The Old Thoughts
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
—Robert Hass, “Meditations at Lagunitas”
Immersed, called forth—
In the mind’s dark room, the solutions of black and white
are always as toxic as lead. The slop and wash
of forced memory. The binaries of life and death.
“In everybody’s house,” I once said.
But it was the particular that came to live in our home, peephole
through which I could see the overworked ghosts of my mother and father
clean up the one vacant room. Each dream
it was a nightmare to describe it.
II: Vermillion County
The drive north past the Vermillion Grove Coal Mine, its roof cutting through
the most ancient swamp on earth, isobars
of ferns, or their first precursors, Jurassic scrimshaw
beautiful as lilies.
Danny, you sketched this all down, subtle
language of charcoal, its vowels
like feathers. A few miles ahead,
your mother was dying, deep inside her
the collapse of tunnels, household gods
still tangled in vines.
III: The Chowders
It was 1938. Aunt Winnie swung by her brothers
as the airplane came down in the field, Ira and John
performing black face on the wagon. Our piano
hauled into Carson’s Woods. The soup itself
stirred by old men who, even in 1938, knew they were old.
Their gestures smeared and erased
before they vanished into the hickory and oak.
IV: After Lascaux
The first cave paintings
were of grief. Because the ox with wild horns was not pierced
many children were abandoned, though the last glimpse of them
always saw them walking. With such carnivores around
long enough to starve. In the same way we daub children
with the magic of school colors
to keep them safe from strangers.
V: Route One Towards Ridge Farm, from Danville or Paris
“Water tower to the east
near the house of your mother, and to the west
the grain elevator
like a cathedral
of corrugated tin. The sheer mass
of crop, transubstantiation
O Tiny Burg
lifting up like a battlement, the Illinois corn
This was the poem you wrote, provision for your journey,
a mere immigrant, so naïve. Think of the first men
entering the valleys
beyond their first tribe. The dead words
they carried on their backs.
“Why don’t you move on?” my old professor said. “Who cares
about the old thoughts in Illinois?”