My father knows he will die but doesn’t believe it.
He clings like a mountaintop to the last scrap of light
before it’s consumed. The violet waves appear feathery
before heading into total blackness.
Later shadows of bars are flung across the sliding glass door,
the moon is reaching in, groping,
slicing open a wall, a pillow, a body.
Its lone eye so terribly cold above branches.
Pools and holes lie everywhere, only we can’t see them,
except against darkness. Into the abyss
Cezanne might have called grace.
An artery throbs in his neck—now distressed
breathing burns through material flesh
till the skin seems to glow from within.
Something is drawing him in with arms of moonlight.
In his cage of bone, hearing only the pumping sound
of the oxygen machine, he watches the clouds blaze
into momentary flowers, while gray hills of silence
loom in the distance, and the black trees cast their web
against the sky, pressing shadows into the late winter grass.
His neighbor’s house is a yellow box with the blinds
always drawn. The wife’s so quiet sitting inside
trapped between walls and the fence of dead vines
they share. A song comes on the radio “His Love is Real”
about a God he never believed in. He turns it off.
Everyone’s lawn is soaked with dew and stains.
A chilling ray slashes the fence. It’s like a sword
penetrating to clarities too bright to see. In the street’s
a glowing stem, while overhead without a shiver
the meadows burn, and the geese cry out in passing.
I love to say angel hair, imagining the soft
light body of a god slipping down my throat.
A divine hum on my tongue, a slight thing,
a sensation. Pessoa wrote that he loved such
fruitless things as they open a humble stasis
in our lives. Maybe that’s why I keep
the petrified pear on my windowsill.
This shrunken wooden knob that collects dust
is a mystery once juicy with seeds and dangling
from a tree behind a wall. I found it
in my friend’s yard in Romania.
My friend survived terrible times in her country,
standing in line all day for a lump of butter,
overwhelmed by caring for orphans left in cribs,
inconsolable whose eyes looked too large
inside their dark circles. They would
only shiver a little under thin covers,
as though they had thickened their own skin. But
sometimes she would hear their high-pitched cries
ringing down the hall, softer and softer,
only at night they rose in waves
through the water-stained walls of her dreams.
The heart can shrivel like fruit never picked,
or soften with water that never stops running,
rising now over sea walls. And this fruit, this pear
perhaps withered on the sooty tree in her yard and
filled with rain before dropping to the ground.
It didn’t fester like the sores of the dogs
that roamed the streets, growling at every turn.
Maybe it’s futile to speak about the mystery
of what happens inside or ever understand
the plight of another. Or take life like a vulture
that eats out the heart. I must tell how my friend lived
for a year on a pig she had butchered, gnawing
on every bone, sucking the marrow juice out
before the freezer went dead, and the stench
seemed to speak for itself. Even the dogs
whimpered past. Somehow the tree grew
in the dirt and the stink, the roots pushing deep,
and still the dew glistened on the hanging
and the fallen. Last winter she sat by her wall, petrified
as people passed on the other side, her stomach
growing hard with cancer. By then she could eat only
the softest things. Not one of her pears
sliced with a butter knife could save her.
Maybe we say a few words, however slight,
to soften the terror that our soul will be swallowed
by the silence of the body, the pear waiting to be plucked
before melting to earth with its endless grip.
(In memory of Alex Siegel 1900-1992)
For eighty years he kept the small sheet, the blue script
of names growing faint. My mother does not remember
finding it in an unmarked envelope. But there’s a lightness,
a lilt in her voice as she tells her father
he can lose his Old World accent
if he works at it. My grandfather took nothing
but the sheet when he crossed the bridge
from Ukraine to Romania to a new life.
His thick Yiddish accent tells what he saw
below him that spring day: the dark swollen bodies
of his schoolmates lying in a row on the riverbank.
“What were their names?” my mother asks.
Pausing, he says he forgets who they were.
My mother’s days now blend and flow
to the blue flicker of a TV. She writes the names
of her new friends on pieces of paper by the phone.
Sometimes she winds the music box on her window ledge,
opens the lid and sits there alone looking out
at the ashen sky as the tiny song goes on.
Do you still have a dream you are moving towards?
And the longing, is it lost in the withered flower? There’s silence
in the stone wall and the old church, the scrawls in the portico
like a yearning that will not be soothed or solved.
There’s a war that still simmers in the corners
and among the most quiet, the man with no limbs, the woman
with no teeth has no one to tell, but she hobbles through
the embers of her heart, and her feet press into the dented cobbles,
and her passion rises to the church bells ringing over each
faded hurt. Her bent body is washed in the Ljubljanca light,
and love is concealed without a name between her lips. There is a door
that shut in her face and opened to the man who stands on his torso
holding out his one hand, his eyes still flicker, his breath
smells like coffee and old flowers, only there’s blood
running through every shadow, every missing hand reaching
to feel the dark stream of a soul because we are washed
in each others odors and secrets, all that the crow clatters about
in the latitudes of quiet, the current tingling our roots further down
to where nothing’s composed from the ruins of dreams,
not the holes in our vision–or the flow of the heart.