Sunday, October 27, 2013

Christmas 2001

His father was dead.

The ground was frozen
and he was trying to plant a tree
after drinking a half bottle of whiskey
he had found in the house
on top of the drinks at the party.

He had quietly stumbled out
around 1 am without telling a soul
and wandered until finding the place
deserted and dark as if lying in wait.
Crying a little, his face to the window

he spotted the tree, the one his dad
had wanted to plant so he left the house
resolved to put it in the ground
and unlocked the shed to find the spade.
The ground was too cold

and he chopped and chopped
to no avail, only ice splintered
and shook his arms until they trembled.
It was close to Christmas, 2001
when I knew him well.

Snow began to fall in great white flakes.
He was somebody.
He was nobody.

His father was dead.
He was trying to plant a tree.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Letter Not Sent

We could have been friends -
if you hadn't been lost
in the smell of her raven hair
her eyes like two lost lockets
full of black and white photographs
letters penned by hand
poems she never knew how to write.

So, do you still have
Neruda's poems?
The fountain pen?
That first bottle of ink?

I should have known 
when I saw you drop it -

that everything precious
can be replaced.

Faint Music

Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.

When everything broken is broken,   
and everything dead is dead,
and the hero has looked into the mirror with complete contempt,
and the heroine has studied her face and its defects
remorselessly, and the pain they thought might,
as a token of their earnestness, release them from themselves
has lost its novelty and not released them,
and they have begun to think, kindly and distantly,
watching the others go about their days—
likes and dislikes, reasons, habits, fears—
that self-love is the one weedy stalk
of every human blossoming, and understood,
therefore, why they had been, all their lives,   
in such a fury to defend it, and that no one—
except some almost inconceivable saint in his pool
of poverty and silence—can escape this violent, automatic
life’s companion ever, maybe then, ordinary light,
faint music under things, a hovering like grace appears.

As in the story a friend told once about the time   
he tried to kill himself. His girl had left him.
Bees in the heart, then scorpions, maggots, and then ash.   
He climbed onto the jumping girder of the bridge,   
the bay side, a blue, lucid afternoon.
And in the salt air he thought about the word “seafood,”
that there was something faintly ridiculous about it.
No one said “landfood.” He thought it was degrading to the rainbow perch
he’d reeled in gleaming from the cliffs, the black rockbass,   
scales like polished carbon, in beds of kelp
along the coast—and he realized that the reason for the word   
was crabs, or mussels, clams. Otherwise
the restaurants could just put “fish” up on their signs,   
and when he woke—he’d slept for hours, curled up   
on the girder like a child—the sun was going down
and he felt a little better, and afraid. He put on the jacket   
he’d used for a pillow, climbed over the railing   
carefully, and drove home to an empty house.

There was a pair of her lemon yellow panties
hanging on a doorknob. He studied them. Much-washed.   
A faint russet in the crotch that made him sick   
with rage and grief. He knew more or less
where she was. A flat somewhere on Russian Hill.   
They’d have just finished making love. She’d have tears   
in her eyes and touch his jawbone gratefully. “God,”   
she’d say, “you are so good for me.” Winking lights,   
a foggy view downhill toward the harbor and the bay.   
“You’re sad,” he’d say. “Yes.” “Thinking about Nick?”
“Yes,” she’d say and cry. “I tried so hard,” sobbing now,
“I really tried so hard.” And then he’d hold her for a while—
Guatemalan weavings from his fieldwork on the wall—
and then they’d fuck again, and she would cry some more,   
and go to sleep.
                        And he, he would play that scene
once only, once and a half, and tell himself
that he was going to carry it for a very long time
and that there was nothing he could do
but carry it. He went out onto the porch, and listened   
to the forest in the summer dark, madrone bark
cracking and curling as the cold came up.

It’s not the story though, not the friend
leaning toward you, saying “And then I realized—,”
which is the part of stories one never quite believes.   
I had the idea that the world’s so full of pain
it must sometimes make a kind of singing.
And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps—
First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing.

Robert Hass

Flower that Drops Its Petals

from The Black Flower and Other Zapotec Poems

Natalia Toledo

Flower that Drops Its Petals

I will not die from absence.
A hummingbird pinched the eye of my flower
and my heart mourns and shivers,
does not breathe.
My wings tremble like the long-billed curlew
when he foretells the sun and the rain.
I will not die from absence, I tell myself.
A melody bows down upon the throne of my sadness,
an ocean springs from my stone of origin.
I write in Zapotec to ignore the syntax of pain,
ask the sky and its fire
to give me back my happiness.
Paper butterfly that sustains me:
why did you turn your back upon the star
that knotted your navel?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

For S

My friend, she wants to live
on an International Space Station
so that she can write poetry
without that feeling of gravity

she would sit facing the stars
as far from earth as possible
the set of her shoulders determined
to never again look back.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

For One Whose Love Has Gone

          There was a crack
    in ecstasy; it split the oak
with flameless fire.
A raptor left good bones
in the divided tree (the spine?
  of a mouse?) & then flew off
     for a muffled sanctuary . . .

Some say get
     over it
, but there you are,
surrounding it. Slant sun
     shines in. Bring it along,
bone-reader, bring the banquet.

               F O R   C N

Brenda Hillman