I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
was how horses simply give birth to other
horses. Not a baby by any means, not
a creature of liminal spaces, but already
a four-legged beast hellbent on walking,
scrambling after the mother. A horse gives way
to another horse and then suddenly there are
two horses, just like that. That’s how I loved you.
You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying
a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two
computers swinging in it unwieldily at your
side. I remember we broke into laughter
when we saw each other. What was between
us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed
over. It came out fully formed, ready to run.
You take off your jewels and your watch,
lie down head first, prepare to enter the cavern.
A nurse, kind and young, arranges you
with a pillow and warm blanket.
She asks are you comfortable?
If only she understood how fretful you’ve been,
claustrophobia growing its cluster of symptoms
each day before this day—and now—
distress, sweat, vertigo. She places
an emergency beeper in your hand.
You can emerge at will from this procedure,
though that will increase the length of time it takes.
You hear the technician’s voice in earphones.
Don’t move. This will be a four-minute cycle.
She sings the instruction manual.
Perhaps you feel like an astronaut
traveling through space,
each radio frequency pulsing a different oscillation.
Some long and deep, others like the backward beeping trucks
in your neighborhood.
You decide to tour the solar system.
After leaving earth, you see the red planet’s dust storms,
pass through the asteroid belt and head to Jupiter.
From there you’re on your way
to the rings of Saturn.
Next Neptune, and, after Pluto and its cousins,
you decide to skip back toward the sun.
By the time you get to Venus
it’s your disks they’ve mapped
with detailed pictures of annular tears.
The bee-boy, merops apiaster, on sultry thundery days
filled his bosom between his coarse shirt and his skin
with bees—his every meal wild honey.
He had no apprehension of their stings or didn’t mind
and gave himself—his palate, the soft tissues of his throat—
what Rubens gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing his fingers across a woman’s thigh
and Van Gogh’s brushwork heightened.
Whatever it means, why not say it hurts—
the mind’s raw, gold coiling whirled against
air currents, want, beauty? I will say beauty.
And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.
I was profligate like a floodlight to the sun.
Hoarded saccharine and toothmarks,
wanted only the thickest rhymes, two of each.
Full I was of promises I never intended to keep:
puckered laughter, lines to feast.
I let everyone who entered my life enter through me.
Demanded nonsense love and bodies that would ring.
Not to mention higher kilowatts
of creeping joy, more red in everything—
Dr. L. H. Pammel
Hybridization, cross-breeding, evolution:
He takes to new theories
like a puppy takes to ice cream.
We whisper that our Green-Thumb Boy
is the black Mendel, that Darwin
would have made good use of Carver’s eyes.
So clear his gift for observation:
the best collector I’ve ever known.
I think we have an entirely new species
And always in his threadbare lapel
a flower. Even in January.
I’ve never asked how.
We had doubts
about giving him a class to teach,
but he’s done a bang-up job
with the greenhouse. His students
see the light of genius
through the dusky window of his skin.
Just yesterday, that new boy,
what’s-his-name, from Arkansas,
tried to raise a ruckus when Carver
put his dinner tray down.
He cleared his throat, stared, rattled
his own tray, scraped his chair legs
in a rush to move away. Carver
ate on in silence. Then the boys
at the table the new boy had moved to
cleared their throats, rattled their trays
and scraped their chair legs as they got up
and moved to Carver’s table.
Something about the
man does that, raises the best
in you. I’ve never asked what.
I guess I’ll put his name next to mine
on that article I’m sending out.