“I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in, and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art.”
I love the dark hours of my being
in which my senses drop into the deep.
I have found in them, as in old letters,
My private life, that is already lived through,
And become wide and powerful now, like legends.
Then I know that there is room in me
For a second huge and timeless life.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Selected Poems, Robert Bly translation
If I believed in a god, he would be a sea god, like the sea
in its predictability—now approach, now recede—beneath
such a god I would not mind, I think, being the shore, say of the sea
what you will, it’s the shore that endures the routine loss
without which what strategies would there be for softening
the hollowness that any victory, give it time, comes with,
how curb the risk of arrogance, with its doomed but
not undangerous hound, complacency?
… I made this for you—
put it on. I know it’s not going to matter whether the decisions
I made were the ones eventually I even meant to make, or
should have, or should have thought maybe more than
twice about. What’s history anyway, except—according to
the latest mouth saying so—just what happened: I flourished
undramatically, to no apparent purpose, like pretty much
everyone. The sea dragged the shore; the shore suffered the sea.
July 13, 2013
Saturday afternoon: in the driveway between buildings they blow up
balloons—yellow, red, blue—for a 3-year-old’s party.
The intermittent pops startle me like random gunfire—remind me
of birthdays brown boys will no longer celebrate.
The DJ, having set up the speakers, begins to play—the music, a rapid fire
of bass thump, commandeers the apartment. We have no choice but leave.
An art show: canvases colored with boxes and lines—a grid of red
on a backdrop of yellow. We speak of the abstract with wine in our mouths.
Meanwhile, in an antechamber, six are sequestered. They speak of mali-
cious intent, blood, evidence, testimony—murder versus manslaughter.
We arrive home to a throng of brown bodies, hands clutching red cups,
and music: its insistent treble stabbing the ears.
Inside, we slam all windows, but the music still blares as my niece shoots
people on the video game—its sounds are too realistic to bear.
Instead, the news, a verdict is in: not guilty. And everything is a blur
of sound, my heart beating so fast I put a hand to my chest.
I watch the TV screen: a collage of abstractions—spotlights, microphones,
smiles, handwritten signs. I stare, as if it were a painting—
a smear of twisted faces smothered in gesso and oil, a grid of red
on a backdrop of yellow—to make sense of.
The party continues. The 3-year-old probably in bed dreaming of melted
ice cream, and I am tired of partying.
There is a police station a half block away and I want it to burn. Instead,
only the smoke of weed, the meaningless music droning on,
the popping of balloons. Sunday morning, the birds are angry—their
chirping a noisy chant: NO NO NO NO. Outside, the rubbery flesh
of balloons color the driveway like splotches of paint. In an instant,
those still lives of heave and breath—gone in a pop.
As it happened, I was twirling a cauliflower floret,
lost in Lewis’s wardrobe of pallid trees,
considering my country’s longing for homogenized milk
& bags of tube socks from Walmart,
which felt cancerous. What came to me like a surprise
snowfall in the soft evening of a snow globe,
one has to pinch salt and sprinkle in the palm,
repeatedly, especially when the temperature in mother’s
has begun to drop. In this way, after your Constitution fades
you’ve your own hourglass and no one else to blame.
Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
What are these on the scale of sin
that they should follow me through the streets of Columbus,
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field on Georgia
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oaks slap across trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?
What was I thinking, Lord?
That for once I’d be in the driver’s seat, a firm grip
So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked Harley
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.
But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through the distance,
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heel, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.
Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?
Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy beads
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.
But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.
Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about all this? And why should I care
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping alone?
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before he can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?
However, I have finished, I think, the tale of my hell today. It was really hell; the old hell, the one whose doors were opened by the son of man.
From the same desert, in the same night, always my tired eyes awake to the silver star, always, but the Kings of life are not moved, the three magi, mind and heart and soul. When shall we go beyond the mountains and the shores, to greet the birth of new toil, of new wisdom, the flight of tyrants, of demons, the end of superstition, to adore–the first to adore!
–Christmas on the earth.
The song of the heavens, the marching of peoples! Slaves, let us not curse life.
Excerpt from “A Season in Hell” (Une saison en enfer)
You see, libraries is people. It’s not books.
People are waiting in there, thousands of people, who wrote the books. So it’s much more personal than just a book. So when you open a book, the person pops out and becomes you. You look at Charles Dickens, and you are Charles Dickens, and he is you. So you go in the library and you pull a book off the shelf, and you open it, and what are you looking for? A mirror. All of a sudden, a mirror is there and you see yourself, but your name is Charles Dickens. That’s what a library is. Or the book is Shakespeare, and so you become William Shakespeare or you become Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost or all the great poets. So you find the author who can lead you through the dark.
—NEA Big Read
There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
of crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor’s yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from the tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.
Brother is we is each of us we ghosts
Brother of white folks we
don’t never known us brother we
Because we never doesn’t fits
Nowhere we brother
doesn’t fits in bodies
Our bodies we is always walking leaking
like a ghost can’t be a body in one place
But every eyes / Catches and pulls at it
Like every eyes in any
white folks is another
Hole in our bodies
Brother / Is we is never known them close
Up close whose ghosts we brother leaking is
Whose story of us we is told is us is water in a fist
Brother we not the fist
we not the water
we the thirst