An elegance that pursues silence
by Gregg Glory
The gift of speech
Sentiment is the key. If the reader can be thrown strongly enough in a certain direction, or into a certain mood, then that feeling can create a connective web or atmosphere that holds the whole poem together: the web transformed into a nexus of human-centered meanings.
As with Wordsworth or Coleridge’s conversation poems, the reader is hip-checked by direct statements of strong feeling in the direction of the mood in which the poem will actually function as a poem and not merely a collection of statements. It is a wrestler’s work and no mistake. It is not the aesthetician’s golden ladder of words, nor imagination’s grand view, nor the jeweler’s precise chiseling of a potential diamond. It is a gross and direct appeal to the self-pitying piggy heart of common humanity that gives such poetry the emotive energy to soar. It’s the last weeks of an intense political campaign where rhetoric and competition have roiled winner and loser in a single vat. It is five seconds to go on the fifty yard line. Desperation, excitement, and commitment are all called up from the slop bucket of survivor’s guilt of evolution which has hazarded us this far.
But how to achieve this peanut-cracking rhetorical gore and gong-show ga-ga excitement in the current age, when rhetoric, speechifying, and fine sentiments have been frowned from the field of human communication? Only in television ads, charity appeals, and the Sunday sub-culture of evangelical shtick are such techniques still commonly employed.
Unless I was going to print my poetry on the side of a collection tin underneath the photo of an abused puppy, I was S.O.L. I thought to myself, How would Gomer Pyle propose to his lady-love and manage to be heard as more chivalrous than cartoonish? A proposal of marriage is a domestic moment of high drama in our reproductive lives, with a long shadow of consequences that hang from the act, casting back from the future a certain darkness or atmosphere upon the proposal’s moment. So, in imagination, I put myself into Gomer’s size twelve army boots and bent down on one knee. And shazzam! I saw Polly Pureheart a-blinkin’ down at me–so unbearably lovely in the moonlight near the babbling cr’k. And as much as I wanted to marry that Pureheart, and cherish and care for her, and hold her in my clumsy arms under the sighing weeping willow tree . . . . I, I, well, I just couldn’t say anything at all. I had been struck dumb by the immensity of the moment, and the intensity of my own feelings. The fear of rejection and the vulnerability of showing my truest soul were there as well, like a lump of flour in my throat. Yet, for all that, my intentions were clear to her, and Polly in her pity looked down with love in her eyes, and a simple, life-altering “Yes” on her lips. I was blessed.
What I took from this hillbilly vision was that clear intention–or direct statement of strong feeling– followed by silence, or a break from the intensity of that intention or feeling, can moisten the wry eye of the reticent reader, and cattle-prod a passive Polly into action. I wondered, with my personal penchant for potent possibilities and alternative scenarios, if a rhetorical question, sincere in the motivating gears of its feelings, could work as well as a bald blurt of hurt or happiness to create this space of silence in a poem– and which would then invite the reader to lean in and leer– not as a vampire umpire calling strikes– but as one of the dusty boys in pin-stripes ready to get dirty and knock some mud off of his cleats. I’ve tried this approach in the following poems too. (How’d I do?)
A question, such as
How can we talk about love when everything's wrong?
creates a silence of need and self-doubt projecting from the speaker. If the reader has ever felt a similar doubt or moment of confused longing, then, I figured, a space of receptive silence and co-creation will occur. The poem just may succeed its way into meaning.
A direct statement of strong feeling, like
It's going to take a very great person To just stand there and love me.
creates a similar silent space. The adjoining observations about a menacing sky, an aggressive squirrel, and some quietly patient horses all give that sentiment its fertile dung in which to blossom. Exacerbating or contradicting–both–can call that statement into greater relief. The squirrel and horses have nothing directly to do with the feeling the speaker is bludgeoned by– and yet, in the explosive silence of embarrassed eavesdropping the criminal reader has been plunged into– these props take onto themselves all the concomitant feelings that the words of the poem refuse to provide. They are the willow tree and moonlight to Gomer’s gulping proposal, his brown eyes swimming with unsayable sentiments that must still–somehow–be understood if he, and, downstream, the species is to survive.
Will you take my hand?
GREGG GLORY Feb. 14th, 2009
MILES TO GO
This poem has no details If you won't carry water 100 miles in your hands. Break through the skim of ice In December, right behind that silent glass factory All one tall shadow on the Raritan. Watch your hands shiver. Feel your wet cuffs the first 20 miles Until the sky is a shard in your palms, And you fret about cutting your wrists Accidentally.
LIGHTING ROCKETS IN THE BACK YARD, JULY THE FOURTH, 1969
Kneel down in darkness Beside my dark. Flow your free hand Into the rolling stack. Each breath anticipates the next. Excited, we lean Nearer than the night. Nearer than the spur Of sparks about to start. Hold my hand. Hold this match with me.
CLIMBING MT. TABOR
I don't belong here, in this creation. The clear air flies around me, One frenzied blue wing escaping. The path up is all grey wrecked stones Made naked where the runoff comes bursting in Spring. They hint at the uppermost, topless spot All bald flat bold long rocks Veined with autumn-leaved vines and dry ivies. Now I can see what I have been pushing for until My head and shoulders are slick with afterbirth. Over the cliff, the landscape patches itself together. A bare, thin Cigarette smoke of veiled haze Puts a varnish finish to the valley. The Delaware lays like a wet, crooked stick Abandoned in a ditch. From up here, At the brownish prow of lookout rock, I can almost see my whole stupid life. Clouds assemble, whispering frigid things against me. I have no idea why nobody's here with me, Why I have no lovers at my age, Or why I'm tearing my loafers out on a mountainside, Scoring water off of strangers And trying to forget my face With my back Against this cliff.
Deliberately I drove until The only thing I was Was lost. Scrub pines hunched Like dwarf men under the lowering roof Of eggshell heaven, each man bent into his own Posture of Dantescan agony. I kicked uncomfortably Against the sterile pinecones large as a fist Or dud handgrenade until they rolled into the shadows Full of needles, with a sound like crumpled paper. The patient preoccupation that had bade me lose my way Loosened like pneumonia phlegm with every cracking kick. Now, at last, quite lost, I laughed! Not even my own troubles could find me here, Shadow-mottled as a forgotten fawn. Under a wing of vines, beside some swirl of wet, I sat contemplative in my self-forget. The vine-leaves' yellow eyes, all rimmed with red, Offered inedible tears of berries cheerily, Which, if I ate as offered, would let the sick inside Slide up slick as a roar. I smiled aside My wry temptation to see Just what it was was in me, And pulled my fingers from the vines like a half-plucked harp. I put away my need to know Just what had gotten lost when I had gotten so, To see it sized and sorted on some obscene plate Curiously served up For I and eyes to eat. Low above, on a white dry pine bough overhead, The sinuous weight of a great black snake Waits in its hisses.
Better off dead, I keep poking my pillow with my elbow, Looking for sleep-- The cold pleasure of unconsciousness,-- An apricot kept at the back of the fridge Sweating quietly in a lightless box Until the sudden click of dawn Bares its teeth.
There's something crappy in the sand along Belmar's shore. The grains are too big, or there's too much weird junk To run it Smoothly between your palms. Tar from the pier pilings sticks In your dungarees. And the Shark River inlet, no longer busy With chaotic traffic or crab traps Keeps spitting at you. Even the dying flounder From some old drunkard's afternoon haul Stares up at you to go. But you stay, Stuck on your perch and your thoughts-- A little helplessly. And when the oil rig lights twinkle on like an evening dress All along the bottom of the sky's deepening scythe of green, It's hard to know what to call it. If anything.
COMBING THE LONG BRANCH BEACH, I LOSE MY LIFE IN THE DEBRIS
I feel trapped in my old life Like a hermit crab that won't abandon its shell It is so intensely curled Into its stiffened whorl of habits. The seashore wails and wails Its single, filial demand-- Repetitious as a herd of commodities brokers Shouting in their calico patchwork of blazers Until the final bell. How can I change if the sea won't? My yearning stands straight out like a flag, same as ever. Seaweed everywhere, Beaten brown and soft as a drenched felt hat, Fits itself alluringly To the suavities of the rocks, Adapting crash by crash by crash.
WHISPERS ON THE COT
Nervous and warm as mice The skinny cot at Camp O Squeals with our comingling. Wet nose to nose, past midnight We whisper the dawn awake. How can we talk about love when everything's wrong? We touch through frayed fingerless gloves It is so cold. It is so cold, Our breath wets the cinderblocks And almost freezes. Our shoulders get sore, Facing each other in the dark. Light comes into the room Like a page turning out of its shadow. Before I could see your eyes, --Before I met you even,-- I would cry remembering them.
BURIAL AT SEA
This keeps happening: In the field outside Mist gathers in little clutters Unswept. It glitters and sags. Nothing in my life is very tidy. The stamp collection from when I was 12 Blows off the shelf in a windstorm Of colorful, cancelled leaves. I am older than I was yesterday. When Lisa calls on the phone, casually blank, I don't care. It hurts. Shaving, I cut someone else's face. The watery blear of blood flows away from him, Down the well-formed hole in the porcelain Made for the purpose.
“DON’T YOU KNOW ANYONE ELSE TO FALL IN LOVE WITH?”
The waters that tumbled us together Now are pushing us apart The way sometimes pond ice Will throw over an old tree (A decaying oak even) And give its roots unwanted air. Nothing is lost, and everything is changed. 2 What is the purpose of a fingernail? It feels nothing and keeps on growing, Even when you're croaked. The only time I ever noticed mine was when I lost one In a dumb moped accident. My thumb one. It was OK though, really, or at least It grew back long enough to cut me When I wasn't thinking. 3 Things keep turning out this certain way. The moon keeps meaning something angry and sad. I hate that. It makes me want to cry.
THE BLACK RATTLE
Yesterday's lime, and yesterday's, Split at the meridian, Mummifies in its little ceramic dish. Its green is almost white, And it is dry to the touch as an almond. Still, I remember when it was Fresh and bitter. Now, is there nothing else for the mouth to hold But these thin syllables? Every day, I wash my face Beside your dusty toothbrush, the black rattle. The sky is square and bright in the window. When a man's love is mocked away Death becomes beautiful.
A HARD MARCH
Stars drag and spark. Cold ponds soften and go black in the March moonlight. Valedictory icicles fall ringing from the eves, Inhabiting my sleep. Deep in the fallow meadow's gopher holes, Near the golden hibernates Head down in their breathing dark, Spring ripens. Goodbye winter, goodbye love! Nothing shall remain fresh in this winter's-light Even one more day. I lift my arm As though it were a bough of evergreen waving. Nothing can save us at this point. And I Don't want to.
Some things are so proud. A giraffe, proud of its tallness, looks down with its wet stone brown eyes through Maybelline lashes keeping the dust of the sun out. Looks down on us as if we had fallen from the sky too and had forgotten how to get back up. We are the broken-hipped, the pitiable.
But the giraffe moves on, too proud to grow hands and help us back to the sky-world. Taking slow, liquid steps as though pushing against an ocean we can no longer feel, her concern moves forward to what concerns her. And the pale afternoon moon follows her, I notice . . . indifferent to clouds or poems thrown like rocks or bouquets to bring the moon down to us so we could touch it and wash it and swaddle it with big hands in fresh cotton like a newborn baby.
The giraffe is done with hands, done with distractions. There’s something else up there, something more important, something necessary. Something has made her spotted neck rise and rise for generations without losing the pull of its helium, the tautness of its string tugging on her shoulders, her nose high as if just above the waterline she has been pushing against all these eons refusing to drown, her lips outstretched as if dying of thirst to reach the tenderest, least green, smallest leaves at the tip-top of the thorn tree.
THE SEA URCHIN
has a mouth full of feelers. It is careful about what it takes in, what it ingests for its own health. It has a hard shell and it traverses along its spines. Yet, for all that shell, those spines loaded with goading poison, it is delicate, delicate. An unwary foot can crush it, turning its delicately waving spines into fiddlesticks. It’s round as an eye, and as wet; a ball of lashes that can sting.
What comes to this underwater oddball floats to it, mostly. Always it is surprised by what drifts onto its radar. Its small, central mouth is always open; always it is saying: O, o, o, o. Quietly it lies and lives in a world full of fast monsters. Barracuda, all sinister grin, speed by the bristling urchin unmolestingly. It walks, when it does, the way a starburst would have to– carefully on its extended points.
To me, it feels hairy and lonely. This denizen of tidal waters and marginal sands that never ventures from its furry shell, leaves, at last, a washed up skeleton-ball children rattle by their ears. Shaken, it is still full of worry beads.
IN QUIET LIGHT
The excitement of waking up alone in the morning Has left me. The ceiling is closer than in my childhood, And less interesting. The yard outside is immaculate and empty. Nobody disturbs my snows. Looking at the frozen dogwood, weighted heavily down and down, Broken branches lay beneath like scribbled hieroglyphs, Wands encased in cold glass. Why is there pity without mercy? I think, Just as you start getting it right it all changes. 2. A starving coyote, new to the neighborhood, Trots from trash can to trash can, too weak To tip any over and put his muzzle In richness. His mouth is long and lurid as a croc's. His tongue lolls listlessly, Rainy red streamers from a bike handle. His eyes rave weakly as he darts between cars. Songbirds on the snowy fence whistle down at him Uncaringly. No one here has put out even one raw hamburger patty. He bounds with the weak lightness Of a birthday balloon weeks past its date. His fur knots, clumped glumly, And there's a wet patch that defines some ribs. All his life there had been enough. He was strong and had his teeth. Alleys and fields were places to shop for blood, Until now. He stops stooping at Mrs. Crenshaw's, Steals a little left-out cat food, dry. Crossing his paws in quiet light, He lays down carefully in a snowbank to dream And goes running all night long.
LONG GONE SALLY
The stinkbug lay dead in the carpet. In the middle of the room, in the static white Afternoon, a dull dear dust brown,-- Scarab-shaped, but not as sacred. I carried her to the dustbin Without ceremony. The house creaked for a long time after that. I was lonely.
Listening is the pits. Admit it. But yet That long stretch of highway Asks nothing, is always silent-- Asking nothing in the dusty nothingness-- Until the littler kids get out at 3 o'clock. The white line goes on and on like a dare. Stumbling with drink, Steevio and me Switched forsythia whips And traded hot licks from a paper bag Back and forth. We kept kicking The yellow, distressed row Of blameless forsythia Uncharitably, very uncharitably. Some random car Had hauled ass through the urine-yellow hedge Last New Years. We ducked in And slipped down the slope jubilant with mud, Spilling everything. Our arms were numb and warm As after a fight. A delicate old cat skeleton Emerged like a yeowl From the black mud bank behind us. Blank white sockets stared From where the rear wheel had peeled it up. Stared As if we cared.
AT THE LAST SHORE
Having grown up some summers by the beach I always hear the ocean, wherever I am, Coming down out of a long tunnel From far away. Long mists hang around the gravestones, the even graves' grass, So much mischief night toilet paper. I'm here, Dad, can you hear me? Even the twigs break with a gracious softness underfoot It is so wet. The mist is on my face mysteriously. I am a mirror, here. My breathing thickens like the blood of a pear Running a long droplet along the paring knife Until my finger feels it. Baumer, Bowen, almost, almost. It's so wet, Even the souls of the place must be saturated with it. Even your soul, Dad. It's alright, I guess, Running into you here. I came all this way To damned Alabama, and you Waited. What else Are you waiting for In the flagrant dirt? At my back, a dull looped booming comes From the tunnel's other end.
Flowery Xs flip past the passenger window. Dan, Mom, Dad, Granddad, almost Geoff Who breathed suspended By steel and morphine and coma For a month in that room alone With the light boiling through the blinds Blindly Until the pain came back.
Anyway, it's like this, too. I am getting so old, so long in the tooth, Morality is finally creeping over me. What my life should be Is longer than what my life can be. Life is like an airport. Everywhere in the world to get to But you're stuck where you are-- Chewing peanuts at a neon bar. Anyway, my heart-meat Beats its somnambulist's drum. Anyway. I don't want to have to ask permission! Heaven is like this, see. A giant empty hanger, walls all windows Watching the skirl and stop of snows always. Nobody stays very long, And no layovers. I keep wanting to be dead, and I keep Wanting. Anyway.
Sepulchral Perth Amboy Rears past the Driscoll bridge White and final as any heaven. The Raritan overpass feels so high Only clouds Careen off the railings. Below us in the sky A shaggy hawk abandons the chemical bay To play in the updraft. His wings move like hands Too excited to ever stop clapping In loud gratitude. In the city, Lights stipple on Like fine rain across a pond. Sycamores and rowans Poke through the sidewalk, Tearing the concrete with careless ease. Tentatively, stray commuters Find homes among The towers. There's a shyness there I don't know how to know how To understand. Something in me loves this dark night And keeps on loving it. Somehow Never falling asleep again Feels right.
TODAY IN HISTORY
Two bees hurtle past me Toward the pink azaleas. Once, I was mystery enough To interest them.
GOOD MORNING DOG
Twice before like this: Dawn talked the wet hills white in Cliffwood. The catbird said allegiances to the air From a nailed and narrow balcony. There's a coolness in the nearby square of grass Where the exploited moon will wreck itself Exhaustedly Some evening soon. There, by the busted gutter Tippy yawning lifts his leg against And pauses, And paces past to the gum-gemmed pavement Black--beyond all knowing black, I swear-- Beneath its apparent glare.
Once, I was adrift On Cezanne's jumble of pastel icebergs, My feet swallowed in shadow. Stasis, not stillness, filled me then. I wasn't awaiting a kiss, Wet in my yellow slicker beside the empty mailbox. I didn't know which way to go in those days. Now I know the answer is Just go. And the landscape'll follow you like a loyal hound Licking bacon grease from your open fingers. The road goes all colors When you tread it. Far as I can squint, and past that. Change grew in me, unnursed, Like a seed of the sun Too hot to touch. Yet I swallowed it whole, sucking my lips, And it sits in my belly today Burning.
FAR, FAR AWAY . . . .
Far, far away . . . the steep mountain path, Skinny and tricky, 10,000 feet up. Green lichen inches over boulders and stone bridges; A waterfall stands suspended in mid-air, a bolt of blue silk. The moon waits in a deep pool, glittering. I climb into magnificence. A single crane will arrive. --Shide
Born soaking, man lives in the dust, A bug struggling in a sand bowl. He jumps up, reaching and scrabbling; Falling, his mouth fills with sand. Love comes sudden; a mist, no more. Immortality escapes his fingertips, Hunger and greed flow infinite within him. Months and years shift fast as a river; Wet again, he lies lonely and old. -- Hanshan
OUT OF THE SILENCE
Out of the silence I am coming! Like a stone that has learned to cough, A little,-- A little, grey cough Next to the roaring, pouring roughhouse song Of the sea. Yet still, I am coming! The tambourine attached at my hip Shivers to be shaken--to be taken up And touched and whacked on the thigh Until its silver leaves fall like the forest in autumn: Each leaf a tinsel bell: vivid, dying, ecstatic!
LAST DRAG ON A MARIJUANA CIGARETTE
There's not enough words to carry What has to be carried. Even the birds, With their sharp mouths full of unbelievable angels, Can't say anything about it. Above me, and above them, The sky. I can't look at it. It's bright as the reflection off a discarded can. A few tendrils of clouds Hone it to ribbons of razory blue. This afternoon, floating on the bronze smoke in my lungs, I lean back against the deep hillbank And let the grass carry me A thousand miles dreaming. A lone red ant Small as a spit-clean cherry pit,--no, smaller,-- Bites my knuckle, fiercely proud. I smile indulgently. And then another language altogether Crawls along my skin, hair by hair, Screaming: Wake up! And, at the same time, Walks like a water spill across a counter. There beneath all that blue blaze of sunlight, on that hillside, It is saying, saying distinctly As an owl's invisible wingbeat: Be still. Still.
WHEN SLEEP COMES
The flies have died off for the most part. This time of year they lay uneaten In the small grey tents of their bodies-- Still too solid for the wind To take them with it. This time of year Frost discovers jewels in the unkempt grass. The spider's web blows unrepaired Among the ruby hoops of wild raspberries. All the song of summer is moving south, And I am moving too. The robin's nest tilts half-frozen in the storm drain, Unlamented. When sleep comes, Improbably, on my side in the crunching briars In sunny bare woods growing October cold, When sleep comes then, I go down To meet my shadow. And my shadow, From whatever burning place it lives its dark life And seeks release Comes to me.
Near midnight, I get up from bed Trailing smoky dreams from my pillow As I head to the toilet. Just past the open window, Dull With a darkness I do not understand, Dull As the blood in my slippered feet, Something tangles in the telephone line-- A starling trying to get through perhaps. It struggles to get free While I struggle to ignore it. We both succeed. . . . . My dreams are long gone As if they'd been dead forever. When I finally turn back toward sleep, Fragile laughter Titters in from the windchime.
PASSING A SPRING PUDDLE, I WAVE AT MY REFLECTION
Afraid of falling through too soon, I do not wait for what Waves back.
THE ONLY ROAD IS LONELINESS
August comes, hot and open To our swayback porch, ticking in the afternoon heat. Even the old pasture horse is too sleepy to whinny And abandons apples to the bees Under the solitary tree's silhouette Dark as an iron filing. How can I cry when no one is watching? Who is there left to surrender to In this heat? Tears trail tears Until the only road is loneliness. And memory, that bitch-bastard, Is worse than handcuffs,-- A bright pair of water rings Sloppy on the formica. The little Glittery stars seem trapped there, And entirely beside the point. Outside, The decaying magnolia blossoms Soften and rot like burnt rubber. When the wind holds their flayed hands up, They seem small and useless: Broken jacks No little Jill will ever collect. Suddenly, A wind jimmies the screen door awake. And suddenly, The dirty flowers are everywhere-- In my lap, in my face, in my mouth,-- Crying Let go, let go.
DREAMING OF SLEEP, THIS IS WHAT I GET INSTEAD
For weeks now, Every night I go to bed As to a grave. My breath, a steam engine all day, Is knocked out of my body. My body winds into the sheets, Sour and heavy. When the harsh dream comes, I am crucified on a kite. Benjamin Franklin's lightning key dangles From my staked ankle. I pass over farms the colors of a mellowing bruise. Fucked-over farmers Lie stone asleep In the dainty, starved arms Of their wives. Their beards grow long into their pillows. Their red, heavy hands Pull at absent tools. Their breath stales. No horse looks up.
OVER THE JERSEY SHORE, IT IS SNOWING
We had stopped talking an hour ago. Had stopped listening An hour before that. You know how it goes. With friends, everything is permissible and Everything hurts. We held the winter rail down by Belmar Hours maybe, As the light hail hissed Into the sand. Somehow, we thought, We can take it if the ocean can. The ocean was towering over the shore, Like it sometimes does, brown foam splitting Its pure, curved glass. No gulls cried on the rocks. Water slowly turned The color of evening. Breath chafed our lips, and kept chafing. 2. The dune grass was too sharp to sleep in, we knew. Mice curled featly in their nests, Scenting the airs' raw salts. The parking lot emptied out, Whitening as the dark drifted in. Newspapers, full of yesterday's news, Shuffled restlessly about. I began to feel How mangy everything human is. Everything humans touch, everywhere intrude. Ice slipped Over our eyelashes, and our ears Filled with little hailstones. To be honest, I can't tell if I was alone then Or if I am alone now. A german shepherd circled back to taste a dead cigarette.
Knowing and wanting to know Are two different things. I know what I want to know Is innocence. No matter how many times my boot with the hole Goes through the thin shimmer of prismatic ice Over the mud-tan road-puddle, I want it to be the first time. The first broken bone, the first bruise That blossomed fist-shaped on my face Blue-black to purple to yellow Was innocence. That first day, slides were all surprise. Clouds slide by dizzyingly Lying in Billy Costigan's backyard. The smell of grass and slickness in his sister's pants Leaves me serious and elated. Sudden things rush to my ears, And our tongues click through the ice.
Growing old can be OK, But you can't like it. Like stealing. The grizzled woodchuck behind the house Is so fat, he rolls downhill To his hole. He squeezes in seamlessly Like water through a narrow neck. When I hear my daughters scrape home late, Banging and forgetting the screendoor, My shoulders ache with kept-back laughter. Who knew that serried grey whiskers Looked like snowy pine trees on a round hill On my chin? The calendar fritters its paper numerals away In a time-lapse wind tunnel. There's a sound inside the house of echoes. Echoes move sounds around inside the house. Something strong Pulls a weighty object from my grasp. . . . The discontinuity seems friendly and appropriate, Like the popemobile. Days are lemony sun-moments, Nights harbor hours of whispery self-talk. So much has already happened! So many times already I've rolled down this same hill.
My country is lurching into another slick mistake. As usual, my country is making sex sounds as it does it: Oh, bam! ah.
Last night a poet slept in my living room. His hair was long as a river. His eyes made the corners light up Like a theater usher's probe light. No shadows lived there. It's as if a wild dog has slept here.
If you want to live in a civilization, You have to put the pieces together yourself. Every day. If the steeple leans, don't blame the wind. Hey, getting your hands dirty isn't the only part. Afterward, there's singing.
THE FALCON WAITING
My friend Dan's a ghost now since Christmas. In this mist There's only a green line of fence Last night's rain did not dissolve. Then the falcon is there, Snowy in the humid morning warmth. He lets his silken shoulders shake. His compact head moves like a ball Rolling in your palm. His face is all severe eye, And one closed hook. When he stares my way, I can't guess what he sees. There is no time in him, Only flight that has not yet Risen to his wingtips. When he goes from the wet fence To the barn's peak, It's like watching an old man shuffle All his belongings in one gunny sack. Looking back in paler air, I have No memory of what we carry with us. No weight keeps me on the ground. There's almost nobody here.
HUMILIATION IN A GREEN MEADOW
The sky crowds my shoulders As I kick the stubborn tufts of grass in the field. It's too blue, or something. I don't like Living inside an eyeball. It's going to take a very great person To just stand there and love me. Across the grass, A gray squirrel emits its chuk-chuk challenge At a dog, head down on the ash trunk Darkened by night rains. The unmolested grass is long and wet. I consider how the horses Will come stand here all day, And all night And just take it.
Taking the Garden State Parkway north To a dentist appointment in Brooklyn, I notice the cauldron of fogs at Cheesequake Is all colors. The mist makes my glasses cry. I curse stubbornly, Wiping them clean at the filling station On the ratty, untucked hem of my shirt. The ugly gears in my car Wail and whine Like rabbis at a smoky wall. Somehow today, every day is too long to endure. It's only later I remember, falling asleep Under the pink floodlights of my apartment, How this awkward swan, Beating slowly, rose from the marsh Out of the soft fogs, his dawn wings Flashing sharply.
INVADING HEAVEN, PRETTY FAR BEHIND THE FREEHOLD WATERTOWER
Come closer. Say nothing about this, Especially to the cops. Follow me following the stray dog track Through the close woods behind the undeveloped pastures of Freehold. . . . Nevermind the pine resin getting on your windbreaker, There's more, and worse, ahead. Wait a sec. There, over there. Stop a minute by this overloaded honeysuckle, And shut-up already. Can you hear that? For a moment, we are almost Silent. We wait. The dirt waits. Pearl globes pulse, on-off, through the forest awning. Duck down. Here, through here. Gathering sweetnesses in my bare arms, I make a benediction of taking your hand. There's a secret waterfall near here, Big with rain runoff like a pregnant deer Pattering through summer brambles. This is where all prayers eventually arrive, Flushing with ejaculatory force out of the black tar paper tube And splashing, frisky and sheeny, over jammed slate Until the light, and the light, Is beaten out of it. You say no good will come of this. And nothing does.
FOR THE NEXT 1,000 MILES
Stand on this wing with me. Hold my marred arm Until the scars feel like fingertips. The wind is in our faces so hard My eyes go dry with tears, And your smile runs like paint Behind a propeller. Is this what it feels like to be a bird? Deaf with the engines As the Earth veers off weightless and blue? Alone in our greatness together, We close our eyes.