Three Ways of Recovering a Body
By chance I was alone in my bed the morning
I woke to find my body had gone.
It had been coming. I’d cut off my hair in sections
so each of you would have something to remember,
then my nails worked loose from their beds
of oystery flesh. Who was it got them?
One night I slipped out of my skin. It lolloped
hooked to my heels, hurting. I had to spray on
more scent so you could find me in the dark,
I was going so fast. One of you begged for my ears
because you could hear the sea in them.
First I planned to steal myself back. I was a mist
on thighs, belly and hips. I’d slept with so many men.
I was with you in the ash-haunted stations of Poland,
I was with you on that grey plaza in Berlin
while you wolfed three doughnuts without stopping,
thinking yourself alone. Soon I recovered my lips
by waiting behind the mirror while you shaved.
You pouted. I peeled away kisses like wax
no longer warm to the touch. Then I flew off.
Next I decided to become a virgin. Without a body
it was easy to make up a new story. In seven years
every invisible cell would be renewed
and none of them would have touched any of you.
I went to a cold lake, to a grey-lichened island,
I was gold in the wallet of the water.
I was known to the inhabitants, who were in love
with the coveted whisper of my virginity:
all too soon they were bringing me coffee and perfume,
cash under stones. I could really do something for them.
Thirdly I tried marriage to a good husband
who knew my past but forgave it. I believed in the power
of his penis to smoke out all those men
so that bit by bit my body service would resume,
although for a while I’d be the one woman in the world
who was only present in the smile of her vagina.
He stroked the air where I might have been.
I turned to the mirror and saw mist gather
as if someone lived in the glass. Recovering
I breathed to myself, ‘Hold on! I’m coming.’
Sea Foam Palace
(Bubbling and spuming
as if trying to talk under
water, I address you thus:)
Must I pretend not to love
you (in your present bloom,
your present perfection — soul
encased in fleshly relevance)
so you won’t believe me
just another seabed denizen
vying for your blessed attention?
Some of us (but not you)
are so loosely moored
to our bodies we can
barely walk a straight line,
remaining (most days) only
We stagger and shudder
as buckets of blood or sperm
or chocolate mousse or spittle
or lymph or sludge sluice
continually through us…
I love the way you wear your
face, how you ride this life.
I delight in the sight of you,
your nervous, inquisitive eyes,
though I try to act otherwise.
Being stoned out of thy mind
only amps up thy fearsome
brain wattage. Pardon my
frontal offensive, dear chum.
Forgive my word-churn, my
drift, the ways this text message
has gotten all frothy. How was it
you became holy to me? Should
I resist, furiously? Is this your
true visage, shaken free, flashing
glimpses of what underlies
the world we can see? Do not forget me
murmurs something nibbled
by fish under the sea.
After dark you’re quick-silvery,
wet /slick /glistening. Don’t
make me chase you, dragging
my heavy caresses, a pair of
awkward, serrated claws,
hither and yon. Give me a swig
of whatever you’re drinking,
to put me in tune with the cosmos’s
relentless melt, with the rhythms
of dish-washing, corn-shucking,
hard-fucking, bed-wetting, and
the folding of bones of other loves
into well-dug graves… may we
never become lost to the world.
Practice for Being Empty
–Mary Jo Bang
I’m only a human. Always is only in me
as long as I last. What do I want? Don’t ask.
We forget who we are. Conformists all alone
looking for a fake mirror and finding it
in some poker-faced nobody
sitting across the aisle. To be like some other
and feel that while I am walking around
on the only surface that exists in here —
some stage set designed for collapsing.
While I don’t the world falls away.
This circus I’m part of was built just for this.
Everyone Hates the English
Everyone hates the English,
Including the English. They sneer
At each other for being so English,
So what are they doing here,
The English? It’s thick with the English,
All over the country. Why?
Anyone ever born English
Should shut up, or fuck off, or die.
Anyone ever born English
Should hold their extraction in scorn
And apologise all over England
For ever at all being born,
For that’s how it is, being English;
Fodder for any old scoff
That England might be a nice country
If only the English fucked off!
How wonderfully it was all arranged that each
Of us had not too long to live. This is one
Of the main snags—the shortness of the day.
The whole wood was whispering, “Dash it, dash it….”
What joy—to walk along that path! The snow
Was so fragrant in the sun! What a fish!
Whenever I think of death, the same stupid
Question arises: “What’s to be done?”
As for myself, I can only speak of what
Made me marvel when I saw it for the first time.
I remember my own youth when I was in love.
I remember a puddle rippling, the insects aroused.
I remember our own springtime when my lady told me:
You have taken my best. And then I remember
How many evenings I have waited, how much
I have been through for this one evening on earth.
At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe’s impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.
There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff furs knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.
—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.
Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.
And it is meaningless. In the child’s bed
After the night’s voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land
I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here at the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident alone—
Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge
I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.
Ode to the Republic
It’s going to be so great when America is just a second fiddle
and we stand on the sidelines and watch the big boys slug it out.
Old men reading the Times on benches in Central Park
will smile and say, “Let Brazil take care of it.”
Farmers in South Carolina will have bumper stickers that read
“One nation, with vegetables for all” and “USA:
Numero Uno for grade A tomatoes!”
America, you big scary baby, didn’t you know
when you pounded your chest like that in public
it just embarrassed us?
When you lied to yourself on television,
we looked down at our feet;
When your left hand turned into a claw,
when you hammered the little country down
and chanted the pledge of allegiance,
I put on my new sunglasses
and stared at the church across the street.
I thought I had to go down with you,
hating myself in red white and blue
learning to say “I’m sorry,” in more and more foreign languages.
But now at last the end of our dynasty has arrived,
and I feel humble and calm and curiously free.
It’s so good to be unimportant.
It’s so nice to sit on the shore of the Potomac
and watch Time take back half of everything.
It’s a relief to take the dog for a walk
without body armor and stun guns, without frightening the neighbors.
My country, ‘tis of thee I sing:
There are worse things than being
minor player, ex-bigshot, former VIP, drinking decaf
in the nursing home for downsized superpowers.
Like a Navajo wearing a cowboy hat, may you learn
to handle history ironically.
May you look into the mirror and see your doubleness—old blue eyes
in a brown face.
May your women finally lay down
the law: No more war on a school night.
May your shame at failing be cushioned by the oldest kind of chemotherapy:
stage after stage of acceptance.
May someone learn to love you again.
May you sit on the porch with the other countries
in the late afternoon,
and talk about chickens and rain.
Orders from the Invisible
Insert coins. Mind the gap. Do not disturb
hung from the doorknob of a hotel room,
where a man begged to die entwined in my arms.
He once wrote
he’d take the third rail in his teeth, which is how
loving him turned out.
The airport’s glass world
glided me gone from him, and the sky I flew into
grew a pearly cataract through which God
lost sight of us. The moving walk
is nearing its end.
The diner jukebox says, Choose
again, and the waitress hollers over,
“All them soul songs got broke.”
She speaks from the cook’s window, steam
smearing her face of all feature.
The tongue is a form of fire, the Bible says,
and in the computer’s unstarred blue
the man’s brutal missives drag me along by my throat.
Press yes to erase.
Like a net my fingers skim
tap water, cleaning mung bean sprouts
the way you showed me.
From my palm I find the whole
ones, fetal curvatures with scalps
blossoming on tiny yellowed skulls.
My nail bisects the vertebrae
from primordial tail, roots
cast away in the sink.
Though I never learned
the purpose, it’s a habit that reminds me
of a time you let me in.