America Mix-Tape, Track 9
When sanity grew tiresome, I went walking through the ghetto.
I bought kidneys, watched buildings crumble,
offered no hand, no kind word.
The sky didn’t seem right and I said nothing,
my stomach rumbled yet I said nothing, not wanting my hungers known.
The river blackened, there were children jumping from tire swings,
their songs weren’t scored,
no trumpet touched them.
I was Cajun, I pickled old business cards, I saw the cattle to slaughter.
I stretched in the mornings
and settled my bar tab nightly,
the moonlight wanted me, the very stars.
I walked these hills in a long black veil,
weary at heart but light of step.
Don’t worry, Homer said, I’ve driven this way a hundred times.
The sky was queer, but that wasn’t our concern. How were we supposed
to know what was smoke, what was fire?
was at stake.
The cellist’s hands were tied, but otherwise the concert was beautiful,
especially the end.
Blood was in our eyes, yes, but our mouths kept humming, humming.
The humiliating ritual, the desire for grief. We knew
how bad the soup was, but we asked for seconds, thirds. It’s the polite
who get their desserts of one kind or another.
So many lilac bushes, so many coffins.
Was that the graveyard where Basil’s buried?
I remember a day years ago, before the hounds
were at our heels, something he said. I forget what it was.
I buried my words in a field in Florida.
There are no fields in Florida.
There’s only ocean and wounds of old elections and lost love.
Your body is preserved in Egyptian cotton.
Let me be your urn and carry you around the world for fifteen years
until the right wind dreams into the silver lips
of your remains and turns you into every word
I wanted to say, sunlight scattering its gold
and copper coins. Everything’s free now.
Deep into the earth I walked without water, without salt.
I was salt-water, seven seas, seven sisters, I wondered at the ancient world.
Words of Ovid and James Joyce in the hall leading to the New York Public Library.
Exile of easy winter, I drink lemonade while chrysanthemums
shatter their brittle blue glass and moths envy butterflies.
Color, Bonnard said, is everywhere, but when does it become light?
I am light as the dark deep earth I live under.
I am heavy as a hundred acres.
Weeds break into my body, I am everywhere sores and seep.
Pitch-fork, hoe, spade, spigot.
Beetle, ant, worm, slug.
The wind against my breath, the tongue against my tongue.
I’ve loved strange countries and walk beside the dead,
I have pictures from cemeteries where no one’s buried.
What does the cicada think during its 17 years separate from sky,
separate from September lemonlight and glintwine?
If I live without something for a month, a year, a decade,
will I begin to sing the way cicadas sing?
Early March, and the pine tree keeps track of the earth. It sings winter to the wind.
If what is buried in me flowers what scent will it sing?
I know nobody buried in Atlanta, but I pass through
the Oakland Cemetery every week. At night I walk
the outer corridors of the dead, days I pause by concrete
fountains. Snow, a wool cloth laid over the tables
of the recent gone and the long gone. My body sings
magnolia starlight, it is a quiet library, it is almost
twenty years of forgetting. Forgotten concrete, forgotten
country where no oil burns at night. Earth so long dark.
Under the ocean sand slips. Fish turn to shells, March rains.
I sat in a café and watched the ocean roll over itself the way
grass rolls over the past. The catfish at that place tasted
like something that had lived a long time ago. It tasted like
old poems about people I don’t remember or never knew.
I never knew anyone in Florida.
I loved everyone once.
In Florida I carried you into the ocean
the way mailmen carry good news across America.
I have no more stamps.
I want to lick you the way you once licked me.
Night the color of old mail,
night the smell of love recent gone and long gone.
Night, the ground I lay down in, the train I take to Brooklyn.
I write my best letters in Brooklyn,
the East River floods me and gives ceiling to my so-longs.
As birds return from winters away, I migrate along higher and lower currents, I move in
and out of the sun. Seven seeds my songs, seven wonders my wounds.
You are the ground I break
to furnish my table with turnips, beets, potatoes, grapes.
I taste like you, salt-such, sweet and sour, so long.
I come back from Florida
with weeds in my words, my skin salt, flamingo feathers stuck in my breast.
All the chickens of Kansas could not cluck the chorus I wish for you.
Eminent birds, where you flock I abide. I will be away a long time, I will return
as rain to the desert, odd music, sharp sight, I will pick the lock of cactus, crocus.
I ride the train all night
beneath the earth that spins like a potter with clay on fire.
I cannot touch the countries I have left. They singe songs into my broken beak.
What rivers I reach are beyond Brooklyn. I am recent and long, Georgia red clay.
The cup from which you drink.