Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fall in a River: poems

Landscape with Dragons

Gauguin, Landscape in Arles

The child, punished,
lags behind her father, watches
dragons take shape from green lumps
on the path, sees
the lady in white collapsed on the flowerbed,
black cape crumpled before her, still far
from the picture plane. The lady
has disappeared into her clothes, unlike
Teacher, terribly present, her shirt
buttoned up to her throat…

the languorous scent of twilight lost
in distance, salt on the air, the lilt
of spring. The child wants to melt
into the sky,
or the bleached wall of a townhouse
edged in forsythia
that will be gone in two weeks’ time.
The child understands this, the need
for a different sensation every moment,
and, in solitude, the necessity of sadness.


Florida is a lusty mother of words.

My reflection catches fast
on the cold mirror,
asking me with silent eyes
to just behold.

Florida, this hour:
a jam of tongues,
a furrow in the wide suburban lawns.

This morning
my face is the color
of shadows and swallows.
My sullen, full-bodied words
slice the mirror’s skin.

Florida, this minute:
a repository of philosophy and soap,
shampoo and nonsense.

What flows in this world?
Words off the tongue off the mind.

, this second,
looks me in the face,
offers me another clay moment
to reshape my reflection.

Keats at the Harbor

Keats was more than the end
of his life, pale creature
setting like the moon behind
the curtains in his room on the Piazza
di Spagna and speaking the absolute truth
to Severn. Instead, one should imagine him
on the most ordinary day in full health,
perhaps after a good meal, watching
the ships glide from the mouth
of the Thames to warmer climes,
deeper seas, islands where the people have no
language and make pictures in the sand,
a world so far beyond poetry
that he cannot imagine it.

Before Rush Hour

At the bus stop, children break icicles
from mailboxes, toss dead branches
into the road. A rim of moon drops

behind the apartments on Blue Court.
In number eleven, a woman with chapped hands
prepares lunch for her youngest son, wonders

when he will ask for his first hockey stick.
Last night’s rain dazzles the kitchen window.
The cat slides a cheek along the screen. Men leave

for the airport, hold their wives close in case
something should happen while they are gone.
Cars on the freeway pass the sun from side mirror

to side mirror. Ahead, a V of gulls
skims the salt marsh, now lit from within.
The day is brought to us, and we go forth.


A boat slices into
the heart of Jamaica Bay
with the scalpel of its prow.

A man tests
the elasticity of the East River
by jumping into it.

Watching the city
always distracts me
to the same poem.

The Black Clock

(after Cézanne)

Morning, and the first thing
you say to me is, “No one
must know.” What you mean
is that it was a mistake. Over
there, the black clock with its
imaginary hands at six, or perhaps
stalled at twelve thirty, tells of
the flatness, the invisibility
of time. The shell on the table,
its blush of pink in white
porcelain, the insides of your thighs,
I discovered warm like that,
on the beach in my dream.


At the hookah bar
she realizes
that she is one of those women,
embittered, between lives,
or wracked with ennui.
She has no reason
to stay in California,
or to leave.

Trotsky in Mexico

Standing before him at the gates
of La Casa Azul, three atheist gods—
no, they are monkeys, capuchin monkeys,
encircling the neck of their mistress

like living jewels, clawing at her
sun-dark skin. From somewhere inside,
the music of a fountain. The shadow
of the water on her face

reminds him of Russia, the ice
that chokes the rivers this time of year.
He would like to know her favorite season,
the saddest song she ever heard.


But we are a world
in a vacuum:
there is no such thing
as fresh air.


Ingres, Odalisque with a Slave

The slave, in all his finery, looks beyond her,
his mistress, a slave herself, and sings
of his homeland, the green fields inhabited
by gods, the clatter of wares at the bazaar. How
did it come to this, his words vaporous
as the smoke she exhales in mid-afternoon?

The Mushrooms

From the bottom of the swamp,
their Theory of Everything: a hit
of lightning in the distance, turning
sand traps to sheets of glass…

and the sound of frogs, of strings
of pearls being dragged through weeds,
the weeds becoming pearls, the far
mud-stumps thickening into trees,

into a forest, the forest of someone’s
dream, that melts into pillars of salt
at the edge of a great inland sea,

where cattails darken in the sun’s first
aureole of frost and seraphim drop their heads
and weep into the mushrooms.

I have never seen the Colorado

I have never seen the Colorado,
but I know it flows inside me,
darkly, dark enough for trout to hide
their eggs, electrified
once a year by a power surge at Hoover Dam—
they glow like bubbles,
and rise, as the river rises
in my throat, and I swallow
to keep it down.

Last summer I went fly-fishing in Montana.
The Blackfoot River swelled to my waist,
and I cast my line. I caught nothing,
only silt. I forgot myself, and the river,
and the sky, the primary colors of the day,
and I became the river, so clear the bottom
magnified: every stone, every weed in full view—
and I forgot why I had come, and where I had come from,
and why I had ever been unhappy.


,with their accordion wings,
swoop down from the belfry
and into my mother’s hair.
It’s short, like mine, but red.
Her friend Carol has a black
mane and a widow’s peak.
The bats fly straight into it.

Keats: An Occurrence

It is quite miraculous to see a bird
fall out of the sky, dead,
and land at your feet. In Naples,
this happened to Keats, but he did not
write a poem; rather, he asked himself,
What are shadows? and later,
How does the moon mean? Keats, by then,
was well into his posthumous life.
All around him the leaves were blackening,
the grapes were rotting along the vine—the shock
of things everywhere losing their existence—and he said
quietly, to no one in particular,
Why do I die?


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