I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say. Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.
Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing. We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.
Let me at least fail at my life.
Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.
Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral.
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
You want to know what it was like?
It was like my whole life had a fever.
Whole acres of me were on fire.
The sun talked dirty in my ear all night.
I couldn’t drive past a wheatfield without doing it violence.
I couldn’t even look at a bridge.
I used to go out in the brush sometimes,
So far out there no one could hear me,
And just burn.
I felt all right then.
I couldn’t hurt anyone else.
I was just a pillar of fire.
It wasn’t the burning so much as the loneliness.
It wasn’t the loneliness so much as the fear of being alone.
Christ look at you pouring from the rocks.
You’re so cold you’re boiling over.
You’ve got stars in your hair.
I don’t want to be around you.
I don’t want to drink you in.
I want to walk into the heart of you
And never walk back out.
Leaving is not enough. You must stay gone. Train your heart like a dog. Change the locks even on the house he’s never visited. You lucky, lucky girl. You have an apartment just your size. A bathtub full of tea. A heart the size of Arizona, but not nearly so arid. Don’t wish away your cracked past, your crooked toes, your problems are papier mache puppets you made or bought because the vendor at the market was so compelling you just had to have them. You had to have him. And you did. And now you pull down the bridge between your houses, you make him call before he visits, you take a lover for granted, you take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic. Make the first bottle you consume in this place a relic. Place it on whatever altar you fashion with a knife and five cranberries. Don’t lose too much weight. Stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge. And you are not stupid. You loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand. Heart like a four-poster bed. Heart like a canvas. Heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
I call to you across a monstrous river or chasm
to caution you, to prepare you.
Earth will seduce you, slowly, imperceptibly,
subtly, not to say with connivance.
I was not prepared: I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen,
holding out my glass. Stewed plums, stewed apricots—
the juice poured off into the glass of ice.
And the water added, patiently, in small increments,
the various cousins discriminating, tasting
with each addition—
aroma of summer fruit, intensity of concentration:
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,
more light passing through it.
Delight, then solace. My grandmother waiting,
to see if more was wanted. Solace, then deep immersion.
I loved nothing more: deep privacy of the sensual life,
the self disappearing into it or inseparable from it,
somehow suspended, floating, its needs
fully exposed, awakened, fully alive—
Deep immersion, and with it
mysterious safety. Far away, the fruit glowing in its glass bowls.
Outside the kitchen, the sun setting.
I was not prepared: sunset, end of summer. Demonstrations
of time as a continuum, as something coming to an end,
not a suspension; the senses wouldn’t protect me.
I caution you as I was never cautioned:
you will never let go, you will never be satiated.
You will be damaged and scarred, you will continue to hunger.
Your body will age, you will continue to need.
You will want the earth, then more of the earth—
Sublime, indifferent, it is present, it will not respond.
It is encompassing, it will not minister.
Meaning, it will feed you, it will ravish you,
it will not keep you alive.
Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town.
NOW SLOWLY CLOSING LIKE A DENT IN DOUGH
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)
I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it,
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.
It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.
I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.
Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring
the memories of love.
before they punished you
you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,
I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeuur
of your brain’s exposed
and darkened combs,
your muscles’ webbing
and all your numbered bones:
I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,
who would connive
in civilized outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.
After Martin Luther
1. Children are capable of feeling
both shame and abandonment.
14. My father lives alone. Also,
a hawk killed his dog and you
expect me to believe in mercy.
20. Good things happen to bad people.
47. One day, every person I have ever
loved will die and the only option
you have given me is to just sit by
and watch it happen or hope
I am the first to go.
48. Speaking of love,
86. The list of artists who have
committed suicide only includes
the ones who were well known
enough to be found.
95. As a child, I prayed every night.
It felt important. Mature. Powerful.
I wish someone had told me that
it was me, that I was the powerful one.
Imagine it: fleets of six-year-olds
believing that strongly in themselves.
- Sierra DeMulder
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.