What every painter knows, but most others forget
is how bright colors dim in artificial light
and lobster tastes most fresh
the nearer to death
you set your teeth into the lobster’s flesh.
Often I imagine the earth
through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—
no me, no you, no opinions,
no beginning, no middle, no end,
soaring together like those
ancient Chinese birds
hatched miraculously with only one wing,
helping each other fly home.
I wondered if the others felt
as safe: my unmangled family
slept while I slid uncertain feet ahead
behind my flashlight’s beam.
Stones, thick roots as twisted as
a ruined body,
what did I fear?
I hoped my batteries
had eight more lives
than the lost child.
I feared I’d find something.
Reader, by now you must be sure
you know just where we are,
deep in symbolic woods.
someone else’s suffering.
The search is that of art.
You’re wrong, though it’s
an intelligent mistake.
There was a real lost child.
I don’t want to swaddle it
I’m just a journalist
who can’t believe in objectivity.
I’m in these poems
because I’m in my life.
But I digress.
A man four volunteers
to the left of me
made the discovery.
We circled in like waves
returning to the parent shock.
You’ve read this far, you might as well
have been there too. Your eyes accuse
me of false chase. Come off it,
you’re the one who thought it wouldn’t
matter what we found.
Though we came with lights
and tongues thick in our heads,
the issue was a human life.
The child was still
alive. Admit you’re glad.
Spokes, spooks: your tinsel hair weaves the wheel
that streams through my dreams of battle. Another
apocalypse, and your weird blondeness cycling in
and out of the march: down in a bunker, we hunker,
can hear the boots from miles off clop. We tend to
our flowers in the meantime. And in the meantime,
a daughter is born. She begins as a mere inch, lost
in the folds of a sheet; it’s horror to lose her before
she’s yet born. Night nurses embody the darkness.
Only your brain remains, floating in a jar that sits
in a lab far off, some place away, and terribly far.
Your skull no longer exists, its ash has been lifted
to wind from a mountain’s top by brothers, friends.
I am no friend. According to them. Accordion, the
child pulls its witching wind between its opposite
handles: the lungs of the thing grieve, and that is
its noise. She writhes the floor in tantrum. When
you climbed the sides of the house spider-wise to
let yourself in, unlocked the front door, let me in
to climb up into your attic the last time I saw you
that infected cat rubbed its face against my hand.
Wanting to keep it. No, you said. We are friends.
I wear my green jacket with the furred hood. You
pushed me against chain-length. Today is the day
that the planet circles the night we began. A child
is born. Night nurses coagulate her glassed-in crib.
Your organs, distant, still float the darkness of jars.
First of all, I do not want to be doing this.
Second of all, Percy does not want me
to be doing this.
bent over the desk like a besieged person
with a dull pencil and innumerable lists
Outside the water is blue, the sky is clear,
the tide rising.
Percy, I say, this has to be done. This is
essential. I’ll be finished eventually.
“Keep me in your thoughts,” he replies. “Just because
I can’t count to ten doesn’t mean
I don’t remember yesterday, or anticipate today.
I’ll give you ten more minutes,” and he does.
Then shouts—who could resist—his
favorite words: Let’s go!
(for children and others)
The roc’s a huge, bold, hungry bird who’s able
To eat an elephant. (So says the fable.)
No farmer likes to see one feasting cockily
Right in the middle of his field of broccoli.
At heart, ambassadors are always sad.
Why? Because world affairs are always bad,
So that they’re always having to express
“Regret,” and “grave concern,” and “deep distress.”
The barnacle is found in salty seas,
Clinging to rocks in crusty colonies;
And salt, which chemists call NaCl,
Is found inside the barnacle as well.
What could be sillier than for a cow
To try to cross the ocean in a scow?
With such a captain, to my way of thinking,
The wretched vessel would be sure of sinking!
No one should be entrusted with a rudder
Who has two horns and four hooves and an udder.
If a carp is in your carport, go find out
Whether the living room is full of trout
And eels and salamanders, and if there’s
A snapping turtle paddling up the stairs.
If that’s what’s going on, your house (beyond
A doubt) is at the bottom of a pond.
Some snakes are nice to handle, but an asp
Is not the kind to take within your grasp.
That is what Cleopatra did, I fear,
And, as you know, she is no longer here.
I was parading the Côte d’Azur,
hopping the short trains from Nice to Cannes,
following the maze of streets in Monte Carlo
to the hill that overlooks the ville.
A woman fed me pâté in the afternoon,
calling from her stall to offer me more.
At breakfast I talked in French with an old man
about what he loved about America–the Kennedys.
On the beaches I walked and watched
topless women sunbathe and swim,
loving both home and being so far from it.
At a phone looking to Africa over the Mediterranean,
I called my father, and, missing me, he said,
“You almost home boy. Go on cross that sea!”