—for Robert Hass
You wrote: “A man leaves a woman for another and wakes up
in a room with morning light and a vase he doesn’t recognize
full of hydrangeas, mauve petals of hydrangeas.”
You might have written: A man leaves a woman for another
he’s never met and wakes up in a room drenched in moonlight
and sweat. Through the open window, the whine of mosquitoes,
the rumble of distant bullfrogs.
I wrote: A woman leaves a man for the woman he’ll never be
or the man she’ll never be. She leaves him (or her) for the tall
dark prince of her childhood, who still lurches through the rooms
of her night-dreams. She leaves behind smoke, and the confusion
of broken mirrors.
I might have written: A family looks suddenly out their window
at a great heron, gray in the rain. A vase they have never seen,
that was not on the shelf until they looked away, is encircled
with poses of human delight that have been buried in 2500 years
of rubble. The heron’s beak slips into the grass to impale a frog.
A child’s broken skull is healed.
Hydrangeas nod and turn to rust in the paling sunlight.
the room shrinks and cracks. The man will not leave her again.
She is always leaving. She has always been left. These things are.
Through the open window, a whippoorwill calls.
For a moment, the moonlight flashes
out of the damp curls
out of her parted thighs.
(The quoted lines are from Robert Hass’s “Notes on ‘Layover’,” in Sun Under Wood
(New York: Ecco Press, 1996) p. 29.)
Is there anyone left to remember Don Bryant? He must have had a mother who loved him, once. Two children so young they couldn’t possibly remember him, unless it was through stories they heard. But did anyone bother to tell stories about Don Bryant, once the news of his death grew old? An 18-year-old wife, Ginny, that he’d married two years before—maybe she’s still alive somewhere, maybe she still remembers his life. It falls to me to tell his death, if for no other reason than because it haunts me. (read this post)
I remember when they taught us about metaphor.
First they addressed simile: it was like
when I say to you now that this
is like a poem. Then came metaphor:
it’s like simile, but you leave out
the “like” and the comparison
becomes implicit. It’s a trick, you see,
one of the greasy tools
in the poet’s tattered bag.
With great and attentive care
they were teaching us
to hate poetry.
I didn’t know then
that it’s all metaphor
that the words on the page
for the things they strive
to mean, and the letters
that make up the words are
metaphor for the sounds we make,
the sounds themselves, metaphor
for the call of a jay
the swish of water.
I didn’t know
that the American male’s trained
hatred of poetry
is metaphor for our fear
of the Unconscious
and all the subversive things
that lurk there.
I didn’t know then
that your body
is metaphor for you
and you are metaphor
for the thing you become
at night when you go up
into the attic and climb
the rooftree to step out
onto some passing cloud
in the gray wind.
That all of it is metaphor
for something that happens
somewhere else where everything
is real, and clear and simple;
where every thing
has a meaning
all its own.
“you will be a fugitive and a wanderer
on the earth”—Genesis 4:12
A voice is echoing from the caves.
The ground is whispering, “Abel.”
There is ringing in his ear.
Domed brow wrinkles, a mark
that binds him to life by death.
In the river sands, which lead
through estuaries out to brooding sea,
he wanders, mourning; seeking
the spoor of Neandertal,
buried tenderly in flowers.
Flowers to bloom again in the rising light.
A dim mind wrestles, wondering
what fruit will be born
out of soil made rich
with a brother’s blood.
you’re driving down a street you’ve driven
for years you turn right onto another
you’ve also driven a hundred times
or five but your mind is sifting details
the shoe laces you need to buy
or the garlic or the meeting
you need to get to and suddenly
everything is different that church
looks familiar but it doesn’t belong
on this corner and why is there a left
here too soon (it’s not right) and why
is it only a left when it should be a crossroads
and what’s this: “One Way
Do Not Enter” — it’s always gone
that way of course — but not here not on this
safe and common street so suddenly
unfamiliar the answer comes a saline rush
through the cells uncomfortable warmth
reminding of when you were your son’s age
and the girls’ snickering glances clued you in
very slowly to the knowledge
that your fly was open — or younger,
and worse the rush that came in the night
outside your skin a scalding
voice that woke you suddenly
you were too old
to wet your bed but now
you’re too young to be
making this mistake too young
to wake up out of the ordinary
to discover that suddenly
you really don’t know
where you are this will be death
you think not so many years from now
a road you’ll turn down
where everything you see
you’ve seen before
but not here not like this
this time the one-way signs
the do-not-enters will be behind you
telling you there’s no return and up ahead
where that right turn ought to be
a flood of light or maybe darkness
it doesn’t really matter suddenly
none of this matters because
this namelessness is calling
calling down the long empty street
a song you’ve always heard
a song to which
know the words.
in the high dawn
faint yellow over orange
a shiver of wind through bare branches
a thin gasping cry
the woman downstairs
is coming or
the man downstairs
is killing her or
there is no one downstairs
or a dream
is slipping through the cracks
in the walls of night slipping
a faint humming
through the timbers
of my house
A singular weightlessness
pervades the existence I call my own
endless chatters of doings float
through a bedroom window
softening them: a lullaby of rain-mist
still a hundred doings not done
sort themselves, settling: ballast
to hold the float-away pieces
weight against muscles limbs
inclinations that stretch outward
weight that binds neck to shoulder
head to neck here to now
birdsong to day-star
these bindings and then
a knife of night to separate me
from my trivial bones.
word is elegy to what it signifies
word is not word
essence is passage
to a land where water walks
on silken ears
Where, in this,
does beauty lie?
with a swarthy beast named Word,
portal into portal
the burden of essence
silken ears, silver tongues
that walk on water
is the burden
that floats the word
on fields of silence
what is this
I speak to you, or you
to me? silver tongues
through silken ears
Call to me
out of silent fields
when you arrive.
Just say it.
Say it now, say it quick;
don’t dissemble, pretend
you don’t know
what you know you know.
Speak. Speak quickly;
speak your knowing;
sing it to the dancing shadows.
You know, you’ve known,
in the marrow of your bone,
in your fingernails, in your guts.
in your hair, your sweat,
You know, you’ve always known
since the first time you said “no”;
since before, when you were a sperm,
swimming, an egg,
Since that moment
when the stars exploded into being,
since you heard the air
whispering to the cedars.
You know, now.
You hear it,
in the singing
There is only one word
of which the universe
Just say it.