i: hers

Mute it utters ravage Guernican
mouth in bleak December

Busted-up lines of Poe:

—each separate dying ember
wreaks its ghost upon the floor

January moon mouth
phosphorescence purged in dark to
swallow up the gone

Too soon

Dawn, twilight, wailing
newsprint, breakfast, trains

all must run their inter-
ruptured course

—so was the girl moving too fast she was moving fast
across an icy web

Was ice a mirror well the mirror was icy

And did she see herself in there

ii: his

Someone writes asking about your use
of Bayesian inference

in the history of slavery

What flares now from our burned-up

You left your stricken briefcase here
no annotations

phantom frequencies stammer
trying to fathom

how it was inside alone where you were dying


For Pat Kavanagh

dark steps
across this pale grass
perfect with dew,

dark steps
so early, so swift,
the short length of this long lawn ...


On the Slopes

Because the bubble down was broken,
we took the chair instead, went up
and skied back down—to the black,
the black we knew was closed:
'risk of avalanche'.

We weren't afraid: my son and I
had skied the black already. Twice that week.
It was bald in places. Soil and stone.
Tricky, not dangerous. No signs of avalanche.

We reassured my daughter.
The piste was now unmarked
(fasces, bundles by the edges),
but we knew the way it went.

I fell, for the first time,
negotiating moguls,
neither steep, nor difficult—
except that snow had fallen overnight
and then the sun had shone all day
so the moguls were heavy. Sluggish.
A wet weighty eiderdown.
The mood of the snow had changed
to moodiness.

The slope seemed readable enough,
but the punctuation was unpredictable.

It was like ironing starch.
Sticky. Awkward. Slow and sudden.

Then my son fell. With a laugh.
We continued, skiing carefully.

The second time I fell,
as I up-ended, both skis came off.

One ski silently, slowly at first,
slid away down the hill, for twenty yards.
I watched it like a whisper.

Inaudible. Unreachable.
An anchorite serene beyond desire.
A long ship anchored in listless surf.

The other ski behaved itself,
its brakes snagged in the snow—
those wire-traps on the bindings,
paraplegic, trailing like heron legs.

My daughter and my son looked down
from the top of the gulley opposite.
Throwing the useless ski ahead,
I crawled, first down, then up,
towards them. A matter of yards.

It was easier to roll downhill.
That way I didn't sink. My weight was spread.

Crawling up, I became exhausted quickly.
The snow was a swallow reflex.
The surface gave. It wouldn't hold me.
The thirsty turquoise-tinted whiteness would.

Any weight on my arm,
and the arm was in to the armpit.
My leg sank to my crotch.
I had to haul my ski boot out,
only to sink again. And again.

The weight of the ski boot
was trying my weakness.
I weighed its enmity.

My children watched.
They watched and listened.
I was panting. I couldn't speak without a rest.

And then it came to me:
that this is what my dying will be like.

A few feet away, close
yet in another country,
my children simply watching.

Concerned, but unable to help.
Nothing to be done. Or said.

They will listen to amplified breathing,
rasping like a tracheotomy,

as their father tries and tries
for the top of this small hill,
this impossible, trivial distance,
to where his lungs can rest,
to where it will be possible to stop.

Nothing they can do. Nothing they can say.
They only watch.
There will be no rescue.
My children will be patient, patient,
waiting for the last breath quiet as the creak of snow.


A Walk to Sope Creek

Sometimes when I've made the mistake of anger, which sometimes
breeds the mistake of cruelty, I walk

down the rocky slope above the ruined mill on Sope Creek
where sweet gum and hickory weave sunlight

into gauzy screens. And sometimes when I've made the mistake
of cruelty, which always breeds grief,

I remember how, years ago, my uncle led me, a boy,
into a thicket of pines and taught me to pray

beside a white stone, the way a man had taught him, a boy,
to pray behind a clapboard church.

Sometimes when I'm as mean as a stone, I weave
between trees above that crumbling mill

and stumble through those threaded screens of light,
the way anger must fall

through many stages of remorse.
Any rock, he allowed, can be an altar.


Love Song with Ruin

I've been thinking about thinking about
obliteration, again, the time, all of it,
I spent swept up in its romance.
Dust before a broom's baleen maw. Circuit
of the second hand which, even now,
holds a magic or a beauty
in its indifferent grasp. Easy thoughts,
which on a lesser day, one
that had none of this late light
or the hum of the wind,
would, or should, fix me with incredulous
shame. For my own brain,
floating in fluid laze,
content to let the garden
forget itself. For my own hands,
busied with buttons,
keying the codes of indolence.
Important, I think,
to accept the testimony of a shadow.
To say it is gospel.
To know there is no need
to make peace with
a world that has no peace.
About bombs I was dreaming
and Dresden, drained
of the colors of ruin,
newsreel footage flickering inside
my sleeping mind.
And then in your arms
I returned to this
world, awake, an old war dropping away.
Just the tonnage
of sleep, receding,
and I felt the need to say farewell.
To mark the moment,
even with dawn
and its idiopathic dumbness.
But there you were,
asleep, in need of none of this
embellishment. When
I kissed your forehead,
I dreamed I dreamed
your dreams, that I slept your sleep.


Dear K

Found the passage you asked for
it's lovely I know you think
better of me that I like it too
that's a joke my sweet the war
bruises everyone until and even Nicole
is afraid of the government and
I miss you it's crazy to talk
this way but it must be the time.


Dear Michael (2)

The wound cannot close; language is a formal exit
is what exits from the wound it documents.
The wound is deaf to what it makes; is deaf
to exit and to all, and that is its durable self,
to be a mayhem that torments a city. The sound
comes first and then the word like a wave
lightning and then thunder, a glance then a kiss
follows and destroys the footprint, mark of the source.
It is the source that makes the wound, the wound
that makes a poem. It is defeat that makes
a poem sing of the light and that means to sing
for a while. The soldier leans on his spear.
He sings a song of leaning; he leans on a wound
to sing of other things. Names appear on a page
gentian weeds that talk to gentian words, oral
to local, song talk to sing (Singh), and so
he goes on with the leaning and the talking.
The wound lets him take a breath for a little
because it is a cycle of sorts, a system or a wheel
a circle that becomes a wheel and is not a sound
at all, the idea of a sound and the sound again
of an idea that follows so close; say light
and then is there light or a wound, an idea of being
itself in the thing sound cancels. Is there ever a spear
a soldier that leans in, a song that he sings
waiting for a battle? This soldier is only a doorway.
Say that book is a door. I say the soldier
and the local, the word and the weed, the light
and the kiss make a mayhem and a meeting.
So then that the voice may traverse a field
it transmits the soldier on a causeway to the city
leaning on a spear and talking, just after the wound opens
that never creaks and closes, and has no final page.


What We Have Done

My mother shrugged off life
Three thousand miles from Paris,
City of her birth. It takes
Two weeks of bureaucratic tape
Before I fly her scant remains
From Buffalo to this historic place,
May 9, 1975, a fine night
For being scattered, if ever
There was one. Co-conspirators,
We creep beneath the Pont Neuf,
My mother and I, she beneath
My coat in a cold container,
And then I dump her in the Seine,
As I promised to do.

How her dozing old bones
Must gape at the ancient stones.
How surely my mother laughs
At what we have done, laughs
To have come home like this,
Laughs and laughs from her sandbar
In the Seine where she lies
Like fragments of an old ghost,
The ashes of a medieval saint,
In the mud of her resting place.



—after Thomas Love Peacock's
Memoirs of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Miles still to Bracknell, as the woman shifted
Three parcels across her mountainous lap,
And in that instant, accordion of skirts lifted,

Petticoats above the knees, Shelley watched
Her calves collapse, molten flesh like poultices
Leaking through sackcloth, tubers gone to rot,

The carriage air fetid and contagious.
He swaddled his head with scarves—a filter
Created too late; abruptly weak, flushed,

Her affliction routed through his veins.
Who insisted that travel was a tonic?
Arriving at the inn, his intricate skein

Of symptoms unwound and unwound—an itch
Beneath his chin, nematodes burrowing deep
Within the lymph glands, an aching right wrist

Sure prelude to that arm's unbridled girth.
He dreamt of dead elephants floating
In lakes, then woke feverish, the nightshirt's

Wrinkles stamped onto his chest. Mirror-bound,
He monitored each ruddy crease until it faded,
His neck became porcelain again, and a barren

Day seemed utterly impossible. How to recapture
Those dusks with Ianthe, pacing, his daughter
Close at his breast, no fear of lesions or fissures,

Singing Yáhmani into her vanilla hair,
Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani, Yáhmani,
A road, horses cantering through summer air,

His three syllables of secret journey
Chanted to invoke a child's solid sleep,
And dreams of the distances between cities.

And if the ulcers erupted, seeping purple,
Who would whisper, and lull her, and sing?
Certain nights even the trees were instigators,

And the wind. Branch shadows, dark hairs
Stirring on knuckles, blotches on his hands—
Weather and illusion would turn to portent

As the poet, comparing his wrinkles and limbs
With companions, contorted the evening party
To prods and pinches. Show your thumb!

How thick is your ankle? Are we the same?
Flex your elbow! His guests always obliged
Though this warm evidence never calmed him;

Their perfect correspondences, foot against foot,
Thigh to thigh, were not enough. Only Peacock
Could quell his friend's panic, retrieving books,

Quoting Lucretius through open parlor windows:
Est elephas morbus, qui propter flumina Nili,
Listen, only in Egypt, Gignitur Aegypto ...

That woman in the carriage was fat, nothing more.
A balm of rationales spoken aloud each night,
Until one dawn his body returned, proportioned,

Flesh taut and pores invisible. The sweet skin
Beside Ianthe's left earlobe, Yáhmani, her scent
Was what he'd missed the most, the whole inn

Still asleep and her cradle brimming with sun.
Outside the landscape was hedgerows and rills.
No pyramids or sphinxes squatted on the horizon.