The "Do You Have Lots of Faults Too?" Issue



My Landlord (The Apartment in Chicago)

He sees nothing except grasping
Fingers, colorless Polish fields.
A great cold has swept through
His wiry body and he suspects
The packed train
Is leading to the bright Boneyard.

He is still strong, he still longs
For the finer things, his family
Is still together in the boxcar.
He watches the stark winter trees
Of Poland, the clicking and the clacking
Of the wheels, the smell of woolen coats
And urine not so bad because it is winter.

He still believes in an afterlife.


. . .No afterlife

Yet I am here in Chicago,
Fifty years after those events
That have turned the color of photo negatives
In my mind... and I never want them developed—
But year by year they rise up,
Up from the bloody fields
Of the Boneyard.

How did I handle this?
How can I own property?
I treated my tenants like I was treated
In Auschwitz—when they most need heat
I deny them heat, when they thirst I make them
Beg for water, and I let the roaches rule the rooms;
And I will destroy the invasion of insects with the
Most foul–smelling bug–killing agent;
In a frenzy of killing, I murder them
By the millions, their brown bodies
Quiver and run from the cracks and the crevices.

I see my face in the mirror and it looks
Permanently melted, the color drained,
Waxen (how the hell did I survive?) No matter that a mere dozen here
Suffer at my hands
When millions suffered where I was long ago, when the hanged ones
Danced the death dance. . .
A few survived—they couldn't kill us all—
But I will always fear the sound and sight
Of the goose-step,
I can't do it myself—I'm caught in a permanent shuffle,
Trying to keep the wooden clogs on my feet
(You didn't dare lose them).
It feels like my toes have been fused together—
On the coldest days I rub them to feel
The simple feeling of warmth, of being lucky
To be alive.

I was cast ashore in many countries.
I have no name
Save this faded blue number of five digits
Tattooed to my left forearm, under the skin, the fish of death
In a winter pond—
          But the guards are gone.
I cannot smile anymore and my tenants accuse me
Of being an asshole, an unfeeling bastard.
The concertina rolls of barbed wire catching birds
In midsong on nervous mornings when I knew
I would never get out alive—and I still feel that way.

I see smoke billowing over Chicago snowdrifts,
Rising and falling into flesh ditches
That fertilize new grass, seedlings green with memories
Of the day to day dying and survival
At the burial mounds
Of the Boneyard.

The Well

I went to the well for water
the purest water in the world
for me in that moment
and there in the wooden bucket
full and sloshing over
with a cool wetness of dreams dying
and resurrection to another thirst.
I cup my hands like in reverse prayer
and hold a handful of water
drawn from the well.
I don't know where this well is,
real or imaginary; I know I taste
the water and drink a little.
My thirst is so great
that I could in my desert parching
drink an ocean
drink every drop from the well
though I feel this well is endless
like it extends downwards
like a damp root with dark music
and runs into the underworld
few of us know in the bright sunlight.
As I look back at my life and its longings
I splash handful after handful of water on to my face
not caring what gets wet or the spillage
that I share with the grass and the weeds
my accident making them green again
in times of drought and suffering.
O, there is suffering that has no name
and strangers come forth to this well
to call me by my name that echoes down
and mixes with the depth.
It could be my last day feeling the need
and quenching of my thirst and I smile
the smile of a king who has found his kingdom
and rules with special powers, special riches.

Words Without Music: While Stationed in Vietnam, 1968

Gear-grinding words
Words thrown at the teeth and shattering there
Sacred mounds and altars of words in holy places
Words that shine like wings of grackles in the sunlight after rain showers
Words that build with their hands any form of survival
          built new temples that are carefully constructed with memories
Words standing below the lakes on stilts in muddy floodwaters
          the water pouring life into the ubiquitous paddy fields
Words pounding the shores with all the agony of ravenous gulls
Words churning in the sand restless regions of the ocean
Words speechless a start with no endings
Words that kiss the breeze with a nervous laughter
Words with the far country cries and unturned eyes that whisper
Words with no wisdom only terror
Words gliding like zigzag bats, rabid
Words like white with newness day's innocence dies fast
Words that kiss you sweetly when you're through
Words that soothe and warm your bones
Words, wet monsoon words, rolling thunderously
Words trickling down your dry palate
Words of distant torrential winters blowing ice
Words of legendary storms ocean-lashing tsunamis
Black hole words silver words muttering
          around the green upheaval mountains entrapped by fire and mystery
Prevailing words
Die–cast words like clouds across the stars into destinies
Soft spray of sun shower words and sweat of insect words
Words of meaning of unopened letters
Words of the black and empty boxes
Words that dry up without a sound
Words with raw flesh ripped out
Words of waterfalls, star-shaped words
Dancing moon words, iron blood words
Words for the wind
Great armies of words like ants advancing into the unknown which is omnipresent
Tongue-busting words
Words of fire
Words of arguments with the drunken midnights
Words, fearful words, like lovers who touch and disappear
Words spitting rapid fire
Monkey screeching words
Words of far and holy and unsightly visions lifting in rings of painted smoke
Ear-splitting words
Words of walking wounded home
Words of the multitudes
Words of the last footfalls that begin at each click of the tired heal on stones
More words than lost arms to carry them in
Temple words growing solemn with serpents
In the smoking ruins of words