Poet at 37
I drive to work--but not every day--through
dumptrucks and backhoes, distracted
by what I have to say that day and to whom.
is on the right where they make little biscuits
of molasses shaped like pigs in the local
and then I turn. A friend told me she saw
get it crossing this street, described the
arc, how the body
up onto the car, and she bounced
back onto the sidewalk. A human being, all
I eat strange meals, often standing,
of bits of things-a cracker, an apple, a
bowl of cereal,
I sometimes think, this is my life
away the edge of despair with my hands.
Moses. How he begged god for only one thing.
The god he had obeyed for years without
wanted to see his face. What face
would he have? This desire is clean and
a child's. Show me your face. I spend
and am never extravagant. Sometimes I go
the Stanton Street Bridge, and for 25 cents
enter diesel smoke,
bodies, vendors, well-oiled hair of street
blind couple. She has holes for eyes and
a can between her knees, the coins, percussion.
catalogue guitar and has dark glasses.
And a watch. There's a man in Juarez who
the size of a postage stamp, one American
dollar. See the pond, the waterfall, dense
swans, necks linked on an easel made of
See the elderly waiters in their Eisenhower
at Martino's plateglass window?
They wait for the sun to go down. Which
Sometimes I climb the nearest mountain--
the bald, dry mountain, a whitewashed A
on its side, an A
can't see once I have achieved it.
There are other landscapes here of geologic
desert of white sand soft as snow, so bright
it is said astronauts navigate by it. There
are quartz peaks,
and severe. Sometimes wearing a skin of
And new this year: I feel like there is
a before and an after.
this is the after. I read the Medievals
who believed in divine order (for comfort?).
Conches put it in the tenth century,
the world is an orderly collection of
a great zither. A tuned instrument,
with purpose and scale. My mechanic sends
me a Christmas card
me to reflect on my blessings. He's right--
I have a good job, my health, and the war
hasn't started yet.
anonymous disciple of John of Fecamp asks,
shall give us wings like those of the dove
so that we may
fly through all the kingdoms of the world
and enter within the southern sky? Show
me your face.
Beginning of Things
Your west each
dissolved by torrents of
constant coo, coo
room. Here, no easy
with its grace
avoids these empty (rusted
radiotower, browned peak)
skies. It's only
and you pull
pull back towards
where you don't,
tell me, dream. I doubt
body, the weakness
in) to your scratch
and pitch, voice. Flesh
meadow of which I
of miles of desert, the beaten
of mountain? And doves
they are. Waves of alto and
square of window holds
again: flat light, jets
heat that stands
like a man with a sword,
belief. My new love.
Soon you won't
hear them. White
you said and still
I listen. I hear
Who are you,
stranger? Trust me,
said one night,
swung a heavy stick
the hive-shaped tree
And dark bodies
hundred in one teeming cloud.
Are Crossing Soon
It was hot. We wandered on the pavement.
We knew that soon we would get there.
We thought we were prepared-one says goodbye
and looks for a knife and a proper comb
and while doing so avoids a crying person.
Soon we would get there, or not soon but
we would, the bridge not too crowded, the
distracted, and the water would not be too
The desert weeping manna in the cool morning
The streets of El Paso will provide.
We surfed on the ocean and kissed blond
girls named Melissa
with each other astride the dumpsters
behind the TV factory. We were not suave
and we wouldn't like living alone, wondering
mothers were doing at that moment. At
our mothers were sewing small pieces of
Certainly we would arrive the way birds
arrive, not through
maps and memory, but some other dark
knowledge, though we knew some would drop
dead from the sky. We had cousins. We smoked
whenever we could and the avenues yawned,
with feet-it was so hot-and beyond lay the
in its cement trough, the highway, the
of peppers. We shined your shoes with a
unexplained by democracy, our boots crooked
but shining, then your shoes were shining,
spotless down the dusty streets, the quarters
in our hands were shining like a teakettle
we would own.
Internal State of Texas
This much is known:
It's large and largely dry.
It's been called terrarium-like by experts.
At first, I felt it slowly growing
the requisite cactus and coast.
I wrote letters to the president
but he vacationed inside me for months at
I can't say Galveston was anything
other than sweet heat and water,
though Dallas was a bitch until I passed
It was the fighter jets that got better
They came to appreciate me too.
In those fabulous formations they swooned
curlicues on those bluest skies,
burning elaborate fuels like there was no
the streets of downtown El Paso
are quite dirty and packed with people
He was photographed
inside me, with chainsaw,
concerned about longhorns.
I wanted something
even though the dollar stores simmered
like hens on their nests of cleaning supplies,
spatulas, and hair ties.
I had wanted something, I don't know,
prettier for myself by this age.
Meanwhile, men unscrolled miles
of scotchguarded materials.
Ezekiel Hernandez was shot
herding goats and Krispy Kremes
blindsided everyone. But I was younger then,
before the daring, handsome surgeon
who wore cowboy boots,
before the long convalescence
and all that doctorly handholding.
I have tried it. The brag, with permission
of democracy. The royal we. The big
words, like courage, excellence and power,
brilliance. Have tried to supercede the
aries of skin, hair, scarred hands, the
housed by the majority of my bones,
to launch a spirit large as a whole group
of people--waitresses, sisters, women,
poets, lovers, mammals etc.--
so that I could be the throat, the tip of
tongue expressed. Oh, the vocabulary
of it all, filed beside Whitman, Ginsberg,
with snips of the old testament,
the syntax of presidents and most
romantic poets. I am a student,
with flash cards and coffee, of the necessary
exuberance, the jaunty-angled hat,
the workingman's clothes, the apoplexy
of the pilgrim, the V-Day. The cock's strut,
the virtuoso flourish, the chest swell,
that crescendo of being that shoots through
and explodes into the perfect us-ness
of the larger sentiments, inspiring
love and generosity in the afterglow. I
studied the sweet, opened door, the letter
that solicits, the look backward with smile,
all phyla of permission, I should just
photograph them like South American birds
and be done with them.
I over-respect the bigness of some--
their unselfconscious motions to include--
and guilt's smallnesses in others.
Some arrive at big through abnegation--
the potlatch, desecration, the holy
stamina to blaspheme has its own stuff,
its lovely scatology of excess,
the spangles of self to burn. I have tried,
analyzed, faulted, pushed, and faked,
spewing from my fist-tight lips
like a girl spinning in her mother's chiffon,
stained prom gown, thin and scared.
the Moon is Mexican
and so is the wind
and so are the oleanders
the wind is bothering.
The porch light is no longer
anything but Mexican.
It's true; tonight
is full of this miracle.
has returned to being Mexican and
the house we live in, the bar
at the corner and the rocks
in the yard. The car is Mexican,
the highway, the gas tank,
your shoes. Mexican
as the stoplight, the cat
skittling across the yard,
as the 7-11 and the father
you thought had forgotten.
What isn't Mexican,
here, my love, tonight?
All thinking has turned
Mexican and don't forget the cops
and the bodies of
of them, I am pleased to announce,
are Mexican. Tonight, how
do you pay your bills?
How did you hurt
your hand? Mexican.
What did you say?
How do I love you?
is for the silver of highway
through Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, for
the idea of open road, how it makes of the
a camera lucida-a timeless, illuminated
The psalmist felt this shine, wrote the
of the morning, wrote the mountains skipped
and the little hills like lambs. David Copperfield
begins tenderly, his voice earnest on the
of eight tapes of the BBC radio play,
announces his desire to tell us the journey
of his life, while one October, in Wyoming,
herds of black cows turn into mythical animals
because they are black and shiny and stand
head to toe,
bodies fusing in the bright sun, one tar-black
with two opposing heads. Tar, tarmac, macadam,
asphalt, highway, freeway, interstate,
scenic byway while Copperfield is rescued
over and over by ignorance and luck combined
his own good soul. Where am I? I ask gas
attendant, cashier, hotel clerk. One August
Ohio, I sweat up the steering wheel, seat,
lay bags of ice
across my lap, hurtle past exploded tires,
wild anemone of wire and rind. You torrent,
you headstrong, they whisper. September,
an Iowa rest stop
hours from anywhere, I watch a man unload
a lawnmower from his truck, the motor vivid
in the quiet air as he begins to cut the
grass around the latrines.
A congregation of small, brown birds lifts
from the bushes as if of one mind and
my body trills
with that highway feeling, of feeling the
and mind are one. It's a giddy amnesia-history,
responsibility lose their dominion in February,
in Nevada hills
mute with sage. It's religious how I remember
July, the air-conditioned relief of the
Chicago Art Institute,
where grimy, the road still droning in
my arms, my chest,
my inner ear, I want to explain to the becalmed
the velocity of Whistler-the twisted, crossing,
lines of sight from boatman, wavetip,
to fin. I return to my car and navigate
of backhoes, dumptrucks, a massive construction
site ringing the hogbutcher to the world.
One June I get a speeding ticket in Pennsylvania
because the radio's playing an optimistic
from the 1970's while the speed limit changes
and I am watching instead a farmer harness
two golden draft horses, pull them right
to the porch of his house and a bonneted
emerges to admire them. I admire them.
Where am I? In a motel in Cheyenne,
filled with school kids and their band
instruments and the mountains are green,
because this time it's early, it's May,
and David Copperfield
has lost both women he loved, two weak,
women and still I cry-this is how it happens,
passion and its unreasonable vaults of soul
and what fills me are miles and David's
and the plain face of a girl holding a trumpet
on a Super 8 Motel balcony in Wyoming.
Where am I? The stuff of my life in boxes,
whittled to a few books, a computer and
I think I am suffering, but I don't know.
not where I'm coming from and not where
I 'm going.
Here's to gypsy movement (as my grandmother
calls it) the ecstatic, the infinity of
Don't you remember
our little house on Calle Florista,
the calle with lots of flowers?
There weren't flowers so much as
cats, at least a hundred, lounging in the
while the bushes roiled with kittens.
They weren't kittens so much as
pecan trees and weeds of the nightshade
unwatered except on irrigation days
when the whole neighborhood stood up to
its knees in water.
And the water was not water, so much as
gravel, and the Calle was not a street,
a bunch of rocks lined up in a particular
And the "Florista" started last year. The
still say Iris Lane.
There were no irises so much as one fat
the guard dog to Chinese Kings said the
uncle next door,
as Sassy yowled in the yard.
Sassy was not a guard dog so much as
not very smart,
though Tio was kind of Kingly
sitting in his minivan with a Keystone Light.
What did I do all day?
The boy hit my car with a stick.
His sister stood in the plastic swimming
When would the pecans drop? Tio was waiting.
It wasn't so much waiting as the kids
worrying about the occasional helicopter
the dog and the cats, who were not cats
And me in that little house, writing about
our street which changed every day
subtly and in complicated ways.
But for you it was most different-
you were the one who didn't exist,
except as someone
who did not live on Calle Florista.
Here the minimalist sky.
Here antelope (pronghorns) and the burnt,
bound to the edge of the compound,
the edge of town the edge of, the edge of.
Here glints polish the air to gold.
The antelopes and the few stunted trees
dream about Jonah in the belly of the sky.
Let's have nothing
but gold-it's so pleasing.
One night a man took out an accordion.
So loud, the instrument in this night and
romantic waltzes that I wept just
outside the fire's circle of light.
I knew a lot, once.
Wasn't Naturalism about to happen?
And really, the French and the English
why should they quit-a battle here, one
and their navies refulgent?
And Levinas, saying such things:
"the night is the very experience of the
Once I knew
that pastries could have a thousand leaves.
The bishop wore a fabulous hat and forks
were polished monthly, to meditate
in their velvet boxes.
Here the sky cares only about
being blue and large and represents nothing
but itself. The doves ask "who cooks for
(in the translations)
and scorpions sleep in your shoes.
Us, we go along
inventing new ways to die:
by the cutting off of hands,
of hair, death by one dirty blanket and
death by walking.
Death by six pine nuts, by bloody
sunset, by obscure mirage.
Though we've often passed on airplanes,
at the library, in the desert, I've never
Imagine my surprise when
First allow me to introduce my colleagues
Let's be honest: that dog had already
And we really didn't know that insects
I agree, the arguments for the first attack
Moreover, the sun gets very hot during
these months, would it be too much
In the ring, most boxers
Vodka itself is not so terrible if
The tobacco industry has systematically
You see, if I had only been ten minutes
The toaster and the hairdryer are indeed
flawed appliances but
It only took one despot, a painting by
Degas, and an angry mistress to
War, to many of us here in the United States,
seems a bit
Please, think of the How much would it
From now on, I promise to
I can guarantee, not only Geronimo and
This is to advise you that you are not
to come within
Without further adieu,