You come upon a house in the woods
that happens to be yours. The house is made
of salt, as if it too had turned back to some
terrible event, to fire and black rain of ash,
your tongue aching, burning in the memory
of flame. This is what it’s like to be home.
Windows stretch from ceiling to floor,
and you look out at dazzling green. No need
for curtains or blinds: those who look in
will see only images reflected, and a brilliant
sky above trees. At your table, one chair made
of oak, an iron pot on the stove, garlic sautéing
in oil. You walk out back to find a field
of poppies and beyond, a river, narrow and pretty,
its gurgling drowned by the words in your head,
a river of words dissolving the banks stone
by stone, a flood rising as your voice fragments
against the hard surface of this unintelligible world.
is a hole in which you toss soiled things –
shirts you’ve ripped on a rusty nail
bent in the garage wall or old cans of oil.
You may drop them in one by one,
black banana peels or envelopes with
cellophane windows, coffee grounds
or husks or bloody cloths. It’s clean
that way, and you like things neat.
Then walk away, wash your hands,
have a drink. But sometimes you need
a shovel as you scrape whole cartloads
of memories rotting at the edges, gray
and wrinkled like mushrooms gone bad.
That may take half a day, in spring
when the ground thaws. You dig and dig
in mud beneath the slowly budding trees,
under a gray, unpromising sky, until
your hands blister and the dirt pile rises
above your head. Sever shadows from
your dreams, tamp down the harshest
words, refuse to watch the tape that sends
a shudder down your spine. Tumble it all in,
and when you fill the hole, cover it with dirt
and worms and stones. You’ll be surprised
at your light step, and at how red the darkness
glows, just glimpsed behind your shuttered eyes.
I was a stick from the city, he was a mountain
bear bent over a spring stream, claws and maw
red with salmon blood. I had books nailed
to my hands. I learned to eat with chopsticks.
He could skin a deer and start a car at forty below.
He was a red-haired saint, a pilgrim in blue hills,
a rodeo clown with an old house a mile
from the Catholic Church where the priest
said mass in Polish and the congregation
came on snowshoes when the drifts were high.
Invite him for dinner, and he’d eat a meal before
he came, to avoid the shame of his great appetite.
His memories were messages scratched onto glass.
He had a seagull’s eyes. When children drew
his face, he wept at the innocence they saw.
Nobody watered his booze more than once.
He called bartenders “Glenn,” they called him
“Skip” or “Bud” and when he sang, they poured
him beer for free. When he slouched in the corner,
by the Leinenkugel’s sign, they left him alone.
He spoke in a language of pig’s blood soup,
tobacco smoke, and leaves.
Women followed him home. They braided long
fingers through the tangle of his hair and whispered
words that made him smile. They slept in his bed
while he wrote for hours, white-hot poems boiling
in the pit of his chest, steam clouds spilling from his lungs.