The sexual gasps coming from the garden shed
of my friends turning twenty, tipsy
droll joke of my friends turning thirty, lost
car keys even with tied-to-them a silly whistle
turning forty, bullshit about September
the most passionate month fifty, bird-watching
nap my friends sixty, turning empty chair
at card-club on my friends turning, turning
while I remain unchanged, a peach pit,
still assisting an ant with a stick,
tapping a peanut to signal a squirrel,
a collection of eternal accidents
while the body, without pity, shrinks,
expands, noises coming from it like
trapped rabbits, sometimes muffled
xylophone, its liquids fermenting,
drunk on itself, dance just foot slams,
painting just spray and spill, brain commanding
its grit to become ruby, won’t, tears amniotic,
incinerated dust then an oblivious nephew
given my watch in a velvet sack,
my ghost eating mulberries in a tree,
still stained, my tyrannosaurus skull still
trying to poke through a mouse hole in the cosmos.
“We passed the abandoned windmill , and Mr. Kaspar went on talking. He told us that a few days ago he dreamed that a grown man and a little boy came knowing at his door with some good news for him. That premonition had put him in an excellent mood, and it came true today. For what finer thing could happen to a fellow in times like these? My father glanced discreetly at his watch; time was sailing by relentlessly, and the last narrow-gauge train was leaving from the next village in an hour.” —Paweł Huelle, “The Table,” Moving House: Stories
You remember the name was Jensen. She seemed old
always alone inside, face pasted gray to the window,
and mail never came. Two blocks down the Grubskis
went insane. George played rotten trombone
Easter when they flew the flag. Wild roses
remind you the roads were gravel and vacant lots
the rule. Poverty was real, wallet and spirit,
and each day slow as church. You remember threadbare
church groups on the corner, howling their faith
at stars, and violent Holy Rollers
renting that barn for their annual violent sing
and the barn burned down when you came back from war.
—Richard Hugo, from “What Thou Lovest Well Remains American”
“Por un rato, el viento que soplaba desde abajo nos trajo un tumulto de voces amontonadas, haciendo un ruido igual al que hace el agua crecida cuando rueda sobre pedregales.” —Juan Rulfo, El llano en llamas
“What is earned at the end of a given year is never to be depended on and, even late in a season, is never predictable. It can be enough to tide through the dead months of the winter, sometimes even better: it can be enough, spread very thin, to take through two months, and a sickness, or six weeks, or a month: it can be little enough to be completely meaningless: it can be nothing: it can be enough less than nothing to insure a tenant only of an equally hopeless lack of money at the end of his next year’s work: and whatever one year may bring in the way of good luck, there is never any reason to hope that that luck will be repeated in the next year or the year after that.” —James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
“So my husband and I went up north to the tenth floor and we entered our room and the glass doors in the far wall were open and the filmy white curtains were fluttering and we stepped through them, out onto the balcony, and there was a wonderful view, the sharp ocean horizon, Banderas Bay a jade green out far, and to the left was the curve of the shore, the hotels all nestled there and also the distant city with its red-tiled roofs and palms and the mountains rising behind, thick with trees. It was very nice. I had seen but I did not look at the band of brown water, maybe seventy-five meters wide, stretching along the beach. I supposed it was the tide-drifted water from the mountain river I’d seen coming in, water full of mud and leaves from the jungle. Sort of romantic, if you think about it, the jungle hugging our shore. But of course my husband’s eyes went straight for this stain on the bay and he didn’t see any romance in it. He just shook his head.” —from “The American Couple” by Robert Olen Butler‘s A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
It happens very rarely. The earth’s axis screeches and come to a stop. Everything stands still then: storms, ships, and clouds grazing in the valleys. Everything. Even horses in a meadow become immobile as if in an unfinished game of chess.
And after a while the world moves on. The ocean swallows and regurgitates, valleys send off steam and the horses pass from the black field into the white field. There is also heard the resounding clash of air against air.
Tracy K. Smith is an outstanding American poet. Her most recent book, Life on Mars, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, so she’s no secret. Recently, I’ve been reading an earlier work, Duende (2007), and came across these lines from her poem “September”:
Our eyes see in plurals:
What we understand, and what will fail.
They’re both the only world.