This early morning room glares like a naked bulb
and when I close my eyes against the light, you
are almost here, like the lost words of your pauses
that always seem to tell another story, like the
wallpaper I've meant to hang for so long that
I am sometimes startled to see only stark sheetrock
and scarred ceilings where I intended smooth patterns.
Even this new floor has been gouged, the spot growing
darker like a bruise that will not heal, and I regret
that I deal so awkwardly with reversals and with loose ends,
the unknowns left dangling like your arms by your sides
the night I thought you were going to gather my ill-defined
fears against your chest until I could lose them
in the pattern of your shirt. And while I know now
that it matters only that you didn't--the why of it lost
in that last long pause--I still go on struggling
against the absence of blueprints and anniversaries
and write this letter, like my children scribbling
their crayon messages across the walls,
to color them with meaning.
Back in the Phillippines
after a Decade of Exile
Dear Ben, I've been trying to write in Iowa,
this northern patch you called home some years ago,
but this winter is possessed by unseasonable mildness
like my life now, the divorce at rest in the lower court
like a drugged beast, and I am awed by the evenness of days
devoid of anger or fear, or even that gnawing sense
of something about to go awry--like the tension on a guitar
string between exact pitch and the snap as it breaks,
even that violation a brief singing. Still, I'm
trying to write something here, long to put my tongue
to the cld steel of a hunter's knife, free fall
onto the spine of the eastern windbreak, feel my ribs
snagging in the sagging web of naked tree limbs.
This brown January pales with memories of fiercer winters
when the land was harsh white, each journey across a crust
of sleet, overhung with icicles sharp enough to draw blood.
How much easier then to see the direction, when survival
is the purest need. Still the need, you write from your homeland,
yielding to you again, a land grown soft and marshy where prayers
were once harsh as iron bars. And I think that you too are
suspicious of the softness underfoot, and that is why you say you
stand looking northward each afternoon, toward this cooler climate,
and then go in to write me that your island is too warm for
hearts to mend, and I imagine scar tissue sheer as the skin on your
late wife's arms that grew frailer with each year your exile kept you
from them. For my Linda, seventeen now, embraces are prescriptions--two daily for survival, an even dozen for health and joy. For whom but the impossibly young bouquets of embraces? Better to fill a knapsack with squash blossoms, something to lose and rediscover one day, probably in the spring, when we'll think we were looking for something else.
A small spider, so pale his shadow defines him,
scrambles a thin arc across the wall toward the black
pane of the window, and I begrudge him that kind of
ragged momentum I’ve given up trying to recapture,
which is probably why I reach back for things--
like this address where I hope to reach you once more.
There is one pillow too many on my bed. Its softness
cradles this pad I write upon. All the fine-honed edges
have gone soft now, and I thinkI should sleep naked
on a window ledge, perhaps at that last farm where
the wind whistled around the silo where we filled our
shirts and jeans with soy beans and laughed and lumbered
across the field like robot scarecrows, frightening the
neighbor’s dogs back through the fence. Still the charading
scarecrow, but alone now, I frighten only myself,
stumbling over the tumbled fences that stretch
toward the edge I had not meant to mention here.
What I wanted to tell you was that a delivery boy came with
capsules to subdue these battles I wage within myself,
and he was so loosely held together, spastic I suppose,
that I reached for the package with both hands, and he smiled
so beautifully for the seconds we touched I was overcome.
I didn’t think to thank him, but not wanting to let go, I kept
watching, and as he reached the curb, he fell and rose
in one swift motion with almost dance-like steps
rehearsed a lifetime. He glanced over his shoulder, like a cat
casually licking a spot of fur there, but I saw his eyes,
and as he ducked his head and moved into the shadows
I wanted to call out to him that it was all right, we are all falling.
I loved him, Val, not knowing why or caring, yet feeling suddenly
old and later than this hour has become. Too tired to care that you
will picture me this way, for as you read my letter at some new farm
no scarecrows haunt, surely you will also picture a bareback rider,
sweatshirt sagging with stolen peaches, writing poems astride a tractor,
singing to orphaned field mice and other frightened animals, which is
no doubt why I send you this, meaning to send you love. M
upon the loss of yet another collie
Too much, this fierce letting go
and absurd, I think, like rappelling barefoot
in the Adirondacks, or teaching a poor student
to write just well enough to submit a formal complaint
against a grade of C: why are there no plusses given,
he asks over the phone on a Sunday night. Because, I
want to tell him, all my grandparents died this semester
and I used them as coffin pins, or my dog ate them,
coughing bloody stars into the late afternoon.
Your card said nothing about who found Reggie
in the street or how the motorcyclist played out his role.
Did the girls loop their grief around your neck
like small arms, or are they too old now for that pure
collapse, that cleansing? When my horse collapsed
into the hoof-ground dust of the feedlot—his feverish
black sweaty glistening beneath the stars the altar
of everything I would come to grasp of death and loss—
I never went back. For twenty years the red and black
saddle has been drying out in the close air of the basement.
On restless days, I’ll lower my face to breathe deeply
of the leather, and think of riding again. The losses are
fierce, but so is the holding on. Remember that autumn we
started graduate school and I said all the doors were opening?
We never considered then the things that might slip out
and be lost. Still, I prefer the risk of life slightly ajar.
Write me again when you are poolside tan and I’m
engulfed with summer classes. I suspect we’ll know no
more by then about surviving our losses beyond reaching
out to whatever’s left, as I do to you here with my love.