The Monongahela Book
Ahead, the path grown over and lightly
like an illuminated Psalter embellished
by the trembling
hand of a novice monk. Horror vacui
still, as it drove rows of cowled shoulders
bent in the scriptorium to fill the vellum's
with hatchings of azur d'outreme and orpiment.
On this day's page under matins,
cite the redwinged
blackbirds' epaulets ablaze in preened display,
the sapling crowns a loggia from which the
aristocracy dropped alms of song onto your
Penitent, what purpose to your wandering?
Recall the lowered afternoon along an interstate
neither here nor there, a convoy of trucks
so it was not until you almost were upon
that you hit your brakes and, swerving,
missed a mother goose leading her unfledged
across the median and straight into your
You missed, but in the mirror watched the
bear down and scatter them easily as leaves,
as feathers, into the oncoming lights.
They say the mother's death is hardest.
Since her body
brought yours into being, burying or burning
repeats the fleshy severance you can't remember,
though your limbic system bears like an
birth's chemical shock, when adrenaline
your infant blood at rates beyond what any
could raise. In death's black light, those
ink pricks glare.
Is your loss the long-suspended echo of
when her labor ended and you lay there,
cord was cut, and you breathed the air?
This is the hour of the rainbow trout,
from the market's tank and flayed alive
at the customer's request. The fish, two
stiffen then beat in the plastic bag passed
across the counter.
None of us seems bothered: the butcher
boning another order, the woman whose basket
carries the trout to checkout argues with
They want to watch the butcher longer.
Behind them, I catch myself wondering what
with the fish still mechanically pumping
Small towns in the old mill country, everyone
wrong somehow. The damage often clear but
missing fingers, a limp. In others, deeper
through a slack mouth or gaze trained on
Christian fellowship is advertised, though
outnumber visible occupants. If you park
and walk through,
the few stare like you came from the moon
or some other
untouchable satellite, and all your own
quivers up coldly magnetized, the way iron
threaded through a rock will make a compass
Above my bed, my father hung a mobile he'd
a dozen mobius loops suspended on sewing
colors painted on each paper face, but graduated
toward the ends so I couldn't see where
a strip's measure
stopped before he'd twisted it into the
shape he said
fell on its side to mean infinity.
At night they slowly
turned, and I imagined their spirals winding
before my body, its germ, before the first
unclasping from their helix to divide, to
struck in a single cell before its replication
Under glass, my cancer's cells are beautiful:
stained with isotopes, magnified until
they blossom in the eyepiece
like a field of dark pupiled anemones, gazing
in flushed, expansive love at me, who made
How petals translucent as these lasered
flattened on the slide can seed themselves
and turn the drying
inside of a womb shock red with immortality!
I called longing for eternal life the ego's
never realized how the urge roots in our
to trade a whole body's promise for one
rogue cell's bid to last.
The professor began his lecture with the
Fantasy cycle artists drew on apocalyptic
he said, and the fantasy cycle mind was
by uncertainty. "Cycle" made sense
to me, as though
history were a mobius loop on which the
if traced by a finger, turned out to occupy
the same plane
as the present. Then he scrawled it on
fin de siecle. Calling it the age's
"end" seemed wrong, as if
the spirit of a century were just a passing
that died, and not the ever-present ghost
Impluvia set in the courtyards of the mansions
built for Romans at Herculaneum and Pompeii
caught rain-flow rushing through the open
and stored it for the family's use. Each
worshipped its ancestral gods, who craved
fresh water in a bowl and newpicked fruit
laid out across their altars. Where did
the Lar go, then,
when Vesuvius silted each dwelling in ash?
What lives inside me, nosing with my cells'
intelligence the smell of damp asphalt
through a dusty screen?
a fresco from Stabiae, near Pompeii, now
in the Museo Nazionale, Naples)
Flora turns from human hours to green eternity
without a glance to see who follows. I follow.
Her painted hand curves to pluck the blossom
from an herb.
Flora, how did you survive the lava's kiss
before it clenched to eighteen centuries'
embrace by rock?
Look at you, unmussed, cool as a museum-going
girl in a gauzy dress.
Turn and let me praise the flowers you've
carried all this while.
Or at least let me walk behind you to find
if the rosemary you've crushed beneath
clarifies the air beyond time with its astringent
As if we needed more reminders that life
plunges its arrow
straight through us, the infant girl, a
few days old and still
charged with her mother's hormones, begins
a diminutive period as her snail-sized uterus
before falling dormant for a decade. All
she will ever have are already double-clutched
An industry of pastel babywear tries to
our beginning like this, implicated, sticky
and sexual. We want
to sweeten it, and sweet it is, though not
buttercup sweet, not
sky-blue sweet, but sweet as a dark river's
Hiroshige, a minor bureaucrat in the shogun's
charged with delivering a gift horse to
traveled the Tokaido road in 1832, sketching
he later printed from woodblocks-simple
of lumbermen guiding their logs along the
or of a tax collector, stopped at the Futagawa
entertained by geishas. His prints translate
to floating dream with little fuss. Pilgrims
with the aid of loinclothed bearers, and
women hold parasols
half-shut to shelter their horsehair wigs
In early snow, a hunter stood by the carcass
of a whitetail buck and looked again into
clouded eye. What he watched receding in
that had locked on his and held him still
five beats before he pulled the trigger,
he would not tell.
Now the deer was a winter's meat.
When he came from cleaning it to warm his
and kissed me, I couldn't recognize his
Like the bride in a folk tale, I woke to
I had married the forest, married the deer.
And if there were a Hiroshige of the mill
The visions closest to his clarity are postcards
printed when tourists came frequently enough
to warrant souvenirs of local sights. So
snapshots of "Monessen Bridge" and "Belle
tinted in aqueous pastel. The blockprints
even if the artist never saw such people,
conjure up a floating world. But photographs
are full of time.
Merciless smiling shadows of the lost,
the last "Mill Ball Team"
before Pittsburgh fell to subsidized Japanese
Today's news covers a woman blankly confessing
she drowned her five children one after
because she was a bad mother and had
A reporter narrates infanticide: common
in ancient Rome,
and in some places even now girls are routinely
left to starve.
The oldest son, seven, surprised her holding
the infant under
and tried to save his sister. What was
this mother's act
but a kind of suicide, epic in proportion,
its mark? She couldn't simply fall upon
for if she vanished who would look after
Studying the capsuled whorls his microscope
inside a slice of cork, an early scientist
recalled those chambers
where each monk retires in solitude, and
called the wood's
internal architecture cells. So
the virgin worker bee
who strokes ten thousand flowers in her
transmutes their dust to honey in a hexagonal
Honey will preserve a corpse but can't
as cancer does, turning some cells
deathless at the body's cost.
Terrorist cells, churning out daughter
Say that slowly and you hear
All day you've belonged to others, others
worn so by their own work
they could not, if they wanted,
see how they wasted you. Let them go.
Tonight, the air drapes the year's first
across your shoulders. Beside you, the dogwood
balances each cup of its porcelain service.
To live, you must follow Flora as the Roman
painter saw her,
turning her face from time to green
eternity. Near Vesuvius she nurses the waxing
petals, and keeps the six secrets of the
Spring evening, seven o'clock.
Goldfinch tweezing thistle from the neighbors'
From next door, the clatter of dishes and
trailing off as their children set the table
A coal train going through, slow by its
sound, not stopping.
Later, a walk with the dog.
The yards on either side of the alley sparked
Washing his car, the man on the corner has
left us a gully of suds.
Muted television murmur. Honeysuckle.
Porch gardens where tomato seedlings spring
from tomato cans.
Spark struck in a single cell…and in that
while, without our knowing it, the haploid
it seemed I saw the earth's face from a
long way off,
its zona pellucida a nimbus sheltering the
Whose beginning had I half-dreamt, nights
below the draft-stirred mobius?
I thought it only mine, until the hour
when I strained
my ears to the colloquy of voices cloistered
in my cells,
a trace I knew to follow not backwards any
forward through my daughter's first breaths
as she slid
embodied from our very flesh, and began
Flora summons the storm: Come tree bender,
flattener of wild grasses, cloudracer, you
the ivy rattle its dusted leaves in thirst.
course to the schoolyard and the narrow
bedded with whitetails, to the road, the
track, the shotgun
shacks, to the pool of tailings dabbled
and when you leave us at midnight, leave
trembling as notes in the lullaby: diamond
diamond below, diamonds at all four corners,
anthracite night, and carbon the body