She was making her tea
With black water,
Like she could open up
The morning as if it were
The throttle of a motorcycle,
Engine quivering as she sat atop it.
She could tell you how to feel.
No one was fooling about any of this.
There suddenly seems no choice.
A room full of shipwrecks.
I used to know the names
Of the people who lived here.
They were fine folks.
All dead now. Little
Songs right in the middle
Of their heads.
Birds on the eaves of their roofs.
Their beautiful children gone.
Cormorants on the piers,
Unable to swallow the fish
In their throats.
At one time they could speak.
Now the fishermen are gone.
I will never again
Be allowed to speak to you.
We are apologists for the sea.
What do you want from us?
Many of us shatter before we are able
To speak about any mysteries.
There is more. Go buy candles.
Place them as high on the cliffs
As you are able.
We shall tell the sailors
Of your kindness when
They come for us.
Just before I woke up I saw three men
Sewing the edges of what seemed to be
A dream. I was going to ask them if that
Was what they were doing, but the light
Suddenly shifted and I was back standing
On the edge of the same pile of rocks
That seemed to be leaning out over the town.
I thought I would walk down to the spring,
Get some water. But I did not know where
Any spring was located and my head was
Beginning to fill with all sorts of ideas that
People had mentioned to me if I ever found
Myself out in a place like this. The ropes
Holding the day up were beginning to haul
The whole thing down. The barns were losing
Their red to a deafening gray. I knew I would
Need a light of some kind very soon.
When I got to the the first of the great oaks
I saw lights flickering in the lower reaches
Of the trees, where they bent to touch the earth.
This was how things were supposed to look,
I told myself. Even sound had an aura about it.
It was as if faith in life and in the beautiful,
In friendship, and kindness and love and all
Those things I had been told when I was young
Could really be true here on earth. That was
When I knew I was dreaming. Someone
Pulling on the sleeve of my coat, hungry,
Afraid to ask for anything more than a mouthful
Of food, not even a lousy cigarette, or a piece
Of hard candy might be asking too much and
They were not going to get it from anyone in
This bloody country. It was a mother, somebody’s
Mother, but she too was pulled back into the night.
I reached my horse just at the edge of the long
Meadow. I felt I might be able to come back, to see places
Like this again. To know there was a place where
Love would go better than listening to a head filled
With the noises of hurt and want. I love you, the
Great oaks whispered to no one in particular.
How about that? …to no one in particular.
Two crows put on their masks and light their eyes.
They have been here many times before. We know
Them by their voices and the crackle, cackle or their
Arguing.... “We are not hungry,” they say and land upon
The heads of the dead, pecking at their eyes. “They
Do not need them now and they are such delicious
Grapes and look the jack-o’-lanterns have no eyes
At all.” They are total masks, a smear upon a vegetable
Designed to help us understand the dead in a particular
Way. We will come to your house and beg and you will
Give us sweets.
The trees along the driveway fill with black bodies,
Squawking and shitting on the lawns and concrete.
They use the red to color their eyes and watch us
As we make our way from house to house, dancers
In their fantasy as we think them players in ours.
“EVERYDAY HAS THE SHAPE OF THE NITE
WHAT IT COMES OUT OF.” —Ridley Walker
You must forgive me
If I forget the night.
I’ve managed to keep it
Outside with the Spring
Of the frogs that have
Settled into it. April
Sounding like a fantasy,
Birds in the air,
Pictures in the wind.
I struggle to make myself
Understand it, but it is too late
And the day has leaked
Itself all over me
Staining my clothes with
Memories that are not mine.
A drift of ghost-
Schools of small fish
Cascades into my
Frontal lobes like
Waterfalls of songs.
Please help me here.
There is no place left
To go and I can see
The dogs circling the fires.
How long have we lived here?
Wishing and chasing the light
Into our own hearts,
We grow old by the
Fires next to the fences
Erected to keep us
Away from all that
Has failed the land.
I spend my life thinking
Words that could head
Away from these and wade
In the chill of morning,
My hands burnt and
Bleeding. Prayer shaft
Of light that bores into
Our souls. Help us.
Help us. Help us.
That becomes the chant
Of the frogs in Spring,
The whining of dogs
Left alone, the
Night after night
Obliged to continue
Living beneath the
Detached dome of
Time. Our very breath
So precious we
Can barely say
(for Neruda’s clock)
When she rose from the sea it was not within sight of land.
The white-lipped foam passed back into the great blue.
The vestments of the deepest ocean had nothing to proclaim.
All of time was waiting for room where understanding could help
Its pitiful argument for constant change, but there was no argument
Coming. The swells returned to whatever they were doing before.
There was no difference. There was no scanning of a horizon,
Frozen or tropical, it made no difference to whatever had life.
There was not a finger raised, no scent of sea or cry of sea birds,
No ship, no vague information that could be given to the moment.
But we were there with our fleshy instruments and eyes filled
With vitreous humor, more sea than seeing, a skimming of the
Way to the retina from the lens that tries so hard to convince
Us of the world with electrical changes and images such as this.
On the far beach, heaps of kelp near the water line and clouds
Of sand flies and midges, the grumbling of the waves upon the shore.
We will keep returning here to hear the story one more time and pour
Over the marks upon the sands, pour out our deepest thoughts,
Harvest the vision of her rising from the sea and disappearing
As perfectly and completely as these words do even now.
‘“THE SEA HAS ENOUGH TROUBLE
WITHOUT BOTHERING ABOUT WHAT
HAPPENS TO US.” —Kenneth Patchen
There was a terrible smell coming from a giant
Of a man in a red coat. He was walking away
From the downtown, weeping. Behind him
Were bodies of soldiers and a line of horses
Seemingly confused about where they were going.
As we neared them we realized they were all blind.
I found myself able to be many people at one time.
This seemed to be the only way I could avoid
These creatures. They claimed to be human beings
But human beings never behaved like this, or so I had
Arm yourselves with love before they get too close.
Belts of light. Learn the terrible language of the seas
So they cannot get any closer; place your arms
Around one another to protect against the winds.
They will want to misunderstand us. They will not understand
The meaning of words like compassion and kindness.
There will be dark faces in our streets. They will tell
Us we are in hell. That will be a lie.
Choose something golden, like your heart.
Hold it high and walk ahead of all. We are the light.
THE OBVIOUS HOMAGE TO MY GRANDMOTHER
My grandmother was the most beautiful
Woman in Niagara Falls, NY. I wasn’t
The one who said this. It was a friend
Of hers who, when I met her, was already
In her 70’s and was incredibly beautiful herself.
My grandmother played the piano
With a sure stride hand, melody loping
Along and a pretty, open voice that owned
Every song and made the afternoon sun
Do little dances in the dining room.
She had four children, half of which were
Twins and half of which were males and
The twins were one of each and as beautiful
As she was. They won a beautiful baby
contest in 1920 and she had the photographs
To prove it. One of them was my mother.
Everyone loved my grandmother. During
WWII she ran a little snack bar at the beach
On Lake Ontario with her beautiful daughters.
There was dancing and strolling and the boys
Coming and going as they left Fort Niagara
To go to Europe, many of them never returning.
She was Christmas and Easter and the Fourth
Of July and when she died she pushed the nurses
Away as her heart was stopping and made them
Leave her to die as she wished to die. I was there
In the room with my grandfather and my mother,
Her daughter and her youngest son and she died
In the afternoon, with the afternoon sun
Still doing dances all around her, even there.
There are so many little dyings
How do we know which one of them
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today’s poems and the visuals he has found!
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