The neighbor’s horses idle
under the roof
of their three-sided shelter,
looking out at the rain.
one or another
will fade into the shadows
in the corner, maybe
to eat, or drink.
Still, the others stand,
blowing out their warm
breaths. Rain rattles
on the metal roof.
Their hoof prints
in the corral
open gray eyes to the sky,
and wink each time
another drop falls in.
How can we believe he did it—
every day—for all those years?
We remember how the musicians
gathered for him—and the prostitutes
arranged themselves the way he wanted—
and even the helmeted monkeys
with their little toy car cerebella—
posed—and the fish on the plate—
remained after he ate the fish—
Bones—What do we do with this
life?—except announce: Joy.
Joy. Joy—from the lead—
to the oil—to the stretch of bright
canvas—stretched—to the end of it all.
If we could only push these walls
apart, unfold the room the way
a child might take apart a box
and lay it flat upon the floor—
so many corners cleared at last!
Or else could rip away the roof
and stare down at the dirty rooms,
the hallways turning on themselves,
and understand at last their plan—
dark maze without a minotaur,
no monsters but ourselves.
could bear to see it all? The slow
descending spirals of the dust
against the spotted windowpane,
the sunlight on the yellow lace,
the hoarded wine turned dark and sour,
the photographs, the letters—all
the crowded closets of the heart.
One wants to turn away—and cry
for fire to break out on the stairs
and raze each suffocating room.
But the walls stay, the roof remains
strong and immovable, and we
can only pray that if these rooms
have memories, they are not ours.
“Even when you are not in a room,
you are in it, your voice everywhere.” –Bill Holm
The message that’s recorded on the phone
is unmistakably bad news, and then
another call tells us it’s one we love—
a sudden death while traveling, somehow
appropriate for one who always
seized life too completely to stand still.
A door slams shut, a wall has dropped away,
and once again I’m driven back to
empty pages, insufficient words,
to rooms he always filled on entering—
rooms lined with books, piano music, and
good friends who raise their glasses one last time.
And now, as all the lights are blinking off
in every prairie town we’ve ever loved,
when all the toasts are made and songs are sung,
when leaving is the only certainty,
a single voice keeps echoing, along
each dark, untraveled hallway of the heart.
Tottering and elastic, middle name of Groan,
ramfeezled after a hard night
at the corpse-polishing plant, slope-
shouldered, a half loaf
of bread, even his hair tired, famished,
fingering the diminished beans
in his pocket—you meet him.
On a thousand street corners you meet him,
emerging from the subway, emerging
from your own chest—this sight’s shrill,
metallic vapors pass into you.
His fear is of being broken,
of becoming too dexterous in stripping
the last few shoelaces of meat
from a chicken’s carcass, of being moved by nothing
short of the Fall of Rome, of being stooped
in the cranium over some loss he’s forgotten
the anniversary of…. You meet him,
know his defeat, though proper
and inevitable, is not yours, although yours also
is proper and inevitable: so many defeats
queer and insignificant (as illustration:
the first time you lay awake all night
waiting for dawn—and were disappointed), so many
no-hope exhaustions hidden,
their gaze dully glazed inward.—And yet we all
fix our binoculars on the horizon’s hazy fear-heaps
and cruise toward them, fat sails
forward…. You meet him on the corners,
in bus stations, on the blind avenues
leading neither in
nor out of hell, you meet him
and with him you walk.
After it ended badly it got so much better
which took a while of course but still
he grew so tender & I so grateful
which maybe tells you something about how it was
I’m trying to tell you I know you
have staggered wept spiraled through a long room
banging your head against it holding crushed
bird skulls in your hands your many hearts unstrung
unable to play a note their wood still beautiful
& carved so elaborately maybe a collector would want them
stupid collectors always preserving & never breaking open
the jars so everyone starves while admiring the view
you don’t own anyone everything will be taken from you
go ahead & eat this poem please it will help