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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Rearview Mirror & other poems PDF E-mail



Rearview Mirror


Begin in a slim rain that turns its cold face toward you.
Let willows shake out their hair in the truck’s updraft.

Oh, just listen: the traffic is crossing the border of your response.
Try convincing yourself you’ve left nothing parked at the shoulder.

Dead at the curve there is the smallest piece of your life seen
Reflected in an abandoned wreck on the reservation. Like you,
It’s been sitting there for years, unacknowledged, eyes shot out.

Eyes shut up. Have you ever seen an engine so pathetic?
Rust enters at each hole snapped open with a long report.
Can you believe how long an echo will carry your complaints?

You tell me. It’s a shadow thrown halfway around your small world.
The curve of the earth has nothing to do with it at all: look, you see
That one thin line beyond which it all falls off into less than nothing.

Oh, there’s something down there all right. They called it hell, once.

You can drive off into fragrant sagebrush and never turn your head.
The only thing that wreck recedes from is the rearview mirror.
It never really goes anywhere does it? It just waits there, you know.

Patience is the longest shadow on the face of the earth. And yours.
Only yours never lets on that you struggle—why would it?
It’s like the rain that finds its way through the holes: it’s cold. It lies.


The Hours

I had slept alone for weeks.
Days when rain made idle threats
I climbed the California hills,
And not even poison oak
Could offend me.

This was after the floods.
This was during my breakdown.
Mud stained the roads
Like a bad memory.

There was always an old farm
At the edge of the sea
I could occupy for an hour.

I was just remembering houses
I died in.
How my grandparents ate Sunbeam
White bread,
Whose loads my truck-driving uncle
Agreed to bear.

I was just saying what I wanted.
I knew I couldn’t have it.

So I walked out past the barn,
Onto Tamales Point,
The one clear day that year.
The sky torn open like lace.

The land like a bridge that forgot
Where it was going, a fist
Swinging at the sea.

There are elk there, but they mean nothing.
No one in my family kept horses, so
Nothing compares.

What matters are the hours, like frightened birds.
The way the land ends at the sea and says,
What’s done is done.
The way the sky just keeps walking
Where you can’t follow.


This grief


One summer I slept in a Pennsylvania orchard,
Apples whose use no one could remember.

Twilight in the grove was about what you’d expect.

Among the heavy limbs nothing moved but deer
Furtive as new leaves unfolding in the rain.

In the village beneath the hill, moonlight slid down
The abandoned iron furnace in its girdles of black slag.

I walked in the ruins once, along a gravel road dividing
What was left for dead from the part of me still left.

Look—how easy it is to see in this darkness
Each light of the fireflies go out one by one

And fall from the crowns of the pitch-black trees.


The Undissolved Ghost

What I’m trying to make sense of is this
Shimmering city on the horizon,
The architecture
Of a thousand ivory rooms.

Some mornings the sky flutters,
An open sail
White as a ghost.

And if my words should fall like black stars
Into constellations,
I may count myself
Lucky, privileged,
A man speaking to men.

But like those men I sometimes lie
In bed too long,
Refusing to wrestle the red curtains,
My own peculiar angel.

Once it was my father, then
Countless elaborate disguises
For my father.

Sometimes I walk unrestrained
Into the cellars of the day,
A part of me lost
In the dark with its back turned.
A handful of salt
In a sea of ink.

What I find beneath the killing floor
Are bones to patch
My broken limbs,

A shimmering city
Of steel and stone.


Lear’s Shadow

Would that a wit could smile
As the wind sits, or the man
Value the zero of his days.
This is not Lear, ass on my back,
A handful of empty eggs.

In my nature I am nothing,
Not this fool hung on a frame,
Bedecked with weeds, who thinks
He speaks the body’s prophecy.
Poetry’s no easy bitch to break.

Winter geese rise and go uneasy
Into fields that stink of assassins.
The blade seethes from the pillow.
Lear falls. The candle is out.
Now I alone have the stage.


Don’t Bother Asking

Like a streak of cloud that won’t move,
Looking like someone did a scratch test
On the sky,
There are things you just can’t argue.

See how the grass nods?
It learned to be that patient
Because the wind never seems able
To finish its sentences.

I shouldn’t have to explain.

In the mountain meadows,
There is cow dung everywhere
Like huge drips of plaster.

Now I know there really are angels
Finishing the next wall.
Now I know my fate:

Sealed.

If these warbling birds offer any clue,
It’s that there’s bound to be nothing
But more clues.

If these dandelions mean anything,
It’s that anything goes.

Grass keeps bending its ear—
How does the ground stay so quiet?

And why can’t the wind just stop talking?

Now guess who will sit here for eternity
Cleaning his fingernails.


No Country I Know

Mine is a Northeast winter,
A crease in an empty sleeve
Of snow.

My house, a prayer flag petitioning the wind.

Let me tell you why my mother thinks
I am dying.

Listen and I will tell you the news
My old man whispers in the yard.

Soon the children will know
What the wrapped flowers mean—

Already they circle the bristling rose,
Eyes grasping what fingers can’t.

I’m not saying that beauty has no mother.

Just that sometimes even the wind can make
A wrong turn,

A fatal mistake.


Salt


One day it will be me, standing
at a curb before my parent’s house
without a key,

remembering the elms growing
sick, my father cutting them down,
how the ground trembled as they went to pieces.

I imagine a new owner
standing where I used to smoke
by the stone fireplace, the grill cold,

them sensing neither the pond
buried in mounds of asphalt, nor the cat bones
in shoeboxes at their feet.

They will see nothing, of course, but a patch of grass
where my father tilled his garden.

I’m left thinking how it goes on growing
like the fingernails of the dead—

Plate after plate of sliced tomato,
the way he salted everything.


city of one winter

In the backyard,
snowbound in moonlight,
a field of blue roses,

trains in the distance crossing
a hard river, howling—

Oh, their song hasn’t changed
since my father left:

he is still selling the family house
out from under my mother,
laying carpet like he was dressing
a coffin.

She took me once into the woods—
I remember her thin winter coat,
as she looked across the river,
hills filling faithfully with snow.

I should be happy for her—

Now that the house is a bare nest
I tried to bring her back to the woods,
but she would never go.

So I went alone to look into those hills,
and if the river froze
hard and cold enough, I crossed.


When You Hardly Knew Your Fingers

It’s an old story, need. Wind in trees, gaunt horses,
a bank of bleeding hearts—

like granite they make hunger look easy,
a matter of grim resistance.

Take the trillium, for example, its three-lidded eye:
Six seasons seed to flower.

Such mild ambition. Did you know as little
as one touch could wreck it?

Passion is something you beg for. A fugue,
fermata perhaps, but I wouldn’t say it’s something
you deserve.

Six years from dawn to dusk. It’s hard to say
which is the more final stain—the flower
 
at the limit of desire, or your own fatal contact

when you hardly knew your fingers
could do such damage.

















 
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