Oh those bodies
on the museum walls
Tennessee Valley bodies and Los Alamos bodies
shining blackly like the stripe of a credit card.
The price of bread fixed at five cents
and we all eat it in slices.
Your name is your labour and
your labour your name,
but it doesn’t stop there.
I have disappeared into a country that doesn’t know me
and I am tearing it up with my teeth.
Oh those bodies
that were once slaves.
Were they pictured any other way
but in idyll or whipped dry?
The dusty Union regiments at Baton Rouge
have made a postcard of one scourged back;
they share it around and die for it.
I have a few postcards, too.
It is strange to see any man kneeling.
Oh those bodies
Cornbread bodies and bodies like a corn snake
crushed among the broad leaves of tobacco;
The ones in bone corsets and the ones
in reed baskets, floating downstream.
The ones in rosy marble and wrought bronze
the ones whose striped backs are coming out in wings
feathers pink and wet
like a new-hatched chick or a stillbirth.
is like a tight machine of grief
packed into homespun like a fist
and relaxes in sepia as it never did in life,
a babe slung underarm and the food
only from cans; they keep the dust out.
Oh those bodies that tend the home, larder and ledger
and reach for the high cabinets
and keep reaching.
The old voices are back at work.
I am not the one they are speaking to
but I hear them all the same.
They spread out a catalogue of wares
on a sisal blanket in the dark
and every price sounds fair, every garment lovely
unless you made it.
The country workman in bronze now and forever
with his rolled shirtsleeves; his body
raises a hammer and his bicep, mid-shiver
is always striking something, always building
Heaven, and Manhattan, from the foundations.
Stained glass his union flag
and Union Army blood he forgot or never knew,
the white thin arms of Andersonville,
meeting two generations hence, in his arms,
the dark scarred arms of the South.
Who brought forth this nation on the Earth
and who brought forth the ironclad Monitor
and who put into song the Maple Leaf Rag or Swanee River
and who put that soil there from which the cotton still grows
and who made your dress?
Who owes the debt and who records it?
Oh those bodies swathed in light.
Oh those bodies becoming angels.
Bodies bound blackly
and bodies forgetting
which is what bodies do with injury:
they absorb, and they forget.
as with people
you notice the freckles first
and only later
the line on first white knuckle where,
accidentally, the axe went in,
at an oblique cant
eighteen years ago.
And among the things I notice first
and ask about:
the rhythm like an engine
that will bring you shuddering
to the side of that road
waving flashers, saying
waving flares and saying
Also on the questionnaire:
your feelings about the proper position
of car windows in summer.
Your slim belly:
how is it maintained?
And what is at the top of mountains?
All this love in so short a span.
I became fat like a moth
hairy antennae probing saying
What next? And what light?
A holiday passes unnoticed by.
One or two short phrases of foreign speech are learned.
A short-haired dog grows to love the Seattle weather.
In our short lives we are
reconstituted, also, like moths.
The stars in their ordained paths and metered blinking
their blue shifts
their moody disappearances into the south or into daylight
their human dreams of travel -
I dispute their ownership by anyone
and would they weakly claim to own me?
Should I feel the fatherly pressure
of their hands on the nape of my neck?
Should they tell us the future
if we’re quiet enough to listen
and if we read the newspaper?
I can’t unpack decisions from markets
and markets from the seasons
nor seasons from the stars.
They are comfortable with great distances:
they circle and swoon. One day, their orbits
will bend to one another and the great gas globes
will move in straight lines. They’ll put
two gallons in the tank and go
wherever they want to go. But for now
I am as bound as they are, and I am told
I don’t live in the same kind of darkness.
Who invented spooning -
companionship’s most uncomfortable posture -
and who invented the phrase?
Who ever saw
a packed set of spoons, nestled
bowl on bowl, trunk on trunk?
Who ever bought their spoons?
Spoons are, in my experience, inherited.
They have never known the fit of another,
perfectly like them.
No, they came from, in one case,
a shuttered restaurant. Another,
grandmother’s old tea set and they
barely sit well together -
one too wide, soup-ready
the other shallow, the better to pace out
the sips of hot broth
their edges brush and clink; arms and hair entangle
but all is forgiven (they are both spoons, after all)
and all rest together in the same drawer
- but then, neither do we.
Fourteen days I let the breeze move through me
the rain move through me
sunlight and mist both -
the completeness of the womb.
We came to the top of a steep concrete hill
looking for the place a tree once was, and
is no longer, swallowed alive by
other aspects of nature who stood proudly
in the shape of their meal. We could not recognize
the place from the directions, because
la vuelta means “turn” but
revuelta means “revolt”. We found it finally, soaking wet:
a little enclave of cloud, so precious it must have
been put out of reach of anybody
so heedless as to spoil it.
Around you the thick trunks of violent vines:
grown strong from eating, calcified by time.
They form your shape, and they themselves shape
what the world remembers of you.
Above you, a half-oval of sunlight
suggests another way you might escape.
Here, I am beyond the reach of
tasks, advice, anything at all to do -
my earthly needs are paid for, and the rest deferred -
except to have things to say to my companions.
So how is it, then, that I say nothing?
There’s something wrong with the words.
The word for turn: virar.
The word for throw: tirar.
The word for look: mirar.
Nothing as complete as a sentence, and
the attendant in the parking lot convinced of my fluency
wonders why I should want to throw myself anywhere.
Forgive me. Your author -
strangled in his sleep by wicked words -
he might have known how to finish this
how best to fill the shape of a tree
again with cellulose and xylem,
or tell the birds they may resume their roosting.
Your sightseer: he does not.
His raw language and wet hair
have left a hollowed shape
where a man should be.
We sat on the carpet in the bedroom
and I pulled between us that family heirloom,
a sea chest belonging, at one point, to some
grandfather or another, and we began
an apparently curtailed version
of the usual routine.
I wondered if that meant dire things
for my fate; as if all the events of my life
would be half as eventful, or if
there would be half as many of them, God forbid.
I can’t recall a particular atmosphere,
except that it was dim, and I guess
the old sea chest contributed
a bit of worn charm. And that same afternoon
I did burn some incense, but it could barely be smelled.
She asked, occasionally, for my involvement.
Tap one of these. Lay your hand on that.
And, uniquely in my life, I got the semblance
of controlling my destiny.
Soon enough, a picture began to form.
The five of cups: miserliness, a bearded man dressed royally,
alone atop a treasure trove, his children and former lovers
elsewhere, in loving penury, without a thought
for dear old stingy dad. The two of swords: some duality
out of the past, a war - always - between reason and love, and
how much I cherished them both. An awkward young man
who loved casually, without forethought and almost
without reason, and the brain he was far too proud of having
to use responsibly.
Finally, we reach the one in the center, and once again
I am required to invest some of myself in this card.
I hold my hand on it and am asked to imagine what it might be.
It is the Hermit. Her favorite, she explains.
He means a journey, alone. How alone, exactly?
Under normal circumstances, alone is a metaphor.
One can be alone in spirit, being not understood.
But you and I have been having arguments, and so
the implication is not lost on me.
How alone? And what journey? And to what end?
I imagine them, these arcana,
major and minor. They are collected
around a coffee table, for their weekly tea.
The Hermit holds up a pair of worn sandals
and a volume of sad amateur poetry -
the price of certain journeys -
the Lovers, their backs turned to one another,
produce a pitiful summary of a joint bank account.
The High Priestess takes from her tea cabinet
a samovar full of old dried blood, and pressed flowers
(lilies and lovers’ thistles)
and they all laugh and laugh and laugh
because they are not mortal, like us.
Give me to carry
just a fragment of the cross.
A single thorn, or single lash
to suffer. A drop of blood.
At your worst, holding you
seemed to make the world make sense -
to you, at least -
but the nurses had lorazepam for that
and in more ways than one
I came to know impotence.
Like a supplicant, eating nothing at all
and playing cards with myself
while waiting for the visitation.
At your best, I brought Halloween string lights
and Halloween candy for the holy sisters
and pagan holiday or no,
we gave that room the feeling of a convent,
and I wrung my hands while you slept.
Home in midafternoon and anxious
rosaries in azure on the bedsheets
and flowers in brown, on green field
Sleeplessness was penance,
and so was I absolved; thus some of that
absolution affixed itself to relics
and that rubber duck on the dashboard
I touched in the morning traffic.
It glowed to say
your spirit was with me.
And though I now can sleep at any hour,
I examine it all the same
for some of Christ’s blood, or his forgiveness,
hoping to find the signet ring of the Pope
or at least some of your halo
where I should expect
the Byzantine absence of it.