It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
I wake to leafless vines and muddy fields,
patches of standing water. His pocketknife
waits in my dresser drawer, still able to gut fish.
I pick up his green shirt, put it on for the fourth day
in a row. Outside, the rusty nail he hammered
catches me, leaves its stain on everything.
The temperature drops, the whole shore
filling with him: his dented chew can, waders,
the cattails kinked, bowing their distress.
At the pier, I use his old pliers to ready the line:
fatheads, darters, a blood worm jig. Today, the lake’s
one truth is hardness. When the trout bite,
I pull the serviceable things glistening into air.
translated by khaled mattawa
Knocks on the door.
I sweep the dust of my loneliness
under the rug.
I arrange a smile
There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.
There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.
Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.
And I ask myself:
“Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?”
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.
The new grass rising in the hills,
the cows loitering in the morning chill,
a dozen or more old browns hidden
in the shadows of the cottonwoods
beside the streambed. I go higher
to where the road gives up and there’s
only a faint path strewn with lupine
between the mountain oaks. I don’t
ask myself what I’m looking for.
I didn’t come for answers
to a place like this, I came to walk
on the earth, still cold, still silent.
Still ungiving, I’ve said to myself,
although it greets me with last year’s
dead thistles and this year’s
hard spines, early blooming
wild onions, the curling remains
of spider’s cloth. What did I bring
to the dance? In my back pocket
a crushed letter from a woman
I’ve never met bearing bad news
I can do nothing about. So I wander
these woods half sightless while
a west wind picks up in the trees
clustered above. The pines make
a music like no other, rising and
falling like a distant surf at night
that calms the darkness before
first light. “Soughing” we call it, from
Old English, no less. How weightless
words are when nothing will do.
Dusk to dawn, sleek skunks enjoy
avocados in my yard. I give wide berth.
Before the first jogger leaves her prints
on pavement, tough raccoons appear.
They pretend they don’t hear my keys click
but they peek to make sure it’s me.
Foxes play hide-and-seek,
sometimes on our lawn, other times
across the street, but never after seven;
and brazen squirrels eye me
from the center of the street,
dare me to approach.
Will this be a day for Catalina eddies,
clouds stacked, catching like magnets
in a liquid air swirl?
Or will it blow a fierce Santa Ana,
days of fires in the hills,
winds so fierce birds do low-crawls?
I cast a spell for Santa Anas
the shallow coast a censer
mixed with black sage, Torrey Pine,
Engelmann oak—precious oils
to fumigate the San Diego skies,
the annual burning pulse.
The canals of Mars
beseech various oxides, vast
of a dulled red,
a daytime warmth
that only reaches so far.
Let’s call these fissures canals
so we’ll think of Venice
looking through our telescope
as Mars comes this close
in this our anniversary year
with its thin atmosphere
and, to be probed,
its extreme cold.