in a rush-to-teach-poetry-in-NYU
I stop by your house
Once every thirty two years
You are never home
Part One, Swami:: Caydie Hilary Hall
When I was in my teens, I worked even more than before. Mom had me get two more jobs, driving the milk truck up and down San Fran’s tireless hills and also delivering newspapers early in the morning on foot. No more basking in the sun with Old Man Diego. Whenever I managed to find some free time, I would spend it looking out on the coast to watch the seagulls fly over the waters and watch the winds flip the empty pages of my notebook. I wanted to fly like those strange creatures, I really wanted them to just take me wherever they were going, out in the middle of the ocean. I recalled something Diego once said: “A bird can fly because he takes himself lightly.” And I quickly wrote it down.
When I sat by the coast on those windy summer days, I was sometimes accompanied by this girl, Leila. She would also have an empty notebook with her but she used it to press flowers and sometimes small insects that just landed on the page by accident. She said she didn’t mean to kill a life that was so small. I tried to write down what I felt and what I meant but my paper wouldn’t react to my avid pen strokes. She said it was okay and that I would find the right paper someday. We would watch the seagulls together and watch the way the wind played with our hair and those days were always sunnier than the days alone.
On The Rainy River
And what was so sad, I realized, was that Canada had become a pitiful fantasy…
Bobbing there on the Rainy River, looking back at the Minnesota shore, I felt a sudden swell of helplessness come over me, a drowning sensation, as if I had toppled overboard and was being swept away by the silver waves. Chunks of my own history flashed by. I saw a seven-year-old boy in a white cowboy hat and a Lone Ranger mask and a pair of bolstered six-shooters; I saw a twelve-year-old Little League shortstop pivoting to turn a double play; I saw a sixteen-year-old kid decked out for his first prom, looking spiffy in a white tux, and a black bow tie, his hair cut short and flat, his shoes freshly polished. My whole life seemed to spill out into the river, swirling away from me, everything I had ever been or ever wanted to be. I couldn’t get my breath; I couldn’t stay afloat; I couldn’t tell which way to swim. A hallucination, I suppose, but it was as real as anything I would ever feel. I saw my parents calling to me from the far shoreline. I saw my brother and sister, all the townsfolk, the mayor and the entire Chamber of Commerce and all my old teachers and girlfriends and high school buddies.
Like some outlandish sporting event: everybody screaming from the sidelines, rooting me on—a loud stadium roar.
Hotdogs and popcorn—stadium smells, stadium heat. A squad of cheerleaders did cartwheels along the banks of the Rainy River; they had megaphones and pompoms and smooth brown thighs. The crowd swayed left and right. A marching band played fight songs. All my aunts and uncles were there, and Abraham Lincoln, and Saint George, and a nine-yea-old girl named Linda who had died of a brain tumor back in fifth grade, and several members of the United States Senate, and a blind poet scribbling notes, and LBJ, and Huck Finn, and Abbie Hoffman, and all the dead soldiers back from the grave, and the many thousands who were later to die—villagers with terrible burns, little kids without arms or legs—yes, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were there, and a couple of popes, and a first lieutenant named Jimmy Cross, and the last surviving veteran of the American Civil War, and Jane Fonda dressed up as Barbarella, and an old man sprawled beside a pigpen, and my grandfather, and Gary Cooper, and a kind-faced woman carrying an umbrella and a copy of Plato’s Republic, and a million ferocious citizens waving flags of all shapes and colors—people in hard hats, people in headbands—they were all whooping and chanting and urging me toward one shore or the other.
I saw faces from my distant past and distant future. My wife was there.
My unborn daughter waved at me, and my two sons hopped up and down, and a drill sergeant named Blyton sneered and shot up a finger and shook his head. There was a choir in bright purple robes. There was a cabbie from the Bronx. There was a slim young man I would one day kill with a hand grenade along a red clay trail outside the village of My Khe.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.
The way the tits of lemon meringue whorled
in the window that day
looked at first like breasts, then more like paws of my grandfather’s
I want to believe that, after he died, the cat didn’t
gnaw off his face. I’ve heard it happens. I’d like to ask the pastry chef
if his vision of whipped
egg whites and sugar meant he saw, in a dream, that mangled paw
pressed to my grandfather’s chest.
I know my grandfather
died alone, with the tv on. I need to know
he kept his face that day, in the green armchair, that the channel
he chose as his heart slowed was not
televangelism, but a bird documentary: dark-eyed juncos
jilting the magnolias, fiercer than angels
flying south. I need to know the show’s voiceover
was pitched in the gauzy
timbre of lullaby—low and Latinate, Byzantine. Because
hearing, during death, is the last
faculty to go. And so, his last moments
were filled with the wing beat of juncos, and a calm,
omniscient voice: Fringilla nigra, ventre albo—black
finch, with a white belly. Languid in heat, the meringue
breasts cave a little, almost inscrutably
burnt brown at the side seams, and at the tips. I lick
my lips, though I
won’t enter. I’m afraid
like Christ they’d turn
to flesh in my mouth.
Wisp And Whisper:: Robert L. Eklund
Wisp of a new moon
Fades into a tinsel cloud…
Jet’s whisper fades, too.