Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead the way.
Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.
too often down to the same
and leaped for stars
but caught eel-flies
as I bait
my daily hooks
wondering how I
can be that fish again
but can’t say outloud
have lost my faith in
My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think
praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,
it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of “Old Battersea Bridge.”
I like the idea of different
theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook
of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,
your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb
but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.
Here when I say “I never want to be without you,”
somewhere else I am saying
“I never want to be without you again.” And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet
in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have
sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseri-
ously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the
night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation
of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same
person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who
might have to leave an office or meeting, or some ar-
duous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having
sex with another person, and go in the snow to me,
who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in
my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is
an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy,
though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sor-
row. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am
a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying
“It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,”
and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in
the beginning stages of snow, know that he is start-
ing his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield,
or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and
knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or
thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we,
as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is
still snowing, and even half-snow would be some
thing to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds
go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely.
I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and
further along inside the trees and deep inside of the
forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deep-
ly recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious
to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and
so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways,
with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth.
Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow.
When I am inside having sex while it snows I want
to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my
love to love thinking about the birds as much as I
do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under
or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be
that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the
snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are
beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all
around them, though thinking about the birds is not
as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on
graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead,
I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the
snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is
the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in
the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no
snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means
nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the
dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it
is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the
bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time
especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on
sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle,
because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious,
they are sleeping through the snow and they will
be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will
be having sex while it snows I want to remember
the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of
themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are
themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling
with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the
anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems
deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms
of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the
whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.
Trees talk to each other at night.
All fish are named either Lorna or Jack.
Before your eyeballs fall out from watching too much TV, they get very loose.
Tiny bears live in drain pipes.
If you are very very quiet you can hear the clouds rub against the sky.
The moon and the sun had a fight a long time ago.
Everyone knows at least one secret language.
When nobody is looking, I can fly.
We are all held together by invisible threads.
Books get lonely too.
Sadness can be eaten.
I will always be there.
Hearing a low growl in your throat, you’ll know that it’s started.
It has nothing to ask you. It has only something to say,
and it will speak in your own tongue.
Locking its arms around you, it will hold you as long
as you ever wanted.
Only this time it will be long enough. It will not let go.
Burying your face in its dark shoulder, you’ll smell mud and hair
You’ll taste your mother’s sour nipple, your favorite salty cock
and swallow a word you thought you’d spit out once and be done with.
Through half-closed eyes you’ll see that its shadow looks like yours,
a perfect fit. You could weep with gratefulness. It will take you as you
like it best, hard and fast as a slap across your face,
or so sweet and slow you’ll scream give it to me give it to me
until it does.
Nothing will ever reach this deep. Nothing will ever clench this hard.
At last (the little girls are clapping, shouting) someone has pulled
the drawstring of your gym bag closed enough and tight. At last
someone has knotted the lace of your shoe so it won’t ever
Even as you turn into it, even as you begin to feel yourself stop,
you’ll whistle with amazement between your residual teeth oh jesus
oh sweetheart, oh holy mother, nothing nothing nothing ever felt
I’ve turned on lights all over the house,
but nothing can save me from this darkness.
I’ve stepped onto the front porch to see
the stars perforating the milky black clouds
and the moon staring coldly through the trees,
but this negative I’m carrying inside me.
Where is the boy who memorized constellations?
What is the textbook that so consoled him?
I’m now more than halfway to the grave,
but I’m not half the man I meant to become.
To what fractured deity can I pray?
I’m willing to pay the night with interest,
though the night wants nothing but itself.
What did I mean to say to darkness?
Death is a zero hollowed out of my chest.
God is an absence whispering in the leaves.
I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back…
I’ve got protection. I’ve got a receiver open downfield…
What the hell is this? This isn’t a football, it’s a shoe, a man’s
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren’t very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn’t right and I’m not going
to throw it.
I have taken the blueprint of your back for granted
as if the sidewalk were not an altar
and the sound of the shower not a hurricane
bearing down – there is no ceremony for this.
the night goes on in spite of the rain, much
like the mail. make me a bullet of a mouth,
sex love and money on the radio. not a bullet,
a gun. not a gun, a harbor. to hold you, against
this, against the night with its sirens and batons,
I fly down the block to you and the lights, in
harm’s way, all sixteen muscles of my tongue
pulled, meat for the men who don’t love you.
my love, ink is fool’s armor. your good luck
works on no one in uniform. if it’s true
that bone is harder than steel, make me
a building, a garden of calcium
and mineral in bloom, deadbolt
of a spine, you coming home whole,
the apartment of my head on your bulletless
chest / each time the cry of fight goes up
on the street I remember your hand, the man
rocking back on his heels, his mouth
a sidelong oval shocked into quiet
at last, his pale hand torn from your forearm —
love, lay your burden down, here, tell me how
to make this body a safehouse and not
a prison, how hold your hand when its every lifting
is an act of self-defense, how take the knife from you
and not call it murder, or surrender – the cabdriver,
the cop, the woman gripping her purse
on the L train conspire — you are already
a weapon. I am no building, no shield,
less than cotton between the violent night
and your skin, less than teeth
ground down to bonedust
small, white as I am.
The man I love hates technology, hates
that he’s forced to use it: telephones
and microfilm, air conditioning,
car radios and the occasional fax.
He wishes he lived in the old world,
sitting on a stump carving a clothespin
or a spoon. He wants to go back, slip
like lint into his great-great-grandfather’s
pocket, reborn as a pilgrim, a peasant,
a dirt farmer hoeing his uneven rows.
He walks when he can, through the hills
behind his house, his dogs panting beside him
like small steam engines. He’s delighted
by the sun’s slow and simple
descent, the complicated machinery
of his own body. I would have loved him
in any era, in any dark age; I would take him
into the twilight and unwind him, slide
my fingers through his hair and pull him
to his knees. As it is, this afternoon, late
in the twentieth century, I sit on a chair
in the kitchen with my keys in my lap, pressing
the black buttons on the answering machine
over and over, listening to his message,
his voice strung along the wires outside my window
where the birds balance themselves
and stare off into the trees, thinking
even in the farthest future, in the most
distant universe, I would have recognized
this voice, refracted, as it would be, like light
from some small, uncharted star.
I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,
for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have sardines in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s sardines?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.
But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it oranges. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called sardines.
I’ve been meaning to tell
you how the sky is pink
here sometimes like the roof
of a mouth that’s about to chomp
down on the crooked steel teeth
of the city,
I remember the desperate
things we did
and that I stumble
down sidewalks listening
to the buzz of street lamps
at dusk and the crush
of leaves on the pavement,
Without you here I’m viciously lonely
and I can’t remember
the last time I felt holy,
the last time I offered
myself as sanctuary
I watched two men
press hard into
each other, their bodies
caught in the club’s
bass drum swell,
and I couldn’t remember
when I knew I’d never
be beautiful, but it must
have been quick
and subtle, the way
the holy ghost can pass
in and out of a room.
I want so desperately
to be finished with desire,
the rushing wind, the still
The only job I didn’t like, quit
after the first shift, was selling
subscriptions to TV Guide over the phone.
Before that it was fast food, all
the onion rings I could eat, handing
sacks of deep fried burritos through
the sliding window, the hungry hands
grabbing back. And at the laundromat,
plucking bright coins from a palm
or pressing them into one, kids
screaming from the bathroom and twenty
dryers on high. Cleaning houses was fine,
polishing the knick-knacks of the rich.
I liked holding the hand-blown glass bell
from Czechoslovakia up to the light,
the jewelled clapper swinging lazily
from side to side, its foreign,
A-minor ping. I drifted, an itinerant,
from job to job, the sanatorium
where I pureed peas and carrots
and stringy beets, scooped them,
like pudding, onto flesh-colored
plastic plates, or the gas station
where I dipped the ten-foot measuring stick
into the hole in the blacktop,
pulled it up hand over hand
into the twilight, dripping
its liquid gold, pink-tinged.
I liked the donut shop best, 3 AM,
alone in the kitchen, surrounded
by sugar and squat mounds of dough,
the flashing neon sign strung from wire
behind the window, gilding my white uniform
yellow, then blue, then drop-dead red.
It wasn’t that I hated calling them, hour
after hour, stuck in a booth with a list
of strangers’ names, dialing their numbers
with the eraser end of a pencil and them
saying hello. It was that moment
of expectation, before I answered back,
the sound of their held breath,
their disappointment when they realized
I wasn’t who they thought I was,
the familiar voice, or the voice they loved
and had been waiting all day to hear.