Was I so poor
in those damned days
that I went in the dark
in torn shoes
to steal fat ears
of cattle corn
from the good cows
and pound them
like hard maize
on my worn Aztec
stone? I was.
Was I so poor
Just over the horizon a great machine of death is roaring and rearing.
We can hear it always. Earthquake, starvation, the ever-renewing sump of corpse-flesh.
But in this valley the snow falls silently all day, and out our window
We see the curtain of it shifting and folding, hiding us away in our little house,
We see earth smoothened and beautified, made like a fantasy, the snow-clad trees
So graceful. In our new bed, which is big enough to seem like the north pasture almost
Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel —
you don’ t know it — that takes you through the rivers
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks —
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a postwar Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel's "Bolero" the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
It is my emotions that early me through Lambertville, New Jersey,
sheer feeling — and an obscure detour — that brings me to a coffee shop
called “This Is It” and a small New Jersey clapboard
with a charming fake sign announcing it to be
the first condemned building in the United States
and an old obese collie sitting on the cement steps
of the front porch begging forgiveness with his red eyes.
The Rev. Royal Filkin preaches
tomorrow on why we are sad.
Brethren, Montana’ s a landscape
requiring faith: the visible
government arrives in trucks,
if you live out far enough.
If you live in town, the government’ s
gone, on errands, in trucks.
Let citizens go to meetings,
I’ ll stay home. I hate a parade.
By the time you get the trout
up through the tiny triangular
holes in the Coors cans, they’ re so
small you have to throw them back.
Glum miles we go
to Grandmother’ s house.
I wondered if the others felt
and as safe: my unmangled family
slept while I slid uncertain feet ahead
behind my flashlight’ s beam.
Stones, thick roots as twisted as
a ruined body,
what did I fear?
I hoped my batteries
had eight more lives
than the lost child.
I feared I’ d find something.
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing
I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day
When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
The ash the great walker follows the possessors
Nothing they will come to is real
Nor for long
Over the watercourses
Like ducks in the time of the ducks
The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
Making a new twilight
Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
Again again with its pointless sound
When the moon finds them they are the color of everything
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning