I bring the cat’s body home from the vet’s
in a running-shoe box held shut
with elastic bands. Then I clean
the corners where she has eaten and
slept, scrubbing the hard bits of food
from the baseboard, dumping the litter
and blasting the pan with a hose. The plastic
dishes I hide in the basement, the pee-
soaked towel I put in the trash. I put
the catnip mouse in the box and I put
the box away, too, in a deep
dirt drawer in the earth.
When the death-energy leaves me,
I go to the room where my daughter slept
in nursery school, grammar school, high school,
I lie on her milky bedspread and think
of the day I left her at college, how nothing
could keep me from gouging the melted candle-wax
out from between her floorboards,
or taking a razor blade to the decal
that said to the firemen, “Break
this window first.” I close my eyes now
and enter a place that’s clearly
expecting me, swaddled in loss
and then losing that, too, as I move
from room to bone-white room
in the house of the rest of my life.
Last night the animals
beneath her window
crept out of hiding
to comb the dirt
from each other’s fur.
Rising to watch,
she discovered the lilacs
lit from below by ivory vinca.
The street on the other side
of the trees continued
to contain its passing cars;
tenderly her teeth
let her tongue rest
against their curving backs.
Tonight when she lies
in bed again,
she will remember
the one kind thing
her grown daughter said today
after weeks of scrutiny,
and the moment at work
just now, when a stack
of Day-Glo folders
cascaded over her desk,
thrilling the white cubicle
with their descent.
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves, but worse.
For Kenneth Koch
You don’t need a pony
to connect you to the unseeable
or an airplane to connect you to the sky.
Necessary it is to love to live
and there are many manuals
but in all important ways
one is on one’s own.
You need not cut off your hand.
No need to eat a bouquet.
Your head becomes a peach pit.
Your tongue a honeycomb.
Necessary it is to live to love,
to charge into the burning tower
then charge back out
and necessary it is to die.
Even for the trees, even for the pony
connecting you to what can’t be grasped.
The injured gazelle falls behind the
herd. One last wild enjambment.
Because of the sores in his mouth,
the great poet struggles with a dumpling.
His work has enlarged the world
but the world is about to stop including him.
He is the tower the world runs out of.
When something becomes ash,
there’s nothing you can do to turn it back.
About this, even diamonds do not lie.
Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s palms, no more,
No other picture. There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.”
Translated by Marilyn Chin
My body is like a jackfruit swinging on a tree
My skin is rough, my pulp is thick
Dear prince, if you want me pierce me upon your stick
Don’t squeeze, I’ll ooze and stain your hands
The place of language is the place between me
and the world of presences I have lost
—complex country, not flat. Its elements free-
float, coherent for luck to come across;
its lines curve as in a mental orrery
implicit with stars in active orbit,
only their slowness or swiftness lost to sense.
The will dissolves here. It becomes the infinite
air of imagination that stirs immense
among losses and leaves me less desolate.
Breathing it I spot a sentence or a name,
a rescuer, charted for recovery,
to speak against the daily sinking flame
& the shrinking waters of the mortal sea.