(for Basho, Zooey & Vico)
The dogs do not think
but instead are the flush joinery of drive and muscle,
heart and intent, now, and now again
aloft between the greening crusts of fields
and June’s high-ceilinged
For all their flight they’re stillpoint,
flashing lure and paradigm
of how to live and how to love on earth,
completely, now, and as if their sensuous kingdom will
have no end.
They do not think:
felled tree to cross, dead-fall to manage,
midge-thick morning to pass,
but inhabit already
the ample bliss on the other side:
stream ripe for drinking,
the boon of newborn mud,
the fresh rinds and flash of rabbits, and
grasses churned with lust and smudged with fox musk—
all that they enter and, thus anointed,
Osteosarcoma: A Love Poem
For Easton, Zooey, and Nacho
Cancer loves the long bone,
the femur and the fibula,
the humerus and ulna,
the greyhound’s sleek physique,
a calumet, ribboned with fur
and eddies of dust churned to a smoke,
the sweet slenderness of that languorous
lick of calcium, like an ivory flute or a stalk
of Spiegelau stemware, its bowl
bruised, for an eye blink, with burgundy,
a reed, a wand, the violin’s bow —
loves the generous line of your lanky limbs,
the distance between points A and D,
epic as Western Avenue, which never seems to end
but then of course it does, emptying
its miles into the Cal-Sag Channel
that river of waste and sorrow.
I’ve begun a scrapbook:
here the limp that started it all, here
your scream when the shoulder bone broke,
here that walk to the water dish,
your leg trailing like a length
of black bunting. And here the words I whispered
when your ears lay like spent milkweed pods
on that beautiful silky head:
Run. Run, my boy-o,
in that madcap zigzag,
unzipping the air.
Why so hard
to give up
But the safe
world my will
this soul could
not find breath
in. He brought
as if to
teach you how
you must live
short of breath.
Still now crave
from Metaphysical Dog
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Long ago my knuckles mended, and I forgot how to want
to clash again. I was once hipshot and erratic, but now I’m glass,
the slicked leavings of earth. Oils from hands mar me no more
than a smudge. I’ll not melt for a thousand years. I’ll not shatter
but for fire or force. I’ve realized there’s no glory in pliancy,
no succor in the softness of clay or breast, for to be supple
is to wait for bruises to rise. And I forgot how to want
to fight, but tyrants are walking around so heavily.
All I wanted was to be in your blood, and be quiet. But soldiers
dare me to hazard out in the world with my prison face,
the one that shifts with the shadows, contorts, lacks control.
My hands won’t lie softly in my lap any longer, for listeners
and liars are close. All I wanted was to be a splinter under your skin,
to be wrapped in your body and wait for you to heal over me.
from A Penance
All summer I’ve tried to hold on,
extend the season of freedom,
pictured false springs on windowsills,
a hoard of frozen tomatoes. As if autumn
could be held off, as if I didn’t love it,
as if lacking in solitude and idleness,
I’ve dragged out each day, prolonged it
by not enjoying it. This morning was crisp
though mostly summer. Expecting
to mind, I didn’t. The sunflowers
with broken necks, stems of bitter
broccoli, tired nasturtiums—everything
I loved could go to ruin. As their motions
and protests have slowly turned legible,
I’ve been able to pass most days alone
another year, even as the children
move closer to leaving and my devotion
remains in its wrong and right position.
I’ve forgotten my center, tried to take it
from the soil, always with excellent reasons.
Nothing’s wrong with loving the earth,
but the earth is one of many necessary
altars. The secret of creation would never be
so obvious. I’ve got to embrace the fear,
be a failure, act more like a president:
give up the re-digging, excess alertness,
misinterpreting of wilt—killing the plant
that wanted neglect, with kindness.
from Southwest Review
The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog
I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can’t explain.
It’s good if you can accept your life—you’ll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look
Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can’t believe how much you’ve changed.
Sparrows in winter, if you’ve ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,
But you can’t quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He’s been hungry for miles,
Doesn’t particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.
from Eating the Honey of Words
Thanks to two_grey_rooms
Elegy with lies
This lost person I loved. Loved for a hundred years.
When I find her. Find her in a forest. In a cabin
under smoke and clouds shaped like smoke. When I find her
and call her name (nothing) and knock (nothing)
and build a machine that believes it’s God and the machine
calls her name (nothing) and knocks (nothing).
When I tear the machine down and she runs from the cabin
pointing a gun at my memories and telling me
to leave, stranger, leave, man of hammers.
When I can’t finish that story. When I get to the gun
pointed at my head. When I want it to go off.
When everything I say to anyone all day long
is bang. That would be today. When I can’t use her name.
All day long. Soft as cotton, tender as kiss. Bang.
from Elegy Owed
You are a
land I can’t
and can’t not.
My party ship
is pulling out.
We all have
hats. I try to
toot some notes
but this was not
My breasts are small and my eyes round.
Your legs long and cool as the freshet
that runs down from the fountain.
I bite your neck,
it’s sturdy, still not yet ripe,
like a walnut that has just now fallen.
You clamber on top, start kissing my middle,
strew wet wavelets all over my skin,
now up here, now down there,
like the first fat drops to fall before
the storm starts, splat, splat, splat.
We’ve gone to sleep back to chest,
the way lips rejoin
translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin
from Meanwhile Take My Hand (Graywolf Press, 2007)
Everyone has a cousin Benjamin Bunny.
Peter said a walk would do him good.
The edge of the wood. Peter did not
enjoy himself anymore. He never would
again. The brooding lettuces
in their falcon hoods. The coppice gate
wound shut by weeds, the jaws of life
trying to keep it closed tight
but anyone can climb it.
As a child I played on a gate
in a neighborhood park
that swung of itself
and sounded like the distress
call of a rabbit. I stood on the bottom slat
and backed in and out of
the air. I’ll never get out of here.
The gate was pure folly, without
fencing on either side,
staged around a doorway
the imagination strains to enter.
I was raised in an aisle seat
with an eye line of an actor
about to come through
from behind it. Melodramatic
onions grew wild.
I cried and cried until someone said
it’s O.K. to cry,
it means the onions
are fresh. Every dream begins
with a threshold.
Meat in the driveway
where dogs tipped the garbage.
Where’s your mouth? There is a whistle
you can buy that makes the sound
of a rabbit screaming
hunters use to call
whatever they want
out of the thicket
because everything they want
wants rabbit for dinner.
Move your hand
along the shaft to change
the call from jack to cotton-
tail and back again.
Once you see them nose
out of the interior at your bidding
what stops you from sounding
every single day? All day? The shrill
canned terror. You can do it
with a reed of grass. Cup your hands.
is listening. I knew a hunter
who could do a spot-on fawn
would bring a doe
into the open every time.
He didn’t want a doe, though.
He wanted a buck.
Here’s what I can’t stand
when bucks hear
the sound of the fawn
my friend makes with his mouth
they come, too, not in pity, but in lust,
so badly they want the doe
drawn by the yearning
of a fawn in need of her.
Everything is within range
suddenly and who am I to judge.
He mounts her relief
and spring comes.
No. He takes
a bullet. I was caught
up in theatrics
and forgot whose
theatre this is.
Thanks for the suggestion, somme!
In every bar there’s someone sitting alone and absolutely absorbed
by whatever he’s seeing in the glass in front of him,
a glass that looks ordinary, with something clear or dark
inside it, something partially drunk but never completely gone.
Everything’s there: all the plans that came to nothing,
the stupid love affairs, and the terrifying ones, the ones where actual happiness
opened like a hole beneath his feet and he fell in, then lay helpless
while the dirt rained down a little at a time to bury him.
And his friends are there, cracking open six-packs, raising the bottles,
the click of their meeting like the sound of a pool cue
nicking a ball, the wrong ball, that now edges, black and shining,
toward the waiting pocket. But it stops short, and at the bar the lone drinker
signals for another. Now the relatives are floating up
with their failures, with cancer, with plateloads of guilt
and a little laughter, too, and even beauty—some afternoon from childhood,
a lake, a ball game, a book of stories, a few flurries of snow
that thicken and gradually cover the earth until the whole
world’s gone white and quiet, until there’s hardly a world
at all, no traffic, no money or butchery or sex,
just a blessed peace that seems final but isn’t. And finally
the glass that contains and spills this stuff continually
while the drinker hunches before it, while the bartender gathers
up empties, gives back the drinker’s own face. Who knows what it looks like;
who cares whether or not it was young once, or ever lovely,
who gives a shit about some drunk rising to stagger toward
the bathroom, some man or woman or even lost
angel who recklessly threw it all over—heaven, the ether,
the celestial works—and said, Fuck it, I want to be human?
Who believes in angels, anyway? Who has time for anything
but their own pleasures and sorrows, for the few good people
they’ve managed to gather around them against the uncertainty,
against afternoons of sitting alone in some bar
with a name like the Embers or the Ninth Inning or the Wishing Well?
Forget that loser. Just tell me who’s buying, who’s paying;
Christ but I’m thirsty, and I want to tell you something,
come close I want to whisper it, to pour
the words burning into you, the same words for each one of you,
listen, it’s simple, I’m saying it now, while I’m still sober,
while I’m not about to weep bitterly into my own glass,
while you’re still here—don’t go yet, stay, stay,
give me your shoulder to lean against, steady me, don’t let me drop,
I’m so in love with you I can’t stand up.
Thanks to two_grey_rooms
Dominion Over the Larger Animal
How many times I have provided
For your death; the apple turned one way
Then the other, an arrangement made,
The softer ground. To hold your head
As if this mattered, to say what I think
Essential into your ear,
To watch the eye look everywhere to find
What it does not know it looks for.
To fasten you down in the one place
Where no one can say anything more,
Being nothing else but breath leaving,
While the man with the needle stands by
Until the signal of how it is time. To believe
I know what will happen next, to leave the hill
As the body stiffens, to pass each blossom
Of blood in the snow as if I understood
All I was capable of.
from The Exchange : Graywolf Press
The Last Judgment
The consequences of our actions. Completely unknown, for every one of them enters into a multifaceted relation with circumstance and with the actions of others. An absolutely efficient computer could show us, with a correction for accidents, of course, for how to calculate the direction taken by a billiard ball after it strikes another? Besides it is permissible to maintain that nothing happens by accident. Be that as it may, standing before a perfectly computerized balance sheet of our lives (The Last Judgment), we must be astonished: Huh! Can it be that I am responsible for so much evil done against my will? And here, on the other scale, so much good I did not intend and of which I was not aware?
(translated from the Polish by the author and Robert Hass)
In Praise of the Defective
When the best of it is prized from the dung
of the Sumatran common palm civet,
sweetened like a cherry in the gut
of this little island cat, I feel better
about not drinking coffee, sipping instead sweet
tea crude as a hammer. I feel
better that I never read much
Tolstoy, stopped at the bulwark of so much
French. I should begin
a second life. I should not dream
of my macrobiotic afterlife
in which I am what I do not eat
and the animals I loved enough
to eat grass, to pretend one thing was another,
purr and sing and chirp
sweet hosannas outside my bedroom window
where sometimes we made
love but never continuances
of our selves which we’d name
Hank or Emily while saving up for Harvard.
I feel better that none of me
works well at all,
that for twenty years the fog
has never lifted
from the landscape I mean to cease defiling
someday. Thank you
cards I should have mailed
and gifts given
and favors repaid with crippling interest
I grow to love
the way I once loved
shame. What will I do with my days
now that my nights
are sublimely alone
and how will I make use of this wound
I carried like a map
so that I would never, never
from DIAGRAM 7.4
Thanks to iatrogenicmyth @ I Eat Poetry