We were without the stars.
They had retreated from the sky.
Clouds were gone. The night was without
The music of the moon.
The sea was perfectly flat.
The ocean had better things to do.
We could see the island burning
Before we were even near the harbor.
A dark fire with teeth of orange-red flame.
As we drew closer, a voice louder
Than pain infected the air,
The fire eating jungle and village
With no eyes and no body,
Devouring everything it encountered.
When the angels began to arrive
We thought they were birds
But they refused to hold their shape
And some became larger than everything
In the sky. A dead moon
Suddenly, a small melon one could
Hold in the hand. The angels, more massive
Than the wind, closed the fire
Like a door. The night again
We find these things in our sleep.
They break its cheap and translucent
Walls. Owls and other birds of the dark
Flooding through with these fires,
These angels, all the islands and the sea
Itself. All we have left is one
Small ship populated with shades
Waiting for us to awaken, making
Songs of our breathing as we grope
Our way through night after night,
Driven toward the dawn,
Barely remembering any part of it.
THE CATHERINE WHEEL
Not having the moment.
Not having the stars to put me down.
Not opening the correct door
At the correct time, I stare out
Across the lawns, trying to understand
How it is I have come to know
The flight of birds as language,
The truth of speech in a raptor's claw,
The idea of true need in the open mouths
Of nestlings, only days old, throats always
Open, surrounded by sleep and caring,
Even with the eyes still closed and the stubble
Of feathers surrounding a body I have no idea
This morning I awake from a sleep not rested
At all, fully awake and flooded with questions
Yet again. The water wheel. The Catherine
Wheel, “A sort of huge screaming puppet
Writhing in rivulets of blood,
A puppet with four tentacles,
Like a sea monster of raw, slimy
And shapeless flesh mixed up with splinters
I am unable to walk, to lift my hands
To greet anyone. I have acquired the ability
To recognize angels, see their wings,
Their glowing forms, even the mudra-like
Gestures they make in addressing one.
This does me no good whatsoever
This still, gray morning, slid over with
Formless clouds, not even a proper gray.
I think only that I am trying to understand
Birds, the crows and vultures as they
Circle and descend upon my body,
My arms and legs threaded through spokes
As if offering myself to them in supplication.
All these words you are reading
Can be used to hurt people.
No, they don’t do that when you see
Them like this. They seem regular,
Not concerned with hate or devious
Activity or gossip or sexual misconduct.
They can be about going to the store
Or adopting a cat or a dog, catching
A fish or lighting a fire.
It’s not a picnic for them to always
Be like this. Words can hurt
Pretty bad and they know it. Curse
Words have their own club and
Asshole, dumb fuck, shithead, cunt,
All of those others don’t come
Anywhere near the other words
Unless they are forced to do so.
Did you notice these words had
Their own line? The longer I
Make this poem, the more these
Words can hurt, even derail a train
Or burn a family to death during
A terrible earthquake.
I am going to go pray that they behave
For a good long while and stay out
Of hospitals and away from accidents.
It would be nice if they could just
Go quietly, but no, they
Just stop all of a sudden, shut up.
And now I am standing and staring
At the bark of this birch tree
Which, through once three trees,
Now has become one. Grown
Together like verses in a song
Now joined by the chorus, always
Full of another thought that is
Not quite birch tree and yet more
So, that even these paper-white
Trunks leaning apart from one another
Hear a mother calling to her long-haired
Children, calling them to return
Home for it is evening once again.
And they stand listening, that breeze
In their lovely leaves twisting
Slowly as if remembering how it is
The dance must be performed,
Then catch it fully and I too
Dance in both my heart and in my
Body, stepping away to see the whole,
The tree, more beautiful than it
Has ever seemed, unwrapping the evening
For everything in this world.
We’ve been waiting for the swans,
To see how beautiful they are,
But they never come. Finally
Someone throws a small rock
Into the pond and within a few
Minutes rocks are showering down
Upon the water and there is no other
Sound but their splashing.
The frogs have stopped calling.
The crickets are perfectly quiet.
Native birds that were there have flown
Away. Eventually all the people leave
And those other choruses begin once again.
I have been lying in the tall grass
Beneath the willow that reaches out
Over the water. Night is coming
Quickly. Just before I leave
The swans come. It is almost dark.
They look like ghosts with huge wings.
I notice that when they land I do
Not hear any water splash at all.
I hope that I am not dreaming.
I rise slowly and walk back
Toward the road. When I look
Away from the water I can still
See the swans in my mind.
I decide I am not dreaming.
I am just amazed at the perfection
Of the mind in that it perceives swans
Like these over and over again.
The skies realize no one
Can ever stop them. They fashion
Instruments out of birds and ask the wind
To play upon them. If not
The wind, something equally
Sightless and brooding
With moods that could make
A child weep.
The page never gives up color
By itself. It remains white,
Looked over and guarded by sharp
Teeth always making up its own story.
The waves are changing again.
The long speeches are coming to an end.
The rationalizations begin looking
For a way to convince ourselves that
We knew this was coming all along.
I’ve described the scene this way so you
Might see that beautiful girl loaded with
Bright colors walking right through
The center of this whole thing
Singing, quite content with how it turned out.
There is an hour of the afternoon when the plain is on the verge of saying something. It never says, or perhaps it says it infinitely, or perhaps we do not understand it, or we understand it and it is untranslatable as music.
—Jorge Luis Borges
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poems and pix!