Postmortem Georgic

If I die in June, the true end of our year,
exchange the storms for screens and summon the technician
to check the coolant pressure in the central air
before the dog days when the black drive wavers
and no bright metal can be touched, and then swap out the filters,
and now that our little grove of maple, oak and hickory
has shed into the gutters (O deeper than you imagine)
petals and dust and unfelt leaves, flush them out
lest thunderheads that build in the searing afternoon,
toppling, leave them weeping around you.

Yes, if I die in summer you will be hard-pressed
to keep the shrubs clipped back and the grass down
till the heat browns it, and to counteract metastases
of chickweed, black medic and poison ivy.
Circle the house now with broad bands of pyrethrins
to dam the streams of carpenter ants, and if they keep coming
seek out their nests in stumps and the garden's railroad ties,
and kill them, if you have the heart (as I might not)
to battle life, having so little left of your own.

Trundle the recycling to the curb infallibly
on alternate Mondays, or if in weekless summer you forget
what day it is, do it any day and wait till it is taken
as all things are. Repair the small appliances that faltered
while you were drowned with work and could not bother,
or let them go, since little these days is worth repairing,
and service the car for journeys you have been putting off
that you cannot put off longer, now the world grows old,
or do not, and tell the world it must come to you.

But after all, I would never die in summer. Say to our children
as usual his mind has wandered, only this time so far
he has not come perfectly back, and then think the click,
a little too long, of setting your glass on the endtable
in the twilit air you cannot tell from your skin, is the click
of me also invisibly near you setting mine down.

If I die in autumn, exchange the screens for storms,
and set traps baited with nut butters
along the perimeter of the basement
and foam-caulk all exterior cracks and seams
to foil the mice, checking also the chimney cap
and the screening of the vents to keep out flying squirrels,
native to these woods, though many do not believe in them
with their huge black eyes all pupil, and their rustling above us,
and summon the servicer of the big hollow furnaces,
for when the cold like empty boxcars rumbles in
and the heat is creaking in the aluminum ducts
you will be cold, coldbones, without me,
listening awake to, what is it, the wind,
mysterious disk accesses, creatures flowing in the walls?

Turn the clocks back, slide fresh batteries into smoke detectors,
and reset the timed lights, for the days grow shorter
and you will be driving home in earlier and earlier sunset
and the day will hurt you with its unexpected darknesses,
like the young husband who could not speak his mind,
and now, before the year begins in earnest,
weed out your files, discarding a third of all you have
as the trees will, since leaves, also made for a single year,
grow shabby and slow, and heavy snows would collect in them
cracking limbs off and splitting even the thick trunk,
and travel light, for all you carry you will carry alone.

And when all the leaves are down, even the reluctant oaks,
blow them into the woods, or call someone to blow them,
and then, only then, scoop out the gutters
once again, lest they clog and freeze, sagging with ice-mass,
or call someone to do it. Then drain the mower and park it,
or sell it since you will not want to keep it up
or let the gas sour and the valves gum, since you will not sell it,
and think that of all seasons this is the one I would never miss,
and say to our children he is out for one of his long walks
and the leaves are streaming through his eyes and heart and hair.

If I die in winter, when there is little to do
but wait till winter is over, keep watch on the upstairs windows,
and if they ghost with mist, turn the humidifiers down
lest the paint peel and the sills rot out.
Restock the pantry with beans, onions, and root vegetables,
and the soups you love, salty and fat and thick,
for green leaves and the glare of fruits would hurt the soul
which wishes now to eat darkly and be deep in the ground.
Wind the hoses, draining them first, in coils,
squeeze clockwise the indoor shutoff
and open the outdoor faucets wide, letting the last water out
lest in a coldsnap some pipe snap.

Now broadcast salt preventively on the drive,
for it is steep, and mornings slick, and snow frequent,
or sleep in and wait till the sun was worked on it,
since in a few hours the sun will work on it,
or a few days or weeks, for what is time now,
and how can I urge them on you now, these endless tasks,
who am not sure in my own mind if they were life
or what kept me from our life. Then tell our children
I have gone to lie in the abstract earth,
breathing stones like sky, restless as always
to fit the huge, sharp planet into my too-small heart.

If I die in the spring, that fruitless season,
scour the markets for the grapes and nectarines
of the other hemisphere, for it is always harvest somewhere,
but stay wary through the first weeks of March
when wet, heavy snowstorms still may strike, only then
stowing the shovels and bringing out brooms and seeds.

Squeegee the windows till they squeak with clarity
and lime the lawn against sour rains, and if now, already,
carpenter ants are trailing over the sea-blue carpet
defenses have failed and they have nested in the house,
so listen in the walls for a noise like crackling cellophane—
I can tell you where, in the beams between floors
where the slow leak of the shower has spread dampness—
and drill there and spread fatal powders
or do not, since though they chew a house down,
they chew slowly, slowly, slowly and the house
will fall when it falls, and not before your fall.

Start the dehumidifier, lest books demoted to the basement
rot there, or let them, since those we will never read again,
set the clocks forward, and once more change the batteries
in the smoke detectors, or do not, and when the fire insurance
comes due in April, imagine, at least, that you might let it go,
for how in this late cold can we argue against fire?

Yes, if there is justice, though I have said there is none,
I will die in spring, this season I love least
of beginning all over, I of no patience,
when hope is a door left unlatched in a high wind
banging and banging itself to pieces.

Now is, of all seasons, the season of paper,
and we have policies that make death a benefit:
you have lucked out, hit the jackpot, you are worth a million!
Now change your beneficiary and delete me from the mortgage,
Search out the bills in the right top drawer, and one drawer down
receipts organized in twenty-one categories
for the IRS—travel, supplies, books, charities, faiths, memories—
and burn them, paying no taxes, for this is the truth: you owe
nothing now, and were there a light Judgment burning in this night,
I would have come back somehow to warn you,
but there is no light, there is nothing, though you cannot believe it.

No, you will feel instead that I packed carefully,
taking everything that was ours, though I have nothing.
You will feel carjacked and pushed out on a curve,
watching the car you and I somehow are still driving
turn and stop and turn, until it has vanished
into the future we thought of, still happening without you,
though now, of all that could have been, there is nothing.
There is only where you are going, though you seem so still,
there is only that somehow we see each other
from two trains in the station, parting so slowly
we can't for the life of us say which of us is moving.



Don’t be fooled: he liked to travel.
He had a pattern, and always a woman
woven into his art. Even Athena spelled him at the helm,
kissed up to Zeus, and so on. His strength, he thought,
was courting temptation—the time he had his men bind him
so he could look the irresistible in the face.
He liked the romance in saying no. As he unbuttoned,
unzipped, he’d mumble wrong, so wrong . . .
the dance of that back and forth excited him.
And so I served the progress of his journey—
he fooled even me, small story
within his bigger story, just another way
to get himself home. Ready for his desk,
he could put down the details
of a ravishment, ever-penitent,
as he wove the threads of loss into a telling:
useless I was in the face of her tears. . . .

all that grand wrenching
played out in an agony of ego. It was like this:
he had to eat the peach down to its seed. He needed
to break the pitted husk, get to the kernel’s half
milligram of arsenic. He needed the right poison
to make a proper lament, served by wife, child and dog,
the waiting and ripping. Even so,
it took the gods to intervene—to make me want to let him go.


"Black Ships Drawn Up on a White Beach"

Take me
there, oh, take me there.

To the sea wall
in Robinson Jeffers country.
We were like cypress, wind-silhouetted on
the rocky coast,
like ships whose green is almost black,
not like an old man and an old woman, though
bending away from the wind, like those Monterey
I was watching surfers, not black ships. The long
beach was white and farther down
the coast was the poet's stone tower.
Now that I am not on that coastline anymore,
looking out the window has assumed such importance;
as if I were in a tower, like Rapunzel, yet
no length of braid could any longer draw you up.

You, who are never the same person.

I'd like to send a letter to The King of Spain,
the man who remains constant
because he is from a fairy tale.
I want to tell him
about the Diamond Dog
who followed my father
out of my life. How the dog
runs away every time I call him.

Angela tells me there is a white dwarf star with a core of diamond,
twenty-five-hundred square miles in diameter.
It is located in the constellation Centaurus,
and is fifty light years from Earth. She
says, "The cosmic gem is the remains of a star that was once
much like our sun."

How lucky
to have a father who sailed away, rather than one
who was a disappointment in the flesh.
There is great drama possible when lies are told,
for the everyday need not intervene
its dull self. Living dogs
slather, smell fuggish, shed hair, jump on
clean clothes or furniture with muddy paws, lick your
face, sniff your crotch. But a Diamond Dog
is a little piece of crystalline motion,
running like a starship, white on the black beach.

Odysseus, the father, returned after twenty years of sailing,
had sailor's eyes and saw everything.
But he would not have recognized
this Diamond Dog when it greeted his return. "Argos,"
he called it. A premonition?

Oh, take me there,
take me to the star in the horse-man constellation,
whose core is miles of diamond. There
I'd be able to see the "black ships
drawn up
on the white beach,"
drawn close to me. I, lingering
on this seawall;
they, not furling sails or running away.



So that's what you've been
running towards,
Diamond Dog! I thought you
jumped out of the ash heap
to follow my father,
who was walking away from me,
past the palm tree with a trunk
as wide as an old Redwood,
away past the neighbors' lantana hedge that
drew butterflies,
past the Friends Church and down
to the boulevard, the King's Highway,
El Camino Reale. But

you weren't heading towards
San Diego to my father's
WW II aircraft carrier.

You weren't following.
You were leading.

All these years, I thought you were following him
away from me.

Why didn't I realize you had been crushed
into diamond by the heat and pressure of the Underworld?

Perhaps you only tumbled out
of the ashes, in my dream, because I had been trying to breach
a place forbidden
to the living?

Diamond Dog, you've reappeared,
in my seventieth year.
it is I with whom you travel, not
my dead father. No longer are you an image of hidden beauty
deserting me;
but of mortality, or immortality.
Either one—the same panting diamond breath.


Practicing to Walk Like a Heron

My wife is at the computer. The cat
is sleeping across the soft gold cushion

of my chair. Last night there was a frost.
I am practicing to walk like a heron.

It's the walk of solemn monks
progressing to prayer on stilts,

the deliberate cadence of a waltz
in water. I lift my right leg within

the stillness, within the languid
quiet of a creek, slowly, slowly,

slowly set my foot on the dog-haired
carpet, pause, hold a half note, lift

the left, head steady as a bell before
the ringer tugs the rope. On I walk,

the heron's mute way, across the
room, past my wife who glances

up, holds her slender hands
above the keys until I pass.


Into the Desert

He had a mouth you could imagine,
lacking the innocence of good looks.
Remove described him.
Wirey, he gave out basketballs
to refugees, he and his buddy.

For there were two, our pride.
When the waitress passed our table,
their heads swiveled.
Hormonal reflex—they honed
every reflex. The rest of the time

they ran. Perimeters mostly,
the encompassing. The Bible reader
entered rooms first as if he were
the attaché himself. The other,
Eliot-lover, stared into the desert.



For each book we read, we were allowed
To paste stars next to our names—

Gold for fiction, silver for nonfiction.
I had silver mostly—stories of frontier heroes,

Dead presidents in tall hats,
And nurses bandaging soldiers like mummies.

In truth, I only read the back covers.
If my teacher, born before the invention

Of the musket, asked, "OK, what was it about?"
I was ready with a quick answer: "America."

One day, I found six of my fourteen stars gone,
My cosmic fate scratched off,

The light of my little body diminished,
Robbed of a chance to shine!

I turned to my teacher, Mrs. Sloan.
Had she pulled them off, one by one?

Or was the star thief a worse reader than me?
I shivered when I saw nice Mrs. Sloan

Writing names on the chalkboard,
Mine and Steve Lopez's, who had muttered, "Shit"

At the assassination of President Kennedy.
When I approached her, ready to confess,

"Yeah, I sort of cheated ... ," Mrs. Sloan slapped
Her hands of chalk dust and said, "Happy Birthday!"

Then I understood: Steve Lopez and I were
April birthday boys—cupcakes and a song for us,

A phony paddling as we counted our years.
Later, when I got up to sharpen a pencil

For a math quiz, I tallied silver and gold stars
And fumed at Steve Lopez's unaccountable row

Of shooting stars, some barely hanging on
By his awful spit. He was the star thief!

I ground my teeth at the thought:
We were born in the same month,

Skinny from rickets, bad at fractions and writing,
And early eliminations on rainy-day spelling bees.

But Steve had flunked third grade,
Was a year older. We lived on the same street,

Owned dogs that walked like old men,
And cowered under the beatings

Of mean mothers. I knew
Steve Lopez had no starry light inside him.

Idiot boy! He came in balancing three books
On his block head. When he tripped

And fell, I imagined stars behind his eyes,
All bloody red, not pretty silver,

Like mine.


Cast a spell

on me
wrap me in

warp of words

come to
your mouth

until I gulp
them whole

of thought
whatever spin

we enter when
we so imbibe

what neither
had in mind


Gone into

whatever interim
might lie

in store for him
I say keep

in touch
as we hold

each other until when
at arms' length

I touch his shoulder
he touches me


They said

it was a shadow
quite of what

they did not know
as yet but might

for all they knew
have been there

all along before
whatever turn you

took took you
into what had been

unlooked for until
then so then

they took a knife
to it and took it out