In the valley of rain
From The Bear Who Ate the Stars
Available today, November 1, 2014, from Split Lip Press
where like a brother
moss webs one tree
to another and presses
into their sinking ground,
you tried to grow a bonsai once.
You learned the story
of this tree, from China
where it grows grotesque
or animal, the myth
of dragon and of serpent
coiling in its roots, across
pacific waters to Japan
where apricots and plums
shrink down to ornament,
where it is said that this
is how to love
deformity, to understand the place
of your own body,
to grow its trunk
onto this earth.
You chose a rhododendron,
its small, white petals
at once soft and clean
yet brimming with cerise.
But even such pale flesh
in blood rims, (your eyes
that night), could not
withstand the flood.
The boughs receded
down to roots
and in their place
of bloom –
but a valley of rain.
The warmth of snow in December, a return
to unfinished song: turning and twisting,
big blue balloon. Your mind lost long ago
save to taste and sound: senses that brought you
back to a kind of home with chocolate blinchiki
and Russian guitar ballads: turning and twisting
like a giant blue moon. I should have kept
strumming so you’d clap, your hands too weak
to make noise, and sing the wrong words,
swallowing them to a mumbled hum.
But, the day before you died, turning and twisting,
wanting to fall down, you remembered:
while man wants to hold his love on the ground.
Remembered everything: where our faces fit
against your palms’ lifelines, and what names
to call a great-grandchild, daughter, ghost husband –
knowing not to call out his name, and we thought
you healed. Where is this street, where is this home?
Your echo: hovering in this room where I didn’t
tear off my clothes or cover my body
with ash. I didn’t even cover yours, close
the mouth and eyes, hung wide and silent.
Where is this woman that I love alone?
I didn’t answer, looking up at you, your body
frozen in melodic yawn. I didn’t crown your head
with candles and beg forgiveness, here is this street,
here is this home. I didn’t stay to watch you shift
into a hollow, didn’t stay to learn the absence of a thing
trying to leave the body. Here is this woman
that I love alone: your unsung breath suspended –
teaching me all I’ll ever need to know of absence.
Jerablus to Deir ez-Zor
Where their spent soles once sank
in a bed of sand, time
forced grains to slip below,
lifting a forgotten history:
waves of un-dug bones sown so close
to the surface,
one could almost hear
cleft cracking underfoot –
where skulls on ribs on tar-
sus formed hills of man. From what
was left of other men, the Desert
rose: a body to be named by
and uncounted there –
a body built from bodies,
from a flesh fire-quilted
one language, one faith, its stench
thickening the aged air, staid-dust still
suspending a path from the heat-
aching ground to
the raw sun, swollen
with the decades: pendulous.
In that sear, marched until
collapse, they drank the earth, at first
from thirst, then from belief it was some
God perhaps, who, once inside, would
raise them out, towards
Himself, towards water.
But it weighed them down, drowned
them in wind awash with
sifted stones; and there, severed
part from part, I am searching for them –
souls: tellurian, souls: un-winged,
souls: lost, souls war
tried to un-soul: you.
Where ground trembles, trying
to unlearn reliving
how they died, and night comes on
cold: a lover’s hand digging for yours –
there, without hope of finding you,
over your bones
I’ll build a city.