We’ve come back from Mac’s Harbor in the dusk
where we talked with friends about the dying flounder,
the bunkers, the disappearing blue claw crabs.
We have beer and leftover stew and bread.
We watch the news. The news is full of atrocities.
We turn off the history being made.
I grow quiet. He grows wrathy because
it is impossible to believe in a merciful God.
I take a shower, staying under the water
a long time. Standing under the water
trying to hear all the waterfalls.
When I towel off, I find him with his headset on
listening to old rock and singing in that strange nasally voice
he uses when his voice is in his head.
I go downstairs in the dark to sit with the cats.
The only sounds, their purring and his comical howl-song.
Suddenly he’s stumping downstairs, laughing and
singing. He finds his station on the kitchen radio,
and turns it up loud.
It’s Skynard’s “Free Bird,” and he grasps me as if
he’s wrestling with an angel, and we dance close and tight
around the kitchen. I think to tell him, “We shouldn’t,”
and “your bad heart,” but I do not.
We dance, laughing and sweating through the whole long song
to its frenetic, ecstatic end, our bodies locked together,
rescuing each other from dark waters.
IN THE MUSEUM OF MEMORY AND BEAUTY
My friend is mourning the Christmas ornament
she’s found broken at the bottom of a box.
I tell her it’s a wonder that anything survives.
I tell her the Chinese urn passed down for
generations ended up in pieces on my kitchen floor.
I tell her the dog chewed the knuckles off the lion
paw feet of the 200-year-old cherrywood table
placed in my care.
I say it is a miracle that all the ancient treasures
at the Tate made it to safety there.
But tonight, I can’t stop thinking of Dresden.
I hear the red roar of the firestorms bringing down
the Frauenkirche, the grand palace,
the magnificent opera house.
I hear the tinkling and splintering of chandeliers,
the fracturing of fine statues,
the beautiful paintings crackling, burning.
The people, the beautiful children,
I hear their terrible cries.
Come, let us place our dear ornaments around us.
Let us enjoy our tea in Dresden china cups.
Let us be pleased by Degas’ dancers, all that happy, happy pink.
Let us pat our smiling lips with silky Hirschberg damask.
Let us cut bread on this old oak Jacobean table.
Let us move closer to one another’s beauty.
Abaddon The Destroyer walks the halls.
Whenever there’s an irritating noise
breaking the peace of the day—
the hoarse snarling of a leaf blower, say,
or some insane drilling going on for hours one street over—
an unraveling begins in my brain.
All my teeth begin to ache at once.
I drop things. I snap at the cat,
hating the machine, hating man’s
inventions, hating man’s ugly noise.
I tell you this because last fall,
hiking in Roosevelt Forest, I was careless
and failed to mark my course, turning this way
and that for hours, nothing coming back familiar.
First came the chill of knowing I was lost.
Then the slow dark came in dragging a crooked moon.
I stood in the silence of deep wood—
only the occasional rustling of
some night creature.
And when the moon was dropped half the way west
into thin clouds and steel-head stars,
I sat down on the leaves and needles and I waited.
A long, long night.
And of course, as happens, finally
came the empty hour before dawn,
that silent hour after the night animals
have gone to sleep but before the waking
of the birds. That’s when I heard through the woods
a whining, a coughing, a long grinding growl.
I jumped up to better hear the
tractor trailer changing heavy metal gears
up a long hill some mile or less away.
Are you happy?
Don’t ask yourself that question.
The answer is so often
I used to be.
If you say Yes,
you probably mean
I’m not dead yet
Things could be worse
Some day my prince will come
I am happy in the Lord, though he
never comes to tea.
You might even mean you feel content.
The cow in the meadow is content.
Does that mean the cow is happy?
The suckled baby is finally content.
Does that mean the baby is happy?
One day in the parking lot of the super-super store,
you’ll be walking across asphalt to get your prescription
for your thyroid issue, your cholesterol issue,
your anxiety issue, and possibly you’re also
going to pick up some cat food.
You’ll be dodging cars and shopping carts,
eyes half-time on the ground looking for change,
when you’ll happen to look up, indifferently, and see
a marvelously wide sky full of moving herds
of round white clouds. Then you’ll see a small yellow
bird flung like a buttercup by the wind
across the span of blue.
Your heart will give a hop as if paddle-jumped,
everything will brighten, you’ll feel shoeless and
light as egg white. You may even laugh softly
to yourself a little like the mad woman in the attic.
It all lasts seven seconds. Then, wonder all through
your body, you’ll go into the store to get
the meds that keep you poking along
and the cat food that keeps the cats content.
And that was happiness.
So quick you might have missed it.
That’s how it comes.
Be ready, the yellow bird says.
You died without me.
You died—I was not there.
You died alone in a strange bed.
You died alone. No one was there with you.
You died. I was not there.
The room was grey and silent—
three other empty beds.
You took that light last breath.
You died alone in that big grey silent room.
And now I’m with you.
It does not matter that I am with you now.
You died alone.
They’ve pulled the sheet down off your face for me.
They leave. I pull it farther down your chest.
I sit with you.
I study your face as I have never done.
I study it more closely than you would have
ever let me do in life.
Your eyebrows are awry, your mouth pressed thin.
Your skin is not as white as I’d expected.
Your eyes are closed, the lids so still, so marbled,
perfectly carved like those stone statues’ eyes.
You look so tired.
I examine your hands—they are like our father’s—
long knuckled fingers, slim and graceful bones.
You have one tattoo, your single vanity, on your inner arm.
A blue tattoo, a bowie knife, a beautiful thing.
I am here with you now, nine hours later—
can you see me, as they say one who has just died
Can you look down now?
Do you look down here at me?
I am here and you are not alone.
It does not matter that I am with you now.
And do you mind that I kiss your forehead?
You minded when I did this to you at home.
And now I take your hands.
And now I hold your face.
And now I just sit and look and look at you.
The undertaker comes—I’ve been too long.
He thinks perhaps something strange is going on.
I stand and pull on my coat.
He leads me out.
Now you’ll go to the ovens.
Now I’ll go home.
I’ll go home to begin
my sentence of permanent remorse.
You died without me.
I was not there. You died alone.
In November, a fake Ficus washed up on shore,
frozen plastic leaves gleaming. Richie picked it out of
the wrack, wedged it between the boulders near the boat slips.
Christmas week he began to decorate—a beat-up
velvet poinsettia, silver beer tabs, a star he’d carved
from a chunk of blue Styrofoam wharf bumper.
Christmas morning he added a three-yard garland of twisted
toilet paper from the Port-O-Let. Oh glorious tree!
The tree took a beating all winter—sleet, rain, high tides,
snow, and through all weathers endured every dog’s pee.
But here it is spring, and the little faux Ficus that used to
stand in the dusty pretensions of someone’s office is now
all decked out with treasures from the river’s spring floods—
a bent and silvery CD, a purple plastic watch strap, various
bird and duck feathers, and strapped with a shoelace to the tree,
a half-drowned naked Barbie doll, Richie’s own Lorelei,
her salt-stiff hair fanned out in golden points
against the grimy leaves.
Richie constructs a little beauty here
and when it washes or blows away,
Sic transit gloria mundi,
he constructs a little beauty over there.
Late October. Night.
I am walking Russian Beach towards Stratford Point.
The water and sky are the same shade of black,
a black the fog lets you feel.
No moon. No horizon. Nothing.
It’s so dark, I cannot tell if my eyes are open or closed.
Like swimming in that place before birth.
Like walking in the dream of death.
No sound but the ocean’s shush and slurp of
some enormous animal slobbering
at the rim of sleep.
I am walking towards Stratford Point.
I am also nowhere.
This is not the world, this is the dark.
I can only tell I am walking the line of the shore
by the occasional wash of a spent wave sopping my shoe.
I am neither good nor bad, happy nor unhappy,
living nor not-living.
I long for nothing.
I feel some fear. I am vigilant.
But I am calm.
I am in the nothingness that will come.
Now, way out in the Sound on the Long Island side,
two sets of lights glint far apart. Tankers or container
ships anchored for the night. Their lights, briefly cheering,
make small dim eyes in the black, and then
the black fog eats them and they’re gone.
The shore has turned from sand to stones to rock.
My feet feel their way.
The black has rendered me down to my core.
I am breathing fog.
I am drinking darkness.
I am heading east to Stratford Point,
that rocky shelf over the Sound from where
I will see first light flare up over Charles Island.
I am weightless. Empty.
The sun will fill me like blood.
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