Sometimes I think I am a fiction
and only memories strung together
hold my life to some coherence.
If all my lovers stood in a line
what commonality would I see
except luck good and bad,
except need and accident,
desperation like a bad cough
recurring to convulse my body.
If all the clothes I wore were strung
on a blocklong clothesline, I’d see
not decoration but roles, all
in a row, selves slipped into, now
too tight, too loose, too short.
Discarded for a new foray.
But if my cats were lined up
I’d know exactly how I loved each
their games, their habits, how
they lived with me and died
leaving me. If all the edicts
I put forth, manifestos, summons,
all those didactic moments came
swarming, I’d duck and run. I
was so sure. Then not. Then not
at all. Yet I go stumbling on
bearing my nametag still wonder-
ing how I came to get here.
translated by Clare Cavanagh
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
A red-faced lion raises its maw.
I could be in the supermarket, saran wrap thrown back
but there’s Hope Wanted Alive scrawled along
all the mud-slick side streets
where kids roll bottle tops, kids hawk one seed—
in Nairobi the slum blues where I stop, gallery-wise.
Forty children in clean costumes of show-off
purport to live in the two rooms abutting the paintings.
You could drink the sugar cane at the end of the street
or you could set fire to it.
I did see truck tires without trucks.
I did see ice cream nobody would lick.
And slits up the side of a dress,
and always huge knives that cut,
in my case, canvas. A big painting
not in celebration of our president
but the red-faced lion, looking
for the supermarket, kids in claws,
bottle tops for eyes, nobody costumed
who isn’t running, politicians
with outstretched arms equaling
—or trying to—hope. I buy it.
Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed.
The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Heat is the echo of your
Coined there among
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.
Sometimes I think about climbing
a telephone pole but then what?
Telephone poles now have almost nothing
to do with telephones but I liked
how a curly cord went into the receiver
then a sturdier black wire went into the wall
through the wall out to a pole then
miles and miles of wire pole wire pole
sometimes underground underwater to
whomever you needed who’d dry her hands
thinking Gosh now what or Thank heavens
or Oh no then say Hello as a question
or a lie then the intimate negotiations
and sorry confessions and flat jokes
would take word form from excited electrons
moving through the wire and sometimes
a cowboy would suddenly gallop to town
through dust and cactus Yup a storm’s
a-coming to call someone but the fates
always intend so the cowboy must listen
for the rest of his days to the phone
make a funny insect-performing-Beckett
sound until the operator comes on and says,
Sorry but that calling area’s been hit
by the blast and the cowboy thinks,
What blast? What blast? riding off
into the moonlessly blue chaparral.
Stand in a field long enough, and the sounds
start up again. The crickets, the invisible
toad who claims that change is possible,
And all the other life too small to name.
First one, then another, until innumerable
they merge into the single voice of a summer hill.
Yes, it’s hard to stand still, hour after hour,
fixed as a fencepost, hearing the steers
snort in the dark pasture, smelling the manure.
And paralyzed by the mystery of how a stone
can bear to be a stone, the pain
the grass endures breaking through the earth’s crust.
Unimaginable the redwoods on the far hill,
rooted for centuries, the living wood grown tall
and thickened with a hundred thousand days of light.
The old windmill creaks in perfect time
to the wind shaking the miles of pasture grass,
and the last farmhouse light goes off.
Something moves nearby. Coyotes hunt
these hills and packs of feral dogs.
But standing here at night accepts all that.
You are your own pale shadow in the quarter moon,
moving more slowly than the crippled stars,
part of the moonlight as the moonlight falls,
Part of the grass that answers the wind,
part of the midnight’s watchfulness that knows
there is no silence but when danger comes.
Not yet summer,
but unseasonable heat
pries open the cherry tree.
It stands there stupefied,
in its sham, pink frills,
dense with early blooming.
Then, as afternoon cools
into more furtive winds,
I look up to see
a blizzard of petals
rushing the sky.
It is only April.
I can’t stop my own life
from hurrying by.
The moon, already pacing.