Now that no one looking at the night—
Sky blanked by leakage from electric lamps
And headlights prowling through the parking lot
Could recognize the Babylonian dance
That once held every gazer; now that spoons
And scales, and swordsmen battling with beasts
Have decomposed into a few stars strewn
Illegibly across an empty space,
Maybe the old unfalsifiable
Predictions and extrapolated spheres
No longer need to be an obstacle
To hearing what it is the stars declare:
That there are things created of a size
We can’t and weren’t meant to understand,
As fish know nothing of the sun that writes
Its bright glyphs on the black waves overhead.
A hand is not four fingers and a thumb. Nor is it palm and knuckles, not ligaments or the fat’s yellow pillow, not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins. A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines with their infinite dramas, nor what it has written, not on the page, not on the ecstatic body. Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping— not sponge of rising yeast-bread, not rotor pin’s smoothness, not ink. The maple’s green hands do not cup the proliferant rain. What empties itself falls into the place that is open. A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question. Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.
[poem for march 22, 2009]
When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark
seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees
thick with many lights.
I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.
And as I watched, all the lights of heaven
faded to make a single thing, a fire
burning through the cool firs.
Then it wasn’t possible any longer
to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.
Are there souls that need
death’s presence, as I require protection?
I think if I speak long enough
I will answer that question, I will see
whatever they see, a ladder
reaching through the firs, whatever
calls them to exchange their lives—
Think what I understand already.
I woke up ignorant in a forest;
only a moment ago, I didn’t know my voice
if one were given to me
would be so full of grief, my sentences
like cries strung together.
I didn’t even know I felt grief
until that word came, until I felt
rain streaming from me.
When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.
When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.
When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
When I put her out, once, by the garbage pail,
She looked so limp and bedraggled,
So foolish and trusting, like a sick poodle,
Or a wizened aster in late September,
I brought her back in again
For a new routine—
Vitamins, water, and whatever
Sustenance seemed sensible
At the time: she’d lived
So long on gin, bobbie pins, half-smoked cigars, dead beer,
Her shriveled petals falling
On the faded carpet, the stale
Steak grease stuck to her fuzzy leaves.
(Dried-out, she creaked like a tulip.)
The things she endured!—
The dumb dames shrieking half the night
Or the two of us, alone, both seedy,
Me breathing booze at her,
She leaning out of her pot toward the window.
Near the end, she seemed almost to hear me—
And that was scary—
So when that snuffling cretin of a maid
Threw her, pot and all, into the trash-can,
I said nothing.
But I sacked the presumptuous hag the next week,
I was that lonely.
You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.
You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.
And you fall
With the other husks of summer.
update: revised translation
translated by anthea s. maslin
Maru Mori brought me
she had knit with her own
two socks as soft
I slipped my feet
as if they were
with threads of
and the pelt of sheep.
my feet became
made of wool,
two long sharks
of ultramarine blue
by one golden hair,
two gigantic blackbirds,
in this way
that for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
of that embroidered
of those luminous
the sharp temptation
to guard them
the way schoolboys
fireflies in a bottle,
the way scholars
the furious impulse
to lock them
in a cage
and feed them each day
and morsels of pink melon.
who in the jungle
capture the rare
to roast it
and eat it
I stretched out
and pulled on
then my shoes.
So this is
the moral of my ode:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it’s a matter of two