Southern

Black Zodiac

Darkened by time, the masters, like our memories, mix
And mismatch,
and settle about our lawn furniture, like air
Without a meaning, like air in its clear nothingness.
What can we say to either of them?
How can they be so dark and so clear at the same time?
They ruffle our hair,
they ruffle the leaves of the August trees.
Then stop, abruptly as wind.
The flies come back, and the heat —

After Fifty Years

Her house is empty and her heart is old,
And filled with shades and echoes that deceive
No one save her, for still she tries to weave
With blind bent fingers, nets that cannot hold.
Once all men’ s arms rose up to her, ‘tis told,
And hovered like white birds for her caress:
A crown she could have had to bind each tress
Of hair, and her sweet arms the Witches’ Gold.

Dan Emmett Writes “Dixie,” 1859

He started with the tune his mother had hummed
in Ohio, nostalgia he’ d carried for years,
and by Sunday afternoon he had the words.
A triumph, already; he whistled the banjo’ s part.

(Himself a sympathizer from the North,
called copperhead, called traitor by his own kin.)

Something lively, some git-up-and-git they’ d wanted
and didn’ t he deliver —
Miss Susan got seven encores the first night.
That gave them their tune, their Negro walk-around —

My Grandmother Plays Emily in Our Town

I

I am asking something gone
return: at least one night, her face

a girl’ s, just twenty, and
to be married in a month,

holding the dress’ s hem to her lips
as places are called. And I,

come along too late to know her
trembling, parting the curtain —

let me hear her now
perched on the ladder, recite

“But Mama,...
am I pretty enough...?”

II

When Emily marries, ladies in hats
drown out the proper vows

— it’ s what the play requires;
the everyday over the sacred. Even the set

Clear Night

Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.

I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.

Stone Canyon Nocturne

Ancient of Days, old friend, no one believes you’ ll come back.
No one believes in his own life anymore.

The moon, like a dead heart, cold and unstartable, hangs by a thread
At the earth’ s edge,
Unfaithful at last, splotching the ferns and the pink shrubs.

In the other world, children undo the knots in their tally strings.
They sing songs, and their fingers blear.

A Man Meets a Woman in the Street

Under the separated leaves of shade
Of the gingko, that old tree
That has existed essentially unchanged
Longer than any other living tree,
I walk behind a woman. Her hair's coarse gold
Is spun from the sunlight that it rides upon.
Women were paid to knit from sweet champagne
Her second skin: it winds and unwinds, winds
Up her long legs, delectable haunches,
As she sways, in sunlight, up the gazing aisle.
The shade of the tree that is called maidenhair,
That is not positively known

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