Stored in Light
My grandmother said our past
is stored in light and we’re like
paper lanterns on a string,
and I used to wonder where
the light went, where it faded,
or if it ever did.
Like our summers in Tennessee
how they never seemed
they must exist
running to the creek past my brother
whose eyebrows are
still coming back after
a bottle-rocket blast, and I’m
just a boy with skinned knees
each scar a portal.
A footpath near the crick carves through
the gap, through the mist,
which hangs like a web until
it settles in the valley
and tucks us in with
grandma’s faded blanket
until we rip the sheets off
and run down the path
exhausted, past the gravesite,
past the beech trees old as god,
and I’m a wet seed just learning
to slay time.
I haven’t happened
yet, and somewhere else
and all at once]
And it’s nighttime,
and we chase fireflies,
store them in glass
and pretend they’re stars,
each jar a universe,
and the fireworks
as embers on settled
and my brother flinches
again with every pop,
not knowing his eyebrows
are already gone.
Adolescent Songs from the Sidewalk
They’ve just seen Jaws
for the very first time.
They provoke in the manner of plastic
then look away
tearing up, fearing
they’ve gone too far.
They’ve had too many crepes
and too much Red Bull.
It’s midday and the anarchy they dream
of can’t take hold.
They can’t get their heads around
the idea of a full-bodied
Their little grey planet
doles itself out in txt
and steep monthly payments.
Unlike you and me, they never had to survive
a nightmare world populated
by damn, dirty apes.
At Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island
She falls and brushes the dust
from her blue jeans,
open at the knee.
Denim blinks; bare skin sees.
She understands the bull’s-eye,
its tissue paper heart.
She is easy
on the third eye,
a whirling astral beauty.
She comes as she pleases
through the forehead’s
collapsible mouse door.
After a few sips of whiskey I’m relaxed and tired. I’m in the north woods at my cabin, away from airports and the spooky clamor of human ambition in pistons, pumps, engines and machines.
I’d been traveling for two days and was tired of being treated like a number. Most people looked through me as if I were an apparition. But now it’s dark and quiet. I step outside to see the stars. I hear a rustling in the bushes, a bear? I go back inside to the photo album.
Picking it up I note its pages, like me, are becoming more flexible as the cabin warms. I start at 1975 and stop at a picture of my father, a dark-haired, bespectacled 41-year old wearing an orange hat and brown flannel shirt, suspenders resting off his shoulders to the side. His blaze-orange pants are unbuttoned at the waist and stained with blood. He stands in soggy boots, his chin sporting a deer hunter’s stubble. His stern visage and wry smile look back at me. I mourn the passing of this sturdy rooted man.
Other hunters are in the photo too and the men stand in front of three deer hanging from a tall oak, brown leaves covering their November hunting ground. The deer’s tongues are sticking out and parting their lips, small sharp teeth hold them in place. My father’s trophy 8-pointer hangs by a rope tied over its antlers. The necks of all three deer are stiff; they stretch upward like misplaced branches.
The wood burning stove hisses and crackles. My shoulders slump at the sound. I’m here hunting memories when a loon breaks the silence. A loon speaks in wail, yodel, tremolo or hoot. A wail rises up to me from the lake, it’s elegy as I remember how my dad sat here for hours gazing at the lake, contemplating cancer and his final relinquishment.
The loons and I share a need to rest. They’ve recently flown 3,000 miles completing their spring migration from the Gulf of Mexico. My flight was 4,000 miles. Tonight their cry is half Mariachi. It’s an eerie sound, like a Mexican trumpet’s high note.
The Ojibwa of this area speak of the loon as mang, meaning “the most handsome of birds.” It’s also the most ancient, existing long before humans. Echoing over Big Casey Lake, their spring calls are loud, much louder than summer yodels when leafy trees mute the decibels of their haunting.
I’m tempted to walk 33 steps downhill to the lakeshore but also reluctant. The ashes of three souls have been spread there, people I’ve known. I’m afraid the Mariachi will raise up ghosts I’m not ready to see. Once, an otherworldly push at the lakeshore knocked me over. I wasn’t ready to feel it again.
I’m in the cabin where I’m surrounded by tools: knives, hammers, camera, saws and a rope. The rope’s no good for corralling cancer cells. It cannot capture the thing rustling in the bushes, it will not lasso the ascending brown leaves in a whirling sidhe, or stop-up that thing which sits among the wood pile and whispers during my dreams.
Coming to this cabin when I was young, my parents avoided talk of ghosts, but they warned my brothers and me of bears in the north woods. And because the chance of seeing a bear was lodged in the back of my mind, a carved wooden bear head secretly placed on the woodpile scared me to death when I was not expecting it. That’s when I learned how illusion works: You believe through suggestion that you see what you don’t see but believe you have seen.
I think about illusion, and how I’m primed for shape shifting. The loon’s tremolo echoes over Big Casey Lake. I shiver and reach to grasp history: a rustling of leaves, a rifle blast, and a dark shadow moving by the tall oak. My teeth cannot hold these imprints in place.
You Never Got Back to Me
You never got back to me
to say why you never got back to me.
I remember it like yesterday.
Fat snowflakes floated sideways
in front of the Border Café.
We sort of half-hugged like newish friends do.
Your backpack held some leftover tamales,
and Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table.
Were you embarrassed by my clumsiness with the menu?
I think I was supposed to put the chicken on the pan
into the flat bread on my plate. But that would
be trivial, no? To end a promising friendship over a fajita?
I’ve learned a lot since then. Fajita means “little belt.”
Tamales originated in Mesoamerica between 8000 and 5000 B.C.E.
Maybe it was something else. A grown-up story or two online.
But you, a college student in the year of our Lord 2012,
would presumably suffer no vapors over sex.
After all, you’re tough, a girl boxer, winner of excruciating
spelling bees, memoirist of caustic honesty.
Or maybe it was just my pleasure in the noisy family
by our table and a loud round-headed toddler I called
“a little cowboy.” Your lips bent in disdain and you said,
“I don’t like children very much.”
she was a doorframe
she was the window in his blood
she breathed slowly by the sink
her hands in dough
and thought of a tree in bloom
he held the phrase matrimonial privacy
a mouthful of nails to hammer a stair toward the bedroom
a warmth in her thighs
against the snow of the day
sunlight quavered in a bowl of water
he curls no larger than a loaf of bread
under strips of wallpaper
mewling for home
This stone on the desk is inaccessible
in its rare innards, though fist-shaped
and polished by years’ employment
in meditation—an idle hand grasping
as a mind strokes History or notions of Being.
The cool skin of rock never returns
the answer to any question, not to the fingers
that try its bumps and grooves, not to the silence
of the empty room where it huddles toad-like
while light crosses the desk, slowly, from the window,
in the turning of the day. The stone takes the light,
quietly, when no one sees, then curls back upon itself.
A Lost Soul Speaks
Is it fair that every dawn and sunset
an old crow the earth’s rotation
has near worn down to a sparrow
unfolds his speech
in so many black leaves
from the peak of my house
to make a new sky?
Sometimes the day is dark.
Some evenings stagger
with foamy lights.
At midnight, I tear
a hole in the sky
and peek at God, there,
where he flaps and caws.