There’s a rent in the weft. You’re jarred by a whiff
of something strange in the garden. Notice the paint
on the door is scratched and cracked. A draught skirts
your face, you brush something off.
Now, make the incision for a poem into which
all pain will be poured. You’re quick, but the tinge of it
will not be caught by the turn of a head. You push
at the door, but it doesn’t give. Go on.
You can ignore the garden.
Its slowness, its inevitable bloom.
The space of one paragraph
Two hours ago she had sat up in bed, said Make the words go away. He woke, asked what she’d said. I just want to sleep, she said. In the bathroom he found pill bottles that hadn’t been on the counter before when he’d brushed his teeth. The voice on the poison control line told him to inventory all she’d ingested. Even the words? Now he sits in the ICU waiting room trying to focus on the copy of Maldoror between the TV’s blue flicker and the April lightning licking the windows. Nearby patients doze, watch TV, talk quietly: Guess I’ll get the papers and go home. Crows never follow you at least. I tell you there’s no bridge that don’t end in midair. It’s like love was gravity not a hurt word. The nurse comes over. Want to see her, or are you good? The nurse fish-eyes his book’s cover: a gaunt man, mouth agape, struggles out of a coffin. In the patients’ room, she sleeps on a cot, under a blanket the same blue as her pale blue eyes. The look on her sleeping face that of a trapped raccoon. Tear-carved creases trace her nostrils, the corners of her eyes. The IV drips something clear into her arm. Her lips and chin, stained black by the charcoal cocktail they’d fed her. Or has she been drinking ink again, the fucking words. Behind the door to the small bathroom he sees tile walls splashed with her nightmares, regurgitated, unpunctuated. Sentences sidewind down to the sewers, baptize blind reptiles, dark clots of signifiers swept off by subterranean rivers. She looks as light as a leaf on a puddle, raw as a frog skinned by dry prairie grass. Every colour in this room is a grey that goes on for miles: highway, newsprint, stormfront. Her closed eyes drugged past dreaming, but all she’d dreamt was fractal vortices of vomit. Whatever’s dripping into her arm opens an umbrella under depression’s mental monsoon. This is the third emergency hospital trip since they started dating, the second since they moved in together. Earlier today he’d clocked ten hours at the florist’s, wrapping bouquets of Colombian carnations for corporate Mother’s Day orders, the unventilated warehouse air cloyed by pesticide. A lizard tiny as his pinkie darted out of a box, got lost in the walls. She floats in a bed beyond hope, treading neurochemistry’s heaviest water. He sits in a chair beyond exhausted. And quick as that lizard he knows he doesn’t love her and can’t tell her. Beyond the curtains other patients crouch, cornered by IV stands, telemetry screens, trays of baked steel, crates of spent syringes, boxes of ferrets nesting in wet red cotton. Code indigo, intones the intercom. When did he return to the waiting room? From the TV drifts a documentarist’s dulcet voice: These men are exploring a world never before seen by human eyes. A bathyscaphe drifts down the blackest ocean. Its camera raptures the creatures of the ocean floor, creatures that move by pulsing, that resemble snowflakes or equations, their veins coursing with antifreeze not blood. Creatures who may get better or kill themselves, now or years from now, either way he can’t bear to know. He picks at his fingernail quicks. All we know about life in these depths of the ocean, the documentarist says, would barely fill the space of one paragraph. As would anything he might write about the depths he’s in. He closes his eyes, wants to walk out, hole up in the apartment, smoke weed and read about squids in flight and bowers of hermaphrodites until he can’t tell whether he’s awake or dreaming. Dark machines hum in the hospital basement. Near the ceiling perch unblinking birds. The faces of the quiet patients glow cathode blue.
Auden and Wordsworth Fistfight on the Moon
As Illustrated by Géricault
apologies to all
Tranquillity is a moon sea and so
what we recollect there will be all silver tides
and waves breaking in silence. We like that,
having most days just this noisy sublunary bloodletting
in our ears, extortionate howls of privilege
bleating on at noon and eventide and break
of bone, the red-run seas of wealth boiling away
whatever lives and breathes, and our cries too
rafting invisibly away as if painted by a master hand
as the gunship of oppression founders allegorically
and the gorgeous limbs of humanity
pitch the woo of hope and desperation
toward some indecisive event horizon.
We shall shout and argue and be poached.
Above us, lightly pocked by Americanism,
the poems will turn and be admired,
shapely and alluring all through the night
affecting nothing, seeing all.
The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth
of it being above water. —Hemingway
I, too, have an iceberg principle, but it’s got less
to do with the one-eighth one sees above water,
or the seven-eighths hidden below,
than it does with the forty-six tons of luxury liner
headed straight for it at twenty-two knots.
It concerns the Wallace Hartley band churning
through what they assume is their final set
in the ballroom, through the last tune’s changes,
solos, one key modulation, and they’re pushing
for home now, for the root chord and a rest,
when that massive rending happens, the low groan
of metal gashed open and the hull filling
like a bad lung. It has everything to do with Hartley
not stopping, deciding to play on, to launch
the band’s mayhem set, their last ever.
And still more it’s concerned with much later
and a lifeboat, water lapping the gunnels, the sobs
and cried names dwindling, luggage and wreckage
bobbing past, the ship resting now on the bottom,
when two strangers in that boat, dear reader,
catch each other’s eye. And if this were a city street
a restaurant, a train, any of a hundred everyday ports
that protect and obscure us, they would look away.
But they don’t; they stare back at each other,
exhausted, alive, wanting to speak, were the sky not
pouring league upon league of silence over them,
the sea rolling league upon league of silence
under them. It’s got most to do with everything
their words will be up against, how each of them
feels it— then how one glimpses the great bass fiddle
floating nearby, and begins anyway.
Meal of Eyeball
What is it you’re eating, mother?
“My eye” she said and kept chewing.
Surely that was a wink, no more
But when would it open again?
What sort of boy falls for that ruse?
What sort of poet trades what he loves
For all the things he cannot see?
Sometimes, rarely, she writes for me,
Sets the old lie to my byline.
That’s when I sight hard, one eye closed,
See what conviction I pretend
While making a meal of eyeball.
there are hidden letters after x, y, z
not spoken about
except in the dusty history halls in library whispers
forgotten in the murk of the dark ages
when children would sing-song smiling
through twenty-six friends,
always in order, always tidy
the harmony rose up through the major scale
to resolve softly on the ultimate consonant
before those toddlers’ faces turned grimace
to continue the blackly dirge
past that darkened horizon lay horror
for in those hidden murky corners
rising out of the frozen languages
cloaked in runic and futhark accents
in arabian maqam
and full throated chants to the old gods
scratched into burned margins of scrolls
wretched with rat feces, gypsy oils, fetid ink
are the diminished dirt tones of lost symbols
chanted wild o’er a fire
tattooed tongues through scarred lips
best left to the phrygian dusk
canted, and then recanted
Certain is that which is sought from runes,
That the gods so great have made.— Odin’s Havamal (H.A. Bellows’ translation)
If I wrote in real runes, you’d understand
Why this poem couldn’t be. Staves are fine lines.
Secrets. Unrelenting. Each mark a brand
Of arcane meaning. Blood edged. Recombined.
Reconstructed. Telling fate if you dare;
Telling past if you wanted. Saxon sounds
From Norse staccato: Ing. Wynn. Nyd. Tyr. Jer.
Creation from gifts, and constraint from bounds.
Rune magic’s in the spelling. Make them words
And cast them. Make them curses, make runes be
Wishes, have them be carved in stones, in boards,
In bones. If I wrote them as they should be
This poem wouldn’t work. So, they are written
In English. Ink captured. Magic hidden.
What I Fear to Write Tracks Me Down
Today I am a bear. My snout is wet, and I lurk
in your woods, my belly and the faint scent of you
moving my muscular legs and paws. Sway
away from poachers. Wade. Bear trap
in the berries, glinting. I’ll go into town tonight
to satisfy my garbage heart, drag my
black fur, rush raccoons, startle
deer and half-drunk husbands (invincible
with stupid shouts and shotguns). You’ll see my
moonlit eyes in the dark. In your yard.
Trespassing your property. You’ll lock the doors.
I’ll catch an ear on the rusted nail of your flimsy
wooden fence. Will I kill your cat. Your dog.
Or be satisfied with the freezer-burned love you
tossed out last night. Don’t wax about the moon
reflected on my shiny coat. I am not your pelt.
The last breath you smell may be mine, lush
with rotting teeth and bloody tongue, throat
slathered and stomach rumbling to the droll roll
of your tiny heart. Don’t bury bones in the yard.
Don’t try to hide.
Thymine, Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine
I believed words put in the right sequence
carried a language code
that brought into being
ideas as living organisms
existing like invisible biota
in an ecosystem of thought,
a flourishing generative
mass that propagated
so many varied descendants
that if argument chanced
to select some for extinction,
others would evolve closer
to creative perfection,
but when I noticed
how often my statements
failed to thrive
and how some of my most
grew into predatory lies,
I thought it necessary
to stop writing, not realizing
that silence might birth
monsters of another kind.
this poem needs your devouring
& needs the tear and sink of teeth. to strip meaning
from the raw marrow of my bones. i want to be
metabolized into something other than words. inside
the eternal dark of your cells, i will unwind, an
alphabet of enzymes & syllables curled like
chromosomes. whether this is cancer or benign,
neither of us know. this is only the illumination of
places never meant to see light. what more
does it need to be?