Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Devastation of Premises

It’s a pretext for saying something about my history—
like the bird bric-a-brac that was shattered
and glued together by my stepbrother who assumed
it had something to do with me. There were
many such items that were swallowed up by the
hole under our house, and some nights
when the car horns penetrate through
the symbols, I can hear the mud sucking
like a child with a lollipop and my stepbrother
creeping up behind me. He was a gatherer
of pieces, a decent person who returned
the spirit of the object but not the object itself.
Nothing was mine because I declared nothing.
I headed west over the border, not the border
of territories but the border of the possessor
where something as skintight as a childhood
can be stripped clean. The bones under the night table
that clacked when the floor adjusted its position
I left for others to clean up, never considering
that what was stationary for so long was discardable.
     I returned on a cold winter morning, quilted
and wrapped up in nylon with a satchel
stuffed with coordinates. I sought out a tree,
a wall, the lineaments of an impulse. The 
bald-headed figure I shadowed across the alley 
left a trail of glass. I stepped over the reflections, 
the glare passing me like a breeze, as if I were 
impervious to light. It led to a garage where 
I remember one morning we investigated 
the bird organs of a girl.
     “This is my life,” I say. I’ve waited for
the squirrels to intercede, but they were not
interested. The gray-haired balloons 
that even my stepbrother found uncollectible
have a way of responding but not bursting.
They float obstinately through my dreams 
and become trite figures I have to ignore.
     The stacks of possessions he collected
I never considered until I stood among them.
Somewhere there were fragments, like moon stones,
I shared spaces with. I have to negotiate
an intimacy with them because they reflect
nothing. The regimens of my earlier days when 
the world was finger-counted and I could identify 
the lilac bush in my backyard as a demarcation
not to be violated might not have existed. Now, 
there is only this foreign country where 
the residents speak a language I can understand.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Man in a Hurry

There’s a man in a hurry winds round
a corner in March when the sun is chilled
and has no direction but forward. His flared
overcoat a flag in the wind, he is restless
for a morning he has heard of once
and has not found by the shack on the corner
nor in the buildings that shadow past him. 
He heads north on the pavement, unidentified
on the boulevard he sees on the horizon.

The light winter is gone and he hears
summer thickening in the bushes, or, rather,
remembers the grass bleeding under a mower.
But not now, in the morning, when the shack
splinters and yawns at him as he passes,
his hat blurred and his hands clenched in
a pocket. Brooding in a wilderness,
he is unable to think of a sagging bush
and the willow he loved once as a child.

He has no thought of the concrete or the sun
swelling over the park, where the neat fences
gather in the children and gathered in him once
when his palms were drier than the autumn.
He doesn’t listen but he can still hear
his mother’s voice dripping like tap water
the the tub. The warmth bubbles up to his chin
and then he is not what he is but a man in
pointed shoes hurrying down the sidewalk, and
the stark shadows are there and are still to come.

He has no time for a vision or the truth
or a lie because he knows who he is and it is
not the moment to suggest that the shack has
an interior: that the darkness is knee-deep
and perhaps there is a wedding and a family
and an old man who is no longer nodding.
He has his credentials and is quick-lipped
on the trolley, but he is walking now
and there is no one in front of him
or on the avenue or around the corner
where I’ve been watching him disappear.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Something Another

Cavernous, the size of a nickel, a water bucket,
a falls, a Styrofoam wall, the window braced 
against winter, as if sealed like a sandwich—is anything
startling, unexpected, different? What are we, rodents,
eaters, digesters? The word earth overused
as is the word like, for nothing is like but is this or that, 
has perimeters, the man who reminds me of another, is like
but isn't and wasn't and won't be—we each of us total, 
a tree, a weed. The earth, a rock, a planet, 
a force, asserting itself, I can feel it, I fear it, 
jostling my loafers, the thinnest of thin between me 
and destruction, a concept, like standing, like sitting, a bloom, 
a contusion, a warmth, a seed, a creeper, I speak
to my heart, an organ, a province, it beats, it doesn't. 

Monday, June 2, 2014


Appear anywhere, your mom pollenized
on Mount Something or other, and before ten
you are what you are. ‘“We are haunted by the lives
our parents did not lead,”’* I’ve been an unpresent,
and what were they? I’ll never know. I was so
studded with ignorance and snipped-off buds.
The school choral group that sang at Xmas,
stirred me, but like love, I was unable to feel
what I felt. I can’t blame myself for what
was not given, I can’t blame progenitors
for not giving. Alter a bald scalp,
a time, a place and what are you? I might
have high-wired a canyon, tossed off
an epic, a waltz, been slaughtered by gendarmes.

*Quoted from an unknown author by Anthony Rudolf in his
essay “Rescue Work: Memory and Text” (Stand Vol. 5 [3] 2004).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chinese Seal

Carved from red stone, irregularly salmon,
smoothed into twin, conjoined bamboo shoots, 
the tallest two-inches or so high, a half-inch deep,
its rear a pebbled complexion of gray-red, a chromatic 
medley of sediment fostered together neither by bombs
nor armies but by a billion-year-pounding of 
stone against stone, of water against mountain, until 
one morning a human hand scooped up a rock, 
a red orchard on a beach, and with a burin carved 
in exquisite precision the seal I purchased in China—
not a sculpture but a utility, for when its bottom 
surface, flat as plank, is lowered carefully into a red 
pastellike ink and then pressed hard on paper, leaves 
a boss—not my name, not my mark, as it should, but 
instead Chinese characters engraved by the saleswoman 
that reads, Serve the People.

I, among the first Westerners to tour this once parcel
non grata, visited the Forbidden City, kowtowed at the toe
of the ponderous bronzed Mao, a Promethean monolith, 
uninhabitable like all monoliths, buttressing up the 
remnants of the romantic and incomprehensible 
Cultural Revolution during which scholars and artists, 
the deviationist free thinkers, were stripped down to 
intellectual skeletons or just skeletons because there 
were—let's admit it—shelves to be stocked with masses 
of dormant and unitemized narratives of despair, contagion, 
and torture—the striated flesh of the Chinese the colonists 
had divvied up like so many pelts until the Japanese 
organized an insurmountable bureaucracy action-oriented, 
simple, easily executed—decapitation, 
bowling-ball heads, metal bars inserted into vaginas, 
ripping women apart like roasted chickens—what fun, 
and one must have fun, and one must have discipline, 
and one must have eminence—this Samurai nation
—Kabuki, the Noh play (which I love dearly, from whom 
we now buy our superb cameras and cars, and some
made  in China?

Yeats wrote that through these tragedies poets are gay, 
not the word decimated by gays who are 
generally anything but gay, nor in its rudimentary
denotation—joyous—but in the sense of positive, visionary:
“All things fall and are built again
And those that build them again are gay.” 

The unmountainous terrain of my island—my bedrock 
quintessence, where tragedy is to be cauterized into a cenotaph
—one of the thousands memorializing this slaughter or that
—to be designed by poets who are congenitally gay, but those 
who construct them, with their tattooed cortices, will feed well, 
although they will not be gay, would be livid if noted as so,
in any sense, prefer wallowing in elemental revenge, which 
is easily dispensed, needs neither definition nor plan, merely 
a flag, a parlance, such as, United We Stand, but rest rooms 
for customers only.

But in a land where the peasants ate bark off the trees, 
such luxurious ferocity needed far greater returns, 
and those who returned them were gay.

To Serve the People seems a fruit that will never ripen, 
a pit to be infused into people, or to be paid for dearly
—that we should not address ourselves to the humanity
of the butcher, the brewer, the baker but to “their self-love, 
and never talk to them of our necessities but of  their 
advantage,” as Smith has written, as Galbraith has quoted.
“Innocent, I have now endured a whole year in prison.
Using my tears for ink, I turn my thoughts into verses,”
wrote Ho, and he was gay.

True, the common good can become remarkably common, 
can lead to its own spiritual effacement—silence, 
frustration the sole ordinances against “conventional wisdom,”
which are no ordinances at all. To be gay is to be indulgent, 
to be indulgent is to be too human, to be too human 
is to be a menace—“not all people get drunk because 
they are poets . . .” said Arthur in his movie, 
“many get drunk because they are not.” 

No, humanity is not ready for anything aggregate, 
has not evolved, and thus when Yeats says he would 
delight in imagining those lapis Chinamen, after ascending 
the dented mountain, one with a musical instrument, 
toward a halfway house most likely sweetened by plums 
or cherry branches, seating themselves and staring 
over the tragic scene, that one would ask for mournful 
melodies,and their eyes, “mid many wrinkles, 
their eyes, / their ancient, glittering eyes,” 
would be gay. 

A behavioral checklist, slogans, inoperable 
commandments, exhortations, rational conclusions 
from irrational premises . . . absurdities from the fingers
of a mountain, the original catastrophe repeated over and over,
is there remedy? “Whoever wants to know a thing 
has no way of doing so except by coming into contact with it, 
that is, by living in its environment,” wrote Mao. 
The stupefying inconsistencies, the murderous ignorance 
where to Serve the People one must be crazed, sentimental, 
threatened, or procuring salvation . . . history becomes 
asymmetrical, a disjointed procession of events, of names, 
not to be shouldered, not to be taught, not to be consumed, 
but to be altered, reconstituted. All that is recalled from 
the past are its wars and its art—in that order. 
And despite the hysterical woman who are sick 
“of the palette and fiddle-bow” and are continuously
looking for something drastic to be done, the poets, 
the carver of this bamboo seal, are always gay.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Nothing Was Explained

I have few mementos, a watch, a bracelet,
a fear of the past, my mother pursuing me frantically
with a glass of milk, my mouth coated
with a while mucilage. I spat and spat.
It was the stroke of three and the bases
chalked on the tar with bits of stone.
Nothing back there, nothing, her short
palms over the candles, circling, mumbling,
a dishcloth balanced on the bun of her hair.

Exquisite feelings, like small lizards
in a terrarium, delicate teacups
in the fingers of old women,
their pale heads drifting
under blue-tinted cumulus clouds,
a flawless teardrop flowing surrealistically
up a hillside, there was none of that,
no, none of that.

There was death and thick foods,
yelling, impatience, mother
jabbing her religious forefinger
into the ribs of the pig—a disgruntled figure
whom I remember vaguely like a wrist
seen through a keyhole. She bathed me painfully,
sandpapering my face with a washcloth
till I shone like her silver.

The pullet submerged in water, salted, spanked
into cleanliness, boiled, the broken-down flesh
tasteless, a mouth-filler,
there must be more to her in my mind than
caricature. I hear my voice squawking
like a hornbill and I know she is with me.
I am not myself, I refuse. Complete victim, like her,
I have compassion for us all.
I'm not being unfair,
just asking, just asking.

I was a guest at her death, a foreigner,
and immigrant from down the hall.
I'm not quite sure what happened to either of us.
I look back through the distance,
the wolf dropping on my back,
the witch, the dead bodies,
the deep closet that went endlessly into nightmare—
contusions, pinpricks in my brain,
precedents for the woman's face
staring back at me through the empty window.

I'm tired of abusing.
I can see gravestones in all directions,
and infants, and thin children squinting in the sun.
The slipcover roses have blossomed,
the stuffed chairs have been freed.

She kept me spotless and healthy,
and held my forehead when I puked.
A thin slice of me is jeweled with raisins
and walnuts, and in my brain are recipes
for at least competent love.
I have so much to learn,
so much to recall . . . .

My finger has a slight cut on it, it throbs, 
but my palm is still open, although each hour
producing less and less.

(This poem was published in the final 
issue if Ironwood. The last lines here are
slightly different.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Summer Journal

I remember the grim Navajo staring
          coldly at me, the red mesas
jutting up from the desert and distant
          like the planets. To reach
out and touch one, a meteor
          in the midsun on a Tuesday
when everything was too common
          but the intruder. The stark
waterless breeze dusted the windshield.
          I could hear whimpering
in the rocks where the ancient ones withered.

              The buds belch out
         a kind of stickiness
that leaves an aftertaste in their droppings.
         The sensuousness of the heat
is deceptive—a groin feeling that repeats
         and repeats and seems to weaken
in the moonlight because it has too
         much to recall. I could smell
the black waters under the clay.
         The red mornings, the red
mountains, the green rainstorms
         in the east where the lakes bloat
are flesh scented from so many

I keep a blue bottle with
         a paper flower, a yellow
swirl on a pipe cleaner bursting
         from the inanimate
decay of leftovers. I think of an oak
         impregnated with minerals
until it is perfect stone. All
         things solid and spiritual
that die out and go on—
         the Hohokam, the people who
have gone, from the pit houses of
         the Gila basin to
the mountains to the heavens to
         the boulevards where their spirits
are encrusted with rubber and seem
         to have lost their inheritance.
The worn-down teeth of the Pueblo
         who could not separate
the sand from the grain, the ancient ones,
         the Anasazi, who held
the black waters in their palms
         and shivered from the deepness
of such despair.

                         The beach house
         romances, the dusk, the evenings
on the porch, the stick figures
         in the petroglyphs
lost in the slashes, our feet whispering
         because it was best not to speak . . .
I remember the slow-moving waters
         of the swamp—the windswept
surface of the saw grass studded
         with hummocks of palms and willows—
the dark cypress death tree . . .
         as if symbols were necessary.
The wet planks of the pier vibrated
         as I sniffed the rot. I could smell
the white man in me, the oak, the yucca,
         the incomprehensible waters
flowing over my wrists.

(This poem appeared in College English.)