Since it always begins
in the unlikeliest place
we start in an obsolete country
on no current map. The camera
glides over flower beds,
for this is a southern climate.
We focus on medals, a horse,
on a white uniform,
for this is June. The young man
waves to the people lining the road,
he lifts a child, he catches
a rose from a wrinkled woman
in a blue kerchief. Then we hear shots
and close in on a casket
draped in the Austrian flag.
Thirty-one days torn off a calendar.
Arts & Sciences
Since it always begins
Last night a man on the radio,
a still young man, said the business district
of his hometown had been plowed under.
The town was in North Dakota.
Grass, where the red-and-gold
Woolworth sign used to be,
where the revolving doors
took him inside Sears;
gone the sweaty seats
of the Roxy — or was it the Princess —
of countless Friday nights
that whipped his heart to a gallop
when a girl touched him, as the gun
on the screen flashed in the moonlight.
This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.
Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.
Even the flags seemed frozen
to their poles, and the men
stamping their well-shod feet
resembled an army of overcoats.
But we were young and fueled
by hope, our ardor burned away
the cold. We were the president’ s,
and briefly the president would be ours.
The old poet stumbled
over his own indelible words,
his breath a wreath around his face:
a kind of prophecy.
It seems like you could, but
you can’ t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’ s all too deep for that.
You’ ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’ re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them —
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
Another drought morning after a too brief dawn downpour,
unaccountable silvery glitterings on the leaves of the withering maples —
I think of a troop of the blissful blessed approaching Dante,
“a hundred spheres shining,” he rhapsodizes, “the purest pearls…”
then of the frightening brilliants myriad gleam in my lamp
of the eyes of the vast swarm of bats I found once in a cave,
a chamber whose walls seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures,
their cacophonous, keen, insistent, incessant squeakings and squealings
One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
The sour smell,
water squirts out round the wedge,
There is no Rescue Mission where it isn’ t freezing
from the need that created it. The lost children
distill to pure chemical. Where Good is called No-Tone
it’ s the one who cries out who doesn’ t get a coat.
The children fuse colors because they don’ t want to
separate. Daughters shot off of hydrants who cut
each other in the neck and gut, don’ t care
which one of them will end up later in surgery.
Must the Morgue be my Only Shelter??