I’m in the school bathroom
washing my hands without
soap but I’m still washing my hands.
I turn the water off
and look for a paper towel
but paper towels have been gone
since the first day of school
and it’s June now.
I start to leave the bathroom
with my wet hands but then
the big boys come in talking
loud and cussing like they
rap stars or have new sneakers.
I hear the one named Pinto
talking about how someone
should get Omar after school
since he’s the only Muslim they know.
Pinto talks with an accent
like he’s new in the neighborhood too.
I don’t have to ask him
what he’s talking about
since everybody is talking
about the Towers and how they
ain’t there no more.
My momma said it’s like
a woman losing both
breasts to cancer and my daddy
was talking at the dinner table
about how senseless violence is
and Mrs. Gardner next door lost
two tall boys to drive-bys
Bullets flying into
both boys heads
making them crumble too.
Everybody around here is
filled with fear and craziness
and now Pinto and the big boys
thinking about doing something bad.
I stare at my wet hands
dripping water on my shoes
and wonder if I should run
and tell Omar or just run.
I feel like I’m trapped
in the middle of one of those
Bible stories but it ain’t
I hear my Momma’s voice
Boy, always remember to wash
your hands but always remember
you can’t wash your hands from
translated by Richard Rutt
“What was love like?
Was it round? Was it wide?
Was it long? Was it short?
Could you pace it? Could you span it?”
“It was not long enough to tire me,
but it was enough to sever my entrails.”
“If God is Art, then what do we make
of Jasper Johns?” One never knows
what sort of question a patient will pose,
or how exactly one should answer.
Outside the window, snow on snow
began to answer the ground below
with nothing more than foolish questions.
We were no different. I asked again:
“Professor, have we eased the pain?”
Eventually, he’d answer me with:
“Tell me, young man, whom do you love?”
“E,” I’d say, “None of the Above,”
and laugh for lack of something more
to add. For days he had played that game,
and day after day I avoided your name
by instinct. I never told him how
we often wear each other’s clothes—
we aren’t what many presuppose.
Call it an act of omission, my love.
Tonight, while walking to the car,
I said your name to the evening star,
clearly pronouncing the syllables
to see your name dissipate
in the air, evaporate.
Only the night air carries your words
up to the dead (the ancients wrote):
I watched them rise, become remote.
The room has no choice.
Everything that’s spoken in it
it absorbs. And it must put up with
the bad flirt, the overly perfumed,
the many murderers of mood—
with whoever chooses to walk in.
If there’s a crowd, one person
is certain to be concealing a sadness,
another will have abandoned a dream,
at least one will be a special agent
for his own cause. And always
there’s a functionary,
somberly listing what he does.
The room plays no favorites.
Like its windows, it does nothing
but accommodate shades
of light and dark. After everyone leaves
(its entrance, of course, is an exit),
the room will need to be imagined
by someone, perhaps some me
walking away now, who comes alive
when most removed. He’ll know
from experience how deceptive
silence can be. This is when the walls
start to breathe as if reclaiming the air,
when the withheld spills forth,
when even the chairs start to talk.
Her wattled fingers can’t
stroke the keys with much
grace or assurance anymore,
and the tempo is always
rubato, halting, but still
that sound—notes quivering
and clear in their singularity,
filing down the hallway—
aches with pure intention, the
melody somehow prettier
as a remnant than
whatever it used to be.
The dead thing mashed into the street
the crows are squabbling over isn’t
her, nor are their raucous squawks
the quiet cawing from her throat
those final hours she couldn’t speak.
But the racket irks him.
It seems a cruel intrusion into grief
so mute it will never be expressed
no matter how loud or long the wailing
he might do. Nor could there be a word
that won’t debase it, no matter
how kind or who it comes from.
She knew how much he loved her.
That must be his consolation
when he must talk to buy necessities.
Every place will be a place without her.
What people will see when they see him
pushing a shopping cart or fetching mail
is just a neatly dressed polite old man.
listen and read about the process
Water’s a shimmer,
banks green verge,
trees’ standing shadowed,
sun’s light slants,
gulls settle white
on far river’s length.
All is in a windy echo,
a far sense.