Black Loam


It's been another good year.
I pitchfork my poems into the air
over and over until the black grains
of letters pile up into never before

thought of things. All winter I'll pound them
into dust and bake from that the black bread
of meaning which is leavened by death
and is its source and devourer.

After I've winnowed the poems, the wind
will seem to have blown the seeds
right out of oblivion. But it is only taking life
from life, the many from the one, which is how
I came to be and is what I have done.


Beggar's Cup

I'm slowing down now,
imperceptibly, it seems,
like a river spreading itself out into a delta
where the minute metallic taste of salt, like paradox
blooming in the darkness, takes me out.

I can see down the road that someday soon
I'll give in to this and with one deep breath
dissolve as easily as the memory of splashing headfirst
into this life has drifted invisibly beyond feeling.

Old age always arrives with his two companions:
sickness and regret, an old woman says to me.
Then come the war stories wearying as her pain
which she feels is front-page news to me
but is only the door to after she exists.

Now, before my ego breaks down
into a pile of pick-up sticks,
before my final dispersal rolls in on the swell
of some never-before-felt feeling that releases me,
I'm wondering where my consciousness will go,

if after death I'll still be a me, minus the striving
and million forms of the fear of dying
that's misshapen whatever is left of me
because I was so deeply living it.

Time to sink back into the world again
which, like a colony of panicky ants, continues
to dismantle and carry off bit by bit
the fragile sense of unity I once glimpsed of it.

Here, I say, with my empty beggar's cup,
to anyone who will listen, is what I was able to fill up.
It's the joy of simply being. Which took my whole life to make.
It contains all that's left behind of me and when I'm gone,
everything I am. And it'll stand for everything I wasn't.


The Grotto

Let's make believe we're lying
together on our backs.
The lumps in the floor are dirt and grass
and the blackbirds tickle us with their claws
until we chirp and laugh.

This is fearlessness.

The sky wears no bells, no paper hats
but shawls crawl up the mountain rocks
piece by piece, and even under
night's weight
we still are not afraid.

The shawls are dragging themselves across the slate
that soon will cover our feet.
Black lace, black wool on the reeks.

I am now upstairs and you are down
in a white-washed cottage
packed in salt and wind.
The rooster's crow is not against the law.

Pretend we stamp the sand onto the floor,
then sweep away the crumbs and ticks.
Seagulls dock on the windowsills
and we spread the moon on a tablecloth.

You sip cold water from a silver glass.
I climb back upstairs with a hot water bag.
Tomorrow I get everything we need.
I mean today. I did.


En Route to Bangladesh, Another Crisis of Faith

We pass over heavy shadows
of large clouds pinned to traincars

lined up like unused blocks
of colored chalk—red then green,

blue then orange—until we are
propelled higher, and the trains

are swallowed by these jagged
strictures of land that are no longer

sand nor rock nor water, but a child's
drawing instead—until the distant ocean

is the only fabric that fills this punched-
out plastic hole of a window—that is

the blue that falls over everything, that is
everything—blue on blue on blue—like the one

strip of light left always on the airplane ceiling
that the pale, plastic shades cannot shut away—

until that narrow vein of light is the only
belief left, a cream-thick ribbon across our eyes—


Here and Now

There are words
I've had to save myself from,
like My Lord and Blessed Mother,
words I said and never meant,
though I admit a part of me misses
the ornamental stateliness
of High Mass, that smell

of incense. Heaven did exist,
I discovered, but was reciprocal
and momentary, like lust
felt at exactly the same time—
two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,
making a small case for themselves.

You and I became the words
I'd say before I'd lay me down to sleep,
and again when I'd wake—wishful
words, no belief in them yet.
It seemed you'd been put on earth

to distract me
from what was doctrinal and dry.
Electricity may start things,
but if they're to last
I've come to understand
a steady, low-voltage hum

of affection
must be arrived at. How else to offset
the occasional slide
into neglect and ill temper?
I learned, in time, to let heaven
go its mythy way, to never again

be a supplicant
of any single idea. For you and me
it's here and now from here on in.
Nothing can save us, nor do we wish
to be saved.

Let night come
with its austere grandeur,
ancient superstitions and fears.
It can do us no harm.
We'll put some music on,
open the curtains, let things darken
as they will.


Seneca on the Lesson to be Drawn from the Burning of Lyon

The world is full of things far darker than my bad ideas.
And who isn't a sports fan when lives are at stake?
In my neurodegenerative order, I always cross the street
without looking. It's only a matter of time before I'm hit
by a victory parade carrying an automaton plundered from the island
where every second person is an automaton. In this way, Rhodes
is not a store of wonders free for the vanquisher, but a nightmare
you will yourself into in order to sail yourself home.
When I count the constellations against the gears
of my Antikythera mechanism, all it augurs me is a career
playing terrorists in made-for-TV movies. I don't know
what else I expected, but I never expected to be
the kind of man who mourns his friends.


History is a Room

I cannot enter.

To enter that room, I would need to be a man who makes History, not a girl to whom History happened.

Mother to two daughters, I guard their lives with hope, a pinch of salt I throw over my shoulder.

To enter that room, I would need to wield a gun.

Here, I brandish weapons that serve an art my mother and grandmother knew: how to make of plantain and eggs a meal.

To enter that room, I would need to live in the past, to understand how power is amassed, eclipsing the sun.

Beneath my children's beds, I scatter grains of rice to keep duppy at bay.

To enter that room, I would need to live in the present: This election. This war.

Beneath my children's pillows, I place worry dolls to ensure their peaceful sleep.

To enter that room, I would need to bridge the distance between my door and what lies beyond.

Standing in my foyer at dusk, I ask the sea to fill the crevices of this house with its breath.

History is recounted by the dead, returned from their graves to walk in shriveled skins.

In our yard, I watch my daughters run with arms papering the wind.

History is recounted by children in nursery rhymes, beauty masking its own violence.

In my kitchen, I peel an orange, try to forget my thumb must wrest the pulp from its rind.

History is recounted in The Book of Explanations: AK-47 begat UZI, which begat M-16 ... and all the days of their lives were long.

Pausing at the sink, I think of how a pepper might be cut, blade handled so the knife becomes the fruit slit open, its seeds laid bare.

History is recounted in The Book of Beginnings: the storey of a people born of forgetting.

In our yard, I name the world for my children—praying mantis, robin's egg, maple leaf—words for lives they bring me in their palms.

To enter that room, I would need to look into the mirror of language, see in collateral damage the faces of the dead.

In our yard, I sow seeds, planting myself in this soil.

To enter that room, I would need to uncover the pattern of a life woven onto some master loom.

Here, I set the table, sweep the floor, make deals with the god of small things.

To enter that room, I would need to be armed with the right question: is History the start of evening or dawn returning the swallow to the sky?

Here, I light candles at nightfall, believe the match waits to be struck.



We bury our dead too quickly
In graves too new for tombstones,

Scooping dirt onto them
With shovels turned upside down

To show our world turned upside down.
We hurry them into the earth,

Keeping the casket closed,
As if we were too busy praying

And had no more to say to them.


O, the Sadness Immaculate

The women in Rome are so beautiful,
It's like being beaten to death in slow motion,
Looking at them—; it's like bleeding.

So I don't look
At them. I look at the parrots nesting
In the olive trees,

The moon rising behind some ancient
Something-or-other (a church, probably), the first few stars—. From my study
window, I can
See the house where Galileo invented

The telescope. I wonder what he was
Thinking about that night—that night
He first searched

Heaven; I wonder what it was he was
Trying not to see.