On Disappearing

Major Jackson

 
I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we only met once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway

back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,

in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,

a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I’ve
disappeared. It’s too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green facade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.

In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.

In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a General, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.

When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.

I am a shrug of a life in sacred language.
Right now: termites toil over a grave.
My mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Major Jackson. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on September 11, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Poems by This Author

Letter to Brooks [Spring Garden] by Major Jackson
When you have forgotten (to bring into
Designer Kisses by Major Jackson
I'm glum about your sportive flesh in the empire of blab
Migration by Major Jackson
Picket Monsters by Major Jackson


Further Reading

Poems about Identity
A Legacy
by Prageeta Sharma
Black Laws
by Roger Reeves
Dream In Which I Meet Myself
by Lynn Emanuel
Escape
by Elinor Wylie
For Crying Out Loud
by Terrance Hayes
Happy first anniversary (in anticipation of your thirty ninth)
by Bob Hicok
Imaginary June
by C. D. Wright
Instructions on Damaging the Monster's Cloak of Invisibility
by Bradley Paul
Mirrors
by Tada Chimako
Mrs. Cavendish and the Dancer
by Stephen Dunn
mulberry fields
by Lucille Clifton
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Anti-Biography
by Will Alexander
Self-portrait as Thousandfurs
by Stacy Gnall
Sympathy
by Edith Franklin Wyatt
The Fare-well Letters [excerpt]
by Evie Shockley
The Purpose of Ritual
by Melissa Broder
Woman in Front of Poster of Herself
by Alice Notley
Poems about Living
"I'm afraid of death"
by Kathleen Ossip
A Toast
by Ilya Kaminsky
Another Elegy
by Jericho Brown
Ashes of Life
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
August, 1953
by David Wojahn
bonne chance de lycée
by Buck Downs
C'est La Guerre
by Danniel Schoonebeek
Characteristics of Life
by Camille T. Dungy
Corpse Flower, Luna Moth
by Daniel Tobin
Costumes Exchanging Glances
by Mary Jo Bang
Daily Life
by Susan Wood
Difficult Body
by Mark Wunderlich
Elegy in Joy [excerpt]
by Muriel Rukeyser
En Route
by Darcie Dennigan
far memory
by Lucille Clifton
First Things to Hand
by Robert Pinsky
Flowers of Rad
by Sampson Starkweather
Forth Into View, Random Warriors
by Pattiann Rogers
from Oracles for Youth
by Caroline Gilman
from Two Inch Fables
by Marilyn Chin
Frozen
by Natasha Head
How to Uproot a Tree
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
I could suffice for Him, I knew (643)
by Emily Dickinson
I Have a Rendezvous With Life
by Countee Cullen
I Know A Few Things
by Stuart Dischell
In a Landscape: IV
by John Gallaher
In Betweenness
by Pierre Joris
Insomnia
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Life
by Joe Brainard
Life is Fine
by Langston Hughes
Little Night Prayer
by Péter Kántor
Living in Numbers
by Claire Lee
Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett
Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]
by Denise Levertov
Meaning
by Carl Dennis
Meditation 29
by Philip Pain
Montparnasse
by Ernest Hemingway
My Teacup
by Alli Warren
On Living
by Nazim Hikmet
On the Gallows Once
by Kofi Awoonor
One Train May Hide Another
by Kenneth Koch
Past Inclemency & Present Warmth
by Eryn Green
Poem Excluding Fiction
by Noah Falck
Preparation
by Effie Waller Smith
Primitive State [excerpt]
by Anselm Berrigan
Roar Shack
by Alice Fulton
Samurai Song
by Robert Pinsky
Song for Future Books
by Joanna Fuhrman
Songs of a Girl
by Mary Carolyn Davies
Sonnet
by Bill Knott
Spent
by Mark Doty
sugar is smoking
by Jason Schneiderman
Summer in Winter in Summer
by Noah Eli Gordon
Tear It Down
by Jack Gilbert
The Clouded Morning
by Jones Very
The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz
The Life So Short...
by Eamon Grennan
The Old Stoic
by Emily Brontë
The Pain
by Laura Kasischke
The Secret
by Denise Levertov
This is My Life
by William Stanley Braithwaite
Thoughts
by Walt Whitman
Thrown as if Fierce & Wild
by Dean Young
Variation on a Theme
by W. S. Merwin
Virgil's Hand
by Francesc Parcerisas
What the Living Do
by Marie Howe
What Wild-Eyed Murderer
by Peter Meinke
What's Left (Al-Mutanabbi Street)
by Katrina Roberts
Where I Live
by Maxine Kumin
won't you celebrate with me
by Lucille Clifton
Yellow Beak
by Stephen Dobyns
[I'm not with my]
by Joshua Beckman
Poems about Loss
Affirmation
by Donald Hall
Ashes
by Paula Meehan
Burning the Old Year
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Catastrophe Theory III
by Mary Jo Bang
Challenger
by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Dove, Interrupted
by Lucie Brock-Broido
Etta's Elegy
by Maureen Seaton
from Projection
by Lidija Dimkovska
Haunted
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Headaches
by Marilyn Hacker
Heavy Summer Rain
by Jane Kenyon
I Found Her Out There
by Thomas Hardy
I'll Try to Tell You What I Know
by Martha Serpas
Loss
by Carl Adamshick
Making Apple Sauce with my Dead Grandmother
by Bianca Stone
please advise stop [I was dragging a ladder slowly over stones stop]
by Rusty Morrison
Radar Data #12
by Lytton Smith
Room in Antwerp
by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Song ["When I am dead, my dearest"]
by Christina Rossetti
Stairway to Heaven
by Alison Hawthorne Deming
the lost baby poem
by Lucille Clifton
The Power of the Dog
by Rudyard Kipling
To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death
by Lloyd Schwartz
Token Loss
by Kay Ryan
When They Die We Change Our Minds About Them
by Jennifer Michael Hecht