Essay on Re-entry
–Reginald Dwayne Betts
She asks me to kill the spider.
Instead, I get the most
peaceful weapons I can find.
I take a cup & a napkin,
I catch the spider, put it outside
and allow it to walk away.
If I am ever caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, just being alive
and not bothering anyone
I hope I am greeted
with the same kind
It is impossible to imagine a color
you have not seen. Instead of dying,
the jellyfish simply ceases
to move. I complete five crosswords
a day because it stops
the panic. Trucks are downshifting
on Main Street. Hair is partially
composed of cyanide. Napalm
is just gasoline and plastic. I am just
carbon and bad timing.
From a blank canvas sprang a swirl of color and emotion:
a mysterious figure emerging from a dark thicket.
Was he beautiful? Did it matter?
For once ugliness could be a form of beauty: an equivalent
to prove the soul’s existence.
Dried paint like a second skin on our hands, its oily smell—
was it possible to replicate love?
The paintbrush unleashed a river of blood.
The day darkened in the room. Time lost track.
We forgot our mothers still in bed, the failure of fathers,
secret lives of our sisters. Is it the figure’s mystery
that enthralls or the shock of seeing manifest the passion
we longed to hide? Is he our stillborn twin or a lost love
buried under the debris of daily existence? Or the terror
of loss itself? Brutal hands, a slash of red.
Is this the end of fulcrum, wheel, and pulley?
Gains or loss issue from plan and man-hour,
Herds bred, coasts moved, pure momentum and mass.
Calls cough through. Gas pumps plentifully.
Wealth permits them to raise, to tend, to scour.
Landfills swell into hills bearded by grass,
Power lines profiled against the sunset
Like ships’ rigging in a crowded anchorage.
Are we merely barnacled to such commerce?
We make corrections, rest, and hit reset,
Lounge in the sun and watch the harbor dredge.
Can so much pure force ever know reverse?
What would replace it? Suckled shark spine, shard,
Fist clenched and unclenched. Overfed graveyard.
One day it will vanish,
how you felt when you were overwhelmed
by her, soaping each other in the shower,
or when you heard the news
of his death, there in the T-Bone diner
on Queens Boulevard amid the shouts
of short-order cooks, Armenian, oblivious.
One day one thing and then a dear other
will blur and though they won’t be lost
they won’t mean as much,
that motorcycle ride on the dirt road
to the deserted beach near Cadiz,
the Guardia mistaking you for a drug-runner,
his machine gun in your belly—
already history now, merely your history,
which means everything to you.
You strain to bring back
your mother’s face and full body
before her illness, the arc and tenor
of family dinners, the mysteries
of radio, and Charlie Collins,
eight years old, inviting you
to his house to see the largest turd
that had ever come from him, unflushed.
One day there’ll be almost nothing
except what you’ve written down,
then only what you’ve written down well,
then little of that.
The march on Washington in ’68
where you hoped to change the world
and meet beautiful, sensitive women
is choreography now, cops on horses,
everyone backing off, stepping forward.
The exam you stole and put back unseen
has become one of your stories,
overtold, tainted with charm.
All of it, anyway, will go the way of icebergs
come summer, the small chunks floating
in the Adriatic until they’re only water,
pure, and someone taking sad pride
that he can swim in it, numbly.
For you, though, loss, almost painless,
that Senior Prom at the Latin Quarter—
Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan, and you
just interested in your date’s cleavage
and staying out all night at Jones Beach,
the small dune fires fueled by driftwood.
You can’t remember a riff or a song,
and your date’s a woman now, married,
has had sex as you have
some few thousand times, good sex
and forgettable sex, even boring sex,
oh you never could have imagined
back then with the waves crashing
what the body could erase.
It’s vanishing as you speak, the soul-grit,
everything you retrieve is your past,
everything you let go
goes to memory’s out-box, open on all sides,
in cahoots with thin air.
The jobs you didn’t get vanish like scabs.
Her good-bye, causing the phone to slip
from your hand, doesn’t hurt anymore,
too much doesn’t hurt anymore,
not even that hint of your father, ghost-thumping
on your roof in Spain, hurts anymore.
You understand and therefore hate
because you hate the passivity of understanding
that your worst rage and finest
private gesture will flatten and collapse
into history, become invisible
like defeats inside houses. Then something happens
(it is happening) which won’t vanish fast enough,
your voice fails, chokes to silence;
hurt (how could you have forgotten?) hurts.
Every other truth in the world, out of respect,
slides over, makes room for its superior.
There is a kind of love called maintenance,
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes, which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living; which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.
I build a revolution
in my bedroom
every time I masturbate.
My own body conspires
to assassinate both
my rebel hands.
what I do, my history
still tells itself wrong.
My lips shape both
freedom songs, but
I still have sex like
the dogs won’t bite if you
have your church shoes on,
like black Grandmas didn’t
keep all their shotguns
up underneath a mattress.