Whenever I touch the cairn
marking the summit
of one of my parents,
touch the top stone,
an animal caution comes over me,
sinew and muscle like the brook’ s,
a sudden shivering
Soon they will be constellations,
and I a small tower of stones.
Whenever I touch the cairn
The mower flipped it belly up,
a baby garter less than a foot long,
dull green with a single sharp
stripe of pale manila down its back,
same color as the underside
which was cut in two places,
a loop of intestine poking out.
It wouldn't live,
so I ran the blades over it again,
and cut it again but didn’ t kill it,
and again and then again,
a cloud of two-cycle fuel smoke
on me like a swarm of bees.
It took so long
my mind had time to spiral
back to the graveyard
On the first warm day,
the aides fret about his pate,
fetch his hat. I push him
out the automatic doors
into the pallid sun.
Dad thinks we should
stay put until all the Indians
are back in their tepees,
but right now he’ s off to teach
a Latin class. Where are his keys?
They’ re a few miles away,
in the past, where he’ s no longer
active in the community.
I steer him along the asphalt paths
of the grounds: bark mulch,
first green shoots,
puddle of coffee by a car.
I like to think about the monastery
as I’ m falling asleep, so that it comes
and goes in my mind like a screen saver.
I conjure the lake of the zendo,
rows of dark boats still unless
someone coughs or otherwise
ripples the calm.
I can hear the four AM slipperiness
The first night at the monastery,
a moth lit on my sleeve by firelight,
long after the first frost.
A short stick of incense burns
thirty minutes, fresh thread of pine
rising through the old pine of the hours.
Summer is trapped under the thin
glass on the brook, making
the sound of an emptying bottle.
Before the long silence,
the monks make a long soft rustling,
adjusting their robes.
I know I promised to stop
talking about her,
but I was talking to myself.
The truth is, she’ s a child
who stopped growing,
so I’ ve always allowed her
to tag along, and when she brings
her melancholy close to me
I comfort her. Naturally
you’ re curious; you want to know
how she became a gnarled branch
veiled in diminutive blooms.
But I’ ve told you all I know.
I was sure she had secrets,
but she had no secrets.
I had to tell her mine.
The noise throws down
twin shadows, hunting shadows
on a black joy ride.
They roar up the silver vein of the river
and out over the stony peaks,
which have been shrunken to a luminous
green musculature on the screens.
Who are the pilots, too high to see
the splayed hearts of deer tracks
under the apple trees, or smell
the cider in the fallen fruit?
Who are the vandals that ransack
the wilderness of clouds?
I want you with me, and yet you are the end
of my privacy. Do you see how these rooms
have become public? How we glance to see if —
who? Who did you imagine?
Surely we’ re not here alone, you and I.
I’ ve been wandering
where the cold tracks of language
collapse into cinders, unburnable trash.
Beyond that, all I can see is the remote cold
of meteors before their avalanches of farewell.