My grandfathers grew up in caked skies
with the sun like a bulb
you can see with your eyes closed
only your eyes they’re already open
in a place that averages eighteen inches
of rain each year we’ve had six in two
a thirty foot wall of dirt barrels
toward the city at sixty miles per hour
and I wonder if this is much different
AT THE CALL CENTER
if you’re lucky you’ll sit
in the back corner next to
the blind stenographer
who’s working the six to
midnight shift to make
enough to pay her rent
look at the way she moves
her fingers with such
delicate precision over
the Braille pad she looks
like she’s testing for cracks
in a dozen eggs at once
and as she reads each
message her voice
urging the words along
with a kind of patience
you’ll never know
watch her eyes move
behind their lids
LIGHT WILL DO
“it is a tiny wriggle of light in the mind that says, ‘go on’”
A.R. Ammons, Garbage
and on and on despite all of the despite,
as every wave rocks the shore—it’s the sea
pulsing at our toes, it’s the sound of ourselves
roaring over the sea—it’s a tiny light
which makes us scream inside—easier, maybe,
to close the bedroom door and hope that somewhere,
outside, a jackfruit tree is growing and
somewhere, inside, a jazz player
is picking up his saxophone and his sadness--
easier but never is, never becomes, nothing
created out of nothing and all is born
from light—all children born drooling geniuses
and the earth makes of them what it will--
meanwhile water sloshes in the bathtub
as the hurricane hits—Vermin Supreme wears
a boot on his head, hums Over the Rainbow
through his bullhorn—John Lennon says
we’re all violent inside, all Hitler inside,
all Christ inside--
and so the human body bends like a bridge cable
and weighs the idea of collapse,
but never does—it’s that flicker of light that says yes--
it’s the light that flashes
across the floor that could be a passing car but
could be a ghost—it’s the unafraid light
that reminds our skulls of being born.
WE'VE BEEN SAYING GOODBYE ALL MORNING
The gulls in the parking lot say yeah, yeah,
yeah. Something about praying. Something
about stars spinning. The wind coming out
of the trees. The body shuddering like it does.
Taking your hand and holding it like I did
that one night, like I meant to do again.
Now: strike a match and augur what's coming.
Augur the snow falling on the roof, boots
heaped in the mud room, a bright afternoon,
windows steaming, the last things we said
knocking quietly around in our insides.
As if the water knows something,
it pushes up a history of sadness.
From behind cast steel and fused quartz
I watch what bubbles upwards:
bottles and black olives, a brass horn, lost teeth.
Wheeling lanternfish come and go.
Strands of shining hair wave in a slow current;
my mother swims by in her peach dress.
Something like a house starts to shape, then dissolves.
Floating alongside anglerfish and eels, a bag of nickels.
A glazed ham. Broken pieces of a toy tiara catch the last
of the light as a glass horse appears, headless.
Then: canaries. A flood of autumn leaves.
The cable extends.
I go deeper.
A Maid-Servant Prays for Her Daughter
Mother of alphabets
help my daughter to ignore.
Goddess of ink
and empty notebooks,
keep my daughter forgetful.
Muse of exams,
and underlined textbooks,
keep her still.
Bless her hands,
so that she does not stop.
Help her to look ahead, Mother.
These things she should do well:
sit straight, read and count,
finish these sums.
Protect this wall that is her stomach
on which the mouse now sharpens
its little teeth.
Stay with her, Mother of book learning.
Muse of those who walk to school, breakfastless.
Mother of alphabets
love this daughter I named after you.
Walk with her, Mother.
This girl who refuses to learn to cook.
The hardest part of my first recording session
Was hearing on playback how flat my sax sounded.
Each note was dull,
Like the words of a woman who doesn’t love you anymore.
I was told it had to be that way
So that the real artists, the engineers, could play with it and tweak it
To make it sound the way they wanted
Without my soul getting in the way.
And I was ok with that,
Because the work was steady and the pay was good.
But as far as satisfaction or getting a reputation,
Outside the studio I was as anonymous as a whore.
The only chance I ever got to shine was
On this R&B singer’s Grammy Award album.
The first time she heard me play
She said my sax fit her voice like a warm hand cups her breast.
But even then, after six solos on ten songs,
I was left off the credits like I was a one night stand.
But that’s a musician’s life,
So how could I complain?
But then my father, who I hadn’t talked to in years,
Because he ridiculed my profession,
Finally died, and I inherited his old car,
I found that very CD in his player.
I smiled when I heard the pure sound of my sax,
Like the groans a man makes when he’s loving a good woman.
And I wonder how my father would have liked the music
If he knew he was listening to me.
THE SCOURGING OF CHRIST by Fernandez
Is fairly generic, with its stock sadistic Roman
Brandishing a hook-tipped flail above the bloody flesh
Which sags against a splattered pillar.
But in the upper left, within three columns that provide perspective,
Is one of those miniatures that keep the interest of great painters
When fulfilling a commission that doesn’t engage them.
You know the kind, in which the minutest details of the hands and eyes,
Are painted as if with a single strand of hair.
Look closely; a magnifying glass will help.
A group of children emerges, mimicking the grown-ups in the foreground.
There are five of them, too old to be cute and adorable
Because they’ve already lost their baby looks
And are beginning to resemble real people.
Three are holding down a chubby, tear-faced kid,
While the largest one laughs as he punches.
Poetry has influenced everything from
trench warfare to bee sex.
I could even fall in love to it.
With poetry as benefactor,
ignorance does not have to pretend to be wisdom.
A rich turn of phrase will do.
Poetry is set up like a stage.
The scenery changes.
The casting call is eternal.
Or it's like a meal.
Spring is resplendent
and everyone's gorging themselves.
Or it's winter and they're eating each other.
Poetry can turn earth breezes into solar winds.
The moon's a balloon. Always has been.
But the balloon is a moon?
No question where it gets that from.
Poetry can wrap an arm around the entire human family.
Or scour the gook out of a solitary person's eyes.
Long-suffering poets write the stuff
but then so do people who are only poets for the instance,
who get it down on paper,
then go onto something else,
never suspecting what they're done.
Poetry will meet you back at the house by eight
or it'll be nailed to a lamp-post.
It will be written in the sky or scratched in the dirt.
It can announce itself or hide.
At its best and deepest,
it says there's nothing that can be done.
It's convinced that's something.