I wake up to a morning of debris–
socks on the floor, stacks of books
I never read, except to taste here and there
like a bee tonguing a cellophane wrapper,
papers scribbled with words pricked
by an ink pen into the wood fibers,
wadded bookstore receipts, change
thrown out of pocket, the souvenir urn
that holds my father’s hand, my key ring
dangling from it like a victor’s crown,
the scent of soap and cedar, blood and dust,
the bed, a wadded field of truces, empty
medication bottles piled up to keep secrets,
baskets of dirty clothes and clean, cane flutes
standing on end like gutted reeds–ghosts
of their music echoing through the debris.
What News the Mantis?
On a bench in the park
across from a church, an avenging
angel sits reading of war in the paper,
the old-fashioned way—on paper.
The mantis who prays beside her
approves of the sacrifice of males
who live, she says, for nothing else
but to breed and to feed her.
She cannot breed bone-tired.
To eat, to mate — it is a war
in more ways than one—
when she is done
no one remains to sweep
up her love-crumbs.
“It is a conceit of the skeletals,”
she argues to the beetles in the grass
“that flesh on the bone is best
when smoked or bloody.”
But the mantis knows
her treasured traditions
will keep her fighting
long into the future.
Is she praying now?
the angel asks.
Is that an orb she gazes into
to divine the future? No,
it is only the head of her ex,
she keeps for a snack later on.
In the new house we are reminded
that nothing has changed.
You hoped we had crossed over,
until you saw the old things in new rooms.
When the new door opens we see
we won’t be just new anybodies —
Even homeless we would be ourselves.
Even moved into a new space,
We’ve only created a revised version
of our old patterns and frailties.
In both houses, we burrow in
among the piles we make.
We turn and turn,
but end up where we were.
The hope was vain,
but the effort admirable.
We know better now, but someone
please drop by and remind us.
Grandmother of My Great Grandfather
In a photograph I have, she sits cross-legged
in spring grass. Her faded cotton dress is pale
against the dark vegetation; poor weather in her
eyes and fever—like fire loose in her woods
and the crops washed out. Her brother, Tootie,
will shoot his wife and her lover together
in bed that summer; shot-gun them right
through the window, and his father-in-law,
hearing the shot, will come out and kill Tootie
in his sudden grief. She knows none of this here,
at the feet of her mule, Tick, with his spindly legs
and his moody face nuzzling her nape as if he’s
heard the shots and knows what she will suffer.
No one knows where lie Tick’s bones,
but hers are found beneath a granite stone,
little worn by a hundred years of wind.
with a line from Derek Walcott*
Nothing to do
Nowhere to go
I stood and left the house
I was going, not knowing where
I was leaving, believing
I had no duty to stay
The damage language made
Was all I had to hold to
I rummaged through the images—
Each one flawed, filleted
By conversations, expectations—
All that spilled out through this pen
And such trembling there will be
When this is later found, folded
Into a map for crossing deserts
Is it a kind of therapy? they’ll ask
To disarm oneself with distance
A sort of inside-out resistance?
Should I tell them then?
I hope that I will sit again
In a grove I knew of pin oaks
On my grandmother’s land
With the softest grass around
And a view of her wide garden
Smelling of roto-turned earth
And rooster tails of dust
Whenever neighbors rattle by
But it’s only a fantasy
Pleasing to the eye
Not a real place to be
It has been written that
Corpses are scattered in paradise*
I know, I’ve seen the world
What else is there?
I want nothing more of it
If I can wrestle the words
Into their lines—
But now, here come the authorities
The ones who chant: no loitering
Do not be here, we’ve got keys
We’ve got a lock up
Come along, come along, man
Glory is over that hill
Brothers, don’t take me away
I will live here
At least for the moment
I will live here