El Dorado (Goodbye, Utah)
Mi amor, I’m surrounded by mountains.
I’m inside their ring, one never to know
a ring finger. I miss the pueblo of our
nakedness. A magnet pulls at me tonight,
the opposite of the Pacific Sea’s name.
I tire of burying sunsets in this nuevo west,
of turquoise shops selling the wrong sky,
and of the search for El Dorado dwindling
into a hunt for a high; it’s all a bare-bones
version of salvation. This isn’t a tequila
letter or an abstract tourniquet. You may
only hear this as an echo, a cartographer’s
mumble. Sometimes, I travel too far from
myself and need proof that I’ve not died.
How I miss your bed’s golden myopia.
I’m even without moonlight’s silver tonight.
after Rilke’s Herbsttag
Time, it is time.
Summer has been
Go ahead, Fall:
shrink down the days
and sugar the grapes
for late-harvest wine.
Anyone still unknown
to herself will stay,
probably, that way.
Anyone unlinked by love
will be love-
up and down
up and down,
restless as leaf-bits
and papers in the street.
When I smelled green through the blur
where its wings were, felt
the whir of their arc, heard the red
of its ruby throat-scales, tasted the dart of its forked tongue
afloat in the foxglove—my only desire was
to tell you.
My weed-work stopped. Hands
in earth, I knelt by the garden wall,
and suddenly that world seemed remote.
I called to you, aloud, and the words I spoke
were rote, broken, each one an arbitrary token
of the tiny bird that came to kiss the flowers.
It was then I knew my exile’s full extent.
The phenomenon of pungent sound is brighter—
sheer iridescent now there then—
than the hours of thought without flesh. Once, to be
at one meant to act, so I have tried to make this
Letter for a Mentor
I am driving a screw into the plump of a cork.
I am ignoring the animal tracks left on my face.
I am lying at the bottom of a clothes hamper.
Bees crowd a trash can: a bouquet of stings.
I once asked a teacher where a letter begins.
How prickly I felt as I sat within his walls:
peach-hued, smoothly painted with Zen patience.
If I am to take his advice, I’ll start with where
I am presently. I am a pelt full of gunshot,
too torn in death to be made a coat. I’ve endured
an eclipse each day, have learned to train my eyes
to avoid the sky’s direct gaze. I take the sun’s light
and put it on bread, eat daily a sandwich of red.
I never wanted to build a house without nails.
Or thought I could shod a horse, and fire the shoes.
Or desired to landscape a garden where rare buttery
moths would arrive each night for nectar. I won’t lie
and say I didn’t mind, that I didn’t cry once,
wanting to make the teacher mine, so I might
be him. He said, never strike a typewriter,
for they are delicate instruments. I am crouched
beneath the threat of toppling bookshelves.
Of all the change that rattles in my head, the pennies
are his: not worth much, yet not entirely worthless.
I like words.
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
385 Madison Avenue
from Letters of Note
Memory at its finest lacks corroboration
—no photographs, no diaries—
nothing to pin the past on the present with, to make it stick.
Just because you’ve got this idea
of red fields stretching along the tertiary roads
of Saskatchewan, like blazing, contained fires —
just because somewhere in your memory
there’s a rust-coloured pulse
taking its place among canola yellow
and flax fields the huddled blue of morning azures—
just because you want to
doesn’t mean you can
build a home for that old, peculiar ghost.
Someone tells you you’ve imagined it,
that gash across the ripe belly of summer,
and for a year, maybe two, you believe them.
Maybe you did invent it, maybe as you leaned,
to escape the heat, out the Pontiac’s backseat window
you just remembered it that way
because you preferred the better version.
Someone tells you this.
But what can they know of faith?
To ask you to leave behind this insignificance.
This innocence that can’t be proved: what the child saw
of the fields as she passed by, expecting nothing.
You have to go there while there’s still time.
Back to the red flag of that field, blazing in the wind.
While you’re still young enough to remember
a flame planted along a road. While you’re still
seeing more than there is to see.
Poppies in October
Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly——
A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky
Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.
O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.
Tell the Bees
Tell the bees. They require news of the house;
they must know, lest they sicken
from the gap between their ignorance and our grief.
Speak in a whisper. Tie a black swatch
to a stick and attach the stick to their hive.
From the fortress of casseroles and desserts
built in the kitchen these past few weeks
as though hunger were the enemy, remove
a slice of cake and lay it where they can
slowly draw it in, making a mournful sound.
And tell the fly that has knocked on the window all day.
Tell the redbird that rammed the glass from outside
and stands too dazed to go. Tell the grass,
though it’s already guessed, and the ground clenched in furrows;
tell the water you spill on the ground,
then all the water will know.
And the last shrunken pearl of snow in its hiding place.
Tell the blighted elms, and the young oaks we plant instead.
The water bug, while it scribbles
a hundred lines that dissolve behind it.
The lichen, while it etches deeper
its single rune. The boulders, letting their fissures widen,
the pebbles, which have no more to lose,
the hills—they will be slightly smaller, as always,
when the bees fly out tomorrow to look for sweetness
and find their way
because nothing else has changed.
Stephanie Brown, Moleskine IV
We had not quite been arguing
that night—but talking, discussing
how I answer any mood of yours
that falls below cheery contentment
with a litany of solutions,
as if trying to help you find
the right word for a crossword puzzle.
Sometimes the heart wants to be sad
and say so and be heard, you said,
or seemed to be saying,
as we followed our dogs out the door
into the yard, the carport light
startling awake at our presence
and then nodding off again.
You’ll remember that it was late,
our neighbors hours into sleep,
so we spoke softly even as we began
to really argue, this time
about who locked the door
on our way out. You’ll remember
that we gave up our prosecutions
when we realized one of us
had to hold the brittle ladder
while the other climbed to the window
we thought might be unlocked.
Part cat burglar, part narcissistic voyeur,
I paused after unfolding myself
into the room, observing
what we were when we weren’t there.
The television, mid-conversation,
prattling on without us; my beer still cold,
unmoved. You’ll remember
how the tails behind you wagged,
how happy we were to have back
what we had. I remember
I felt so heroic giving that to you
by just opening the door, which
I can tell you now, I’m certain I shut.
A yoke of honey in a glass of cooling milk.
Bats playful like butterflies on power lines.
In all your stories blood hangs like braids
of drying onions. Our village is so small,
it doesn’t have its own graveyard. Our souls,
are sapped in sour water of the bogs.
Men die in wars, their bodies their graves.
And women burn in fire. When midsummer
brings thunderstorms, we cannot sleep
because our house is a wooden sieve,
and crescent lightning cut off our hair.
The bogs ablaze, we sit all night in fear.
I always thought that your old trophy Singer
would hurry us away on its arched back.
I thought we’d hold on to its mane of threads
from loosened spools along Arabic spine,
same threads that were sown into my skirts,
my underthings, first bras. What smell
came from those threads you had so long,
sown in, pulled out, sown back into the clothes
that held together men who’d fall apart
undressed. Same threads between my legs!
I lash them, and the Singer gallops!
And sky hangs only the lightning’s thread.
Like in that poem: on Berlin’s Jaegerstrasse
Arian whores are wearing shirts ripped off
sliced chests of our girls. My Singer-Horsey,
why everything has to be like that poem?
So good to see posts from exceptindreams!
A translator who has a phobia of moths
spent three years translating a book with a moth motif.
It’s ironic, she has said, that she knew more about the moths
than the author of the original, who was merely fascinated.
The translation contained a greater variety of moths than the original,
drawn from suggestions she had made, some of which were in fact
too perfect and changed back before it went to print.
Her moths, the ones that were too aptly named,
meant too much, her moths that she hated, where are they now?
The same place as all the versions of people
that have been undressed and slept with, in lieu of the people
themselves, by others. That must include a version
of almost everyone, lots of versions of some people,
some only a flutter, animated then decided against.
Last night I dreamed you
lost as an old shoe lying,
strings untied, on the macadam.
I’m speeding down the road,
and you are everywhere I look:
brushy bluestem, thick with abandon.
Dented mailbox, gravel drive,
fake flowers nailed
to the tree trunk at the curve.
A flock of small birds
darkens with synchronized turning.
Silvers, veering back again.
Let us not repeat the easy lies about eternity and love.
We have fallen out of love before –
Like children surpassing the borders of their beds,
Woken by gravity, the suddenness of tiles.
So it is we have opened our eyes in the dark,
Found ourselves far from all that was safe and soft.
So it is we have nursed red bruises.
If we are amazed at anything let it be this:
Not that we have fallen from love,
But that we were always resurrected into it,
Like children who climb sweetly back into bed.