From AfterTalk, a sequence of poems that takes place in the bardo as a posthumous conversation between the mythological couple, Inanna and Dumuzi. Dumuzi’s voice appears in plain font and Inanna’s in italics.
“My sister, I would go with you to my garden
Inanna, I would go with you to my garden
I would go with you to my orchard
I would go with you to my apple tree.
There I would plant the sweet, honey-covered seed.”
“He brought me into his garden.
My brother, Dumuzi, brought me into his garden.
I strolled with him among the standing trees.
I stood with him among the fallen trees.
By the apple tree, I knelt as was proper.
Before my brother coming in song.
Who rose to me out of poplar leaves,
Who came to me in the midday heat.
Before my lord, Dumuzi,
I poured out plants from my womb.”
From the Courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi (4000 BC)
I started by singing.
Oblivion’s wind tussled my hair.
I was even the mouse in the talons of the owl.
How else could I reach my little deaths
without feeling your grip at my groin and neck?
I was the salmon that solved the rapids
by catching the current that ran
inside them the opposite way.
I was the swallow who mastered the air
by cutting its hem with the razor in my tail.
I was the dreamer in bed with you
who was also several in the form of one,
who kept you mythical as well as literal
among the many who swam and flew.
I was a wire in the form of a woman
whose current ran from leaf to leaf
with invisible fire until I pointed
to the dirt at zero hour and all the world
cried out with flames the sovereign right I had
to sit in the shade and lose myself
to the many, turn to grass, a single blade.
Every day the fever returned to drench me in sweat.
I dressed from head to foot in a thin wet suit
I couldn’t take off.
No pill or bath broke its grip.
No paradox of blankets or steaming rocks.
I waited for the cure of a single kiss.
Each morning one or two careered against
the window pane, then dropped concussed or dead to the lawn.
They saw reflections of trees and sky,
then flew full bore into the window.
Who, I wondered, will grieve for me
as a casualty of something I didn’t see?
I swung my ax like a man possessed.
I was the master of Earth, clearing a path
between one meadow and the next,
burning the piles till nothing was left.
I went to the beach to stare at loss—
its one blank eye that wouldn’t close.
To study the sea as a book of names
inscribed on a blue Euphrates page.
To watch it turn back and forth.
To write your name on horizon’s line.
To regard the clouds as the alphabet
of those who wrote from the other side.
To study the sun, the way it fell behind
my back until only the sound of waves
defined the shore as there, no, there.
To sit in the dark as if it were light.
The secret opened that everyone knew and kept.
My tongue conspired against my need to tell it,
and my pencil grew too heavy to lift when I tried to write it.
There was nothing that everyone didn’t already know.
How eloquent I was in the silence when others spoke—
a cricket here, a locust there.
I saw ten thousand rounds
from the cosmic squad.
Already I had heard
from another world
the faint reports
grow louder in the world.
No blank in the breech
of a single star.
No tear in the eye
of a heavenly host.
I wanted my lines to read like shreds—
cursive veins for a blasted heart
with ripping sounds of blank on blank.
I walked out to the edge of the world
that was unmarked. The clouds’ applause
filled the sky when I collapsed in three feet of snow
and formed a line that was my end,
that looked in the distance like only a point
as I lay like a dial beneath the sun
but cast no shadow.
The sun followed me around the room,
beating it out of me.
I was constantly on the run,
moving from chair to couch,
couch to chair.
I had confessed already a thousand times
but it wouldn’t relent.
Each ray a razor against my skin.
“There’s something still you haven’t said,” it cried.
“That shadow that flies inside you like a crow.
That secret you keep to yourself.”
In order to write I had to lie about the most literal things.
Believe that the moment I was in was larger than I thought.
That the way things were were a chorus for the sky’s deaf ear.
That my mind could rise like a crane from its nest and fly somehow
over the Earth into the blue of nowhere.
I was going to stack wood one day,
move the pile from yard to shed log by log
until a cord took shape, but I needed
to keep them in the yard for a while
to see each log in another world
where thought takes shape in forms
that don’t exist on Earth. I needed
to see the logs in all their glory
inside the shed before they were there,
stacked and square beneath the roof.
To use my eyes as arms inside my head
before lifting a twig.
It was a calm September day.
Hardly a leaf stirred.
I marveled at the wind
inside the breeze, how hard
it blew as I made my way
down the road.
I saw how brightly the leaves fell
with grief on their backs.
How long then short the days grew across the Earth.
How deeply the sky folded itself into its blue to sweeten the hurt.
The deer bent down to drink from the stream.
I felt their lips on the surface of the water.
I felt their feet on the steep soft bank.
I felt their breath on the back of my neck.
I felt the worms in the dark numb earth.
The thrush taught me a few sweet chords
for an evening song.
I hummed as I climbed for the same old reason
you always hear from the man who’s climbed
the highest mountain.
Who found his way to the top
with only a shadow and lyre.
You shook me clear of myself.
What relief to see myself in a surface
that didn’t reflect. I wrote nothing
and everything then. Took solace in the silence
between the furnace blasts.
Enjoyed the beets I cooked for dinner.
The crows talked in the pines,
half laughing, half crying.
It was a strange, ironic love that kept them aloft.
Turned each caw into a dark new feather.
We walked in the dark on the beach,
igniting sparks of phosphorescence,
believing in gods and plains of existence,
burning in the surf and then the swells,
ignoring the stars that sang in the distance,
“Burn for now, for half a second.
Light up for nothing like phosphorescence.”