Jacket worn and shabby like a pack of wolves.
Face like a marble chip.
Sitting in a ring of his letters in the grove that sighs
of mocking and mistakes.
Yes, the heart is blown like paper through inhospitable passages.
Now sunset steals like a fox across this land
setting the grass on fire in a moment.
The sky is filled with horns and hooves, and underneath
the calèche glides shadowy between my father’s
“Saturn, its frozen rings fire-white,
reflecting the sun from a billion miles.
Maybe there’s a word in another language
for when distance dissolves into time.
How are we changed when we stand out
under the fat stars of summer,
our pores opening in the night?
The earth from Saturn is a pale blue orb,
smaller than the heart of whomever you love.”
—Ellen Bass, from “Saturn’s Rings,” in Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014)
If I were young my hands would hurt
by dawn from paddling. I would make
the worn smooth oar suddenly crude
by my touch, novice yet strong enough
to send me across the width of the lake.
Instead, these fishing nets I throw,
one here, by the hidden cove, one further,
near a jetty where the tourists swim,
are not my grandfather’s, but my own.
In truth I tend to sit in the evenings
with my friends, sharing wire and thread,
and mend the day’s snags with rice wine.
Of course, I do not survive like this.
These waters gemming the mouth
of our hushed volcano bear few fish.
I know I couldn’t last without selling
hash to the tourists. It’s funny how
often when they wade out to my boat
they ask about my fishing technique,
the way I slap the water with my oar.
I tell them in our culture a hunter must
warn its prey, and I hope as they read
Tolstoy and get stoned in their rooms
they will consider this. Sometimes,
to drive my point home I say it’s like
steam before the lava blows. I say it’s
all primordial, and they pretend to care.
“I love sun & rain on my skin. My suitor
& conjuror, is that the burden, the curse,
the gift? Does wisdom make my eyelashes
tremble, does it draw the blood forth, unearth
temptation? When innocence measured me
from crown to a dancer’s arch, the Furies
marked my path. He said my name
& the day turned to gulls crying—stolen
out of his mouth and into mine.
I am my own communion wine & bread.”
—Yusef Komunyakaa, from “Flesh” in The Chameleon Couch
On a black night in early March,
the fire hot, my daughter says Wrap me in something. I get the old
grey quilt, gleaming like a sloughed
insect casing, and wrap it around and
around her narrow nine-year-old body,
hollow and flexible. Cover my face,
she hisses in excitement. I cover her face
and fall back from the narrow, silver
shape on the carpet.
she is getting away—an Egyptian child
bound in gauze, set in a boat
on a black night in early March
and pushed out on the water, given
over to the gods of the next world
who will find her
and not find her.
“again the unbroken rumble of trucks and the hiss
of brakes roll upward out of the avenue
I forget what season they are exploding through
what year the drill on the sidewalks is smashing
it is the year in which you are sitting there as you are
in the morning speaking to me and I hear
you through the burning day and I touch you
to be sure and there is time there is still time”
Upon such silent feet,
She seemed a dream:
I offered her no seat.
But when she stirred
To part the door and leave, I heard
And ran to call her back.
By then she was an incorporeal dream
Lost in the night; the gleam
Of her lamp-flame, on the road far ahead
A mirage blood-red.
Over the half-finished houses
night comes. The builders
stand on the roof. It is
quiet after the hammers,
the pulleys hang slack.
Giants, the roofwalkers,
on a listing deck, the wave
of darkness about to break
on their heads. The sky
is a torn sail where figures
pass magnified, shadows
on a burning deck.