In the wide that is none of me,
all of me reaches.
all of me reaches.
pain is the reminder of who you were,
i tell myself
in the dark
early monday morning last
i went back to black birch river
and its crippled shoreline
where they found that body a few summers ago
face down and lost
you know the spot,
right on down past barton’s chevrolet graveyard
it’s still there if you want to know,
where we once knelt before
a stand of unclaimed rust
do you remember the day wade
planted an ax blade into a dry-rot whitewall,
our faces were the same shade of shame
as the wet spring dirt we promised our mothers
we wouldn’t let stick to our boots
swooped past us
on their way to orphaned eggs,
we followed the roll of the hills
to our secret place where we
sometimes turned the pages on the shapes
of naked women
posing in weathered magazines
we found them in
the glove compartment of a pink ’55 corvair
and they broke apart our boyhood,
but it was no big deal
were swollen with rain
and we rubbed their paper thighs with our thumbs,
their chests were covered with old chevy rust
and the longing in their eyes excited us for the usual reason
that never went away
wade said the girls
were small enough to swallow
and he bet they tasted like sweat
and that still wakes me up at night
you know that day there was
a big vibration of yellow jackets
collecting around us,
lifting off from the gray impala
that had lost all its doors and had a dimpled hood
you and I ran one way
and wade stayed behind because
i don’t know why
we were smoking home-grown tobacco from your
and wade stole the rolling papers and four
bottles of orange crush
from fielding’s general store
over on clearmont road
sometimes he broke
those bottles beside the trash cans around back
just for fun
in the dark
i think that store is now a strip mall
with a dairy queen and a walgreens,
there are security cameras aimed at the dumpster
because some folks in this county can’t afford things
and they break bottles out of spite and desperation
i know you know what i mean
have you heard from wade lately
i heard he
was working at the dog food plant in
but that was maybe 20 years ago
we drifted apart after i moved
out-of-state and away from all my
bad dreams and all those damned skinny tobacco fields
they found another body yesterday
in case you haven’t heard,
down on black birch river
and its crippled shoreline,
she was face down and lost
you know the spot i’m sure
Your hands are still old frayed cloth,
hardly ever warm,
unadorned by rings or polish, but scratched up
from your cat Saint-Mary
whom nobody likes, but you’re too attached
to the rough animals that hurt you.
I ignore her when I visit you,
but still insist on serving the tea.
You say, sit down and warm up those slippers I gave you
Christmas last year
or the one before last.
Did I knit you that scarf, do you keep yourself warm,
do you remember that war,
no, you were too young for that war,
that was the year we left home to come here.
I remember that year better than
the one before last,
will you drink all your tea,
you’re a good boy
for remembering me.
You’re an old lady now
(you call yourself that),
filled with all sorts of living
that others can’t hear.
Do you still alphabetize your grocery list,
and grow rosemary in your kitchen?
Do you still draw those pictures
of the beach from before the war?
Your sister died then
and your mother did, too.
You loved that place, sadness and all
and then you disappear in front of me,
far away into the years as you watch
the sea wash over the sand,
when you were not the last one
left to listen for it.
Have I told you about when I was a girl,
you ask. Yes, you have,
and many times to the same sad end.
But I listen, you see, and I think Mary does too
because she stops biting into the slippers you made me
the year before last, and she watches
you with her cultured cat eyes.
For a while I disappear with you and we walk the beach
and feel the salt as it bites into our pores
and I press a smudged rag into
the flesh of my boots
and wipe away the sand
with the shoe polish you keep
beside the wooden box of milk bottles by the door,
and I hear the high laughter of girls,
all the sisters,
and then the air is dull again
with Lemon Pledge and cat food
and a motorcycle drives by
and I am still here and
you are still counting the rocks in the sand
and we are separated by the decades again.
Come visit me again, you say.
You know I will when I can, I say.
I know your hands are old frayed cloth
and are finer every day, like antique lace.
Mine are growing more finite and painful.
I wonder if you will still remember me once the tea is all drunk
and the years gather more space between us.
Will the beach still be there for you
when we are finished with this wander,
and will you remember to bring my slippers
for when I visit?
You still smell the sea,
but I will always smell the rosemary
growing in your kitchen.
My living thoughts of you
still follow me through the bramble
of crumpled bits of paper
where all the words
I write to explain you to me
falter in mid-stroke.
I cannot breathe
in the dust
where you still live,
where I still pay rent.
There is a mean toll
for crossing that border
and re-walking all those miles,
climbing over the rubble,
pissing on all those tracks,
spitting out all that brine,
but that’s how it was,
that’s how it was
running away from your home
and wrapping my ass in
the given-up geometry of a
1967 lawn chair outside one
fleabag or another,
and I’m down
to the minimum dietary requirement
of crumbled corn chips and
discovered like a treasure
on top of the toilet tank
beside the drunken sketch of Angry Yahweh,
and that last viable cigarette butt
beside the fresh hole in the mattress
no I cannot breathe any more.
I trudge back to you every night,
my bruised eyes and
gravel-bitten feet kick up
dark puddles, dripping what’s left
of me onto crumpled bits of paper
and all my living thoughts of you
run on ahead and wait
for me to catch up.
I watched the widowed mother
pause on the steps of
Matilde of the Sacred Heart,
a sight in black and white
posed in a black polyester dress,
cracked white concrete,
and I studied her
studying my children
across the street
riding their bicycles and hiding
behind summer trees and sharing
their lovely laughter,
and it gave her
and it gave me
and it gave us
a précis of her new world.
she considered the words
the privileged language
still, inside, chanting, inside,
in an idiotic, monotone
an old rubric
gutted by a god
prone to soliloquies
she hailed a cab
for someplace else.
We wash the bone mud
from our torsos,
and if there is a word for this,
it is sorrow.
We see the frustration
in the lean faces of our children,
the dirt griming their arms,
the hollowness griming their bellies.
You and I will fumble with
our usual fable:
this will pass
and it will pass soon
and it will pass as we sleep
and the land will turn green again
and the sun will turn warm again
and the fields will grow thick again
and we will rest all our doubts,
but yes, this will pass.
A malingering moon watches
and the baby studies the
cracked face through the worn curtains
in her room.
There is music downstairs
to accompany our fable:
I have my father’s old guitar and
you tap a pencil
on the kitchen table to
the plink of wash water in
the beaten feed bucket.
You sing indistinguishable words,
to be a prayer and perhaps that’s what it is,
you say it is,
but it fades into hushes until we
can barely hear the sounds you meant for God.
We take turns wrapping our hands
around each other’s fists,
and then we rest them on the gathered tablecloth,
my guitar on my knee,
Sally on your lap,
and I thank God we cannot see each other’s eyes
because I know there is resignation in them
and I know there are ashes in them
where a fire once burned,
but the fire has burned away
and I cannot see that in you again,
I will not see that in you again,
and yes, this will pass.
We take each other to our rest
in our crumpled bed, with its heavy iron posts
that flake with rust
that you wash away with a dry rag
and you sweep away the dirt that falls
out of my cuffs and pockets
We will pray about love
to each other
and we will pray about love
for each other
until sleep takes us
and it will.
Like the days before it,
this one has finally passed.
We laid beside the fractured cinder blocks
we found in the field behind
watched the onioned sunset
orange, no, tangerine, no, scarlet, no,
just a moment,
it’s changing again, just
that no one
will see again or believe was real.
The grass has become tall
in the meantime and
have been reaching for our blanket
and the ants are confused
by the quiet thoroughfare of our veins.
as serious as the hovering gray
tapestry of clouds,
and as pale
as the milkweed seeds that
on your breast
and we have stopped
The ground has become dark and
our blanket is the same inferior color
rooftop of this ruined sky
and we are gone, so gone
in the nothing color of goodbye
that no one will witness