What Would You Give Up?
Not the nose on my face, but the spite, the grindstone.
Not an arm or a leg, but the money.
Not the length of the arm, but the lie, the shot, the list, the twist.
Not the ear, but the lending, the boxing, the out on.
Not the eye, but the naked, the catching, in the blink of,
the keeping it peeled, the turning a blind.
Not the elbow but the grease, the room.
Not the leg, but the pulling.
Not the back, but the shirt on, the breaking of, the scratch, the
the turning, the water off a duck's.
Not the neck, but the sticking it out, the in-shit-up-to.
Not the throat, but the jump down, the frog in.
Not the feet, but the ground, the dragging, the cold.
Not the heel, but the down at, the under.
Not the fingers, but the light, the butter.
Not the thumb, but the green, the sore, the twiddle.
Not the tongue, but the slip.
Not the tooth, but the nail, the long in, the sweet.
Not the brain, but the drain, the picking of, the all brawn and no.
Not the breast, but the beating.
Not the body, but the temple.
The bird in the hand, the foot in the grave.
How could I have forgotten that day at the dump
with Janet, how we took the hills in her truck,
our boots tapping to the stereo, the scrub brush
gone gold along the roadside, the dog that jumped
from a woodpile we almost hit. Janet slumped
back in her cracked seat and sighed, her heart pumping
with the could-of-been. We drove over the speed bumps
and through the kiosk to the parking lot, dust
coating the windshield, the tarp we tugged
off to reveal the everything we didn't need, the junk
of ten summersold paint cans, a broken sinkand hucked
each to its final resting place. She shucked
off her glove and pulled out a green bottle, held it up
to the light and its odd beauty shone like a monument
for a moment amid the bang and slam and crush
of the place. What a waste, she mumbled,
and threw it on a mound of glass where it tumbled,
unbroken, down the sun-gathering shards. Gulls
swooped and called and we kept at it, the ruthless joyful
work of unloading and throwing awaythe dog's yellow fur
still flashing somewhere along the roadculling
a few things we couldn't bear to part with, objects full
of buried light, the empty truck bed a rusted hull.
The first of us must have looked up at the night agog,
so many stars, so much light falling down, the bugs
back then big as fists, so many rivers and ponds clogged
with fish we skewered them on sticks, made a fire, bred dogs
from wolves to keep us warm, safe, pines wrapped in fog
or morning mist, the sheep braying beside us, groggy,
their bellies filled with wet grass, the feral pigs become hogs
in a pen, cloven hooves slathered in mud. We built jagged
fences to keep what we didn't want out, what we did, in, logs
were dragged through a field by horses, a house rose, mugs
placed on a shelf, a table set with plates. Then the nagging
began: Who left the feedbag in the rain? Who forgot to plug
the hole with a rag? The children grew, little quagmires
we sank into. We fed them, scrubbed them, raised them, rang
a bell for supper, school, for the one who died, the soggy
earth taking her back, the others running unaware, tagging
each other in the dusk, calling out numbers. But still the vague
unrest in the dark looking up at the moon, the old dog wagging
his flea laden tail, barking for no reason they could tell, zagging
off like an uncle drunk on busthead whiskey, back into the trees.
Emily said she heard a fly buzz
when she died, heard it whizz
over her head, troubling her frizzed
hair. What will I hear? Showbiz
tunes on the radio, the megahertz
fuzz when the station picks up Yaz,
not the Hall-of-Famer or the Pez
of contraceptives, but the jazzy
flash-in-the-pan 80's techo-pop star, peach fuzz
on his rouged cheeks singing Pleazzzzzze
Don't Go, through a kazoo. Will my old love spritz
the air with the perfume of old roses,
buy me the white satin Mercedes Benz
of pillows, string a rainbow blitz
of crystals in the windowquartz, topaz
or will I die wheezing, listening to a quiz
show: What year is this? Who was the 44th Prez
of the United States? Where is the Suez
Canal? Are you too hot? Cold? Freezing?
Mugged By Poetry
for Tony Hoagland who sent me a handmade chapbook
made from old postcards called OMIGOD POETRY with
a whale breaching off the coast of New Jersey and seven
of his favorite poems by various authors typed up, taped on,
and tied together with a broken shoelace.
Reading a good one makes me love the one who wrote it,
as well as the animal or element or planet or person
the poet wrote the poem for. I end up like I always do,
flat on my back like a drunk in the grass, loving the world.
Like right now, I'm reading a poem called "Summer"
by John Ashbery whose poems I never much cared for,
and suddenly, in the dead of winter, "There is that sound
like the wind/Forgetting in the branches that means
something/Nobody can translate..." I fall in love
with that line, can actually hear it (not the line
but the wind) and it's summer again and I forget
I don't like John Ashbery poems. So I light a cigarette
and read another by Zbigniew Herbert, a poet
I've always admired but haven't read enough of, called
"To Marcus Aurelius" that begins "Good night Marcus
put out the light/and shut the book For overhead/is raised
a gold alarm of stars..." First of all I suddenly love
anyone with the name Zbigniew. Second of all I love
anyone who speaks in all sincerity to the dead
and by doing so brings that personage back to life,
plunging a hand through the past to flip off the light.
The astral physics of it just floors me. Third of all
is that "gold alarm of stars..." By now I'm a goner,
and even though I have to get up tomorrow at 6 am
I forge ahead and read "God's Justice" by Anne Carson,
another whose poems I'm not overly fond of
but don't actively disdain. I keep reading one line
over and over, hovering above it like a bird on a wire
spying on the dragonfly with "turquoise dots all down its back
like Lauren Bacall". Like Lauren Bacall!! Well hell,
I could do this all night. I could be in love like this
for the rest of my life, with everything in the expanding
universe and whatever else might be beyond it
that we can't grind a lens big enough to see. I light up
another smoke, maybe the one that will kill me,
and go outside to listen to the moon scalding the iced trees.
What, I ask you, will become of me?