“Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose
The “Flying” Ford Anglia by Scott Smith
I Know a Man
As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, — John, I
sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what
can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,
drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.
“Little Cosmic Dust Poem”
Out of the debris of dying stars,
This rain of particles
That waters the waste with brightness…
The sea-wave of atoms hurrying home,
Collapse of the giant,
Unstable guest who cannot stay…
The sun’s heart reddens and expands,
His mighty aspiration is lasting,
As the shell of his substance
One day will be white with frost.
In the radiant field of Orion
Great hordes of stars are forming,
Just as we see every night,
Fiery and faithful to the end.
Out of the cold and fleeing dust
That is never and always,
The silence and waste to come…
This arm, this hand,
My voice, your face, this love.
from “Age Appropriate”
Blaise Monluc, the king’s
lieutenant general during
the civil wars, Montaigne says,
threw so many hanged Protestants
down a well you could reach in
and touch the top one’s head. Yes,
Monluc, who was fond of saying
“When the scaffolds are full, use trees,”
knew what was appropriate.
On occasion I’ll run into a lobby
to avoid greeting a friend,
not because my mind vanishes
and I can’t remember his name,
which is true, but because I
must flee what is darkest in me.
In other words, when evicted from
a strange lobby into a stranger street,
where every scaffold is full
and bodies dangle in the long
blue sorrow of the afternoon,
without context, explanation, or sympathy,
it’s good to know, even momentarily,
how to live, among the relevant,
the passionate, and the confused.
When did I learn the word “I”?
What a mistake. For some,
it may be a placeholder,
for me it’s a contagion.
For some it’s a thin line, a bare wisp,
just enough to be somewhere
among the gorgeous, troublesome you’s.
For me it’s a thorn, a spike, its slimness
a deceit, camouflaged like a stick insect:
touch it and it becomes what it is:
ravenous slit, vertical cut, little boy
standing upright in his white
communion suit and black secret.
“The P.O. Box”
Every Saturday I check for a letter
from a quadruple murderer
locked up at Riker’s Island.
I never met him but feel like I should
know why he hates women
enough to kill them and why afterwards
is eyes are choked up in all the pictures
as if he’s about to stick a piece of straw
in his mouth and wail the blues.
So I check and recheck.
I’ve always hated an empty box—
the one the engagement ring
comes in after the girl says yes,
the TV that runs out of things to say,
my grandfather’s tool box.
I dip my hand in as far as it can go
to feel for an envelope.
It’s the dark hole a nail leaves
when a picture is taken down.
This goes on for months.
One day I turn my key, find a crinkled
envelope. It’s as if I’m fishing
through a messy drawer in the kitchen,
grabbing the wrong end of a knife.
X-Ray view of pentimento from Poussin’s “Crossing of the Red Sea”
Today I used the word Pentimento,
stored since 1973 when Lillian Hellman’s
bestseller of the same titles was the rage.
My friend explained in her flower-power
bedroom what Pentimento meant.
I was amazed by two things: First,
that a pencil trace can reappear
from beneath layers of thick paint.
Second, that it sounded like pimento.
I tucked that word away, one sock
inside another. Today, with the heavy fog,
I used it to describe the trees through the mist.
I resurrected that word from beneath
32 years of living. It became an example
of what it means: A shadow emerged
of two young girls sitting on a bed
to plan their fame and fortune.
“Clothing the Dead”
What is a locust?
Its head, a grain of corn; its neck, the hinge of a knife;
ts horns, a bit of thread; its chest is smooth and burnished;
Its body is like a knife handle;
Its hock, a saw; its spittle, ink;
Its underwings, clothing for the dead.
On the ground—it is laying eggs;
In flight it is like the clouds.
Approaching the ground it is rain glittering in the sun;
Lighing on a plant, it becomes a pair of scissors.
Walking, it becomes a razor;
Desolation walks with it.
—Traditional Malagasy poem
“A Beautiful Day Outside”
I still lived, and sat there in the sun,
Too depressed to savor my melancholia.
I wore a cardboard crown. I held
A sceptre with a star on top.
I was on a hill, looking over at a mountain.
The sky was bald blue above.
Pine needles made
Something softer than a breast beneath the fits-all royal hose.
I was like an inmate at Charenton
Dully propped up on a throne outdoors, playing
“Fatigue of the Brave”—fatigue such as of a fireman holding
A still warm baby, waiting for the body bag.
In an age of revolutionary fire
And having to grow up. The king did not wish to—
Still declined to be beheaded at forty-three.
But that I was depressed,
I had diagnosed the depression thus:
Ambivalence at a standstill—
Party-favor crown, real-life guillotine.
I still lived. I sat there in the sun:
Just water and salt conducting a weak current
Between the scent of pine and the foot smell
Of weeds reeking in the hot sun.
The children’s party crown I wore
Dazzled my thinning hair like a halo.
The crown was crenellated like a castle wall.
A leper begged outside the wall.
In an upper gallery of the castle,
A young woman curtsied to the king and said: “Sire,
You are a beautiful day outside.”
The king stuck his stick down her throat to shut her up.
Children, of all things bad, the best is to kill a king.
Next best: to kill yourself out of death.
Next best: to grovel and beg. I took for my own motto
I rot before I ripen.
“sugar is smoking”
it’s amazing how death
is always around the corner,
or not even so far away
as that, hiding in the little pleasures
that some of us would go
so far as to say
are the only things
keeping us alive
[CC Image: "Smoke" by Hani Amir]