after Clare Rojas
(I have a diamond house
with men. I have pierced
men and diamond shoes.
I have shoed horses and
a tilted head. I have a tilted
cart and a flowered scarf.
I have a gray dress and a
hell of a guitar. I play the
guitar and the jukebox jack-
in-the-box gutted brown
bear and canoe landscape. I
play the grayest song and a
cat’s yarn game.) I sit in the
forest with a cat and a knife.
(I see the quilted mountains
and long knitted birds. I see
the man limping across the
path of chevrons between
the trees. I sit between trees,
hanging hair and red mouth.
I mouth and sit. The buck
stands by the river. I am in
my paper mask, my wood.)
Don’t play too much, don’t play
too loud, don’t play the melody.
You have to anticipate her
and to subdue yourself.
She used to give me her smoky
eye when I got boisterous,
so I learned to play on tip-
toe and to play the better half
of what I might. I don’t like
to complain, though I notice
that I get around to it somehow.
We made a living and good music,
both, night after night, the blue
curlicues of smoke rubbing their
staling and wispy backs
against the ceilings, the flat
drinks and scarce taxis, the jazz life
we bitch about the way Army pals
complain about the food and then
re-up. Some people like to say
with smut in their voices how playing
the way we did at our best is partly
sexual. OK, I could tell them
a tale or two, and I’ve heard
the records Lester cut with Lady Day
and all that rap, and it’s partly
sexual but it’s mostly practice
and music. As for partly sexual,
I’ll take wholly sexual any day,
but that’s a duet and we’re talking
accompaniment. Remember “Reckless
Blues”? Bessie Smith sings out “Daddy”
and Louis Armstrong plays back “Daddy”
as clear through his horn as if he’d
spoken it. But it’s her daddy and her
story. When you play it you become
your part in it, one of her beautiful
troubles, and then, however much music
can do this, part of her consolation,
the way pain and joy eat off each other’s
plates, but mostly you play to drunks,
to the night, to the way you judge
and pardon yourself, to all that goes
not unsung, but unrecorded.
The quake last night was nothing personal,
you told me this morning. I think one always wonders,
unless, of course, something is visible: tremors
that take us, private and willy-nilly, are usual.
But the earth said last night that what I feel,
you feel; what secretly moves you, moves me.
One small, sensuous catastrophe
makes inklings letters, spelled in a worldly tremble.
The earth, with others on it, turns in its course
as we turn toward each other, less than ourselves, gross,
mindless, more than we were. Pebbles, we swell
to planets, nearing the universal roll,
in our conceit even comprehending the sun,
whose bright ordeal leaves cool men woebegone.
Glad to be alive,
I look in mirrors
I study my seams.
My belly looks like
a garment taken in
by a tailor’s apprentice,
the crazy one
he had to fire.
in a row in the garden
shrill with light.
brings earliest models out
each April the same,
naïve and classical.
Look into the yolk-
alert with echoes.
Say hello to time.
At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,
without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.
He says, let’s make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.
Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.
Mother’s been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,
first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.
Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.
Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.
I’m the child of your rainy Sundays.
I watched time crawl
Over the ceiling
Like a wounded fly.
A day would last forever,
Making pellets of bread,
Waiting for a branch
On a bare tree to move.
The silence would deepen,
The sky would darken,
As Grandmother knitted
With a ball of black yarn.
I know Heaven’s like that.
In eternity’s classrooms,
The angels sit like bored children
With their heads bowed.