Chemical names, bird names, names of fire and flight and snow, baby names, paint names, delicate names like bones in the body, Rumplestiltskin names that are always changing, names that no one's ever able to figure out. Names of spells and names of hexes, names cursed quietly under the breath, or called out loudly to fill the yard, calling you inside again, calling you home. Nicknames and pet names and baroque French monikers, written in shorthand, written in longhand, scrawled illegibly in brown ink on the backs of yellowing photographs, or embossed on envelopes lined with gold. Names called out across the water, names I called you behind your back, sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable, the names of flowers that open only once, shouted from balconies, shouted from rooftops, or muffled by pillows, or whispered in sleep, or caught in the throat like a lump of meat. I try, I do. I try and try. A happy ending? Sure enough—Hello darling, welcome home. I'll call you darling, hold you tight. We are not traitors but the lights go out. It's dark. Sweetheart, is that you? There are no tears, no pictures of him squarely. A seaside framed in glass, and boats, those little boats with sails aflutter, shining lights upon the water, lights that splinter when they hit the pier. His voice on tape, his name on the envelope, the soft sound of a body falling off a bridge behind you, the body hardly even makes a sound. The waters of the dead, a clear road, every lover in the form of stars, the road blocked. All night I stretched my arms across him, rivers of blood, the dark woods, singing with all my skin and bone Please keep him safe. Let him lay his head on my chest and we will be like sailors, swimming in the sound of it, dashed to pieces. Makes a cathedral, him pressing against me, his lips at my neck, and yes, I do believe his mouth his heaven, his kisses falling over me like stars. Names of heat and names of light, names of collision in the dark, on the side of the bus, in the bark of the tree, in ballpoint pen on jeans and hands and the backs of matchbooks that then get lost. Names like pain cries, names like tombstones, names forgotten and reinvented, names forbidden or overused. Your name like a song I sing to myself, your name like a box where I keep my love, your name like a nest in the tree of love, your name like a boat in the sea of love—O now we're in the sea of love! Your name like detergent in the washing machine. Your name like two X's like punched-in eyes, like a drunk cartoon passed out in the gutter, your name with two X's to mark the spots, to hold the place, to keep the treasure from becoming ever lost. I'm saying your name in the grocery store, I'm saying your name on the bridge at dawn. Your name like an animal covered with frost, your name like a music that's been transposed, a suit of fur, a coat of mud, a kick in the pants, a lungful of glass, the sails in wind and the slap of waves on the hull of a boat that's sinking to the sound of mermaids singing songs of love, and the tug of a simple profound sadness when it sounds so far away. Here is a map with your name for a capital, here is an arrow to prove a point: we laugh and it pits the world against us, we laugh, and we've got nothing left to lose, and our hearts turn red, and the river rises like a barn on fire. I came to tell you, we'll swim in the water, we'll swim like something sparkling underneath the waves. Our bodies shivering, and the sound of our breathing, and the shore so far away. I'll use my body like a ladder, climbing to the thing behind it, saying farewell to flesh, farewell to everything caught underfoot and flattened. Names of poisons, names of handguns, names of places we've been together, names of people we'd be together. Names of endurance, names of devotion, street names and place names and all the names of our dark heaven crackling in their pan. It's a bed of straw, darling. It sure as shit is. If there was one thing I could save from the fire, he said, the broken arms of the sycamore, the eucalyptus still trying to climb out of the yard— your breath on my neck like a music that holds my hands down, kisses as they burn their way along my spine—or rain, our bodies wet, clothes clinging arm to elbow, clothes clinging nipple to groin—I'll be right here. I'm waiting. Say hallelujah, say goodnight, say it over the canned music and your feet won't stumble, his face getting larger, the rest blurring on every side. And angels, about twelve angels, angels knocking on your head right now, hello, hello, a flash in the sky, would you like to meet him there, in Heaven? Imagine a room, a sudden glow. Here is my hand, my heart, my throat, my wrist. Here are the illuminated cities at the center of me, and here is the center of me, which is a lake, which is a well that we can drink from, but I can't go through with it. I just don't want to die anymore.
Tomorrow everything will be all right. I'll come to the cemetery and bring you home. I'll prepare for you a meal of oranges, apples and peanut butter on bread. I'll pour you a glass of carbonated water. While you eat, I'll tell you how lonely I am. I'll tell you how empty my life is. I'll tell you that prayer changes nothing. You'll tell me about the darkness and how you like my flowers. You'll tell me about the cold and the endless hours. You'll tell me how much you miss your family. I'll tell you I'll come soon to join you, not to be impatient. You'll say, "Don't hurry."
The history of intentions is overgrown with rogue vines and unwanted blossoms. Our potatoes, you might call them weeds, sprouted from compost amid the peppers, unplanned if not unplanted. We simply lacked purpose, our vision clouded by our own designs. Yet here was a plan, not ours,
that we performed like true disciples. And they in turn did as potatoes have come to do in the fertile underground, springing shoots so green and pert we hadn't the heart to yank them out. In the end we ate them, praised their flavor, and boasted of our fine crop.
People speak of accidental children, but what does that mean? Unwitting as birds that feed on fruit and scatter seeds in potluck orchards, we're all providers to future generations. I turn the ground and wait. Grace could break from any random source, a clue, a cure, a ripple of laughter, growing wild in some otherwise garden.
It snows because the door to heaven is open, because God is tired of working and the day needs to be left alone. It snows because there is a widow hiding under her mother's bed, because the birds are resting their throats and three wise men are offering gifts. Because the clouds are singing and trees have a right to exist, because the horses of the past are returning. They are gray and trot gently into the barn never touching the ground.
It snows because the wind wants to be water, because water wants to be powder and powder wants to seduce the eye. Because once in his life the philosopher has to admit to the poverty of thought. Because the rich man cannot buy snow and the poor man has to wear it on his eyebrows. Because it makes the old dog think his life has just begun. He runs back and forth across the parking lot. He rolls on the snow. He laps it up.
It snows because light and dark are making love in a field where old age has no meaning, where colors blur, silence covers sound, sleep covers sorrow, everything is death, everything is joy.
At Scot Gas, Darnestown Road, the high school boys pumping gas would snicker at the rednecks. Every Saturday night there was Earl, puckering his liquor-smashed face to announce that he was driving across the bridge, a bridge spanning only the whiskey river that bubbled in his stomach. Earl's car, one side crumpled like his nose, would circle closely around the pumps, turn signal winking relentlessly.
Another pickup truck morning, and rednecks. Loitering in our red uniforms, we watched as a pickup rumbled through. We expected: "Fill it with no-lead, boy, and gimme a cash ticket." We expected the farmer with sideburns and a pompadour. We, with new diplomas framed at home, never expected the woman. Her face was a purple rubber mask melting off her head, scars rippling down where the fire seared her freak face, leaving her a carnival where high school boys paid a quarter to look, and look away.
No one took the pump. The farmer saw us standing in our red uniforms, a regiment of illiterate conscripts. Still watching us, he leaned across the seat of the truck and kissed her. He kissed her all over her happy ruined face, kissed her as I pumped the gas and scraped the windshield and measured the oil, he kept kissing her.
God exists. Instead we are a group of teenage girls, drunk at one of those awful carnivals in a field, out between the airport and the mall. It's raining, and this has become a festival of mud, which is just fine with us. A man
with hundreds of tattoos has taken a fancy to Heidi and is slipping her extra darts to lob at the balloons. There are sirens every time she misses, and she wins nothing. Why
is there straw in the mud, why is it plastered now to the wet sleeves of our leather jackets? Something cruises into the air with its light bulbs zapping, and when we turn around, the man
has disappeared with Heidi. Am I wrong or has every teenage girl been at this same carnival in the rain, in 19- 78, with four wild friends and a fifth of peach schnapps in her purse with its bit of rawhide fringe? Music
spins at us and away from us as the Octopus starts up its scrambling disco dance. Am I
the one who says Don't worry she'll be back or have I gone ot the Port-o-Potty to barf again by now? Imagine
hours later when we are terrified and sober and still waiting, when she re-appears with her hand tucked into the back pocket of the tattooed man who has no T-shirt on now under his black vinyl vest so we can see all his swastikas and naked ladies - imagine
that we are just a few peasant girls on a hill in Portugal. It's night, but the sun's
swung out of the sky like a wrecking ball on fire and even the skinny whores
in their ice-cold brothel smile when the Fascists are gripped with cramps and shudder in their shiny uniforms with tassels. Imagine when we see Heidi:
her blurred blue robes in the distance, her soft virgin voice, and the way it knocks us to our knees like a crate of fruit, tossed off a truck and smashing into the street.
When we love a wanderer, We wait for footsteps That may, or may not, come: First the hours-the-days- Then-years. Then, never. Yet always we do know Whereof we wait: The creaking gate The scraping of the steps And at the door the level gaze; For these we wait to know The roving one is home.
We boast of a green thumb And coax the stems to bloom: Hibiscus, santan, the wholesome Cabbage rose; and make ambitious room For gardenias, irises, and orchids (Taking time to scour the aphids), And maybe, soon or late The flowers show; But always we do know Whereof we wait: The nectar and the odors, And the windblown blazing colors.
So it's the space between The wishing and the end That is the true unknown; The massive world's timekeeping And our own agile flow Never to blend.
And thus we care, And thus we live Not for the end (Since that is not unknown), It is the wait, creative Life and love in full; Unfinished, uncertain, unknown, Yet mocking the known end That comes sooner, Later, or not at all.
When he leaves, he leaves a space, a big or little airless place that begs to be filled. A part of the weekend that says What are you going to do now?
And you think if you fill it up you'll survive. So you work and clean and call and cook and write and drink and eat and sleep and shop and say This is fine this is fine. You can do this.
Laugh and go out drinking with your friends when it's over. Call everyone you know and say whatever. Shrug, clear your throat.
It's kind of like losing a dog. You'll miss him but maybe it's better this way.
His friends are still your friends sometimes and they watch you because they send him messages about how you're doing. Sometimes they figure now is their chance and they tell you they've always had it bad for you.
Be careful with his friends.
So cut your hair and learn to play guitar. Walk fast and yell back at bike messengers who tell you what they'd do to you if you were theirs.
Stop wearing his coat and sell his CDs. White out his name in your address book. Buy new perfume and learn to masturbate with the showerhead. Turn the pain into something you can use.
And when it feels like you're imploding, like you're the only one who wants to lie down in the street, know that there will always be girls who stream through this city with their mouths slightly open trying to breathe and waiting to be kissed.
t must be troubling for the god who loves you To ponder how much happier you'd be today Had you been able to glimpse your many futures. It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings Driving home from the office, content with your week-- Three fine houses sold to deserving families-- Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened Had you gone to your second choice for college, Knowing the roommate you'd have been allotted Whose ardent opinions on painting and music Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion. A life thirty points above the life you're living On any scale of satisfaction. And every point A thorn in the side of the god who loves you. You don't want that, a large-souled man like you Who tries to withhold from your wife the day's disappointments So she can save her empathy for the children. And would you want this god to compare your wife With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus? It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation You'd have enjoyed over there higher in insight Than the conversation you're used to. And think how this loving god would feel Knowing that the man next in line for your wife Would have pleased her more than you ever will Even on your best days, when you really try. Can you sleep at night believing a god like that Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives You're spared by ignorance? The difference between what is And what could have been will remain alive for him Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill Running out in the snow for the morning paper, Losing eleven years that the god who loves you Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend No closer than the actual friend you made at college, The one you haven't written in months. Sit down tonight And write him about the life you can talk about With a claim to authority, the life you've witnessed, Which for all you know is the life you've chosen.
So I go on, tediously on and on . . . We are separated, finally, not by death but life. We cling to the dead, but the living break away.
On my birthday, the waxwings arrive in the garden, Strip the trees bare as my barren heart. I put out suet and bread for December birds: Hung from evergreen branches, greasy gray Ornaments for the rites of the winter solstice.
How can you and I meet face to face After our triumphant love? After our failure?
Since this isolation, it is always cold. My clothes don't fit. My hair refuses to obey. And, for the first time, I permit These little anarchies of flesh and object. Together, they flick me toward some final defeat.
Thinking of you, I am suddenly old . . . A mute spectator as the months wind by. I have tried to put you out of my mind forever.
Home isn't here. It went away with you, Disappearing in the space of a breath, In the time one takes to open a foreknown letter. My fists are bruised from beating on the ground. There are clouds between me and the watery light.
Truly, I try to flourish, to find pleasure Without an endless reference to you Who made the days and years seem worth enduring.
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon... I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful to be realistic to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure yours and mine and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, "Yes."
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
No matter what I say, All that I really love Is the rain that flattens on the bay, And the eel-grass in the cove; The jingle-shells that lie and bleach At the tide-line, and the trace Of higher tides along the beach: Nothing in this place.
What is it when a woman sleeps, her head bright In your lap, in your hands, her breath easy now as though it had never been Anything else, and you know she is dreaming, her eyelids Jerk, but she is not troubled, it is a dream That does not include you, but you are not troubled either, It is too good to hold her while she sleeps, her hair falling Richly on your hands, shining like metal, a color That when you think of it you cannot name, as though it has just Come into existence, dragging you into the world in the wake Of its creation, out of whatever vacuum you were in before, And you are like the boy you heard of once who fell Into a silo full of oats, the silo emptying from below, oats At the top swirling in a gold whirlpool, a bright eddy of grain, the boy You imagine, leaning over the edge to see it, the noon sun breaking Into the center of the circle he watches, hot on his back, burning And he forgets his father's warning, stands on the edge, looks down, The grain spinning, dizzy, and when he falls his arms go out, too thin For wings, and he hears his father's cry somewhere, but is gone Already, down in a gold sea, spun deep in the heart of the silo, And when they find him, he lies still, not seeing the world Through his body but through the deep rush of grain Where he has gone and can never come back, though they drag him Out, his father's tears bright on both their faces, the farmhands Standing by blank and amazed—you touch that unnamable Color in her hair and you are gone into what is not fear or joy But a whirling of sunlight and water and air full of shining dust That takes you, a dream that is not of you but will let you Into itself if you love enough, and will not, will never let you go.
I release you, my beautiful and terrible fear. I release you. You were my beloved and hated twin, but now, I don't know you as myself. I release you with all the pain I would know at the death of my children.
You are not my blood anymore.
I give you back to the white soldiers who burned down my home, beheaded my children, raped and sodomized my brothers and sisters. I give you back to those who stole the food from our plates when we were starving.
I release you, fear, because you hold these scenes in front of me and I was born with eyes that can never close.
I release you I release you I release you I release you
I am not afraid to be angry. I am not afraid to rejoice. I am not afraid to be black. I am not afraid to be white. I am not afraid to be hungry. I am not afraid to be full. I am not afraid to be hated. I am not afraid to be loved,
to be loved, to be loved, fear.
Oh, you have choked me, but I gave you the leash. You have gutted me but I gave you the knife. You have devoured me, but I laid myself across the fire.
I take myself back, fear. You are not my shadow any longer. I won't take you in my hands. You can't live in my eye, my ears, my voice my belly, or in my heart my heart my heart my heart But come here, fear I am alive and you are so afraid of dying.