Still, I Like My Life….

There is a door to the lonesome,

You get used to it,

Get used to everything—

Dust in the corners,

Old medicine jars,

A broken bicycle,

What not, hearing

Far laughter.

Finally one figures

Wakefulness and dream

Are just the rain.

O happy birthday!

Here’s something

You forgot long ago,

Your splinter of sunlight.

 

The Fictive Life

Since poetry says so, I bring my father back from the dead and then my mother with her broken laugh. My brother, gone since infancy, he comes along, though not in human form, he’s like the northern lights. “There’s nothing to be astonished about,” I tell them. “Let’s leave off where we were.” So we fall together like leaves in wind and sweep across the velvet ditch of fictive life—you know, the one we imagined we’d live and live.

 

Just Pete Seeger and his Banjo

Late morning, winter, dancing alone in the kitchen

Solo entertainment of a grown child

Just now he shucks off his cruel father

Who taunted him for being blind

A wind blows his torso dips

The father ghost retreats

To its covert—and his raving mother

She follows, carried by shadows

Dancing alone, not a poem,

Nothing literary about it

The Ploughman

A ploughman comes to me in my dream—synesthesia—his odor is of wine, the taste of wine, ripened cherries and earth and when he speaks I hear only syllables as I do not know his language. Even in dreams there’s something of the ironist, the upper hand of the subconscious, and I know this is a Finno-Ugrian tongue, Altaic and not calibrated to contemporary joy. Each sound is sorrow. We meet on a plain of losses and the sun is amber like Russian tea in a glass and soon it will be gone and the ploughman says things I do not understand but in my dream-like way I take to mean: sun-sorrow; course-sorrow; child-loss; deep-hunger; long shadows.

Essay Concerning Last Year’s Ashes

My dog of course, now in a can, who saved my life. She’s on my mantle, and I would scatter her to the wind but sadness presses down the tin box, my sadness akin to faith-paranoia, like the superstitious passenger who thinks his mind holds the plane aloft. I must keep my dog’s ashes close just as I maintain books on shelves and worn shoes in the closet.

There was a year in my youth when I was terribly lonely in a strange city. I knew very few people and the ones I did know were the quotidian kind—magazine seller, doorman, a severe librarian at the local university, which is to say they knew me as a creature, and I knew them as living beings but without true culture—we had no shared songs. One may live this way for a season or two. This was that kind of time. I arranged knickknacks carefully on my desk.

Sometimes I went to the botanical garden. It dated from Tsarist times and there were winding paths that seemed to lead nowhere—bafflements for clandestine conversations—and I walked in expanding circles among lilies, ferns, and flowers whose names I’d never know for vandals had long ago stolen the signs. Yes, there were flowers taller than men and they had no names and I liked them a great deal. It’s foolish to say it, but plants are silent the way you wish your friends could be, and this was especially true that year, when I was far from friends back home. The great, drowsy, half shaggy plants of the Tsars…how kind they were. They simply “were” and this was all I needed most mornings.

I had books. Stendahl, Neruda, Harry Martinson. In those days I smoked cigarettes and I’d light up in my imperial bower with its anonymous shrubs and think about what I liked and didn’t like about words. I saw I didn’t like “faith” or “rage” but I could do with “ardor” and “pique”—not because they were literary words but because they had nuance and unless you’re genuinely seasick this is how you want your feelings to be—of or pertaining to intuitions, gut gasps, solitudes in gardens.

Of course I’d put the ashes in my pockets along with the cigarette butts. It was best not to leave a trace. And here I am, forty years later, holding on to my lovely dog’s ashes because I can’t bear to part with even the starkest reminder. What coat might I carry them in? What knowing garment?

Foolish again. The ashes in every instance.