Know, first, that she does not remain
behind the baleen forever.
Know, too, that the whale is unaware
of the woman drowning on its tongue.
And knowing this, recall the keening,
the slow build of sound in the body;
that we were afraid and pressed our fear
low in our breast, held it alongside our breath;
that the tenor of our grief matched,
so nearly, the tenor of our hysteria;
how finally there was no whale
or breath or sound or woman;
how, finally, there was only the body,
rising through the water toward the sun.
Lunch with a pathologist
My colleague knows by heart eh morbid verse
of facts—the dead weight of a man’s liver,
a woman’s lungs, a baby’s kidneys.
At lunch he recited unforgettably,
“After death, of all soft tissues the brain’s
the first to vanish, the uterus the last.”
“Yes,” I said, “at dawn I’ve seen silhouettes
hunched in a field against the skyline, each one
feasting, preoccupied, silent as gas.
Partial to women, they’ve stripped women bare
and left behind only the taboo food,
the uterus, inside the skeleton.”
My colleague wiped his mouth with a napkin,
hummed, picked shredded meat from his canines,
said, “You’re a peculiar fellow, Abse.”
Let the aroma of need
waft across the river to New Jersey:
all the snow and hills,
a sky that moves and moves.
I saw a rose in the clouds,
I saw happiness on fire.
I have been living
closer to the ocean than I thought–
in a rocky cove thick with seaweed.
It pulls me down when I go wading.
Sometimes, to get back to land
takes everything that I have in me.
Sometimes, to get back to land
is the worst thing a person can do.
Meanwhile, we are dreaming:
The body is innocent.
She has never hurt me.
What we love flutters in us.
what can we do?
at their best, there is gentleness in Humanity.
some understanding and, at times, acts of
but all in all it is a mass, a glob that doesn’t
have too much.
it is like a large animal deep in sleep and
almost nothing can awaken it.
when activated it’s best at brutality,
selfishness, unjust judgments, murder.
what can we do with it, this Humanity?
avoid the thing as much as possible.
treat it as you would anything poisonous, vicious
but be careful. it has enacted laws to protect
itself from you.
it can kill you without cause.
and to escape it you must be subtle.
it’s up to you to figure a plan.
I have met nobody who has escaped.
I have met some of the great and
famous but they have not escaped
for they are only great and famous within
I have not escaped
but I have not failed in trying again and
before my death I hope to obtain my
Maddening shadow across your line of vision—
what might be there, then isn’t, making it
hard to be on the lookout, concentrate, even
hear—well, enough of the story I’ve
given you, at least—you’ve had your fill, never
asked for this, though you were the one
to put a hand out, catch hold, not about to let me
vanish the way of the two you lost already
to grief’s lure. I’m here; close your eyes,
listen to our daughter practicing, going over and over
the Bach, getting the mordents right, to make the lovely
Invention definite. What does mordent mean,
her piano teacher asked—I was waiting in the kitchen
and overheard—I don’t know, something about dying?
No; morire means to die, mordere means to take
a bite out of something—good mistake, she said.
Not to die, to take a bite—what you asked
of me—and then pleasure
in the taking. Close your eyes now,
listen. No one is leaving.
Somewhere near the borders to a warless country
stands the house my grandfather built.
Tired by the day’s work, my mother
has already fallen asleep in front of the television.
My father is noiselessly setting up
the mosquito net above the bed.
During the day, the town rife with revolution,
dreams of a new state.
They have licked the salt of freedom
and cannot unlearn the taste.
Someone I used to know gets shot
an inch above the ear in a crossfire.
My mother imitates that foreign tenor people acquire
while breaking news of unfortunate deaths.
His blood is washed off the streets in the winter rain
and drained in the sewage that shares
the common filth of the two nations.
Tomorrow my father will cross the border again
to go work for a bad-tempered man.
He’s had it, mother tells me over the phone.
They need to get out of there, I think, but never say it.
The paranoia changes hands
as spring comes on early, and I read in the papers
a nation is sending the refugees back
to the country they fled from.
On their way, they stop on the trails
to look for the frostbitten fingers
they lost in the difficult winter of their lives.