Thursday, January 31, 2013

Visiting the Flood

Every bicycle spill was the stuff of legend
where I drive carefully now on narrow streets.
Lower on the flood plane the roads lie blocked
by hulking containers of the wreckage left.
It was never an easy place to live: factories south,
the railroad east, a great pile of junk fenced off
in the middle where a dog used to bark on and on.

They've refurbished Riverside Cemetery where the monuments
toppled through age and violence, but the graves remain
unsettled, receding and rising again from these waters.
A glistening road leads in among them revealed.
Further west the flood becomes a brown river,
its deep boils spark, biding time till another rain.

Over and over I told the story of the handlebar
hitting my gut when I skidded on a gravel spot
in front of Fred's house, but only remember it now
this morning when I must have passed that place
but can't remember the spot. Or we'd ride fast
down into the river bottom, lock the brakes and skid
the gravel on the roadside far as many feet possible,

down to a drab grocery store to buy candy and cokes.
By age fourteen I'd already forgotten the place until
Charlie robbed it for silver dollars he threw, liberated
treasure to kids lined up for a school bus and the ride
to halls that smelled of polish and disinfectant.
Charlie they led away in bright handcuffs.
Back then it seemed the place cherished disorder,
accumulating aluminum chairs and even today these
bright pinwheels upon their friendly porches
over yards that must seem large to the kids
and their dreams of loud stock cars.

An African Methodist Episcopal church stands
at the rim of the flood. Below there lies
the lost foundation of the racist UFO cult.
One night the sky lit up and I went along
with my mother and father to watch that headquarters,
long in disrepair, rise in flames before a multitude.

This morning I only look to be awake and remember
what the flood reveals, only to revisit it and find
surprise driving to a spot where both the road
and rail spur end, not because of high water
but because there's nowhere left for them to turn
but back and out of here: where I've found my heart
in a damaged place. I coast past an iron truss,
its rust in sunlight. A dog still barks for a way out.

Monday, January 28, 2013

To a Maple in July

I've compared the backs of my hands
to your scorched leaves, three days now
in air that's thick as infection.

I've hoped no one would catch me
feeling sad for you and myself.
"As if there weren't other trees,"

people'd say, "As if a whole summer
would halt for his peeling hands."
Just give me October, another color.

I'll want you to clash your thin leaves
against blue. I imagine I'll rub
my palms together and pity myself

so shamelessly that I'll pound your bark
and beg you to join my party.
Children and policemen will pass,

the children laughing and pantomiming,
the policemen rocking on their feet, sucking
their teeth. They'll say, "There he goes again."

Friday, January 25, 2013


I Was Dust

Sticky walls are enough.
A thick breeze from a slow fan
is enough. Nighthawks choke
on their own cries and turn
on slim wingtips in blackness,
and they are enough. Cars wail
on their tires, processions of them,
and in their nonstop panic
through stoplights and the unlit
horizons, without a doubt
these are enough. It is rarely said
there is enough drowning in the ocean
or that atmosphere contains enough shearing,
or that beyond its angry clouds
more than enough stars prick.
One victory and one loss between
two people: that story is enough.
It will never go away.
One blow to a child is enough.
Children stutter in front of adults
as adults stutter into their own grief.
A flash is enough. Nothing can add
to it one spark our sound.

On a night like this I realized
I'd had it up to here. I loaded a sack
I needed and left the rest.
Outside the door the dead air
got worse, full of the on and on
of crickets. I woke each day
for a year out of heavy nights
with walls all around. I was like all
the desert powder one hand can hold.
Fortunately that's enough.
Fortunately, I was dust.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Mount Rainier as seen from Tacoma, Washington. From Wikitravel.
That whole mountain lost its weight

when our fingers slipped apart.
There's the Moon and yellow Saturn
beyond, but here there was Rainier
grafted onto this planet
of human beings, those people
who tread and clutch each other.

I could spend all my days
on my knees explaining away
momentum and the regular
orbits of bodies. I am only
so strong
               and so foolish.
Say we clasped hands only
to hold that peak down
on our world, knotted fingers
to increase the pull for
the sake of pull. The west
went red anyway, and Rainier
looked own upon us
in scorn.

And back then beneath Rainier,
hadn't we taken to loving
the howling places in ourselves?
Did we believe a mountain
could fill them up?
Wasn't that pathetic, to fix
a mountain to one planet?

I would look into you
as I would look into the face
of a mountain.
And when I wasn't afraid
I let that mountain loose
to career on its own
from the Earth.

Monday, January 14, 2013

More Dante and Noblesville

To Dante from the Logan Street Bridge, Noblesville

Look at this this river and this bridge.
Dante and Virgil by Gustave Doré
The headlamps of cars glide back and forth
over water dividing one littered bank from another.
So tell, me, Alighieri, which way to the souls,
which way to the deep of this place?

Even in my self-pity I've found no door to hell;
in my hope no Beatrice beyond.
My only stygian vision here was a catfish once:
huge and pale it widened its mouth
to the poisoned stream and slipped beneath
    the bridge.

Take my hand and join me on this concrete slab,
not that old bridge of rust and rivets I crossed
as a boy. That ole one might have led somewhere.
You could listen to its groan, how it measured
weight of all who passed. Tonight all traffic
   slips without
memory, free of gravity, leaving no trace.

Dante, in your exile among the hills of Italy,
living on the salty bread of charity,
could you imagine this traffic, this longing to go
anywhere and quickly, racing there in complete freedom?
These cars' lanterns are the only ghosts I know.

Am I lucky or not? No one once among the living or dead
has pulled me aside for more than a photo I.D.
Not one of them has had the flare of Hades in the eye
and said, "I know your accent has it true metallic birth
in the White River's northern valley, where Stony Creek's
mouth presses to it. You come from that miller's town
of Noblesville. Pity me. Remember me to the living!"

Believe me when I tell you I savor my self-pity, that
I hold the poverty of my time and place deep in my chest.
I hold it there like an arrow nicking away at my heart.
I ask you, and please tell me "yes,"
below the italianate masonry nearby downtown,
among the pillars of the glassy 1990s county facility,
upon the lawns over there covered with gutted cars
and hogs of poured concrete, maybe my city's
less imagined, less crafted than Florence, but isn't it
as acutely dreamed? Don't the headlights hunt
as longingly across this bridge as the souls you tracked
winding their ways from the sea toward God?

I won't keep you. Some need calls you to heaven
and me to Tenth Street. Your work is never done,
putting the stars in their proper places,
far above the renovation and wreckage of America, the shadows
where streetlight burn into morning.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cyan Notebook

Once I longed for a wide page
printed only in cyan, oceanic
in saturated blocks of the color,
or thinned into a spray
of shining dots on flat paper
with no more detail than shifts
of shade could conjure there.

In my defense I say anyone
could grow fanatic, "This and only
this true cyan with nothing added!"
and then collapse on the prints,
hungry in all that fierce monochrome
vision, becoming just as shabby,
except for the hunger, for the fiercer
desire to stay hungry.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Canyon Creek

Palo Duro Canyon, from Wikipedia
Your own face reflected
in water cupped in your hands:
that old image looks back
unsettled, pale as bone.

Water shimmers, water
suffused with weak light
where you look back, but down
further fingers lace up hard.

It leaks anyway.
The face shrinks and breaks.
You can dip your hands back,
can come back and fade again

in those bloodless fingers,
those rigid joints hanging on.
Relaxing, see how
stars explode in the dust.