Don’t Tell Anyone
We had been married for six or seven years
when my wife, standing in the kitchen one afternoon, told me
that she screams underwater when she swims—
that, in fact, she has been screaming for years
into the blue chlorinated water of the community pool
where she does laps every other day.
Buttering her toast, not as if she had been
not as if I should consider myself
personally the cause of her screaming,
nor as if we should perform an act of therapy
right that minute on the kitchen table,
—casually, she told me,
and I could see her turn her square face up
to take a gulp of oxygen,
then down again into the cold wet mask of the unconscious.
For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming
as they go through life, silently,
politely keeping the big secret
that it is not all fun
to be ripped by the crooked beak
of something called psychology,
to be dipped down
again and again into time;
that the truest, most intimate
pleasure you can sometimes find
is the wet kiss
of your own pain.
There goes Kath, at one pm, to swim her twenty-two laps
back and forth in the community pool;
—what discipline she has!
Twenty-two laps like twenty-two pages,
that will never be read by anyone.
what’s your favourite word dearie
is it wee
I hope it’s wee
wee’s such a nice wee word
like a wee hairy dog
with two wee eyes
such a nice wee word to play with dearie
you can say it quickly
with a wee smile
and a wee glance to the side
or you can say it slowly dearie
with your mouth a wee bit open
and a wee sigh dearie
A wee sigh
put your wee head on my shoulder dearie
a great wee word
it makes me proud.
When it became impossible to speak to you
due to your having died and been incinerated,
I sometimes held the uncradled phone
with its neat digits and arcane symbols (crosshatch,
black star) as if embedded in it
were some code I could punch in
to reach you. You bequeathed me
this morbid bent, Mother.
Who gives her sixth-grade daughter
Sartre’s Nausea to read? All my life,
I watched you face the void,
leaning into it as a child with a black balloon
will bury her countenance
either to hide from
or to merge with that darkness.
Small wonder that still
in the invisible scrim of air
that delineates our separate worlds,
your features sometimes press toward me
all silvery from the afterlife, woven in wind,
to whisper a caution. Or your hand on my back
shoves me into my life.
Memory is a highway,
where a car is speeding into the sunset.
The man inside that car has a gun.
he says he’ll shoot himself
and be done with it, be dead,
but in the end, he doesn’t do it.
If he had, the path to the truth
would have led straight from the gate
outside his ex-wife’s house,
not end run around it,
leaving a trail of blood
the prosecution says is proof
that he used his power, his juice
to seduce death
by handing her two sacrifices,
but she promised what she would never deliver.
She left him a pair of loaded dice
and severed their connection
with one well-practiced slice.
Now in his cell,
he reads fan letters.
He doesn’t dwell on the past.
If he did, he’d tell you to always go for broke,
because a man who can’t go the distance is a joke,
is a failure.
“You can quote me on that,” he says aloud,
then shocked by the sound of his own voice,
chokes back a cry.
When he looks himself in the eye,
he just sees a regular guy.
He sees a parade going by.
On the largest float,
the homecoming queen waves to the crowd.
She’s a statuesque blond.
He’s a football hero.
He’s also a black man,
but that is no obstacle,
It’s a license to do the impossible.
He waves back.
Maybe that isn’t really what happened,
but it’s close and he makes the most of it,
when he can see through the smoke
of his desire and his rage.
In a flash,
he feels the diamonds of hope,
cutting the smooth glass of his mind
into halfs and quarters,
as he runs backwards in time,
a football tucked under his arm,
as he crosses the goal line,
only to find the stands are empty
and he is alone on the field.
Concealed in the ball is a bomb.
All he has to do to explode is to throw.
He listens to the silence inhaling,
then he lets go.
That’s when the crowd appears
and over the loudspeaker
he hears his coach, saying, “Buddy, come on home,”
but home is the scene of the crime,
shown on TV so many times
that the murderer and the victims cease to exist,
except in peripheral vision
and in the void between the goalposts,
thirty-two bits and pieces of his life
are all that survive the knife.
It is so quiet on the shore of this motionless lake
you can hear the slow recessional of extinct animals
as they leave through a door at the back of the world,
disappearing like the verbs of a dead language:
the last troop of kangaroos hopping out of the picture,
the ultimate paddling of ducks and pitying of turtledoves
and, his bell tolling in the distance, the final goat.
For Catherine and Jamie
It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other’s face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.
It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other’s prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I’ll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an inland loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises…
It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends’ houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle’s switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the ferry’s engines thrum
this life this life this life.
Photo: Stevekeiretsu [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Q & A
Where analgesia may be found to ease the infinite, minute scars of the day;
What final interlude will result, picked bit by bit from the morning’s hurry, the lunch-hour boredom, the fevers of the night;
Why this one is cherished by the gods, and that one not;
How to win, and win again, and again, staking wit alone against a sea of time;
Which man to trust and, once found, how far—
Will not be found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John,
Nor Blackstone, nor Gray’s, nor Dun & Bradstreet, nor Freud, nor Marx,
Nor the sage of the evening news, nor the corner astrologist, nor in any poet,
Nor what sort of laughter should greet the paid pronouncements of the great,
Nor what pleasure the multitudes have, bringing lunch and the children to watch the condemned to be plunged into death,
Nor why the sun should rise tomorrow,
Nor how the moon still weaves upon the ground, through the leaves, so much silence and so much peace.
Night and the House
–Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
Night reunites the house and its silence
From the foundations up
To the still flower
Only the ticking of time’s clock is heard
Night reunites the house and its destiny
Now nothing is scattered nothing divided
Everything watches like the vigilant cypress
Emptiness walks in its living spaces