Winter 2012, #18



What Cannot Be Determined

Say the blue-eyed sky doesn't view the cortege
of ants bearing palo verde blossoms across dawn
to line their larval nests underground. Say
I don't turn to you on the persimmon coverlet but
brew instead doubt's dark coffee
because talking about the wonders of ex-lovers
is never an aphrodisiac in the same way that
sending troops from one bad war to the next doesn't restore
families or the Afghani bride whose veil is shredded
along with her beautiful face by the rockets
of a misplaced patrol we'll officially
apologize for in the evening news.

Say that pinkeye swells my lid, and my vision
swims in an aquarium blurred by the algae of betrayal
or that your hand isn't a revolver
leveled at my heart but a fleshy question mark
yearning for my cheek. Say that generals
would rather be unemployed grocery clerks
than be deployed in another guerilla war
they cannot win. Say blood is a fleeting stain
leaking from roadside bomb shrapnel
that fills a helmet in Kabul
with a father's memories lost
to the infant son he'll never lift in his vanishing palms.

Say that mourning doves don't keen
for the dead, and that the intent of ants is
random as photons changing the shape of our cells
as they zip through obsidian spaces
between galaxies. Say that you love me
this morning, and generals pick up
the pens of their unmaking and sign
their own orders to return home.
Say that until noon ants will carry
fragile blooms to eggs hatching
under earth, and the next generation
will be saved.

Wild Poppies at Solstice

Season of planting and sprouts, of new wasps, yellow
tomato buds, spider webs luminous
and tough as insight, season tender
with stems holding the temporary faces
of wild poppies and lupine to sky.
How do we bear the brilliance that strikes
then dies, the blossom
and disintegration of shape?
Starlings squabble with fledglings in the eaves, secreted
from rainlight, the merciless intent
of wind that tussles pinyons as we crawl
to summer's long light.

The buckskin mare drowses
while her colt nips her mane, eyebrows
and face, nips unrelenting
and nudging her up so he can suckle, then run
loose circles of joy around her, testing
what he remembers. Above him
zip bluebird and close after,
a red-tailed hawk.

When Grandma lifted her lilac housedress, baring
arthritic knees to warm the history
of dancing locked in her bones, I was
stunned by how young her legs appeared.
We sat on her steps watching pink cosmos
bend to the wind that would unmake them.
Her memory walked Bohemian fields thick
as a lipstick-shimmered sea of crepe petals,
worrying over her only brothers in the Crimea
slogging through a war their cannon-split bodies
would never be recovered from.

What I have left of her are stories,
an early photo of her in America gripping
the small hands of her sons, my uncle
and father who would, before my birth, set
off for a world war that hardened
their arterial spirits to blackthorn, bomb
craters and powder burns
they couldn't wash from their palms.

Now, they all have become clouds
the shape of numinous sea lions
plowing through sky's multitudinous tides.
What connects us sizzles through
the shared stem cells of stories, poignant
as mares breathing in the birthrights of stars
or starlings that jitter the pouty lips of poppies
spiking memory's constant battle fields.

Healing Tongues

     for Peter Warshall

This morning holds out its stormy blue palm
as empty as my stomach punched
by the news of genocide
or the eyes of the house finch
strewn last night by a cat across the brick patio.
Before sunrise tiny sugar ants swarm through the eye sockets,
feast on the last finch memories of clinging
to a eucalyptus branch that snapped when a microburst
sent it whirling within claw reach,
the history of its morning and evening
songs varied as Haydn's symphonies
catalogued in its crenulated brain.
For over a month now across town, you've turned
in your hospital bed, tangling the feeding tube,
surgical drains, the IV dripping
through dreams of sacred salmon, jaguars,
wolves, elegant trogans, and the endangered
you've worked all your life to preserve.

Peter, who understands fate's tantrums, its
open-handed slaps to the faces of those
whose gentleness toward existence
sweetens the acid ulcerating our world?
Above your bed, monitors read your breathing,
your heartbeat, but they have no memory
of the way you sat, chanting Kaddish
while your friend's bones popped
and snapped in a crematory fire
or the way you studied the behaviors of baboons
and spadefoot frogs, lions and hummingbirds
to grasp the weathers of our own hearts.

Didn't you teach me the names of desert birds?
It cracked you up when I pronounced verdin, verdun,
as if that small grey clown with the nervous yellow head
navigating mesquite flowers was an old battle site?
After days of failing to stop hiccups
from ripping out surgical stitches, doctors
gave you thorazine, and the powerbar
in your hand suddenly compacted into the bodies
of all those soldiers lost in World War I.
What would Ginsberg or Snyder or Creeley or
any of your friends say-hold a sunflower
in your teeth while you kayak treacherous rapids, keep
an eye out for the swirl of venomous snakes,
don't step in fresh scat left on the shore.

You know the difference that a shadow
moving makes to a magnificent red trogon
hot after pomegranate seeds. Peter, heal
now. We have undammed rivers to canoe,
night fires to build against jackals and too many
wild stories we need to recount to live.

The intricate curves of your brain know
that the heart of what's endangered
is held infinite as patterns of birdsong
we learn to preserve one another, vital.

Domestic Affairs and Foreign Policy

If we shoot past one another
like asteroids on a collision course with Mars,
our tongues acidic with accusations
that scour our hearts like lye
shoveled over a shallow grave,
and if we reach such velocity
in our keening to have the last word,
ragged in its self-loathing, then
how can we open to the first
purple crane's neck blooming against
love's adobe wall or notice
the three year old at the wedding
in Afghanistan, her small chest
abloom with bloody roses
or hear her cry lost
with her mother's to helicopter blades
slapping revenge into blue sky
we all breathe?