Leaving again. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be
grieving. The particulars of place lodged in me,
like this room I lived in for eleven days,
how I learned the way the sun laid its palm
over the side window in the morning, heavy
light, how I’ll never be held in that hand again.
On the clearest night of the early spring of my life,
An Easter Sunday, come in March the luck of the draw,
I saw a streak of light in the sky like the middle finger of God,
But it did not come down on me. It was the brightness
William James heard about
from a housewife-turned-saintly spiritualist
That she said she always she always saw when the dead were about to touch her
In that certain way the dead have. I saw it effloresce and vanish.
Standing there on the road next to the blacked-out body of an oak,
I wanted to trance myself into the past, to get in touch
With the ectoplasmic other side.
I wanted some strangeness to speak
Out the unpragmatic crystal ball of my larynx and name itself,
In the timbre I whisper to lovers in, my life. But then another
Finger gestured godlike halfway down from the zenith, another, another,
And the sky burned with the print of a whole left hand.
That’s the way it works:
brilliance, a slap in the face.
Years later now, in winter, when he rusted iron wheels
Of snowplows gave their spiritual groans in the heat-dead midnight streets,
I would dream God’s immaculate body could suddenly be struck
With a human palm the color of fever, and darken, and die
But that mght in mid-Ohio
I knew that housewife knew
When James sat in her dingy seance parlor with his notebook clumsy on his knee:
That nothing you have ever dreamed of saying comes of its own free will.
It has to be beaten out of you, word by impossible word, until the dead
Spread themselves in your flesh, like March dogwood spreads through the dark
And you speak,
and a stranger writes everything down.
You threw empty Miller ponies
at DANGEROUS CURVE signs along 461
on the ride back from the nearest wet county
& now in the playground gravel you see glass
scattered like tea leaves & you don’t know
if they’re telling you to write more poetry
or go build a nursery on the west coast
of the Sea of Cortes. First, your will
must evaporate like moths when a tree falls
in the forest. You must speak
like an orchid, fancy yet tender, bold enough
to be rooted in bark. Somewhere in the stars
is written a holy bibliography
of the places you’ve published your urine,
mostly on drunken nights long ago
in a Kentucky summer when the world was your toilet,
existence a mishap. Lean in now, listen
to what the rain says as it shines
the glass & gravel & pokes its way
into the cracked dirt as if Earth’s dark loam
were something you could peel back
& slide into until the sun returns.
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around
(17 December 2018)
Go back in the house and stay warm.
There may be places where you can ice skate
or you can leave
and go to school
or go south,
maybe go to California.
What other possibilities?
Besides leaving, you mean?
You could stay there,
and write these things.