Dynamite in the blood.
The veins are fuses, hot
With mockingbirds in the
Long air of delta summer night.
I listen to the sputter in
My chest, smell the gunpowder
Of tomatoes and snap beans
Racing through the tall
Grass toward my brain.
I become the fields
And burst into flame,
Blinded by sheets of flame
Higher than the crust of smog
Above my head, choking on smoke
Of my ancestors, as the dream
Banks break over my mind, flooding
The synapses and thought canals
With wave after wave of soothing
Water. Towers of steam rise up
Throughout me. I am pale and shaken
With the delta. Clouds of me hover
Over the levees, find the languid sloughs
And presently regain the river, winding, unwinding.
THOSE WHO TRY TO KEEP THE WIND
The winds that come here
Are the ones that are lost.
They no longer have names.
They have been tossed aside by seas
Too large to ever cross and so they
Come here as we have come here.
We know the price, we’ve paid the cost.
We have always been here. We pretend
To be the ones who hold the night
Until the morning can be seen
Rolling through the door, and light
Lifts itself to the treetops and
Fights its way into the arena
With kicks and bites and great motion
And might into the embrace of the day.
Each element must be reused each day.
Nothing is left alone or may stay
More than a few hours or hold sway
Over the temper of the play
And it is us who show the way,
Command these errant winds to lay
Their breezes down and ease themselves
Across the hayfields, bending stalks
And making statements full of grace and swaying.
Here we even sleep, these winds that
Creep into our chairs and try to fit themselves
Into the pale light we are master of,
The words that make the night behave.
We are the brave ones, put hands upon
Our bodies, tear us from the doorway
That once glowed with such light,
Where we stood fast beneath the quarter
We are not the master of these winds.
We are finally their cloaks and their gardens.
We are their hills for jumping all the cold and
Hard stones. They find the keyholes of all
Our doors and moan there deep
In the thick clouds and we find
No silence but that trembles. Our eyes too
Become cold stones and wander without
Control and run toward evening
Faster than we can release all that is called dusk.
THE FOLDING SCREEN
I keep thinking I am hearing the songs
Of angels but it is another song.
I do not have the strength to open
A conversation, but the words
Are their own messengers and attempt
To cause me to tell of something
I can barely recall.
We used to have a folding screen
In the parlor and would use it for games.
One or another of us would hide
Behind the screen and count to one hundred.
Then the others would fold the screen
And the person behind it
Had to be completely transformed.
I was quite good at it and once
Was a dog, an osprey, a very large
Octopus, and best of all, a parrot
Who laughed at my friends when a clock
Began ringing, reminding us of the hours
And how we had wasted them so,
Without a care to how we had frightened
The cats, all three of them.
They were not seen for almost a week
Mother said we must no longer
Use the folding screen for our games
And had it removed to the attic.
Recently, now that mother has been dead
All these years, I found my way
To the attic and spied the screen
Leaning against a short wall.
I opened it and a great many
Turtles came tumbling out
Onto the floor.
I had no idea how this could
Have happened, but in less than
Three weeks I received a letter from
Lloyd, a bright card decorated
With red and yellow roses.
“So you’ve finally found the screen,”
He wrote. “Now I can go back to
Visit Uncle Charles. He knows how
These things work.”
When I went to look for the turtles
They had completely disappeared.
In the end it was us. Long after
We had spoken with anyone who had
Ever heard of the incident and been interviewed,
Long after we had gone through all of the descriptions
Provided us by so-called ‘witnesses’—
Mostly mumbled parts of stories
About the light moving in the trees,
The quickly changing colored balls,
The animals that, when
Opening their mouths, were seen
To have tongues of fire and beautiful
The burned villages. The crying that went
On for days and days,
Those who claimed to know nothing
And yet were there to steal watches
And wallets, take purses and clothing
From the acres of dead. “We got
Here just this morning,” they would
Say, blowing on cups of coffee,
shuffling away from us to reach the bodies
More quickly. “We saw nothing.”
The earth was so burnt the dust
Was a thick powder in that air that
Wanted to be on our skin, wanted
The sun to burn hotter, wanted
To be covered with dust like powdered
Dead walking on exploding roads.
It was terribly hot that night.
Even so, we had a fire because
It seemed proper.
“It’s us, isn’t it?’ said someone
Just outside the light.
“We did it, didn’t we?”
No one answered him.
One could hear the soft click
Of the weapons, coughing, spitting.
Finally a dirty silence that remained
Close to the fire all night.
The ashes, still as hot as the day
Would be the next morning.
Tearing down the stars
By the handful.
We couldn’t watch them
For very long. We had to
Observe and abandon on the fly.
Don’t bring anything.
Don’t say one word about what
We have seen here. Leave it
On the page. No one will say
These words aloud. You might
Get arrested for doing so.
Find your way into a deep labyrinth,
Unable to see clearly, be forced
To identify all things by pictures
Shown you in a book illustrated
By a madman. People dancing waltzes
In rooms you can never enter
No matter how hard you try to make
Speeding away from the end
Of the world.
AN UNEXPECTED DOORWAY
The final archetypes are no longer
The fabric we have come to know
So well: the morning, the afternoon;
They have been eclipsed by other shadows.
Fractured by mirrors, pleasing
To the eyes as a marble curve
Over a bower hiding an entrance
To a labyrinth paved with black sand,
Punctuated by the scent of jasmine.
Let us not go there. Rather
Let us embrace the evening as a thing
Most mysterious, eternal, fragile,
And as clear as any melancholy
Is to the heart. No matter.
We will embrace this time,
Bleed its colors, look to its end
As the ransom paid for colors
For some remote future we
May deserve, dust and the dreams of dust.
We will stand at the battlements
With this one thing: an evening,
Perhaps this very one.
I will open my hand.
I will find my way back
To the black sands, enter
That labyrinth, practice
Each moment, imagine
There is some captain I may
Report to, claiming a great
Knowledge of all that has happened
On the earth.
Color of the wheat at its harvest
Eyes the perfect blue.
Stands near your sight
In the middle of the night.
You, looking just like you.
It waits for the colors of the morning
It has one job to do.
I will take a chair.
It will brush our your hair,
Choose your best clothes for you.
It will speak your name
As you speak your own name,
Open the door to go through.
You will know why he’s here,
But you will not fear.
Your fetch has come for you.
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poems and pix!