Lord, I'm tired, the bunion on my right foot is throbbing, I worry about myself. Who is this anguished man, Lord? it can't be me, so woeful and sluggish. I would like to trust quietly, but like waves in the ocean, tempers bubble up in me. I try a smile, but some hairdespair impedes me. This isn't all right, Lord, feel pity for me, be scared, reward my endeavors. Evaluate things with me, delete with my own hand what isn't needed. Taste with me what needs to be tasted, and say to me: this is sweet! this is sour! Remind me of the small red car, of something that was good. There was a lot that was good, wasn't there? a lot of sunken islands, crumbled glamour. Place a net into my hands to fish with, in the past and in the present. I'm a fish too, in the night, puckering silver, bubble-lifed. Turn me inside out, freshen me up, throw me up high and catch me! What's it to you, Lord? If you must, lay down your cards, show me something new. How your leaves fall! your sun scorches your wind whistles. Speak to me! Talk with me through the night, it's nothing to you, Lord!
Under the Bed (223)
I'd walk close to buildings counting bricks, run my finger in the grout till it grew hot and numb. Bricks in a row, rows on a floor, multiply floors, buildings, blocks in the city. I knew there were numbers for everything-- tires piled in mountains at the dump, cars on the interstate to Maine, pine needles blanketing the shoulder of the road, bubbles in my white summer spit. I dreamed of counting the galaxies of freckles on Laura MacNally, touching each one--she loves me, she loves me not--right on up her leg, my pulse beating away at the sea wall of my skin, my breath inhaling odd, exhaling even. To know certain numbers would be like standing next to God, a counting God, too busy to stop for war or famine. I'd go out under the night sky to search for Him up there: God counting, next to Orion drawing his bow. I'd seen an orthodox Jew on the subway, bobbing into the black volume in his palms, mouthing words with fury and precision, a single drop of spittle at the center of his lip catching the other lip and stretching like silk thread. At night I dreamed a constant stream of numbers shooting past my eyes so fast all I could do was whisper as they came. I'd wake up reading the red flesh of my lids, my tongue flapping like ticker tape. I come from a family of counters; my brother had 41 cavities in 20 teeth and he told everyone he met; Grandpa figured his compound daily interest in the den, at dusk, the lights turned off, the ice crackling in his bourbon; my father hunched over his desk working overtime for the insurance company, using numbers to predict when men were going to die. When I saw the tenth digit added to the giant odometer in Times Square tracking world population, I wondered what it would take for those wheels to stop and reverse. What monsoon or earthquake could fill graves faster than babies wriggled out of wombs? Those vast cemeteries in Queens-- white tablets lined up like dominoes running over hills in perfect rows-- which was higher, the number of the living or the dead? Was it true, what a teacher had said: get everyone in China to stand on a bucket, jump at exactly the same time and it'd knock us out of orbit? You wouldn't need everyone, just enough, the right number, and if you knew that number you could point to a skinny copper-colored kid and say You're the one, you can send us flying. That's all any child wants: to count. That's all I wanted to be, the millionth customer, the billionth burger sold, the one with the foul ball, waving for TV.
For a short time after the rape, I found I could move things. Energy birds swarmed from my brain. With a witch's sense of abandoned physics, I set dolls rolling. Back and forth. Like a breathing sound. Using only my night-powered eyes, I pushed the lamp to the dresser's edge. I buried the mirrors in avalanches of freshly laundered underpants. I never slept. I did all these things lying down.
But it's really fear you want to talk about and cannot find the words so you jeer at yourself you call yourself a coward you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure, fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows and a quilt, they call them comforters, which implies that comfort can be bought and paid for, to help with the fear, the failure your two walnut chests of drawers snicker, the bookshelves mourn the art on the walls pities you, the man himself beside you asleep smelling like mushrooms and moss is a comfort but never enough, never, the ceiling fixture lightless velvet drapes hiding the window traffic noise like a vicious animal on the loose somewhere out there— you brag to friends you won't mind death only dying what a liar you are— all the other fears, of rejection, of physical pain, of losing your mind, of losing your eyes, they are all part of this! Pawprints of this! Hair snarls in your comb this glowing clock the single light in the room
1 I wander all night in my vision, Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping, Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers, Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory, Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping. How solemn they look there, stretch'd and still, How quiet they breathe, the little children in their cradles. The wretched features of ennuyes, the white features of corpses, the livid faces of drunkards, the sick-gray faces of onanists, The gash'd bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their strong-door'd rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-born emerging from gates, and the dying emerging from gates, The night pervades them and infolds them. The married couple sleep calmly in their bed, he with his palm on the hip of the wife, and she with her palm on the hip of the husband, The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed, The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs, And the mother sleeps with her little child carefully wrapt. The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep, The prisoner sleeps well in the prison, the runaway son sleeps, The murderer that is to be hung next day, how does he sleep? And the murder'd person, how does he sleep? The female that loves unrequited sleeps, And the male that loves unrequited sleeps, The head of the money-maker that plotted all day sleeps, And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all sleep. I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the worst-suffering and the most restless, I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches from them, The restless sink in their beds, they fitfully sleep. Now I pierce the darkness, new beings appear, The earth recedes from me into the night, I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not the earth is beautiful. I go from bedside to bedside, I sleep close with the other sleepers each in turn, I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers, And I become the other dreamers. I am a dance--play up there! the fit is whirling me fast! I am the ever-laughing--it is new moon and twilight, I see the hiding of douceurs, I see nimble ghosts whichever way look, Cache and cache again deep in the ground and sea, and where it is neither ground nor sea. Well do they do their jobs those journeymen divine, Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not if they could, I reckon I am their boss and they make me a pet besides, And surround me and lead me and run ahead when I walk, To lift their cunning covers to signify me with stretch'd arms, and resume the way; Onward we move, a gay gang of blackguards! with mirth-shouting music and wild-flapping pennants of joy! I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician, The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in the box, He who has been famous and he who shall be famous after to-day, The stammerer, the well-form'd person, the wasted or feeble person. I am she who adorn'd herself and folded her hair expectantly, My truant lover has come, and it is dark. Double yourself and receive me darkness, Receive me and my lover too, he will not let me go without him. I roll myself upon you as upon a bed, I resign myself to the dusk. He whom I call answers me and takes the place of my lover, He rises with me silently from the bed. Darkness, you are gentler than my lover, his flesh was sweaty and panting, I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me. My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all directions, I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are journeying. Be careful darkness! already what was it touch'd me? I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are one, I hear the heart-beat, I follow, I fade away. 2 I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid, Perfume and youth course through me and I am their wake. It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman's, I sit low in a straw-bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson's stockings. It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter midnight, I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth. A shroud I see and I am the shroud, I wrap a body and lie in the coffin, It is dark here under ground, it is not evil or pain here, it is blank here, for reasons. (It seems to me that every thing in the light and air ought to be happy, Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough.) 3 I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea, His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs, I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes, I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks. What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves? Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle age? Steady and long he struggles, He is baffled, bang'd, bruis'd, he holds out while his strength holds out, The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, they roll him, swing him, turn him, His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is continually bruis'd on rocks, Swiftly and ought of sight is borne the brave corpse. 4 I turn but do not extricate myself, Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness yet. The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind, the wreck-guns sound, The tempest lulls, the moon comes floundering through the drifts. I look where the ship helplessly heads end on, I hear the burst as she strikes, I hear the howls of dismay, they grow fainter and fainter. I cannot aid with my wringing fingers, I can but rush to the surf and let it drench me and freeze upon me. I search with the crowd, not one of the company is wash'd to us alive, In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them in rows in a barn. 5 Now of the older war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn, Washington stands inside the lines, he stands on the intrench'd hills amid a crowd of officers. His face is cold and damp, he cannot repress the weeping drops, He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes, the color is blanch'd from his cheeks, He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided to him by their parents. The same at last and at last when peace is declared, He stands in the room of the old tavern, the well-belov'd soldiers all pass through, The officers speechless and slow draw near in their turns, The chief encircles their necks with his arm and kisses them on the cheek, He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another, he shakes hands and bids good-by to the army. 6 Now what my mother told me one day as we sat at dinner together, Of when she was a nearly grown girl living home with her parents on the old homestead. A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old homestead, On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush-bottoming chairs, Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half-envelop'd her face, Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded exquisitely as she spoke. My mother look'd in delight and amazement at the stranger, She look'd at the freshness of her tall-borne face and full and pliant limbs, The more she look'd upon her she loved her, Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and purity, She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the fireplace, she cook'd food for her, She had no work to give her, but she gave her remembrance and fondness. The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward the middle of the afternoon she went away, O my mother was loth to have her go away, All the week she thought of her, she watch'd for her many a month, She remember'd her many a winter and many a summer, But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again. 7 A show of the summer softness--a contact of something unseen--an amour of the light and air, I am jealous and overwhelm'd with friendliness, And will go gallivant with the light and air myself. O love and summer, you are in the dreams and in me, Autumn and winter are in the dreams, the farmer goes with his thrift, The droves and crops increase, the barns are well-fill'd. Elements merge in the night, ships make tacks in the dreams, The sailor sails, the exile returns home, The fugitive returns unharm'd, the immigrant is back beyond months and years, The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his childhood with the well known neighbors and faces, They warmly welcome him, he is barefoot again, he forgets he is well off, The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and Welshman voyage home, and the native of the Mediterranean voyages home, To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well-fill'd ships, The Swiss foots it toward his hills, the Prussian goes his way, the Hungarian his way, and the Pole his way, The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian return. The homeward bound and the outward bound, The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuye, the onanist, the female that loves unrequited, the money-maker, The actor and actress, those through with their parts and those waiting to commence, The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter, the nominee that is chosen and the nominee that has fail'd, The great already known and the great any time after to-day, The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form'd, the homely, The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat and sentenced him, the fluent lawyers, the jury, the audience, The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight widow, the red squaw, The consumptive, the erysipalite, the idiot, he that is wrong'd, The antipodes, and every one between this and them in the dark, I swear they are averaged now--one is no better than the other, The night and sleep have liken'd them and restored them. I swear they are all beautiful, Every one that sleeps is beautiful, every thing in the dim light is beautiful, The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace. Peace is always beautiful, The myth of heaven indicates peace and night. The myth of heaven indicates the soul, The soul is always beautiful, it appears more or it appears less, it comes or it lags behind, It comes from its embower'd garden and looks pleasantly on itself and encloses the world, Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting,and perfect and clean the womb cohering, The head well-grown proportion'd and plumb, and the bowels and joints proportion'd and plumb. The soul is always beautiful, The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its place, What has arrived is in its place and what waits shall be in its place, The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood waits, The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and the child of the drunkard waits long, and the drunkard himself waits long, The sleepers that lived and died wait, the far advanced are to go on in their turns, and the far behind are to come on in their turns, The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall flow and unite-- they unite now. 8 The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed, They flow hand in hand over the whole earth from east to west as they lie unclothed, The Asiatic and African are hand in hand, the European and American are hand in hand, Learn'd and unlearn'd are hand in hand, and male and female are hand in hand, The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of her lover, they press close without lust, his lips press her neck, The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his arms with measureless love, and the son holds the father in his arms with measureless love, The white hair of the mother shines on the white wrist of the daughter, The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man, friend is inarm'd by friend, The scholar kisses the teacher and the teacher kisses the scholar, the wrong 'd made right, The call of the slave is one with the master's call, and the master salutes the slave, The felon steps forth from the prison, the insane becomes sane, the suffering of sick persons is reliev'd, The sweatings and fevers stop, the throat that was unsound is sound, the lungs of the consumptive are resumed, the poor distress'd head is free, The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever, and smoother than ever, Stiflings and passages open, the paralyzed become supple, The swell'd and convuls'd and congested awake to themselves in condition, They pass the invigoration of the night and the chemistry of the night, and awake. I too pass from the night, I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you. Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you? I am not afraid, I have been well brought forward by you, I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in whom I lay so long, I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you, but I know I came well and shall go well. I will stop only a time with the night, and rise betimes, I will duly pass the day O my mother, and duly return to you.
"If God is Art, then what do we make of Jasper Johns?" One never knows what sort of question a patient will pose, or how exactly one should answer. Outside the window, snow on snow began to answer the ground below with nothing more than foolish questions. We were no different. I asked again: "Professor, have we eased the pain?" Eventually, he’d answer me with: "Tell me, young man, whom do you love?" "E," I’d say, "None of the Above," and laugh for lack of something more to add. For days he had played that game, and day after day I avoided your name by instinct. I never told him how we often wear each other’s clothes— we aren’t what many presuppose. Call it an act of omission, my love. Tonight, while walking to the car, I said your name to the evening star, clearly pronouncing the syllables to see your name dissipate in the air, evaporate. Only the night air carries your words up to the dead (the ancients wrote): I watched them rise, become remote.
Now winter nights enlarge This number of their hours; And clouds their storms discharge Upon the airy towers. Let now the chimneys blaze And cups o'erflow with wine, Let well-tuned words amaze With harmony divine. Now yellow waxen lights Shall wait on honey love While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights Sleep's leaden spells remove. This time doth well dispense With lovers' long discourse; Much speech hath some defense, Though beauty no remorse. All do not all things well: Some measures comely tread, Some knotted riddles tell, Some poems smoothly read. The summer hath his joys, And winter his delights; Though love and all his pleasures are but toys They shorten tedious nights.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Spring wafts up the smell of bus exhaust, of bread and fried potatoes, tips green on the branches, repeats old news: arrogance, ignorance, war. A cinder-block wall shared by two houses is new rubble. On one side was a kitchen sink and a cupboard, on the other was a bed, a bookshelf, three framed photographs. Glass is shattered across the photographs; two half-circles of hardened pocket bread sit on the cupboard. There provisionally was shelter, a plastic truck under the branches of a fig tree. A knife flashed in the kitchen, merely dicing garlic. Engines of war move inexorably toward certain houses while citizens sit safe in other houses reading the newspaper, whose photographs make sanitized excuses for the war. There are innumerable kinds of bread brought up from bakeries, baked in the kitchen: the date, the latitude, tell which one was dropped by a child beneath the bloodied branches. The uncontrolled and multifurcate branches of possibility infiltrate houses' walls, windowframes, ceilings. Where there was a tower, a town: ash and burnt wires, a graph on a distant computer screen. Elsewhere, a kitchen table's setting gapes, where children bred to branch into new lives were culled for war. Who wore this starched smocked cotton dress? Who wore this jersey blazoned for the local branch of the district soccer team? Who left this black bread and this flat gold bread in their abandoned houses? Whose father begged for mercy in the kitchen? Whose memory will frame the photograph and use the memory for what it was never meant for by this girl, that old man, who was caught on a ball field, near a window: war, exhorted through the grief a photograph revives. (Or was the team a covert branch of a banned group; were maps drawn in the kitchen, a bomb thrust in a hollowed loaf of bread?) What did the old men pray for in their houses of prayer, the teachers teach in schoolhouses between blackouts and blasts, when each word was flensed by new censure, books exchanged for bread, both hostage to the happenstance of war? Sometimes the only schoolroom is a kitchen. Outside the window, black strokes on a graph of broken glass, birds line up on bare branches. "This letter curves, this one spreads its branches like friends holding hands outside their houses." Was the lesson stopped by gunfire? Was there panic, silence? Does a torn photograph still gather children in the teacher's kitchen? Are they there meticulously learning war- time lessons with the signs for house, book, bread?
I knew the end would be gone before I got there. After all, all rainbows lie for a living. And as you have insisted, repeatedly, The difference between death and the Eternal Present is about as far as one Eyelash from the next, not wished upon. Rainbows are not forms or stories, are they? They are not doors ajar so much as far— Flung situations without true beginnings Or any ends—why bother—unless, as you Suggest—repeatedly—there's nothing wrong With this life, and we should all stop whining. So I shift my focus now on how to end A letter. In XOXOXO, For example, Miss, which are the hugs And which the kisses? Does anybody know? I could argue either way: the O's Are circles of embrace, the X is someone Else's star burning inside your mouth; Unless the O is a mouth that cannot speak, Because, you know, it's busy. X is the crucifixion all embraces Are, here at the nowhere of the rainbow's end, Where even light has failed its situation, Slant the only life it ever had, Where even the most gallant sunset can't Hold back for more than a nonce the rain-laden Eastern sky of night. It's clear. It's clear. X's are both hugs and kisses, O's Where stars that died gave out, gave up, gave in— Where no one meant the promises they made. Oh, and one more thing. I send my love However long and far it takes—through light, Through time, thorough all the faithlessness of men, James Augustin Galvin, X, His mark.