I am trying to imagine it
Your head is in your hands
The nurse is pouring pills onto a plate
It is a bird
Wounded, in leaves
Its sweet bird’s nest is full of pain in a distant place
There are daisies
In the ruined garden, still blooming strangely
And in a manic yellow hat, the old lady
And the old man, dead in his bed
And their daughter, the saint:
Her dark, religious hair gets tangled in the branches
She is screaming, grabbing
While the nurses play Mozart in another room
While the bats fly over the roof
Snatch the black notes from the blackness
I am going to die
I can see them through this window
Their little black capes
The touching ugliness of their little faces
One night from the other sideof a motel wall made of nothing butsawdust and pink stuff, Ilistened as a man criedto someone on the telephonethat all he wantedto do before he diedwas to come home.“I want to come home!”That night a man crieduntil I was ankle-deep in sleep,and then up to my neck, wadinglike a swimmeror like a suicidethrough the wavesof him cryingand into the deepas icebergs cracked into halves,as jellyfish, like thoughts, werepassed secretly between people.And the seaweed, likethe sinuous soft green hairof certain beauty queens,washed up by the sea.Except that wewere in Utah, and one of uswas weepingwhile the other onewas sleeping, withnothing but a thin, drywall between us.
At the End of the Text, a Small Bestial Form
This is the glimpse of the god you were never supposed to get. Like the fox slipping into the thicket. Like the thief in the night outside the window. The cool gray dorsal fin in the distance. Invisible mountain briefly visible through the mist formed of love and guilt.
And the stranger’s face hidden in the family picture. The one
imagining her freedom, like
the butterfly blown against the fence in her best yellow dress by the softest breeze of summer:
To have loved and to have suffered. To have waited for nothing, and for nothing to have come.
And the water like sleek black fur combed back that afternoon:
The young lovers rowed a boat. The boy reeled in a fish. The husband smiled, raising a toast.
While the children grew anxious for dinner. While something struggled under the water bound by ropes. And the warm milk dribbled down the sick man’s chin. And the wife, the mother, the daughter, the hostess, and those few people on earth she would ever wish were dead would be the ones she loved the most
The Common Cold
To me she arrives this morning
dressed in some
man’s homely, soft, cast-off
lover’s shawl, and some
woman’s memory of a third-
who loved her students a little too much.
(Those warm hugs that went
on and on and on.)
She puts her hand to my head and says,
“Laura, you should go back to bed.”
But I have lunches to pack, socks
on the floor, while
the dust settles on
the I’ve got to clean this pigsty up.
(Rain at a bus stop.
Laundry in a closet.)
And tonight, I’m
the Athletic Booster mother
whether I feel like it or not, weakly
taking your dollar
from inside my concession stand:
I offer you your caramel corn. (Birdsong
in a terrarium. Some wavering distant
planet reflected in a puddle.)
And, as your dollar
passes between us, perhaps
you will recall
how, years ago, we
flirted over some impossible
Cub Scout project.
and saws, and seven
small boys tossing
at one another. And now
those sons, taller
and faster than we are, see
how they are poised on a line, ready
to run at the firing of a gun?
But here we are again, you and I, the
two of us tangled up
and biological: I’ve
forgotten your name, and
you never knew mine, but
in the morning
my damp kisses all over your pillows,
my clammy flowers
blooming in your cellar,
my spring grass
dewed with mucus-
and you’ll remember me
and how, tonight, wearing my
Go Dawgs T-shirt, I
stood at the center
of this sweet clinging heat
of a concession stand
with my flushed cheeks, and
how, before we touched, I
coughed into my hand.
here we are together
in bed all day again.
on bony branches
full of the knowledge one always encounters
at the end of a life. Some
aspirin mixed with water, and a mouse
born in a dream. The sounds my son
once made while suckling. That, made
and myself. Our
breath. Not even
here long enough
Today the breeze wears a fern:
and living in the world, in
your brief green dress.
The amputated breast, like
a soul made out of flesh.
I am the mirror breathing above the sink.
There is a censored garden inside of me.
Over the worms someone has thrown
a delicately embroidered sheet, and
also the child at the rummage sale—
more souvenirs than memories.
I am the cat buried beneath the tangled ivy. And also
the white weightless egg floating over it, which is
the cat’s immortal soul. Snow
where there were leaves.
Empty plastic cups after the party on the beach.
The ash rising above the fire, like a flame.
The Sphinx with so much sand
blowing vaguely in her face. The last
shadow that passed over the blank
canvas in the empty art museum.
I am the impossibility of desiring the person you pity.
The petal of the Easter lily—
O, that ghost of a tongue.
O, that tongue of a ghost.
What would I say if I spoke?
I am the old lady in a wheelchair
in the corner of the nursing home, like
a star flung up into the infinite, the infinite, cold
silent darkness of this universe. I am
that old woman as a little girl
in brilliant shoes
some beautiful summer afternoon,
The floor of the brain, the roof
of the mouth, the locked
front door, the barn
burned down, a dog
tied to a tree, not howling, a dark
shed, an empty garage, a basement
in which a man might sip
his peace, in peace,
and a table
in a kitchen
the nightingales feasted on fairy tales,
the angels stuffed themselves with fog
And a tiny room at the center of it all,
and a beautiful woman the size of a matchstick
singing the song that ruined my father:
The kind of song a quiet man
might sing a silent house around.
Like a twentieth-century dream of Europe—all
horrors, and pastries—some part of me, for all time
stands in a short skirt in a hospital cafeteria line, with a tray, while
in another glittering tower named
for the world’s richest man
my mother, who is dying, never dies.
with one wing
in Purgatory, flying in circles.)
I wake up decades later, having dreamt I was crying.
My alarm clock seconds away
from its own alarm.
I wake up to its silence
at the same hour. The daughter
of the owner of the laundromat
has washed my sheets in tears
and the soldiers marching across some flowery field in France
bear their own soft pottery in their arms—heart, lung, abdomen.
And the orderlies and the nurses and their clattering
carts roll on and on. In a tower. In a cloud. In a cafeteria line.
See, cold spy for time, who needs you now?
O Elegant Giant
These difficult matters of grace and scale:
The way music, our savior, is the marriage of math and antisocial behavior.
Like this woman with a bucket in the morning gathering gorgeous oxymora on the shore…
And my wildly troubled love for you, which labored gently in the garden all through June, then tore the flowers up with its fists in July.
Which set a place for you next to mine—the fork beside the spoon beside the knife (the linen napkin, and the centerpiece: a blue beheaded blossom floating
in a bowl)—and even the red weight of my best efforts poured into your glass as a dark wine before I tossed the table onto its side.
Just another perfect night. Beyond destruction, and utterly unlikely, how someone might have managed, blindly, to stumble on such a love in the middle of her life.
O elegant giant.
While, outside, the woods are silent.
And, overhead, not a single intelligent star in the sky.
one-twelfth of our lives is wasted
standing in a line.
The sacred path of that.
Ahead of me, a man in black, his broad back.
Behind me, a woman like me
unwinding her white veils.
And beyond us all, the ticket-taker, or the old
lady with our change, or
the officials with our food, our stamps, our unsigned papers, our
gas masks, our inoculations.
It hasn’t happened yet.
It hasn’t begun or ended.
It hasn’t granted us its bliss
or exploded in our faces.
The baby watches the ceiling from its cradle.
The cat stares at the crack in the foundation.
The grandfather flies the sick child’s kite higher
and higher. I set
my husband’s silverware on the table.
I place a napkin beside
my son’s plate.
but not tonight.
Ahead of us, that man’s black back.
Behind us, her white veils.
Ahead of us, the nakedness, the gate.
Behind us, the serene errand-boy, the cigarette, the wink-and-nod, the waiting.
Beyond that, too late.