No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.”
“We Lived Happily During the War”
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
“Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)”
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
“I look at the world”
I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
“The Failure of Navigation in the Valley"
To CD Wright
No body is fixed in position no one can be known
Still I am read by satellites my tendency extrapolated
In the mountains I have no GPS I don’t know where to go
There are those trees their leaves flicker like little jewels a whole bucketful
Darkness stares back are you even human anymore
I close the curtains at night not because I think others will see in
Turn left there but so I do not see the reflection that is pure dark
I am not afraid of anything oh is that so
Citizen bear do this place not belong to you
Unseen I wander through the thorny place of what I no that ain’t it
No fear can be knew can be none fuck how do you spell it
I held a heavy jade pendant in my hand once not in this valley in another
In the range of limited human experience how many places are there really
I don’t even have to look at the earth anymore I just have to listen
Now that hillbilly whisper guides me which way to turn how far up the turn is
Drawling like moonshine we’re really off the grid now
Making wild prayers to the green dark which kind do you mean
Thank god we thought of her recording this voice both kinds
“Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem II]”
I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone …
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.
I want to grow old with you.Old, old.
So old we pad through the supermarket
using the shopping cart as a cane that steadies us.
I’ll wait at register two in my green sweater
with threadbare elbows, smiling
because you’ve forgotten the bag of day-old pastries.
The cashier will tell me a joke about barbers as I wait.
He repeats the first line three times
but the only word I understand is barber.
Over the years we’ve caught inklings
of our shrinking frames and hunched spines.
You’re a little confused
looking for me at the wrong register with a bag
of almost-stale croissants clenched in your hand.
The first time I held your hand it felt enormous in my own.Sasquatch, I teased you, a million years ago.
Over here, I yell, but not in a mad way.
You have a bright yellow pin on your coat that says, Shalom!
Senior Discount, you say.
But the cashier already knows us.
We’re everyone’s favorite customers.
“The Way One Animal Trusts Another”
Somewhere between what it feels like, to be at
one with the sea, and to understand the sea as
mere context for the boat whose engine refuses
finally to turn over: yeah, I know the place—
stumbled into it myself, once; twice, almost. All
around and in between the two trees that
grow there, tree of compassion and—much taller—
tree of pity, its bark more bronze, the snow
settled as if an openness of any kind meant, as well,
a woundedness that, by filling it, the snow
might heal…You know what I think? I think if we’re
lost, you should know exactly where, by now; I’ve
watched you stare long and hard enough at the map
already…I’m beginning to think I may never
not be undecided, about all sorts of things: whether
snow really does resemble the broken laughter
of the long-abandoned when what left comes back
big-time; whether gratitude’s just a haunted
space like any other. This place sounds daily
more like a theater of war, each time I listen to it—
loss, surprise, victory, being only three of the countless
fates, if you want to call them that, that we don’t
so much live with, it seems, as live for now among. If as
close as we’re ever likely to get, you and I, is this—this close—
“Book of Statues”
Because I am a boy, the untouchability of beauty
is my subject already, the book of statues
open in my lap, the middle of October, leaves
foiling the wet ground
in soft copper. “A statue
must be beautiful
from all sides,” Cellini wrote in 1558.
When I close the book,
the bodies touch. In the west,
they are tying a boy to a fence and leaving him to die,
his face unrecognizable behind a mask
of blood. His body, icon
of loss, growing meaningful
against his will.
People, far too many people here—
drinking, leaning on the furniture,
congratulating my father
on his new life. Here’s
his young wife, young enough
to be my older sister.
She—if you can’t tell
the whole truth—is nice.
But he slams his glass
onto the table, yells
more now than ever. Unless
I remember wrong. I know
I was afraid. Of him. And so.
I know I played alone
with dolls and that
we roughhoused, hard,
like brothers. What is a father
is a question like what
is home, or love. In the middle of the room
guests on the arms of the awful floral sofa
Mom wouldn’t get up from
when she heard. In the grey bathrobe
for a week, horrid splotches
of pink and purple flowers with green
for stems. Or leaves. I can’t
look at it. There’s something hot
behind my eyes another glass of wine
should take care of.
There are people I should say hello to.