Monday, January 28, 2013

Inside Tribulation

Memory could be        thirty blotches on
a wall, could be        the significance of
        impulses, cataracts,        the coupling
of caterpillars on a tree branch.

       I’m unable to write a love verse,
serve faithfully or        with distinction,
speak starling to a starling,
        or think in soliloquies.

       The hot weather        withers my hope.
The cold freezes it.        But I can recall
a time when        I spoke plainly, could
                be understood.

       I’ve come over a hill, no, gone through
a tunnel.        Neither, actually, merely
a haze        with ill-defined objects . . .
        at the five corners of my room.
        There are five, aren’t there?

       I want you to know me,
but not from my words.        I’m inconsistent,
what I mouth east I can mouth west.

I understand much but can use little:
objects in my mind have been misplaced.
         I sleep poorly or not at all.

       Which is what I’m conveying.
Symbols and nonsymbols—they mesh.
One selects. I select.        No, I don’t.
       Selection is made for me.
I accept, or reject.        But neither fully.

I’m not free. Although I can speak
what I want. And what I speak is
not foreign to me.
        But it may not be me. It may be
my memory,
        my sickness. I’m not alone.

I can be elegant,        or boring.
You can’t understand this, can you,
so don’t.        Let it roll over you.
        Read it, listen.
Think about it . . . if you feel like . . . .

Monday, January 21, 2013

College Boy

I served for two years,
a day laborer at
odd jobs at an odd
time when the summer solstice
and the north south
of the sun stood still.
I swept counter and garden,
the home-owning women,
their noses east of the moon,
smelled mulch in me
when they fingered me left and right
like a hoe. I grew beans
and grass and each morning
shaped up at the doors
of the agency, numbered and nameless,
two weak arms
chosen by looks.
The hoboes whistled and sang.
One made no
friends in the hours but chattered
sporadically like rocks
jarring each other.
Their habit was now, mine
the future. The good women
gave nothing for lunch.
We chewed dust bubbles
and air, our pockets crusted
with yesterday, the stiff
clothes, the sweat, my raw
palms, I flagged off
in corners because I could
not say what I was. Not skilled
in significance, I settled for living,
the sweet meat of the summer
a vegetable that grew
to a stalk, to a bulb, then burst.
I cradled the seconds in my arms
in the exquisite emptiness . . .
the dirt bucket I hauled
to the roses that cut deep
in my fingers and left a brown
line that bleeds when I sleep.

(This poem appeared in The Virginia
Quarterly Review.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Short Guy

The short guy in my knowledge
is enamored of the tall guy,
and so they lie down together,
a Mutt and Jeff, and I
wonder how such an awkward
arrangement has happened.
These old friends over
the years who have mated
how many times still
wait for the opportunity to do
so again. I can picture the act
but lack sympathy, and why
should I have any? It's not up to me
to define. I'm incongruous in my own delights,
supple and slippery, and I suppose
there are those who cannot imagine
what I do. I strive nowadays to be
inexplicable, to satisfy my yearnings,
if not at the spur of the moment
at least potentially. So long
have I given myself nothing,
reargued my position over and over
until I was thoroughly convinced
that deprivation was a kind
of outline. I could live wholesomely
inside it, never despairing
because I had accepted what
was not mine. Suddenly I see
license, or gradually saw it,
and now I have questions that
install me squarely among others.
A kind of drowning in freedom
from which I needed protection,
so I constructed a small garden
I could traverse in an hour.
What can I do now? I seem to have
discovered desires and lost
myself. How can things be so open?
To act is simple—to restrain is impossible.
My poor garden is as beautiful
as ever but has become a fiction.
I lust after circumstance,
to be eternally baffled,
to say for the moment,
"No, I have no idea what I mean,
but I've spoken and I refuse to retract it."

(This poem appeared in Confrontation.)