Small Night Song

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Small Night Song

Who among us is not afraid?

I am afraid.

Today I put my children in the shower.

It was

a Baptism – repeat repeat repeat the prayer
“You will not get sick.”

I screamed like a madwoman from a nightmare
in this nightmare –
And what is a nightmare
but a body with no power?

This wine that stains my lips
grows in soil now gone dark

I raise a glass to you,
to you,
six feet away or six feet under,

sleep now knowing
that daffodils, crocus, tulips
will bloom, careless, in the park.

~~ for all people tending to the sick and vulnerable, pandemic of 2020

The Wait

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The Wait

Hell has its own quietude
I do not know from the wait
to the well carved trail’s end –
No markers here, the forest
untouched, no knife-slashed tree
to guide one round the bend.
And now an endless interlude.

Spring winds come hard to the meadow,
and grasses flatten to soft earth,
each seed an obeisance to birth
and strength and forms without fear.
A violent joy sets alight the crow,
sparked obsidian a shadow
over cold and fading snow.

A warped window opens to the night,
slow tires hum past, spitting gravel
and dust behind a broken taillight.
The sound reminds you of a song,
some old acoustic lines of travel
and a lovely love in youth gone wrong –
Alone, quiet, a cruel moon slips from sight.

 

 

Early Storm

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Early Storm

The spring is outrageous. Or an outrage; it is usually one or the other.

How we must love the spring, alone in our old beds

at the base of the young wild peaks.

Today, the sky is a single bluet

born too bright

before the storm.

 

 

March 8

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March 8

And the too much of my speaking:
heaped up round the little
crystal dressed in the style of your silence.”
— 
Below, Paul Celan

Thus far along a new undertaking of multiple jobs, children, myriad priorities always somehow unsatisfied, intentions set and never attained, a singular lesson has by this writer been learned:

The capacity to write is not, as I had once both wished and believed, innate.

I have abandoned stillness and silence. I have walked away from discipline and language. I have allowed need and chaos to become my most steady companions. And these companions, though entertaining and filled with numberless distractions, eventually serve but one purpose, and that purpose is the destruction, the isolation of the creative impulse.

Verbosity, sexuality, work that drains as it fills, the Regime and its sad resistance, viruses, the claustrophobia of movement restricted and information reduced to primordial fire, uncontrolled and toxic, visible but murky – how does one explore the core of creation within such confines and conditions? More importantly, is the question itself an absurd indulgence?

Is the poet relevant during wartime? Is the impulse to create, whether the creation is a child, a painting, a revolution (the two can be, and at their best they are, the same), a book, a thin stream of words on a blog – is the drive itself a form of denial and deception? Children in warehouses under a hot Texas sun, ships filled with sickness, a planet heaving with heat and storm and silenced birdsong, the short & lovely dream of democracy waking to the nightmare of looming dictatorship… and every person has his say, his tweet, his post. But the math is all wrong. The cacophonous song adds up to a strange nothingness, as if every voice has grown, grown, grown, and then been multiplied by zero.

Although my books by Paul Celan remain usually safe and untouched behind glass, not a day goes by I don’t think of him, sometimes often, and especially now. For all the aggressive genius of those who continued, like Whitman, to grant to Life, in all its brutal Forms, an assent and acceptance, the pain of Celan’s silence lives with me as both truth and minder.

Sometimes genius is not enough. For the rest of us, sometimes discipline is not enough, nor dedication nor, terribly, even love. As witness and participant, Celan’s voice was stripped from him like the shedding of burned skin.

During these days of slaughters unremarked, screaming and myopic panic, and the isolation of living constantly among crowds increasing daily in nonsensical volume, I wonder at the nature of the poet’s final silence.

I find myself wishing for him, even in death, that there was a flash of the purest peace before the descent. These nights, I find myself wishing this for all of us. Somewhere, somewhere, the stillpoint might someday steady us.

Prayers grow dim in thickening noise.

 

 

Bend

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Bend

You are on a train. The train is slow, it is not the sort that makes the exterior blur and the interior strangely still.

The train is old enough that one is able to open the windows,  to breathe in the salted air, to smell the tall cypress, and to hear wheels lulling the senses to the necessary and the immediate. Some people describe this experience as hypnotic; I think of it more as release. Perhaps the two words point to the same message.

The ground is steady, but the tracks have been dug by miraculous engineering into the side of a cliff. It is interesting to pause your journey here, and to think of those curled muscular hands, burnt-brown forearms, and exhausted shoulders that built the track, two pieces of iron stitched to the earth, crosshatch of wood laid over them in a pattern without end. Do you wonder what time felt like, as the impenetrable cliff gave way, inch by inch, to strength and will?

The train curls tight round this hill that seems at moments to lean into empty space. To your right are the blinding bright crests of the restive tide, on your left the long thin cypress shaded by a late afternoon sun. Suddenly an awareness, like an arrow, makes you shift and grow taller in the cabin’s well worn seat. Across the aisle, your attention is caught by an old woman fast asleep, ill and tiny as a child. She wheezes in her slumber, her clothes are the worn black of a widow, and yet there lies around her an unsettled beauty, one you are sure has not been recognized for years, for decades. From seat to seat, you look: the child whose miniature feet do not yet reach the floor, his young mother dozing with a book. A middle-aged man, brows furrowed, leans over a glowing phone in secret dialogue. Next to him slouches a large woman with an old purse, continuously sighing some secret and ancient complaint.

Walk to the back of the car. Out of the window, what do you see? The sea, again, the cypress once more, darker this time, like the moody mud greens of Cezanne. The tracks create an inverted frame. The momentum of the train pierces what is ahead, but distance quickly swallows what is passed through and left behind. There is in you a mild but rising panic, a displacement that leads first to loneliness and then to a passing despair: what did you see, how did you see it, the landscape that was just a moment ago beside you, now gone?

Can you remember? If you remember, is the memory more of a wish, a picture, or a solid form that now sits, rather like a monument, to the experience of this day, now rapidly receding from view?

fall

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fall

Do not think
to buy your way out
to fuck your way out
to walk or talk or write
or dance or sit
or pray
your way out
drugs won’t do it
sobriety won’t do it
friends won’t do
enemies won’t do
Do not think
to twist your way out
to eat or starve
or cleanse your way out
you cannot cut it out
or feel it out
or think it out
Do not think
that over that hill
there is a god
or an answer
or hope
or anything
other than the swooning
dip and fall
Do not think
to prevent this fall
it’s all
in the landing.

One Hour

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One Hour

From birth, I told him, I knew.
Life, the totality of it,
is a burnt strata: experience
then memory.
Layers intermix,
and sometimes cover the skin
and the eyes, the body itself.
One can never be free
of such residue.

The invisible tide
of breath –
expand, contract, expand, contract –
the undulating waves
disrupted

from so much ash and debris.

And so, I told him, one must remain empty
the strata will not stain me
the striated lines
of age and need, of desire, of want
of Love
remain a picture
I might visit
as one does a museum
or an orchestra

and I will always be kin
to the creator of the canvas
the maker of harmony
or dissonance.

There is perfection, I told him.
Austerity is bliss
and I know the eroticism
of distance.

I will not rot
between the lines.

Deer

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Deer

On Sundays I am alone.
The thick grey cat, huge,
obscenely beautiful,
sits as a centerpiece
for an empty table.
Her eyes are lime
and define the landscape
of her wild body.
Wing-tips chartreuse, gold,
a parrot glows
before the rains.

Always mystery
is without description,
the description itself
a defilement,
and so is merciless
and cruel
as a God might be
on a winter Sunday morning.

I want to empty everything
to lie in emptiness
in a cold empty room –
Purity & cleanliness,
white ribs
beneath pale skin –
my veins are tendrils
unfurling to an empty heart.

A phone was silenced on my hip
but kept there just in case
a child fell and bruised her lip,
from Mother’s mouth to her face –

an airy kiss displaced.

Dishes, clothing, countertops
Jamilla on repeat,
the phone relays a message:
a photograph, somehow already
an old story of power and defeat:

a boy, his gun,
and his draining deer,
eyes undone
from the lock of life
by Daddy,
giving to his son
a scope to steady shaking fear,
love, now, the uncocked click
and its release.
Make it clean and neat,
ignore her stumbling feet.

I do not know this child
but the deer I do
I wish he were something wild
and death could find him too.

I did not erase
the photograph.
That sly smile
obliterates
that baby face.

A mixed up fucked up number
a child misdialed in glee:
“Look what I did friends,
track, listen, see..
finger on the trigger…”

No.
I do not know him.
Though on this Sunday
alone and clean and bare,
his kill
is my prayer.

Small

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Small

I just spent 2 days on twitter. Then a voice came to me and said, “What on this Earth are you doing?”
It sounded like a tweet.

I watched the world pass over the screen. Pinhole to the sun. Scrolling boldface, screaming frantic letters all a-jumble with symbols and pictures and shorthand meant for the tribe: a river of id.

A few times, I let mine go too, joining that collective wave of trolling high fives and pictures on repeat. A witticism makes you stand tall over the shrinking world.

I was trolled by an angry feminist poet.
And lectured by a man who called me “sweety.”

The id is a witch who casts a spell.
And that is all it is. All it ever will be: a trick that turns the world askew, big to small, and you to Master of all.

Outside the sun set, my children left for the weekend, already fighting in their father’s car. The dogs needed walking, the bank account needs filling, and I sat there, the spell killing what was left of the day.

As I pressed “de-activate” I thought:
never again, these two days.
They are gone, and no amount of remembrance will retrieve them.

I pray
to be awake.

Evening Song

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Evening Song

I.
She is running.
A thorn steals a thread
and she unravels.
When she wakes
she plucks a fingernail
from a blooded half-moon
on her shoulder.

So often, you know,
we ascribe our pain
to a delusion

and the delusion
is a wish
to be torn
by another

at least then
you are seen.

In the moonlight
or under the shadowless sun,
a tear in time.
And on this day:
an Event
that included the You
You were,
and somehow
this makes
the You you are now
a little less Less.

II.
Supine on the velvet banquette
in that old bar in north Harlem
she slips her fingernails down her neck
her wrist cigarette thin, lips brooding.
You’d call her arrogant; no softening
to a mouth marroon,
as smoke droops down
double gin lifts up.

Resentment makes us blind
to what is precious and what is rare.
Degas
hated his women
and painted them so:
slouched shoulders, legs askew.
How is it different, I wonder, for you?

So often, you know,
Beauty is a victory
of delusion,
or a particularly elegant submission
to pain.
Eyes wide as prey, cast down
in fear or preparation,
if you are happy it’s an accident –
the wrist, the ring, the dress’s drape.

Her hair she pinned to the nape,
later to be grazed and bitten
by a gentle or not so-and-so
just gliding by –
her eyes are dancers
counting 8’s
Begin
and again
and again another way.

“I have always hated money”
Surprised he wraps her throat.
“And what happens
when that money hates you back?”