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.”
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we protested 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)” Muriel Rukeyser
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 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.
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.
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—
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.