A VOCABULARY OF THINGS
What is more real,
The howling of the wolves?
The grinding of the mill wheel grinding wheat?
The dagger punched into a back
When the night stops for a moment,
Then runs out of hours for
The one the dagger entered?
Here we make dreams.
Some are smelted and poured.
Others constructed of glass spheres
That make particular music when
Handled by the dreamer.
Some are too nebulous. Deep winds
Screaming through the streets,
Snowfalls so white that the
Middle of the day seems
Impossible to comprehend.
These are the questions we ask
When we find ourselves alone,
Captured in the muddy hours
Of the night, tormented by nightmares,
A flood of angels blown across the sky
By a simple natural phenomenon,
The Northern Lights.
A meteor shower in the early Autumn,
Horses racing the high desert
In a lightning storm.
I will look for you there.
Everyone seems to be waiting for the light
To begin flashing and for the gates to
Come down separating the train from
Night windows on a passenger train.
At certain hours, in certain places
We are privy to see unmistakeable
Dances such as we have never before
Witnessed. We walk the streets,
Wander the quiet paths in the park
And suddenly before us, the most
Beautiful and engaging of dances
Performed by the most beautiful dancers.
We hear their music echoed
In the voices of insects,
In the barking of dogs, the sound
Birds make as they undo the evening
To show how it might be put together.
Too often we forget what we have
Seen and do not recall this very
Magic. Then it becomes the time
For seasons to change, for the winds
To discover new clothing,
Better ways to make the leaves
Rise and fall, whirl in the air
In a smoky Autumn or quiver
In the the yellow-green of Spring,
Rush across the carpets of all
The Summer or create the
Stallions of a snowfall under a full moon
Once again. It is then we come
To truly be here again and know
There is no place these kinds of things
Go better or where they may be so seen
As the dances that they are.
THE BEACH WHERE THE SKY BEGINS
Whatever happens here will not go unnoticed.
The beach is very flat and because the
Wind is also still, the waves too move
To the shoreline almost as flat as the beach.
I find I can look for a long distance
Out to sea and have difficulty determining
Any distance I am able to describe.
Perhaps it is the angle of light that does this.
Perhaps, because there are no seabirds
Present, it has become impossible
To determine any scale to the place.
Then I think it is the bright overcast
That hides the sun but illuminates
The entire scene in such a way as
To confuse any perception of horizon.
I notice the waves are barely making any sound
As they lap at the beach.
The place has such a sameness about it
That for a few moments I fancy
I am not there at all and the beach
Only exists because I am thinking
About it. The sea and the sky
And the beach are all the exact same value
Of hue but have lost their ability
To vibrate their edges. It is impossible
To tell what color any of this
Scene would be, if it wanted
To be a particular color.
Tonight, when I am writing the poem,
I think, I will not bother him right now
For he is writing a poem and that usually
Means he has found something of importance
He wants to say in a particular way
And I will not disturb him for it may
Turn out to be a very good poem.
Perhaps one about a specific aspect
Of nature, or a description of a village
He did not know would manifest itself
So beautifully in the words. Or a very
Definite smell that was carried on the
Night air and made him look at the moon
And once again be totally surprised
How wonderful it appeared through
The screen and the open window
And what the night might mean,
Crowded around it the way it was.
I decided to just let him go on
With the writing until he was quite finished
With it and would put the pen down,
Close the little maroon-red journal
With its pocket at the back
In which he sometimes kept an
Extra dollar or two, just in case,
Click off the light to try and
Sleep once again.
This often seems so much better
Than to say anything to him.
I am outside of him. He is doing
All of the writing right up until the end.
NOT A PROPHET
I’m not putting this anywhere.
I don’t even know how it got here.
I was walking near dawn, the light
Became fascinating and I bent to look
Deeper into the draw near the edge of camp.
There they were, welling up on a column,
Angels, two or three. The light was so bright
It was hard to tell. And the music. I fell
To my knees, wondering if I was praying
Or was merely alarmed. At any rate, I was
Taken, completely. I was not anywhere.
I have always lived in fear. That you would
Not love me, that I would never measure up,
That what I believed in was without value
In this world. I walked tight to the ground,
Not wanting to imagine anything for fear
Of manifesting it to myself or, worse, to the world.
I took this path around the camp to the water
Supply so I would not be seen—and now these
Angels, a shaft of them whirling before me.
Everyone has seen the light leap before me.
There was no longer any hiding. I shall learn
To speak aloud, to express wonder to all,
To call out the name of the lord to the darkness,
To be lead by this pillar all the days of my life.
I wish to speak to you. Do not deny me.
I am the one who comes to you totally without agenda.
Inside my life are moments nobody wants to remember...
They used to have their own rooms. When I was ill, usually
when I had the fevers that started when I turned fifteen, I
could see that these moments did have their own rooms and
if I squeezed my eyes shut I could see inside some of them.
Ruth always thought she knew more than me because she
had had sex with a boy long before I had sex with a girl. She
used to come over to the house to watch my mother bake
cookies and pastries. She loved my mother.
“You keep running away from anyone who you think might
love you,” she said one night when we were coming home
from Randall’s Pharmacy, the one with the big orange Rx in
neon above the store’s name. We used to go there on
Saturday evenings to buy paperback books from the spinner
racks in the store.
“What are you talking about?” I said, feeling myself turning
red. It was dark now. Ruth couldn’t see my face. Not that
it mattered. She liked to say something about everything and
“Oh you know,” she said taking my hand and tickling my
palm with her middle finger, almost giggling as she did so.
“No, I don’t,” I said pulling my hand away and shoving it
into the pocket of my jeans. “I’m tired of you always telling
me how I am. You’re not me. You don’t know anything.”
“Oh come on now,” she said. “You know I’m only kidding.
I just like to make you talk fast.” She laughed. It was a
short, sharp laugh, kind of like a car starting up.
By that time we were in front of my house. “I’ve got to go,”
I said, turning abruptly and going up the front steps to the
door. “I have too much homework to do tonight. Thanks
for going to Randall’s with me.” I could feel the science
fiction magazine in my back pocket.
“Have fun with your space monsters,” she said. “Don’t let
them get you too excited.” She laughed again.
“Shut up,” I said, going through the doorway. “I’ll see you
in church tomorrow.”
I could hear her begin to sing to herself as I shut the door.
"My boy lollipop,” she sang. I hated her.
This poem is not
As empty as it might
There are mysteries
And a truth, a terrible truth.
—Medusa, with thanks to D.R. Wagner for today's poems and pix!
Note (errata): Yesterday a notice came around saying that Foam at the Mouth Reading Series would be happening today, and I duly posted it on our blue board at the right of this column. That was a mistake: the actual reading will take place July 20. Sorry for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused.