We move through a familiar landscape filled with spotted cows . . .
Early a.m., signs in the misted windshield . . .
Migrained again at 5 a.m., is it the Pyrrhic victory of human spirit . . .
You bring the lighter to the unlit end . . .
Easy strokes brush canvas, a fluttered color . . .
On a park bench he remembers . . .
We move through a familiar landscape filled with spotted cows,
Holsteins transplanted from north Germany, chewing their cud
despondently under the scrub oaks that line this prairie-edging
scenic route; you imagine a landscape hiding them, a hedge
that camouflaged those black and white patterns as a leopard
slinks unseen in dappled light. It’s almost Easter, you’re separated
once again from your family; you still pronounce it with an ‘n,’
a crafty German consonant that grafts itself upon the very end
of the holiday you’ve always loved, a letter squeezed on at the last
by a tongue too German to forget. We drive northwest
across a country I no longer understand, perceiving it through you
as through a bottle-green lens, this third-world melange of far too
many countries, tribal districts built of shoelaces and boot straps
at the point of knife and gun. The rural slums hung with muskrat traps,
the narrow fishing huts in garish reds and yellows recently dragged
from the winter’s frozen lakes, all this sculpture of a harsh and bedraggled
America—so perky in its wealth, as idealistic as the heat of poppies
when they bloom, but so damned gangrenous when you come to ponder
its hurting poor, the rot at the expanding, surrounding base.
You kick at imaginary pedals; I, eyes in the mirror, touch the brakes;
a rabbit bolts unscathed across the highway, and I make
some dry comment on how the Easter Bunny’s running late.
You kiss me. I kiss you back at 70 miles an hour,
and time skitters by us, hammering our tires
like uneven pavement, its impact disproportionate,
the square of our velocity or some such misappropriated
law of physics. This kills me. This time passing that almost crucifies us
is what I fear and love in you; the more we love, the less this time suffices.
We’ve driven overnight out of kudzu, sweeping past broom sage, skunk cabbage
into north central prairies—scrub oak, indian paintbrush, prickly ash;
Easter with my family, where there may be snow, and the rosebushes
still covered against frost, and the springing blue spruces that cushion
the sky—prickly, cold, not so rampant as that ubiquitous kudzu
threatening to overtake the car, entangling aluminum wheel covers,
draping itself over the hood like a lazy jungle-dweller, a komodo dragon,
a vine-shadowed tiger, anaconda. Sometimes I wonder at the pageant
of words that randomly pour into poems, as if a lunch-box opened on eggplant
sandwiches, on Easter eggs brightened with grease and painted with animal pageantry:
my childish eyes on those amber millipedes, the stippled sunrise of a trout’s urgent
backward leaping, the linked maroon baboons around an eggshell white, emerging
from a polar cap of fern-green jungle and brown roots, twisting into iced equators.
So often we think the same things, over and over, the useful proverb, the cliché or
a suddenly parental turn of phrase; but now and again the cactus blossoms, troubles
the landscape and through our flat language’s shimmering diction colors bubble
out of the multiplying dice (the tongue, the pen, electronic web)
into azaleas, orchids, the rest of the blessed hallucination. The concrete slab
aches northwesterly, arches like a rainbow for the climb and fall of our repeating wheels;
I look at you. I tell you I want to break these word-dreams, hunt beneath the shell
for salt, white, yolk. So I clamber back to incident, meaning, the highway smell of skunk
clinging from the night before. And I try to be literal. Aim for a core somewhere sunk
deep, golden. But still that clinging three-toed sloth of a word clings, rummaging
among the ficus plants; or catlike falls into silence and creeps off ambiguous. So I forage
instead in my remembered undergrowth, the jungle of childhood Easters for a jar
of memory I could present to you like a calla lily, jungle orchid, rose. There were
colorings, dyeings, Easter eggs, and hunts, the friendly admiration of
spry, unlikely colors. There was the intricate dismantling of tedious love
and its labors as I tried to take the shell off whole, mapmaker’s broken globes, spliced
with membrane. There was salt, then the egg’s white; and last the yolk,
which I never liked.
Early a.m., signs in the misted windshield
hard to readgray, pebbled with water. Teaching
Sappho all day long for my sophomore lit., and
worried about it.
When our new white Mazda accelerates in
third, I take your hand: anniversaries re-
membered. Warm flesh, veins that are yours, enchant the
palm of the morning,
where some odd gust, grace of October air, sus-
pends a leaf, rust-colored and enigmatic
over usjust one, just a minute hanging
lost in the mirror.
Think of space, time, fate, and the palmistry en-
acting us, here, now, and another year that
blinks its foglights towards us; I squeeze your hand, hard,
loving you madly.
Migrained again at 5 a.m., is it the Pyrrhic victory of human spirit
that the body needs, the open-minded slaughter of the bellum civile?
Do you hear it? Penthesilea wars for Troy, a second Troy, a third,
a fourth, even as you pour yourself a second cup of coffee, equivocate
once more the cost of broken walls, the gory fields, and fierce Camilla dead
(the spearchild suckling at the breast its first, last, best maternal food).
In your dreams she raced the frozen Thermodon and as suddenly was gone;
false dreams before waking turned by pain into strange similes
of Xanthus, Simois, the loved past that you cant remember or forget
but only relive, stealing a language that shifts beneath you like a river
or a running horse. You mouth "the cost of progress" for the world your heirs
inherit. Your hatred comes from this and it is deep as seven years of travel;
you hug Sidonian Didos robe around you, remember her swift, sure hands
envy her (the fourth, fifth time)always it is tragic, winning.
Migration kills. You drink your coffee, bleakly stare across the field
where Aurora hitches another bloodred chariot and the bitter future waits.
You bring the lighter to the unlit end
of your Marlboro Light: Flint flashes, sparks,
and then ignites the butane flow; a flame sends
light like a yellow caress in the dark
of your room and leaves us, as we ourselves tend
to abandon lighters or misplace them, marking
both fire and loss, absence. We purchase new ones, lend
out disposable old flames, bright-colored carcasses
of times too easily Promethean, where ignition
seems the only key to knowledge, and the lowering blue flame
terrorizes with its unfaith, its consuming dissolve of cognition,
leaving us sparking corpses, new lighters, increasing shame
at our inconstancy, feeling like believers who have sinned,
as we tryagain and again, stupidlyto light our lighters in wind.
You smile at my sonneteering: "truth is butane, butane truth,"
your words like ragged roses, your angelical smoke-petalled mouth.
Easy strokes brush canvas, a fluttered color
clings to old paint, nests in a hard-won past when
birds at his gray window entranced him: blue-winged
sonnets in feathers.
Younger then, bright-plumed, he would watch the hopeful
birds as they flew anticlimactic arcs and
dove away. (She came in the night, the fragile
bones in her body
lighting there, live, various, coupling beauty,
act, as though no other existed, ever.)
Savage blue, orange, damson he paints, and never
knows he remembers.
On the park bench he remembers
a line of Stein, and thinks:
a slough is a slough is a slough is a slough.
In one Midwest: redwing
blackbirds, the spikes of cattail green,
and all the harsh pornography of spring.
He recalls the lacelike fringe of ice
that hovered above the mud;
he remembers the woman was blonde.
North of Stockholm the Volvo stalled
and old American lovesongs spilled
onto the shoulder where they waited;
silent duckweed spread wide for the turtle
who slipped from the rock.
Her heart wandered out of her eyes,
and his hands were cold in the sun
and she held them.
and a man with his terrier walking:
cattails spilling their seed in the pale October breeze:
she ran her fingernails
along the bones of his face.
why she cries when they make love.
Carved in the arm of the bench
are letters that tell him to ask,
but he closes his eyes
to the slough bright with sun,
watches the sun black and red in his eye,
and remembers the woman was blonde.