Nocturne: After Your Brother’s Funeral
On this earth with no foothold, autumn evening, this road
with no one going down it, you go
vanish, walking and walking, varnish shadow with shadow,
—a stillness to that
a phone, unringing, in a pocket deep, unyielding, a tunnel
of pepper trees bent
under the weight of purpose, or lack of, listening a way of feeling
—hulls popping underfoot—
but to linger in smell, the bite and spice, to wallow in memory
the cracked peppercorn
dressing on a baked potato (his) foldout card table, dinners
it’s Sunday and dark, no cure for that, no feeling more final
the long ellipsis walking
towards a phone call, a quiet place—here or here—waiting
a way of not
feeling, a phone in stillness, silence, waiting another word
(a therapist, sometime later, will say) down the road
there is no punctuation
for the full-stop, no way to fool the light—here and here,
spangles on a leaf, cool pavement
to hate the moon, the stars—the night absolute—headlights
down the road, in your direction
Four Years Sober
The way, wherever home is—whatever
home is—morning light, always through
that one tree, half-slung window and across
the bedspread, is a reddish gold coating
everything in remember. Every idea,
upon waking, shard of some never-
to-be-repaired vase, clean topaz, bumped
off the mantle years ago at a party
which ended, like so many—warm compress
and a trash bag—with loneliness.
I never needed a thing, a cowboy
friend of mine said, once, his face a low burn
across what was left of our campfire, until
I didn’t have it. Red eye, swelling,
receding, of the night’s last cigarette.
Memory the smoke which, without burn
in the body, its brief life there, would be
just smoke. Hardly smoke at all—trailing up
a ways and, in time, every time, dispersing
prayer-like over the sky’s far cartographies.
Stargas. Moon puddle. The atmosphere
ablaze, once, many lives ago, now wise
in its smolder. I poured dark liquor from
the white tea kettle we’d packed in while
he, sipping, betraying nothing of the burn,
told me about his dog, the one he’d just had
to put down in the backcountry. Dry crescent.
Night-jeweled river. Folks talk about the light, how
it leaves their eyes when they go, to each star,
a private heat, but that’s the thing—the light
was there, their whole lives, sleepless, it was there
until I closed his eyes. Like a penny
fallen to the bottom of a river, glinting here,
there, faintly red and, depending on where
you stand, and for how long, gold—it remains.
And is buried.
At dusk, crossing the Appalachians by car, holding, unholding the hand that holds yours,
reaches for it—the road, too winding, requires two fists.
You drive like you’re mad at me—
Trees a growing darkness, darkness a slow shawl concealing, more and more, the cratered
face of some peak, nameless, the long neck of a rusted-over crane—like you’re
mad at everyone.
Something about the sun here, low and red, always eluding the flip-down mirror—which
you flip down anyway.
On either side of the road, beyond the night frogs, cricket strings, a silence
detonates into impassable silence, a bloom, a density within the greater dark.
You look ahead, It’s painful when you clear the air / the road too narrow to turn from,
the guard rail too frail.
I haven’t always lived up to / So much for Jellico—an empty BP cracked with weeds,
stray dandelion, a feral cat prowling the overgrowth.
especially when there is so much / ploughing beneath the car, the road, the darkness total
save for what the headlights touch, briefly, and leave behind.
You Asked About Elegy
Full of music, cactus flower, stars, but—but the pressures
under which it folds. How it sort of falls apart when read aloud
or said above a hush. What we might call its comprehension,
its physics. Like names of constellations, something new
for something ancient, more than—no energy lost among
collisions—and that’s love, I think.
Spent flowers rich, somehow, in decay,
in time passing, the effects of. Certain words left behind.
Pages turned, turned from—dreams in new cities, of weather
in new cities, something lost in transition, something brought
across the sky, a scar in a storm. I have inflicted my only
serious injuries. I have one good hand, which I leave free
for gestures, handling money; the other holds the music, is held
by something or someone longer-lasting than shame.
My brother dies / I move back to California
Dawn light again, again across water, lyric with no end-line, no linebreaks, the
Pacific obtrusive in its courting of rhythm, reflecting low sun.
Flip the mirror down, watch through a half-squint the road, side-lit, swallowed
and swallowed, satisfying nothing but holding a place.
The ocean, said Spicer, doesn’t mean to be listened to, doesn’t need a willing reader to
reflect the violent grace it lives by, makes new and, in turn, more—what?
So I listen to audio recordings of rain, of lectures on rain, how it dries, returns, the
pavement innocent of water. I think about the shape a lifetime takes: sand and
stone the ocean carves out of sand and stone; how, a little sadly, the wave must
change shape, rise, break to gain shore.
Occasional silence to drift within, briefly, whose edges I never glance but glance off
of, am redirected by.
Then it’s knee to wheel, flame to paper: a long drag. A phonecall, its dumb chimes—a
lull in the rain.
Ahead, where forest, without warning, is no longer forest, a level plane reaches out to
day and thunder, a day that is new, a thunder that is old, newly old. Light and the
absence it magnifies, its distance from sound.
I let the call go to voicemail and the rain begins—and the rain begins, again, to fall.
Tonight I can’t remember why the wise man builds his city
out of snow, who or what he is avenging. No art is total,
not even his, even though it fools the gaze and kills
from within, supplants piety, despair. I smoke
and walk around, a dog sniffing where other dogs have been,
have marked their place in passing. The sky narrates
winter, lends voice to the architecture, or at least a tone.
The toe-to-heel means walking backwards which, if we’re being
honest, is what the living do—walk in one direction, talk
in another—the dead unable to rest, too many minor appearances:
every vagrant gust a cue—snow dusted from the eaves—
to follow six feet behind the conversation. Any closer
and the spheres become undefined at the edges, art
the slowest death, death the sharpest mode of living. It’s cold
but bright and I feel old, older than I hope ever to be again.
Nothing sad about it, nothing but distances
collapsing, fear on the inhale. Beautiful the way death
can be, sometimes, a dog making of its body a soft crescent,
pressing against the other dog, if there’s another dog, the exhale
long but unremarkable, the last of what it brought here, what
it leaves behind—a small cloud, briefly, then stillness.