Three Poems after Montale



Mistletoe, a city of snapshots taped to
plaster, blue bottles and a fire's
fitful sparks the only glimmers
of warmth in your new lodgings.
For you, this season without wreaths,
I would manhandle a city, conjure
a drizzle, then soften it to snow,
paint lampposts deep reds and greens
and so install around your room some
snatches of the festive. But starting
and ending here, these wishes are slipshod:
they never seem to settle on a picture that
touches you at all. Storms, ramshackle
gifts fly freely, but the setting's
the same: you dine upon sausage and frost.


The violent thrum of error,
the catcalls of the wronged, the small
crimes of a life, and the liquid horror
of crimes to come—all
this gushes and spurts inside
me even in sleep, issuing from a source
I cannot stop anymore. But now, astride
a white-winged, metal horse,
you float above the sea, the dream
takes shape and lets you loom large ... until a cruel moon
spotlights the beast's false joints, and screams
blast it to shreds, and you come crashing down
into the red-hot waves. Even in sleep
I cannot save you from the carnal deep.


Oh, go when you must, but
do not go for long! The place
my thoughts built lingers, but its spirit
is sick; every day new chinks
show on its surface, and mad mouths
surround it, hell-bent on seeing it
crumble. Throw grub at them
as they shriek to keep them happy, distract
them with song, and let this room
continue, this place where a heathen's only
higher hope is realized, where chaos
stays chained, and where your huge,
luminous shadow keeps me agog.


Gold Leaves

Someone ought to write about (I thought
and therefore do) stage three of alchemy:
not inauspicious metal turned into
a gilded page, but that same page turned back
to basics when you step outside for air
and feel a radiance that was not there
the day before, your sidewalks lined with gold.


Deer, December

One of thirty nights I can't sleep
I awaken to motion in the last dark
out the window, tight against the hillside.
I put on my glasses to stop
the glass in the old house from wavering.

Three of them, maybe twenty feet away,
they nuzzle new snow,
leaves and twigs not yet frozen hard,
a poor diet, winter just begun.
Foraging, chewing, staring lines into space.
Their necks bolt upright only to the slight
shift in what I imagine is wind,
to things I can't hear, couldn't,
were I with them outside and not still
warm on the edge of the bed

Then a cardinal is winter
red against the even gray of 6 a.m.
—cloudy, this time of year. I'll stay watching
until I'm late for another morning meeting,
my alarm clock not gone off—that must be it.
I can't know how little I'll be missed.


One With Others (excerpt)

THE VERY REVEREND PILLOW [at Bedside Baptist]: The injury that the rock-hard lie of inequality performs is unspeakable; it is irremediable, can be insurmountable. And very very thorough. No peculiar feeling to the contrary can be permitted to gain hold. You get my meaning.

Back then, in case of rain, I would be lying if I did not say to you—you would be ill-advised to step under the generous eave of certain stores or [in the unforgiving heat] to take a drink from a cooler or even try to order catfish [at Saturday's]. And don't even think about applying for the soda jerk job [at Harmon's] or playing dominoes [at the Legion Hut].

Back then we could not be having this conversation. You get what I'm getting at.

Back then I would not be at this end of town unless I was pushing a mower or a wheelbarrow, the teacher [retired] told me over a big Coke at the Colonel's; even at that, back then, I would not be here, if the sun was headed down.
[How far did a man have to walk just to pass his water, back then?]

The river is impounded by
the lake; below the lake the river
enters the lowlands, it slithers
through cypress and willow. And the air
itself, cloudy or clear, stirring
with smoke or dust or malathion,
if you get my drift, must not
be construed to be indivisible. No more
than blood. There is black blood
and white blood. There is black air
and white air; this includes
the air in the tires blowing out
over the interstate between town and
river, the air that riddles the children
when a crop duster buzzes
a schoolyard, the air that bellows
from the choir of robes
when the Very Reverend Pillow
bids, Be seated, and even the air socked
from the jaw of the champ, born
seventeen miles west, in Sand Slough,
when he took that phantom punch
the year in which this particular round
of troubles began.
Today, Gentle Reader,
the sermon once again: "Segregation
After Death." Showers in the a.m.
The threat they say is moving from the east.
The sheriff's club says Not now. Not
nokindofhow. Not never. The children's
minds say Never waver. Air
fanned by a flock of hands in the old
funeral home where the meetings
were called [because Mrs. Oliver
owned it free and clear], and
that selfsame air, sanctified
and doomed, rent with racism, and
it percolates up from the soil itself,
which in these parts is richer than Elvis,
and up on the Ridge is called loess
[pronounced "luss"], off-color, windblown stuff.
This is where Hemingway penned some
of A Farewell to Arms, on the Ridge
[when he was married to Pauline]. Where
the mayor of Memphis moved after
his ill-starred term. After they slew
the dreamer and began to slay
the dream. Once an undulant kingdom
of Elberta and Early Wheeler peaches.
Hot air chopping
through clods of earth with
each stroke of the tenant
boy's hoe [Dyess Colony] back
when the boy hadn't an iota
of becoming the Man in Black.
Al Green hailed from here;
Sonny Liston, 12th of 13 kids,
[some say 24th of 25]
born 17 miles west,
in Sand Slough. Head hardened
on hickory sticks. [And Scott Bond,
born a slave, became a millionaire.
Bought a drove of farms
around Big Tree. Planted potatoes.
When the price came back up,
planted cotton. Bought gravel. Felled
his own timber. A buy-and-sell individual.
When you look close at his picture, you
can't tell if he was white
or black. You can just tell he was a trim,
cross-eyed fellow.] And the Silver Fox,
he started out in Colt.
Mostly up-and-down kind of men.
[Except for Mr. Bond, he went in one
direction when it came around
to making money.]

+ + +

GRADUATE OF THE ALL-NEGRO SCHOOL: Our teacher would tell us, Turn to page 51. That page wouldn't be there.
GRADUATE OF THE ALL-WHITE SCHOOL, first year of lntegration-By-Choice: Spent a year in classes by myself. They had spotters on the trampoline. I knew they would not spot me. You timed your trips to the restroom.


Light Theology and the Persimmon Tree

for Dorothy Bourque Miller

Her kitchen was always filled with ordinary light;
it was the one selected room she made all hers.
From the north window above her sink she gazed
at the white-tailed kites hovering over the ponds,
listened idly to noisy killdeers chattering through
the lazy afternoons in the pasture all summer long.
When she was not satisfied with the lovely things
she could bring us to, she thought selectively about
the fruited hedgerows and orchards this time of year.
Mayhaw jellies and muscadine jams were but some
bright possibilities, but they never passed the test.

Between the Charadrius vociferus in the pasture
and that north window was a persimmon tree.
When the skins on the fruit were just beginning
to put on a lemon sheen, she would begin to see
the red-gold they would become. She waited
for the first frost to begin to relax the branches'
hold and for the fruit to go into the manufacture
of the final sugaring before she wrapped each
globe in crisp white tissue. As the year parceled
out its dwindling light, she came to our back doors
before dawn, left us shallow boxes of golden suns.



We're all extensions
of someone or another's
golden light.

In the moment
I was made
stars filled the sky

& some parts
of the bodies
making me

were fleetingly
briefly luminous.

Druids see light
in wood
and worship trees.

When we wave
in recognition,
we disperse light,

set light in motion
the beloved.

We string our trees
with lights
in wintertime.

We want
to see ourselves
in the dark.


It's All Gravy

a gravy with little brown specks
a gravy from the juices in a pan

the pan you could have dumped in the sink
now a carnival of flavor waiting to be scraped

loosened with splashes of milk of water of wine
let it cook let it thicken let it be spooned or poured

over bird over bovine over swine
the gravy of the cosmos bubbling

beside the resting now lifted to the table
gravy like an ongoing conversation

Uncle Benny's porkpie hat
a child's peculiar way of saying emergency

seamlessly with sides of potato of carrot of corn
seamlessly while each door handle sings its own song

while giant cicadas ricochet off cycads and jellyfish sting
a gravy like the ether they swore the planets swam through

luminiferous millions of times
less dense than air ubiquitous impossible to define

a gravy like the God Newton paid respect to when he argued
that to keep it all in balance to keep it from collapsing

to keep all the stars and planets from colliding
sometimes He had to intervene

a benevolent meddling like the hand
that stirs and stirs as the liquid steams

obvious and simple everything and nothing
my gravy your gravy our gravy the cosmological constant's

glutinous gravy an iridescent and variably pulsing gravy
the gravy of implosion a dying-that-births-duodenums gravy

gravy of doulas of dictionaries and of gold
the hand stirs the liquid steams

and we heap the groaning platter with glistening
the celestial chef looking on as we lift our plates

lick them like a cat come back from a heavenly spin
because there is oxygen in our blood

because there is calcium in our bones
because all of us were cooked

in the gleaming Viking range
of the stars