Almost

A shovel and an axe
she says–one to kill and
one to bury. A flower,
a bow–one to shoot,
the other to remember
I forget, you protest:
a garden, a forest,
my heart, your dress?
Never mind all that
she says. We’ll wear
bearskins in summer
and go naked for all
dire occasions. Or we’ll
wear the latest shroud
you say. So there she says
take that, we’re dead and
laughing like always on
the wrong side of the joke.
You are thinking: now we
are sliding only half out
from under the stitching
over what tries to get out
to get in again until there’s
nothing to grab onto.
Metonymy you say. Hell
she says is all mirrors—
nothing is reflected
if everything is. It’s
the absence of things
we take as proof they
exist. Oh you say merely
call it a ghost and it
once lived almost still lives.
Yes like words she says like
love like illumination–
wherever it’s dark
it once was.

Inside

the burning cropped resized

The first torment is isolation–the blindfold
it takes to get you there so you don’t know
where you are, your mind hollering run
hide, but where can you run or hide? Thus
excised from the world you knew, you begin
to feel what’s done to you is some kind of
penance, you begin to think of your captor
as the agent of your deliverance. Something
in the intimacy of your suffering makes you
feel complicit, makes you hide yourself so
deep away that ever after you will feel like an
impostor—outcast, mis-cast– and the only
thing that feels like choice is renunciation of
what you no longer have. Still, even in this
dark captivity, there is the shining mind, the
scintillating vision of a heaven of light and sky,
and then all the ecstatic words you conjure up
to explain it. No one now can forbid you to
make a devotion of it, this expansive freeing
space you’ve found inside.

 

 

 

Ghost

noaa lightning bw scratchy mod 3 stretch resized

if and if not we between
ways that were not human ways
whispering next door that thundered
lightning that ran blue around the room

nobody would say monkey first
so we were always alone afraid
it lived there more than we did
chewed us up from inside out

how loud must alarm be
before we give it up
how much alarm
before belief

the road from there was so straight
and hot it burned up to your brain
we saw each other walking there
and pretended we did not

First, Then

first, then last, then in between
the cicada buzz of consciousness

just maddening, like intention, like
things postponed in some other life

tunneling futures you won’t have
dogging you in retrospect, it arrives

on thousands of small wooden feet, nothing
as riveting as war’s sloppy calculations

but like death in key respects, relentless
talk of things impossible to know

 

Breathless

6 Sep 2013 dwnld 2 010 mod scp bw

I cannot recall exactly when it was or where, whether in some public place or private, that I looked at you, perhaps across a table, perhaps across a room, perhaps up close, even in some intimate skin-to-skin moment that in retrospect would not really be intimate at all, or perhaps in one of those sightings I had of you in various places around town where I’d not expect you to be–I wasn’t noticing that anomalies reiterated cease to be anomalies–but wherever it was, I looked at your face and it was like looking at a face with a closed door behind it, and I knew you were already gone, gone not just into your thoughts and silences, or the silences I took for thought, but into some other place, knew that you were living your life elsewhere, knew, without exactly thinking of it this way, that you had constructed another life and moved into it, that there was no more being with you when I was with you, and when I thought of our life together, where I still was but you weren’t, I could almost hear the hammer and drill of demolition, and see the workmen smoking and joking around on their break. After that, there was always sawdust in your touch, and I was someone who was not me with someone who was not you, though I always thought of you as substantial somehow, while I was a ghost haunting the place that had once been my life.

I felt all the time as if the breath had been knocked out of me, and in that way in which the mind pulls up the only memories that somehow correspond with a present that makes no sense, in one of my desolate reveries, I suddenly remembered, as if waking up in it, a time when I was probably ten or eleven years old and Mother and I went to visit the preacher’s family, the daughter was about my age–Mother was probably hoping I’d find a friend, so little did she understand the real conditions of my life, the ones that had started, of course, with her–and she was inside having coffee and chatting or whatever it was that adults who didn’t know each other did, and I was outside with the girl and her brother, and out of nowhere, he knocked me down and began to jump on my chest—and he was a big chubby guy, there was no way I could get up, and there was no air in me, I think I may even have blacked out for a bit. I guess his sister got him to stop, or like all bullies he had an instinct for when he’d done enough damage and could put the innocent face back on, and it was one of those don’t tell or I’ll kill you kind of things.

But he didn’t even need to tell me not to tell—there on the ground with the wind knocked out of me, whatever I was pulled back into that little space inside where I had my life, like the closet one tries to hide in in dreams of being stalked or chased: I already knew that there was nothing that could be done to stop it, that nobody was going to help me. It was a moment of absolute clarity and absolute solitude, and although it was really only part of a history of encounters with malicious children that started when I was three or so and went to what was called kindergarten then—it was really a kind of corral in which children did as they pleased under vague supervision—it was one of the events that I had put furthest from my mind until the memory of it suddenly cropped up. When he knocked the breath from me and in a very determined way made it impossible for me to breathe, I was shocked—physically—and I was taken by surprise, but in the long view of things, I wasn’t surprised that someone was hurting me, that it felt like some kind of annihilation, that it made no sense. That was what being in my world was as a child, no one was looking out for me, so harm and helplessness was always a nearby possibility. I wasn’t a cringer or a hider, but I had a habit of kind of spacing out, which I now realize was a kind of defense that probably only made things worse by making it easier for mean kids to catch me off guard, to inflict a kind of chaos on me, and then move on to the next thing as if, for them, nothing had happened.

Of course, it wasn’t as if you were beating me or as if you had some kind of malicious plan, just that you had casually hurt me and now you were done with it, and done with me. Like all betrayers, you acted as if you really had nothing to do with what had happened, and like all betrayals, an essential element was that you made me party to my own undoing by letting me think things were what they weren’t, for quite a long time as it turned out, though I would never know precisely how long. All the years of my life that I had spent with you, over half of my life then, were suddenly obliterated—when I thought of the past, I knew it wasn’t what I thought it was at the time, it had just been emptied out, like my present had been emptied out when I wasn’t looking. It was just suddenly as if there was nothing left, nothing left of me, nothing left of you, not even in my dreams, which were now populated with people I did not know in places where I’d never been.

Alive

the laundry     suppressed     the corridor
the silence confiscated     all our words
the shipwreck     the rocks     the news
was good     the news was bad
we found the wreck     attractive
we were marine     we were phosphorescent
behind our backs     the middens beckoned
in our dreams     we were alive
  
  

Edge Up

Something was coming—you slipped out before it

knocked, burned beside a window full of glaring

sky, the bedside pantomime that words edge up

to, the mystery of this place you can’t quite

go into opens up its bargain, harrowed

from the empty ricochet of matter, the

junk heap the body is in every last word.

Slide

What slides
rules sideways,
it can’t run. When
sidewise dreams infiltrate
things we know, they
never are the things
we know again. If in
this makeshift paradise
time passing merely
imitates time past, the
dreamer never knows.
Something in us insists,
something else lets go.
Everything here that’s
flat invites a fold,
anything that can linger
is already gone.

Hammer Nail Nail

What kind of house takes so much
relentless hammering, long months of
straggling whacks and taps, titanic
wrenching and that endless jet engine?
Yet lounging at the site for lunch
those guys could be philosophers
tossing empty cans in the street and
contemplating, one of them finally saying
look, if the world is all that is the case,
let’s nail this fucker down.

A day longer than a day

A day longer than a day–
water under a piling,
plying sand and silt away
till everything is water
and sky–heat lightning,
ponderous clouds.
How off the track the wheel
of other lines, the little you
the big one orbits round,
the last lost creature
In the spirit jail.

 

 

Ectoplasm

The layman’s term for ectoplasm—that’s what
the cool girl-woman with the Audrey Hepburn hair
in the tight black dress says to the guy in the suit
who leans in close to hear her, as they glide past on
their way into the room at the party where the cool
people hang out with other cool people, wearing the
still faces of the cool, knowing, you think, things
you cannot even imagine, and never ever saying
the layman’s word for ec-to-plasm.  They look like
they’ve been imported from some exotic place where
nobody is ever surprised by anything, but what do
you know, you’re fifteen, and not the worldly person
you expected to be putting on your first pair of
stockings, like slipping into a new body, exquisite,
being loved by those stockings till you realize they
are just the first of encumbrances and bindings still
to come. These cool people don’t look, they gaze, and
when they gaze at you they make you not exist, your
college boy date knows these people, but he’s not cool,
if he was cool, he wouldn’t be here with you. Why are
you here, your reckless friend out in the car with the
other college guy doing who-knows-what, it’s like
every double date she will talk you into, and it’s only
the second date of your life, your dog wouldn’t let him
get out of his car when he showed up, then that
disappointed look from daddy when he looks at you
now and your mother wishing you’d just go away and
saying so again just yesterday, you wish you’d go
away too.  Ectoplasm, what a disappointment when
you look it up later, it’s not anything, you look up
layman too but you already know from the way the
cool girl said it that it means lowly and uncouth, in
other words you, so unlike these sleek girls in black
supernaturally untouched by this Mississippi heat,
conversing, murmuring, sipping the cool drinks of the
cool, not the sloe gin and 7-up your friend is knocking
back in the car and will be throwing up in about an
hour on some gravel road. This party starts to feel sort
of like church, which makes you want to say damn
over and over, just another place where you don’t
belong, you’d rather be dancing in your room alone or
watching Star Trek or throwing sticks for the dog.
Twenty years later, you’ve been some places, you’ve
had plenty of cool, you’re back home, it’s two a.m.,
you’re in one of those not-exactly-nightclub clubs, the
kind without a fixed address, and there’s a goddess
singing the blues, singing like there’s some enormous
feeling inside her that’s going to kill her if she doesn’t
get it out and every word is pulling that thing out of
you and all the people you’re standing with here too,
the only thing in the world is this voice kneading this
pain.  When the set ends it’s like you’ve come out on
the other side of something you thought you’d never
make it through, the whole room is hollering praise
and gratitude.  Everybody takes a break, the smell of
pot comes in from outside, somebody has put a cold
beer in your hand, now the room’s not full of sound,
you’re just looking around, and there they are, current
incarnations of the cool people from that party when
you were fifteen, arrayed around a table in the middle
of the room, performing cool but looking also a bit as if
they wonder how they arrived in this place of mortals
with our mortal inconveniences like falling in love with
the wrong people over and over again or fucking things
up when you are trying hard not to.  When you see that
skittish ethereal mist rising up from their table and
hanging in the air above them, you know what it is:
ectoplasm.