If This Is Paradise
“The true mystery of the world is the visible” – Oscar Wilde
If this is paradise: trees, beehives,
boulders. And this: bald moon, shooting
stars, a little sun. If in your hands
this is paradise: sensate flesh,
hidden bone, your own eyes
opening, then why should we speak?
Why not lift into each day like the animals
that we are and go silently
about our true business: the hunt
for water, fat berries, the mushroom’s
pale meat, tumble through waist-high grasses
without reason, find shade and rest there,
our limbs spread beneath the meaningless sky,
find the scent of the lover
and mate wildly. If this is paradise
and all we have to do is be born and live
and die, why pick up the stick at all?
Why see the wheel in the rock?
Why bring back from the burning fields
a bowl full of fire and pretend that it’s magic?
The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
Ballad for the Future
Future – with what hands shall we pass you on?
You’re very far, you can’t make out our hands.
Our palms are clammy bank notes.
The lines of life, honor, duty and art
cross those of shame.
Under our nails is the mud from crawling
our way up to the point of our fall.
No one else but we ourselves
handcuffed us, comfortably, in the face of our fear.
That’s why we offer you our two bound palms
instead of unfolded wings.
The only remnant
of shame we felt
was when we buried our mothers with communal fees,
then we dared not put
our hands on their foreheads
so they wouldn’t carry to the grave
the imprint of our horror.
Of course, there were shining ones among us.
They set off long ago, Future, to meet you.
But the ballad tells us
they went blind on the road.
trust no one: there is not a shred of loyalty
that will not yield to advantage or change of
circumstance: when you do what you’re supposed
to do and others do what they’re supposed to
do, trust is not called for: (the point,
actually is to foray for aye – and not to
yield): (you know how wide the universe is;
we can blow off a few spots and nothing
ever missing): oh, foller the dollar, it knows
the way: dam the way up, so the dollars get
out of hand in mounds, deep chests, and long
keepings, moldy trusts: put your dollars to
work: and stay home yourself: if you don’t
have two dollars, start with one: pretty soon
you’ll be sitting around thinking of all the
things money can’t buy: (it is important to
note that all states are miserable: the only
joy is in thinking it desirable to get from
one to the other, state, I mean: California
is the best state, because you can’t get to
another state that way, so your misery can
turn into the delights of imagining an East:
oh, the tricky land of the luck-strewn East,
the painted temples scribbled and scrolled
so amply as to allow the falling out of the
farthest personal chance, number: let’s see:
what other moralizing can I do, orders give,
prayers urge – all unimaged, unexampled:
(take Long San Temple, for example, the
dolphins yin and yang circling the center,
a floridity of dragons (florality?) entertwining
the outside of the circle, the inside of the
octagon): Shakespeare, heightening artifice,
Not That One
Find me another word
that is not so ready. I want
a word that waits and weeps
and hesitates, that knows
of other words I kill, and
grows afraid to take its place.
Find me a word that has heard
of a woman afraid of losing a man
she does not have, find me a word
that flinches at the thought of being
trapped, a word that shows me
stealing time, not men.
Find me a word that is not so safe.
A word for a woman in a forest
to wake up with, a woman who
knows heat and long silences
and sleepless nights, a woman
who works with only words.
Not love, dear poet.
Find me another word.
This love for the everyday things,
part natural from the wide eye of infancy,
part a literary calculation,
this attention to the morning flower
and later to a fly strolling
along the rim of a wineglass —
are we just avoiding our one true destiny
when we do that, averting our glance
from Philip Larkin who waits for us in an undertaker’s coat?
The leafless branches against the sky
will not save anyone from the void ahead,
nor will the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table.
So why bother with the checkerboard lighthouse?
Why waste time on the sparrow,
or the wildflowers along the roadside
when we should all be alone in our rooms
throwing ourselves against the wall of life
and the opposite wall of death,
the door locked behind us
as we hurl ourselves at the question of meaning,
and the enigma of our origins?
What good is the firefly,
the droplet running along the green leaf,
or even the bar of soap sliding around the bathtub
when we are really meant to be
banging away on the mystery
as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?
banging away on nothingness itself,
some with their foreheads,
others with the maul of sense, the raised jawbone of poetry.