The president’s hair arrives

The president’s hair arrives

Cantilevered over the low brow

Underneath: a vast plain filled

With locusts and hyenas

And furious wind

We’re on the move

The hair riding like a

Surfer on a wave of

shambling locomotion

Sawdust arms and little hands

Pinching the air

Something stopped us

What is going on

Who are these people

What do they want

Vote him out vote him out

What are they saying

From up here it sounds like

We love you we love you

We want to become one with

Your great I-am

So sexy sexy sexy

Look serious, make the face

That looks like a baby

Bearing down in a diaper

The president’s mouth is moving

Saying dangerous stupid things

He’s said a million times before

alarming thing

the alarming thing
does not wear off         wears off
where words come from         condensation
the thing you’re         housed by
that you         clothe and feed
the trudge         the small bed
the dreaming thing         the bower bird
crowd of neon         shiny things
oh the things I         make for you
for you        for you        for you
the talking pond         take it back
to the laboratory         see what it is
oil sands         an abrupt cold spell
populations         slow cave
even dying one         must not be able
to believe it         one must think
this must be         what dying feels like
       
       

words                 how they get
        fallow
while the underneath          regenerates       revolts
                 astonishing
                         venerable
        forbidden                   amass       mass
                 looked
fortitude         down
                        in it         danger
        looked
        down
        in         it         the mayhem                   override

         it                   of the moment
                  the big beat-down
                         scream
a fortnight          the lock-down          scream
a fright                  scream
a Frigidaire          the hoe down
         the down down
mimosa                   dream
a good day                   believe
                           spirit        
shadow        
knotty thread of spine
                 
what love does          so preferable
to undoing                           why
ever                   not
                 just
                 breathe

The After

warbeth 1903 crp smoke 6

This is the part where you’ve climbed as high as you can go and you can see the city, what’s left of it, spread out below like some enormous outcropping of otherworldly rock, its tarnished spires and black-hole monoliths, clouds above it moving so slowly they don’t seem to be moving, just hanging there like comic book clouds, like objects pasted onto the sky.

Somebody made that place, you say. And unmade it.

A lot of somebodies, he says.

If there are somebodies down there, you can’t see them from here, though you doubt there are any somebodies left alive there and you haven’t seen any somebodies apart from your somebody in all these days you’ve been trudging along looking for higher ground, carrying with you that hasty survival kit composed of sundry canned foods that could exist only in a world that never imagined an apocalypse–you finally ate the pink peppercorns in brine last night, unable to envision what sort of dish they might have been a condiment for.  Why you grabbed and haven’t yet ditched your costume jewelry and a bag of miscellaneous nails and furniture tacks and S-hooks, or why out of all the tools you could’ve grabbed from the toolbox you selected the hex wrenches and a miniscule Phillips head screwdriver, well, you’ll never know.  A few days out he said, Useless. You always save the most useless junk.

Here you stand, mesmerized, a condition humans cannot tolerate for very long unless they themselves have chemically induced it, so both of you have followed your minds down into the city. One of you imagines the fires are out and the animals have moved on, leaving behind a grimy sort of urban emptiness, the kind represented in movies by empty streets through which newspapers or grocery bags fly about and little dust devils pass through, no humans in sight. The other of you imagines a long ago time when you wandered that place together, slept in a bed at night, sat on grass in the sun. We don’t know who imagines what, though in truth there’s little imagining involved–the world as you knew it has ended, and you don’t even have any personal memories of it, all that’s left in your mind are filmic tropes.

I’m going back, he says.

You say, What do you mean you’re going back?

He says, I mean I’m going back.

You say, Are you serious? We’ve been walking for over a month to get up here and survey the territory, as you say, and now you want to go back?

I’m going back, he says.

You say, Why? There’s nothing left there but coyotes and trash and broken things, there aren’t even people down there.

He says, we don’t know that.

But we do know that, you say. We searched on our way out. Every damn building and park. We even searched that damn artificial cave at the zoo. I can’t believe I let you talk me into that. Going back to what? It’s just one big grave. Fires. No water.

The city’s big, he says, we didn’t look everywhere.

Like most conversations of this sort, this goes on too long, punctuated too often by silences that don’t seem like silences any more. With only minor variations in its subject matter, it’s like almost every conversation longer than three minutes that you’ve had with him for the past twenty years. Even now you’re talking without looking at each other, gazing out at a scene of desolation to which he wants to return. You are the peacemaker between how you imagine him and how you imagine he imagines you, so you elicit from him a promise that he will sleep on it.  You make camp, which amounts to lying down in the blankets and quilts you wear during the day and drinking a little water, down to strict rationing now, and sharing a can of julienned beets, you’ve only three cans left but you keep forgetting what they are, though that’s in addition to the two tins of Spam, which you’ve agreed to save for last, whenever last comes.

Lying here looking up at a sky weirdly clear and full of stars, you are thinking that in a couple of days you’ll see the ocean, not that there’s much of a plan there, it’s just the next destination fixed in your mind, first the lake on the outskirts of town, then the nearest hill, then a hill here and there after that, that stand of trees, that thing that looked like a stream but turned out to be a flock of black garbage bags, this promontory where you are now.

You don’t know when in this journey through no place toward no place in particular you started thinking only in terms of place, having abandoned thoughts of food, of warmth, of the company of other people, indulging in the thought that at least you are together, and now the thing that you’ve been repeating to yourself without really being aware of it is rolling through your mind like a tank: at least we have each other.

Superimposed on the sky now: scrolling images of people interviewed after tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, explosions, inner city warfare—Thank god we still have each other, they say, at least we have each other, we’re just happy that we have each other. What does it mean to have each other, what does that mean, is it just some mutual way of saying we’re glad we’re not alone?  You dream you are a shiny silver aircraft of some kind, unmanned, dropping plasma bombs.

In the morning, he’s gone. He’s left you a liter of water and a can of okra and tomatoes. Heights make you dizzy, so you get down on your belly in the dirt and wiggle over to the edge of the cliff to look down to see if you can see him, but the morning haze has set in and you can’t really see anything except this little piece of earth you’re on. You just lie there awhile even though you know you need to pack up and start looking for some shade.

You’re thinking he never said why he wanted to go back, and you’re thinking that he had a plan but you weren’t in it, he didn’t say let’s go back, come with me, I’m going back, but you dodge that thought by wondering idly, as if you are thinking about some fictive character, precisely how long he had been thinking it over, when he made up his mind, whether he was thinking about it even before the first EMP, why he decided to tell you at that particular moment. What was he thinking, you think. That there are all kinds of somebodies left he’d rather be with, that there’s some tribe of sturdy survivors with attractive stores of food the looters hadn’t gotten to and loose women just waiting for him to arrive? That he’d rather be alone in a dangerous place than nowhere with you? That anywhere is better than here wherever here is?

A bit less idly, you start thinking about why even now you are wasting time thinking about what he may be thinking, reflecting that whenever you’ve actually known what he was thinking it was usually something that didn’t make any sense or something you didn’t really want to know, some thinking, usually of an elaborate and repetitious kind, merely being a way of not knowing.

You wish you had a door to slam. You wish you had a wall and something breakable to throw at it. You wish you wished those things in a more heartfelt way. But you don’t.

Before you pack up, you take out the things you’ve kept so well hidden you’ve almost forgotten about them and lay them out on the ground—a rather too complex Swiss army knife, a roll of cash, a fistful of silver dollars that you’d been hanging onto as some kind of novelty, some gold jewelry your auntie left you, a flashlight, a sizeable stash of batteries of various types, several yards of nylon clothesline, silk underwear, useful if it ever got cold again, a water purification kit, a bottle of heavy-duty sunscreen, salt tablets, a small but nonetheless substantial first aid kit, a sewing kit you’d snagged for no reason from a hotel in the distant past, some glow sticks, but the kid’s party kind, not the emergency kind, strike anywhere matches in a waterproof box, a bottle of aspirin, several packets of some kind of vitamin and mineral thing to mix in water, you’d be needing a source of water in a couple of days, a snack-sized baggie containing some weed and rolling papers, a couple of space blankets, three tiny bottles of tequila, pens and paper, a compass, a rosary, a camera.

You take a photograph of this stuff, these riches. You’re laughing now. You’re thinking that you crossed some kind of line when the two of you could have used things from this stash but you kept it to yourself, like several nights ago when the last of the batteries you were using for his flashlight gave out, or on one of the first days of this trek when he cut his hand wrestling with a can of fancy beans and could have used some things from your first aid kit. You’re thinking that you had really crossed the line before that when you packed these things and then forgot about them, forgot about them so long that you couldn’t imagine the circumstances in which you could have produced them without feeling guilty. It’s like some other part of you has been looking out for you. You don’t doubt for a second that if he’d known about your stash he would have helped himself before sneaking away that morning without even saying goodbye, good luck, fuck you.

By the time you’ve packed up, the haze has started to dissipate, you can see a bit of the city, you’re feeling kind of exhilarated to be looking at it for the last time, to be on your own without feeling bad about feeling alone. Before turning around and heading out for wherever it is you’re going, you say it out loud: Not even. Not even if you were the last man on earth.

In the far away

In the far away, something close,
the electrified matter of touch,
how it runs from skin to bone
and sits in your being,
what love there is in human hands.

The cool of the screened porch,
outside inside, bowls in our laps,
peas still warm from the garden
so many to shell, so much light
in that sinking time of day.

The mockingbird’s back–
who shall I be for you
any everything, even not bird,
and who shall you be–
for me? All I am is sound.

 

 

 

we alight

we alight
a branch, a pencil
someone’s hand
imagined home

our submarine, our coast
our delight, our new skin
our body bag

our moon, our outer space
our buddy the robot
roved out of orbit
equipment
left behind
is reprimand

the power hand
a lie, a command
a storied put-together
duct tape, spite
spit, static

our mystery scene
our screen seen
our camera that
shaky trope
disappeared
our all again

Stand

This is the part where someone doesn’t stand up for someone. Or doesn’t stand up to someone. But that’s not the kind of standing up this part needs.

Maybe someone simply stands up, to go to another room, to go into the bar, to walk to a corner store, turns back as if compelled to say something that gets forgotten right there on the spot.

After he’s been gone for months, maybe for years, she’s still driving herself crazy with it: what was he going to say? She’s got this feeling there’s something she should’ve known even if he didn’t say it, or just that there was something she didn’t know, that he was going to tell her something she needed to know. Life becomes impossible, there’s something she doesn’t know that she needs to know, for what, to avoid danger, to pursue delight.

Sometimes it’s like something she’s circling, sometimes it’s like something circling her, getting tighter in, making it hard to breathe. Sometimes it’s as if she’s living there where it is whatever it is, that that is where she has her life, or where her life has gone, but she has no access to it. This life she’s in now, the one she does have access to, this life feels like an approximation of something. She’s not looking for something in this life. She’s looking for it in whatever life she might have had if he had said whatever it was he was going to say.

Conjure

This is the part in which you are strolling with the conjure woman in a garden filled with inexplicably scary or scarily inexplicable prehistoric looking plants, gigantic things, dwarfing, one supposes, the mere humans in the middle distance and reminding us of the, oh, the ephemerality of it all. Of course, the reason you’re with the conjure woman is that you thought she could do something about the ephemerality of things, specific things–fading, fleeting, gone already, in the kind of past that really is over. She is saying to you or maybe to me “I tol’ you and tol’ you so” or, perhaps, “I tol’ you so-and-so” or perhaps she is just nodding her head in that tired you-wouldn’t-listen way.

No matter. What she told you before that you wouldn’t listen to is this: if you have to make a charm for someone to love you, you have to take whatever kind of love you get from it, but you also have to take whatever kind of love it makes you give. Or, rather, you have to take the person you become when what you want to have for love is something that the person you want it from really doesn’t want to give you. In other words, in the scene from the past that may be appearing in a thought bubble in your vicinity, you asked for a mojo hand to make something happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and she warned you.

She warned you then in that other part that you are now remembering in this part—by the way, she’s not wearing a head-rag or a voluminous colonial skirt, she looks rather like a successful businesswoman, like really successful, like the clothes are understated and exquisite, and if you keep thinking about this you are going to get a fair idea of exactly how much business she does, even though it’s of basically three types: get and re-get and un-get. At any rate, she warned you that the outcome of the thing she could make for you and the let’s-bake-a-weird cake things you’ll have to do with it that these things are unpredictable–maybe help, maybe harm, that’s what she said. And then she gave you what you wanted, which has amounted to simultaneously giving you what you want and punishing you for thinking it was something you could have.

Which is why you’re here now after begging her to meet you. And now instead of asking her to undo it, you are asking her to do more to it, and you know it’s like that time you agreed to cut your girlfriend’s hair and your attempts to correct your mistakes and then to correct your corrections ended up with her having a more or less skinned head. And, of course, how do you think Miss Conjure got those fine clothes that you could never in a million years afford, if not by giving people what they deserve when they think they deserve something else?

She’s answering her phone now and giving you the cellphone finger. You wander down the path like a kid headed home after being shut out of a game. Or maybe you’re just starting to give in to the next outrageous thing that’s going to come out of your mouth. You realize now that you’re in the arboretum not some mystical garden though there is in fact a kind of mystical slant of late afternoon light coming in from somewhere, big stripes of it across the path full of what looks like extremely fine gold dust and you could just crawl up under that tree where shade has given things clear edges.

And then she’s saying she won’t do what you want, and you shouldn’t want it done [three-beat pause], but she knows someone who will. Suddenly she’s gone and you are standing there looking at the back of one of her business cards on which she’s written a phone number and a name. But you won’t pause to consider whether you should explore possibilities other than calling Madame Virginie and taking that taxi that’s going to miraculously appear when you get out to the street. Or at least you’re going to think of it as miraculously appearing, along with other things you’ll interpret as presaging in a happy sort of way the world you’re going to be living in when you are defined by the love that you are thinking of yourself as merely nudging along.

Listen: cicadas, that sound that winds around everything until there’s nothing else.

Tol’ you so.

Know

sea serpent near galveston crop short mod 1

This is the part where you don’t know what you know. Later when you know what you know, you don’t like what you know, you wish you didn’t know it, you wish you’d known it sooner. But you did.

Right now you are dreaming, strolling, lollygagging, in a place where you don’t know what you know. So it’s more like somebody is dreaming you, sorting you out in the dream bins with the other detritus of the day, some other dreamer who gets to wake up while you dream on.

First there are some bad things, though the really bad things aren’t what you think the bad things are, you think he’s sad. You’re sad, but your sad doesn’t matter. It’s like always giving him the better part of whatever it is that you are cooking for dinner, everything you take for yourself is something not good enough for him. No big deal, you’ve got love, you’ve got a lot to give. Everything you have in life is something with a nick in it or a smudge on it, you get the crooked, he gets the straight, you get the old, he gets the new. It’s what you do till you don’t even know you do it.

His sad, now that’s something, that’s some kind of sad, something’s got to be done about that kind of sad. Your sad, that’s just some little old thing you keep in the nevermind drawer. One day you’re going to be looking for something and you’re going to open that drawer up and think where did all this broken stuff come from, how come I kept it when it didn’t get fixed? But that’s later, not now.

Get this: he’s not loving you, but you cannot imagine that, so you think he’s sad, you think his mind is off in some lonely place, of course he’s not talking, there aren’t words to say whatever the big sad is he got coming down on him. You get a cat, you think maybe he needs something small to love, you think maybe he needs to work his way back up to loving you—what the hell are you thinking?

You’re thinking there’s a story here, a story of restoration, a story of return. Or maybe it’s just that you think whatever the story is, he’s in it, you’re in it. Now the cat’s in it, and the cat needs your love too because he’s not loving the cat and what you move on to thinking is that if he just loves the cat it’s ok if he doesn’t love me, he just needs to love something so he can start living again. Doctor Jesus, please come on in my house.

You’re not thinking he’s got a story and you’re not in it. What kind of story would that be? If you’re not in the story he’s in, why is he still here and what the hell are you doing here?

What you got girl is a baby man: a baby that ain’t a baby, a man that ain’t a man. So you think: must be a man man thing, letting you see his softer side, oh how you’re gonna take tender care of it, oh how you are gonna abide with this little slump here, this soft side. The side you get when the other side’s already packed its bags and gone off somewhere else.

Oh, you worried so about that man. Everybody loves that man. How’s Derek? they say down at the store. Oh, you know, you say and shake your head. How’s Derek? they say at work. Oh he’s coming along little by little, you say. At church, How’s Derek? Oh, you say, he just has not been the same since his mama died, I miss her too. And you do and so you think you know his sadness. Your girlfriends, now, they’re not saying How’s Derek, they don’t even say his name anymore but you don’t notice that, how’s he, what’s he doing, he’s he to you too, and by the time you get it, your friends, they’re gone too.

Later on you think. What kind of man, you think, what kind of man, what kind of words come after what kind of man. What kind of man what kind of man what kind of man. But right now you wait, you’re patient, but you don’t really know how to be patient, never have, so you don’t know that what you are experiencing is postponement.

So you wait. And then you drift. But even that isn’t what you think it is. You think you’re drifting, drifting in all this waiting, waiting for him to be the man who used to love you, waiting for him just to be the kind of man who can love you, waiting to be the woman that kind of man would love. Drifting. Postponing what you know but don’t know you know: you’re not drifting—he’s cut you loose, he’s thrown you back in, he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s got the life boat. Look at all that water running over your feet.

One day you reach out to touch him, to comfort him, he’s so sad, he’s so lost, you think, and he recoils. Now there’s a word your mind has never coiled around, a word you’ve known only in books: the mortal coil, snakes coil, guns recoil. Now you know men recoil. You think about it the way you think about things you learned in school. Isn’t that something? Men recoil. Who’dathought.

And here you’ve got to hand it to your mind: if you knew what that meant, there would just be no living, so it just becomes another fact. And everything else becomes another fact. And you are living in a world where nothing can mean anything because if anything means anything then it can mean something that he won’t even touch you now. Though he does seem to be warming up to the cat.

And that, you will think later, is what people mean when they say it is what it is. It is what it is because we can’t say what it is because if we said what it is it would really be what it is which is what it really shouldn’t be but is. When you get back to it later, that is how your mind is going to run on because a mind that can run on like that is a mind that can run away.

One day you think he might as well have killed you. And then you know he did. And that’s when you know that nothing you know is any good. And that’s when you go see the conjure woman. Because you can’t live in the world you’re in, and you think if he loved you again it would be a world worth living in.

Now you know.

——————————
altered image; original image: Oudemans, The great sea-serpent (1892), Biodiversity Library: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/129989#page/75/mode/1up

Tenancy by the Entirety

The joining that bears but one divorce,
the adumbration of our last address,
the occupation where already
asunder was, the yoke, mortality
observed, a rolled-up rug. We loved
in the interstices of states,
electricity, pressed clothes, and ice,
each day a room someone just left.
As hours grew small, our tenancy spread out,
our entirety was a slow circuit,
but we were not perturbed.
There were a few things that we knew:
that altogether sun is a good thing
and rain, that what drives apart does not
release, that our wonder won’t resolve,
that unfolded things still bear a crease.

See

They see us when they look at us,
animals do, the way we cannot see
each other.  Do they, one wonders,
ever look at the world in any way
that is not seeing, is their seeing
like being seen, no difference,
just being.

How little of that we can stand.
As soon as a future comes to mind,
the present is spoiled with loss–
loss of something the present has
that the future won’t, loss of
something we think the future will
have that the present doesn’t.
Not like real losses that stop time
and allow no interval in which to
even know what it is but the state
we’re in, like only being, maybe,
maybe only not.

When animals watch, they become
what watching is.  We think they
hope and fear as we do, we think
their watching is anticipating or
watching out. But unlike us, they
know how not to know, they know
how to occupy an empty space
in which something may happen
or something may not.

Surely their watching doesn’t
haul quite the freight of ours–
after all, we sometimes watch
for things to make them happen,
we can look at things and make
them disappear, we can make
things mere objects in our minds
so we won’t see them.

When watching falls away from
being, there’s no seeing, we
watch from outside ourselves,
watch out for things that have
already happened and cannot
be prevented or undone, watch
for things that have never
happened or never will, or for
something that will happen
but won’t be what we want
or will be what we want but
we no longer want it.

All this watching and wanting
my mind feels its way through
on its way to the scene of
all the looking and watching
you do: the way you must
look when you watch women
strip, how you look and look
and look at photographs of
women’s private parts,
parts for which women become
mere frames, how looking
keeps you safe from seeing,
how what you really pay for is
watching yourself in the scene,
watching yourself getting
what you want over and over
again, and never getting
enough of it.

That night the car hit me, I
thought you’d been hit too, as
natural then for my only thought
to be for you as it must have been
for you to pull me away from further
harm. But then we were mortal, and
there was something not to love
in that, how untouchable being
wounded made me, how solitude
settled down around me, a house
locked up tight from outside.

There was a couple sitting at a
sidewalk table watching us as we
dragged ourselves out of that street.
Later on, an image of them took up
residence in my mind as the first
thing I saw when I suddenly wasn’t
dead. Even so I didn’t think it strange
they just watched–early on I learned
not to count on other people for
much of anything. I counted on you
just to live life with me, and you did
until you left me with a past in which
you didn’t, that past in which I
didn’t know what you knew until
you didn’t care if I did, you.

At least it was a familiar state
of being: a mind so empty it had no
room for anything else, the depthless
look of things like a revelation I was
seeing life as it really always had been,
a conviction hard to shake even ten
years on.  No way of looking at it
conjures up anything not flat or empty
to see, not even what that eternal
couple may have seen, sitting there
serene as gods or cats, watching us
with their naked faces, unabashed.

o

© 2012

This is the part where no one

This is the part where no one stands up or
someone does but can’t think of what to say,
tongueless bell—see, like that: all the words
already used up. We leave, who knows where
we go or where we’ve been when we return.

Who will stand up for us? No one at those
impromptu concerts of the past where the
things we thought we knew approximate just
about anything else–stars, lace, something
that flew out of someone’s breezy red car.

That’s what you get for listing off to the
side, it taking forever to get out
of bed or creep down the block . Nonetheless,
If you were here for an eternity,
you could wear this old slow rock away.

This is the part, isn’t it, where you call
your own bluff and don’t confess to the
particular things you had in mind, the
part where you discover someone’s
silence wasn’t the reserve of deep thought.

The god who strolls in this garden we tend,
has some bad news about the weather plus
a few things we’d forgot we’d done or not.
No use in that was then—it runs down
into the earth for ages, this stacked ruin.

What did anyone feel in any new
place with all the dead underfoot, living
much as we do except for their patience
and obdurate good cheer, except that we
love them as we do not love each other.

Even in this late limning of our hearts,
the abandonment procedures require
amnesia about the part where we were
staking listless roadside trash and our
future—already aflame—barreled past.