I said goodbye to a friend who left a hole filled
with flowers and pills, a toast among colleagues,
an alto’s face smeared across the lid of a piano.
Everything flowed through the wound of another,
the way voices flow through throats of the choir.
A chorale for the manic, a madrigal for the sick,
an anthem for the dispossessed, the sharp green
scent of April for the bitter and withdrawn.
Flames crumple in a ring of stones, our eyes
fixed on small and smaller mercies, smaller fears,
the surge of light a visual music, a moving on
whose sound like rain will hold you if you let it.
I know, it says, hell is breaking down, and then
it gives you such a beautiful example. It feathers
the dark in the white noise of the disconnected.
Bells give their metal to a thousand orphan voices.
I hear them as the bronze goes still. I hear the man
who drank, died, and so returned to leave a mixtape
at my door. Just when I thought myself excluded,
I am closing my eyes to listen. If only I were darker.
I am crossing the river with ashes in my hair.
The New World
When John Donne wrote An Anatomy,
nothing in his words, however grieved,
said he knew the child well. No matter.
No one does, not now, though he is sure
she is somewhere, far from the maladies
of worlds taken for dead, and so they die
again, beneath the eye and microscope
that sees infection in every rock, throat,
and paradigm. And just when I thought
I was getting somewhere, a Facebook
friend interrupts to say, My uncle is sick,
so please, do not send your thoughts and prayers.
Send money to a clinic, and I hear there
a hint of the outraged love that whispers,
If you wear a mask, then make it breathe
the air of supermarkets here on earth,
where your unknown neighbors push their carts
with gloved hands, and hi, from afar,
and today I noticed there was no music.
I thought, I love Donne, his broken poem,
his face in the face of the battered moon
and what it leveraged: anger, kindness, song.
I love the child he laid out like the specimen
a coroner wounds, and the light pours in.
When a plague breaks the blood-brain barrier
and stocks crash and a virulent leader
calls it a hoax, anything to make small
the blow against his general approval;
we will turn to our bodies and confess
a fear the size of a house of congress,
plus the single-cell invader who gives
his life so that his culture will survive.
Each breath will be a plural, yours, mine,
and somewhere an amygdala and spleen
form a super PAC, and a cortex suffers
a shortage of supplies. The fake news,
in which the truer casualties are buried,
that too will take a body and walk the street
like a naked king. I have heard the cry
of wolves in the child, a child’s denial
in the wolves, and so I turn the volume
off and watch the mouth spit, the arms
make little circles. Are you with me,
he asks the background demographic, screened
to speak without speaking and applaud.
That too is silence now. The whole world
listening and not listening, including me,
dear Reader, dear stranger in my bloodstream.
Everything is broken, the Unabomber
said, aloud, and his kettle whispered,
yes, his Erving Goffman, yes, the mist
of the soldering iron, Jesus Christ, yes.
Everyone agreed, if you are wounded
long enough, all your friends are dead.
All your things are restless, friendless.
They die again to see you, hate you, please
you the way a prisoner would please
a guard or panel of professors. He was
a child once. In a box he called home,
he made a box to put a childhood in.
Say you walk until your trousers sag,
hair tangles, your jacket turns to rags.
I have seen a widow rip her nightgown
like this, like branches in a high wind,
and asked, Is she any less a wilderness.
Say you fumble at your pencil or lace
with what remains of a finger, a hand.
The woods are everywhere, and if you hold
a package to your ear, you can hear it.
The world returns to the wolf and ferret,
the chime of hangers, little metal parts,
bells that lead the lambs of god to slaughter.
The day a wayward kitten broke its spine
beneath the car ahead, I saw a string
of blood trickle from its lip and knew
it was history, the kind you drive through
looking backward at the spectacle
of traffic that comes between us all.
And so I went to the animal shelter
to save another, the weakest of the litter,
last to come forward, first I named.
I curled him in the crook of my arm,
his head tucked under, terrified and small,
where I saw in him the dead cat still.
The form in form, says the Platonist,
never dies, although the fire must,
like money or sex or suicidal operas.
History dies in the sigh of the prima
donna, the flag, the demoralized balloon,
the sentimental anthem that ends on
notes so high, none can hear them fall.
If the dead prove merciful, helpful,
still I feel a little helpless, saying so.
If one cat steps out of another, who
am I, in my weakness, to feed the ghost,
the light of whom I will not, cannot, know.
I have a toy I call my philosophy
of mindfulness and kindness. I love that toy.
I take my philosophy in my hand
and run it over the rug. I make the moan
that engines make when they are going somewhere
important, as bodies do in misery
and desire. Sometimes a saxophone
player visits to talk of his calling, his one
life a river tumbling through a river
the way one name tumbles into another
and tosses about, nameless, faceless, lost.
So little to give a neighborhood in crisis
but this bronze cry and dilapidated sax.
Then he stops, he doubts, and the echoes
walk ahead a stretch and turn back, fading.
I used to think the mind was one thing,
the heart another. But I know better now.
I know, and then, I forget that I know.
When I was small and lonely, I loved toys.
They carried me places I would destroy
with boredom or tears or spectacles of fire.
What is a toy if not the soul transfigured.
Like a string bass, when the saxophonist
leans her way and whispers, yes, Lord, yes, yes.
When hair made a garden of my sex,
I was alone, and music my shibboleth,
my reason to retire. I floated a diamond
over vinyl until the black pool dimmed.
The more I cut into music and mist
the more I craved the unspeakable it
that never comes, although I felt it leave.
Over and over, the suicidal beauty.
I read once desire cannot be desired,
and then I saw an inconsolable girl
look up from her book, startled, called.
A body walks into a forest. Night falls.
It falls through earth the way a pilgrim
falls through the surface of the emblem.
It could take years to take our bearings
in the wild, to know how lost we are,
or crawl back through an eye in sleep
and waken there, dreaming on our feet.
My body took me here. Then it left
behind my blunders in a flare of dust.
But it gave me her with whom I walk,
late, across the paths where children chalk
illustrations of clouds whose outlines
bloom. And then the falling of the rain.