THE FIRE CHAIRS
The ends of my fingers burst
Into flame. One, two, three,
Four, five. I stand outside the house.
The giant storms have begun again.
They walk on legs made of lightning,
Thousands at a time. The night stinking
Of ozone and the wettest of heat.
The rains will not stop for months now.
These storms do not want us here.
They move across both sea and land.
The world becomes water in all its forms.
The dawn itself hides from these storms.
I run to hide in the deep jungle
But it is forever rain and my skin
Seems to melt. I am without color.
My eyes are hardly able to stay in their sockets.
I no longer walk as much as slide.
What has my skin become?
My fingers burst into flame once again.
They call the fire chairs down around
Me. They raise their great voices and for
Minutes the great storms stand off, away
From me, the fire chairs surrounding.
For they dinna could catch him,
Fleet as a train he was.
The sparkle in his eye, of the dawn.
The zephyr of the best of Spring.
Undaunted by thought and
Graced as a cat with stealth.
No one would claim to know him
Less they be brought to task
To say his name or give full proof
That they knew where he dwelt and
The secret name of his words.
He had needs like a ghost
And spilled the night around him,
A cream sweet and black
That covered the courses
The day took with roads
That ran nowhere a man
Might want follow and
Dark, so very dark his step.
The deer still slept as he
Passed them by and they
Did not see him, not a
Glance of an eye and the
Wind would follow like a maiden.
He was faster than morning.
No cloth knew his skin that was
Not spun of spider silk.
Death, standing on the stairs
Would not know that he
Had already passed or even
Had a presence there.
From the highest towers of the land
One could but see him always
In the distance, passing only
Through a story or a tale,
To be seen only there.
THE PLAGUE IN BARCELONA
after Horace Vernet
The final days circle. They are
Small dances in the air and it is
Too hot to move and who would want
To move anyway and the flies.
The flies have the most beautiful
Colors on their bodies. They walk
On my eyes and across the crucifix
I wear. See, Jesus sees me and there
Is never enough water and I can no longer
Understand what those three men
Are saying to me. I think they may
Be angels but they spit in the mud.
Do angels spit in the mud?
Now the birds come closer,
Sit on the wain and seem to watch me.
I speak to them. They answer
Me with voices like church bells.
The Angelus stops everyone.
The sky fills with bright red birds.
I was here, yes, it was. It was as if
We could see it from above.
But we always thought we knew
More than we were saying.
And the ladies at the railroad stations
Waiting for the short rides never spoke
With much conviction as the afternoon
Would fall apart in wine and foolish pride.
There was nothing we could claim here.
There was nothing we could track,
Maybe a glance caught by a camera
But it was never an attack.
I would follow you up all those stairs
To be on the street once more
And you never really smiled at me,
But it never made me sore.
I’ll go home to find my river flowing.
It has always been that way.
I’ll for sure see your face in water
But the water never stays.
It’s alive, alive and moving fast.
We can skip rocks at fish.
We can watch it white itself
With moonlight, sliding through the mist.
Nothing is revealed.
The old songs never do,
Except when we too become as old
And stumbling as we run, turn to one
Another, asking if it’s done.
THE COAL ROOM
It is because of the courtesy of the morning
That the night remained in her hair
For so long. She said it was because
The night could not find its way home.
I waited near the top of the cellar stairs
Sitting on a step, listening to the furnace.
I had friends at one time. I thought
I could see little fairies in the furnace
Room scuttling between the furnace
And the coal room.
She had to come back this way sometime.
The wagons were being pulled through the streets.
They weren’t really wagons, just broken automobiles
Being pulled by gray men with thick ropes.
They were heaped with the dead.
Only the bitter cold kept that solid smell down.
Somebody hung a moon, a nice one
Just above the trees. I could see
Her coming down the road. I rose
And stepped outside. I could not
Remember her name, but by now,
It didn’t matter.
A burning along the edges of the clouds
Exactly where the night was headed.
From the decks it looked like the whole
Cloud would be consumed by whatever
Was left of the sun this evening.
Grays, with a million names sluicing
Into the night. One could see them
Compounding dreams from flimsy
Parts of the day left over at evening
Because they hadn’t been noticed.
A small flight of gulls, mostly shadow
But the tips of their wings blood red.
An older man sitting on a break of rocks
Dumped into a harbor to keep the anger
The sea is prone to, away from a group
Of tiny fishing boats. He appears to be
Crying but there is no sound at all but waves.
A scud of pelicans just beyond the pier
Filing across the horizon. One after another
They burst into dull balls of flame. By the time
The night folds around them, they are gone.
I’ll stand here with you for a few more moments.
I feel I have seen enough of this kind of madness.
Perhaps there are others who will enjoy searching
For these things. I hear the voices in the sails,
The sound of the ship’s bell. I must leave
To visit the relics and remains of the day.
Please, you stay and watch the appetites
The night might generate, learn the names
Of the waves, their particular gatherings.
WE LIFT TOWARD MORNING
The lion guided me
To a vast sea of black water.
Nothing was visible clearly. Just
Before the dawn a great serpent
Rose from the sea and came to me.
“There are so many children,
Charming serpent. I know you
Know the names of them all.
Tell me their secret names
That for you, I may come calling.”
Then bright rings fell to the ground.
And I believed in the serene and beautiful.
All that is love, so far beyond our understanding.
And he brought me both moons.
They were the same moon but this
Time there were two of them.
A little kingdom of the heart sprang up.
There was a majesty to it all,
A beautiful heart beating within the body.
The lion moved close beside me
And I was able to recall all of birds
And see bright shrouds float above the dark sea.
How can anything look this beautiful?
We began to talk to the winds.
They knew of everywhere we spoke.
They told us they could carry thoughts
And gave us all lanterns to light
The edge of that sea, to see that
Serpent as a real thing.
Perhaps this time you will
Believe me. See, the children
Are all going back into the forest.
Put this in your heart.
Nothing can harm it there.
I will give you a basket
And tell you I love you.
And you will please take this one
Chance and see the joy these kinds
Of things can bring. We lift toward
The morning. The serpent begins to sing.
It is irresistible, the loveliest of sounds.
I keep thinking I’d be breaking
Something just by looking at it
Or that the words would suddenly
Become too loud and I wouldn’t
Be able to cross over the river because
The water would be moving way too fast.
But that is happening every day
And seeing you turning toward the daylight
While I’m slipping on such
Lovely green stone with so much
Water rushing past me every second
Makes me realize nobody is going
Anywhere right now, or probably ever.