It’s the little towns I like
with their little mills making ratchets
and stanchions, elastic web,
name it. I like them in New England,
bad jobs good enough to live on, to live in
families even: kindergarten,
church suppers, beach umbrellas … The towns
are real, so fragile in their loneliness
a flood could come along
(and floods have) and cut them in two,
in half. There is no mayor,
the town council’s not prepared
for this, three of the four policemen
are stranded on their roofs … and it doesn’t stop
raining. The mountain
is so thick with water parts of it just slide
down on the heifers—soggy, suicidal—
in the pastures below. It rains, it rains
in these towns and, because
there’s no other way, your father gets in a rowboat
so he can go to work.
Tottering and elastic, middle name of Groan,
ramfeezled after a hard night
at the corpse-polishing plant, slope-
shouldered, a half loaf
of bread, even his hair tired, famished,
fingering the diminished beans
in his pocket—you meet him.
On a thousand street corners you meet him,
emerging from the subway, emerging
from your own chest—this sight’s shrill,
metallic vapors pass into you.
His fear is of being broken,
of becoming too dexterous in stripping
the last few shoelaces of meat
from a chicken’s carcass, of being moved by nothing
short of the Fall of Rome, of being stooped
in the cranium over some loss he’s forgotten
the anniversary of…. You meet him,
know his defeat, though proper
and inevitable, is not yours, although yours also
is proper and inevitable: so many defeats
queer and insignificant (as illustration:
the first time you lay awake all night
waiting for dawn—and were disappointed), so many
no-hope exhaustions hidden,
their gaze dully glazed inward.—And yet we all
fix our binoculars on the horizon’s hazy fear-heaps
and cruise toward them, fat sails
forward…. You meet him on the corners,
in bus stations, on the blind avenues
leading neither in
nor out of hell, you meet him
and with him you walk.
(dirt stolen from an infant’s grave around midnight)
Do not try to take it from my child’s grave, nor
from the grave
of my childhood,
nor from any infant’s grave I guard—voodoo, juju, boo-hoo rites
calling for it or not! This dust, this dirt, will not
be taken at dawn or noon
or at the dusky time,
and if you approach
this sacred place near midnight,
then I will chop,
one by one, your fingers off
with which you do your harm. Goofer-dust: if you want it,
if you need it, then
erect downwind from a baby’s grave
a fine-meshed net
and gather it
one-half grain, a flaky mote, an infinitesimally small fleck
of a flake at a time
and in such a way
it is given to you
by the day, the wind, the world,
it is given to you, thereby
diminishing the need to steal
this dirt displaced by a child
in a child’s grave.
Your baby grows a tooth, then two,
and four, and five, then she wants some meat
directly from the bone. It’s all
over: she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall
in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet
talker on his way to jail. And you,
your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue
nothing. You did, you loved, your feet
are sore. It’s dusk. Your daughter’s tall.
which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.
Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
it down, skim, and boil
again, dreams, history, add them and boil
again, boil and skim
in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
by the pencil sharpener
who looked at you, looked away,
boil that for hours, render it
down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
and sperm, and a bead
of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
the fire, boil and skim, boil
some more, add a fever
and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time
to add guilt and fear, throw
logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render
it down and distill,
that for which there is no
other use at all, boil it down, down,
then stir it with rosewater, that
which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
which you smear on your lips
and go forth
to plant as many kisses upon the world
as the world can bear!
I have a friend whose hair is like time: dark
deranged coils lit by a lamp
when she bends back her head to laugh. A unique event,
such as the crucifixion of Christ, was not
subject to repetition, thought St. Augustine, and therefore,
time is linear. Does the universe
have an end, a beginning? Yes, the former the door
through which she departs, the latter
the door by which she returns,
and inbetween there is no rest from wanting her.
Time—each moment of which a hair on a child’s nape.
Time—the chain between the churning tractor and the stump.
Time—her gown tossed like a continent at the creation.
Newton, an absolutist, thought time a container
in which the universe exists—nonending, nonbeginning.
Time—enamored, forgiven by dust
and capable of calling a single blade of grass an oasis.
Time—of swivel, small streams, plinth, stanchions.
And then Kant says, no, time does not apply
to the universe, only to the way we think about time.
Time—the spot where the violin touches the maestro’s cheek.
Time—an endless range of cumulonimbus.
Time—Good Monarch of the deepest blue inevitable.
The relativists (with whom the absolutists,
as usual, disagree) argue that concepts of past,
present, and future are mind dependent, i.e.,
would time exist without conscious beings?
Oh Ultimate Abstract, is there time
in time, is there rest, in time,
from wanting her?
For some semitropical reason
when the rains fall
relentlessly they fall
into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long
and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is justice,
a reward for not loving
the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hog snake,
rats) creatures, if
you believe these things, then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.
And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors
and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld
of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dreams—
they may tell the others
in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s
that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.
Courtesy of E.K.