Author’s Note: All poems have previously appeared in These Many Rooms (Four Way Books)
I Forget to Listen
to the silence after the rain —
or to that particular silence,
when the wind dies.
And to the silence after a slammed door.
Or a telephone’s last unanswered ring.
I forget to listen to you —
and to the silence in you, friend.
I make such noise, such noise,
that I don’t hear the silence in you.
The Night Garden
Because everything you learned from the stained
glass windows you knelt under
still remains thorned & stained & torn,
& all the teachings you were expected
to believe still leave you dis-
believing & you wish this were not so,
& because one sparrow’s chirp can pour
gratitude into you like a drought-
dazzling rain, & you’d much rather
kneel for that — & you do,
there’s something appeased in the way you
get up again & brush the dirt
from your knees — that modest
dirt that belongs to no one & is yours so entirely
in this small lot — hedged, hidden,
with its offerings of fruit
& shade & song. So that later,
when evening brumes embrace all
you just praised,
you slip back into the night garden
to be blessed that way too.
Elegy on My Drive Home
for Larry Levis
When it rains on Las Positas Road,
the trunk of a eucalyptus there turns
blue — with a few blood-red streaks — but mostly
blue: a bright
& it just stands there, bleeding that blue,
among the other eucalyptus in their safe
camouflage of beige & brown —
& I remember something Larry wrote about Caravaggio,
how he painted his own face
in the decapitated head of Goliath,
& how Larry wanted to go up to it & close both eyelids
because they were still half-open & it seemed a little obscene
to leave them like that.
I planted a willow in a garden in Belgium when Larry died.
It grew by blue-painted shutters. I wanted that tree
to keep weeping there after I left for America again —
America who had lost Larry too — & I thought about that,
& about his two trees, lost somewhere
in Utah: the acer negundo, & the other one
whose name he could never remember.
So that now, when I drive home I think of those trees:
the acer negundo, the other one, & my willow.
Brother limitation races beside me like a shadow too, Larry,
so that now, when it rains, I take
another way home, or look
away from the Las Positas eucalyptus
standing there soaked & so
blue it seems a little obscene to leave it like that.
While There is Still Time
let me waste it, take it outside & do nothing
but sit with it under the old vine’s nave
& its chaotic choir of sparrows.
It’s one of those days when nothing gets done,
my head a constant whinge of worries.
But a breeze drifts in from the East & inside it the distant peal
of church bells then — like a vague voice from afar —
a line from Apollinaire: You’re tired, finally,
of this ancient world.
À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien.
I had forgotten it for so long
& here —
six thousand miles away from Paris
six thousand miles from a room in Antwerp
where I memorized Zone by heart —
I hear myself say it aloud
to a dusty congregation of sparrows.
Some poems will never leave me — they are my other mother tongue —
their scansion the beat & in my throat & wrists.
But these sparrows: how easily they come & go
from gnarled darknesses into bright noon light.
How, if there is no water, they’ll bathe in dirt.
I watched a woman once, on a subway platform, grab
her screaming child’s wrist, twist it, & shake her,
pointing to a cat-sized rat chewing at something
between the rails: Stop it or I’ll throw you to that rat.
That woman. ¬She seemed so defeated, so beat.
That child. Her terror as she wrapped herself
around her mother’s legs: I stop, mama, I stop.
I recognized that terror — my whole body a gasp: it was
a station of my childhood, there, not three feet away,
as the train screeched out of the tunnel. I didn’t board it.
Joined the crowd toward the EXIT & its urban dispersal,
all of us strangers, worn, torn, mute, blinded by New York’s
noon, its chaos & roar — brief companions in a scattering flock.
The sparrows haven’t stopped their commute & —
again — it’s Apollinaire I remember:
You almost died of sorrow then,
A Lazarus bewildered by light
& as the birds bathe in their fonts
of dust & sun, another line:
Un instant voile tout de son ardente cendre
An instant veils everything with its ardent ash —
but can’t remember
what came before that line.
It doesn’t matter. There’s such quiet unimportance here,
my memory so generous, untangling
lines & languages—as I sit by a vine,
wasting time & taking my time to do it.