel dagger,
A word declaring my presence.
I am before you.
I promise I will walk away
From you, not recognizing you at all.
You must let me pass. I will
Create a song for you that will
Claw at your heart. It will be your own cat.
LENT: ANOTHER THING POETS DO
They never should have asked
Us to listen to these songs.
We knew them, yes, we knew
They were the ones that had
Flown away from here just
As the sun forgot the horizon.
The cool voices of the ghosts
Passing through our bodies,
Full of the reminders that made
Us want to remain here,
Sliding across this earth,
Trying to make us forget
This was not our home.
We were but the moment
Challenged by fire dragons.
Children standing in the doorways
On the street corners next
To the never-ending murders
That have become Stockton,
California, its police cars
Circling the blocks for hours,
Service dogs reflecting neon
And porch lights in their eyes.
“Where is he boy? Go find
Him. He smells like this.”
On the high altars on Fridays
We hear the stories of a lovely
Christ, his body striped
With hatred and holes
Driven into the hands that
Raised the dead, made food
For thousands, blessed bread
And fishes and showed himself
As able to ride the clouds,
Surround himself with angels,
Weep, prostrate among ancient
Olive trees, begging, begging.
The hour finds itself standing
In front of a gate, locked,
Guarded and patrolled
By guards who have no idea
Why they might be there.
We pull into the parking lot,
Bring them colas and sandwiches,
Ask if they are okay.
Try to sing them a song.
They never should have asked
Us to listen to their songs.
We are the coordinators.
We do not intend to bring
Harm but we are sought out
For we are still able to
Describe the beautiful.
The guns chatter, tires
Squealing around the corners.
Details at eleven.
THE CLOSE VOICE OF THE HEART
I am convinced by the stars.
I have spoken to the moon.
The watery swords of time are
Able only to paint our memory
And we are late to the battle
Not knowing what the conflict was about
Or if what we heard was wind
Or the close voice of the heart
Reaching to forget the night,
And failing to make it into a cover
For the bed or a drape for the body
To walk these balconies and see
The scenes below at the edge
The sea presses into remembering.
Rather these stars become tattoos
Dusting our skin with trails of their
Journeys, mapping them out on our bodies.
I have spoken to the moon
But the moon has not replied.
It holds itself above us and declares
It has never seen us before
When night after night we have stood
On the shore. We are seen perhaps
As waves or white gulls flying
To reach some glitter washed up there,
That the moon may not describe
Except in terms so large that
The landscape and hilltop are punctuation
Only and this becomes the battle
That we glimpsed before the night
Came tracking in, pretending to be our bed
Or our clothing rather than
The very skin we wear.
The rattling continues for most
Of the night as if a message,
Long expected, had never arrived.
There was an eloquent astonishment
At the pace the morning grew
Around me. It came closer, then
Established itself as if it already
Had a plan, as if a relationship
Occurred without prompting, without
Any kind of commitment except
A tacit agreement that indeed, morning
Would come and we would continue toward
The source of the suffering, enjoying
Some excellent meals as we did so.
We always noted the slightest of changes
In the water. We knew the great
Falls would eventually arrive, that
We would eventually move away from
Each other as evening does the night.
We continued to hold our conversations,
To check the contents of our souls
In longing that language had no intentions
Toward clarifying, that we would
Remain with a slowly clouding
Membrane over everything we would
We could hear the rivets breaking.
We could feel the ship open itself
To the sea, cracking apart to
Welcome the waters.
We were well within sight of the
Glistening lights from cities
Along the shoreline when
We finally took to the lifeboats.
There would be no reason to think
There would be a waterfall now, in
that deep water, that we could
Be safe to the shore but
At the last moment we
Came to realize that this would
Not be true, that the great waterfall would
Happen anyway and that we would
Survive or we would not survive.
Here, years later, I sit on the edge
Of my bed and attempt to explain
What the nature of these conversations,
The traveling, the small misadventures
Really were. Outside I can hear the hooves of
A single horse increase its speed on the road.
I rise and go to the window.
I draw the curtain aside.
I am not able to see anything.
“EVERY WORD IS A DEAD METAPHOR”
—Jorge Luis Borges
Sleep had fallen from the night
Or so we thought it sleep.
But sleep when shook would
Not awaken, No dream would come,
Nor breathe it would a single breath
Be taken and so we knew this was
Not sleep that fell from night
To join us here, not sleep at all