The young boys are learning to share,
but they start with punches and put-downs.
First they have to give away their pain.
The young girls hide their bruises before they arrive.
It makes them old, and they think the future is only
physical. Makeup makes their skin dusty.
No one wants to escape only to find reality there.
What they share is what they don’t have. They give
themselves away to make the dreams real.
Outside the bodies, they can see what the sloppy sacks
of dreams are worth. Inside, they only want out.
Each memory becomes a little balcony.
I can see planes in the sky dragging their white tails.
Their value is in their distance, which I appreciate.
I misunderstood at least one sack of tattered love.
And still the pain remains ambiguous, uncertified. It was in the house
when I visited what was missing. You must think you know
what your self is, if you feel this sorry for it.
“What did you do with the money?” the woman’s voice hoarsely whispered before she hung up the telephone. Manuel felt mystified, even anxious, and he looked underneath the bed to make certain he still had the big red toolbox.
“Did you know that you have a brother you’ve never heard of before?”
Manuel thought the voice sounded like his mother, but since she had interrupted him while he was sleeping, during a week in which he had had difficulty sleeping properly, he wasn’t certain later if he had been dreaming or in reality having a telephone conversation with his deceased mother. Later, he was even more vague in his own mind because, as he recalled it, if he recalled what had actually transpired correctly, whoever had called him had quickly hung up the telephone. Manuel had decided to get a home telephone connected in his rented basement room. He realized that, while he might feel compelled to live the life of an ascetic, he could no longer live the life of a recluse or a monk, detached or almost completely cut off from communication or socialization with the outside world. At a later age than most, he had moved from his hometown in Northwestern Ontario to Toronto to pursue academic studies, to acquire a bachelor’s degree and develop a career in teaching English. To pay for tuition he was using the funds, the money, his mother had left him as an inheritance, after she had died from a relatively rare blood disorder in his hometown hospital, amidst the polished stainless bedpans, intravenous needles, oxygen masks, bags of blood, heart monitors, intravenous poles, latex gloves, disposable gowns, tissue paper, and face masks, and a young woman who had attempted to commit suicide in the adjacent bed.
We crossed on the iron bridge
Built by your grandfather,
Biting off a lambskin glove:
Your single finger driving us,
Hands roving, buttons pulled
Open. Last night’s junk steaming
from the needle of Minneapolis
Clotting our brains.
Crossed to your mother’s house
Stacked in St. Paul, where neat
Yards and churches pressed me in
Until I barked at your prim father:
Disapproval in his head, hiding his
Alley wanderings, halved bottles
Hidden in the shed outside,
Waiting for his smooth burned gut.
Silent crossing, slipping over
The River on the concrete bridge
We want to slap each other
Until bruises rise on our cheeks,
Instead I imagine jumping
From the span parallel to us,
Breaking open on the rocks
Like the drunks. Like heavy ice.
A year later one bridge snapped
Down and held the cars under:
Jammed up the River for a week,
I saw it alone on the bank above.
It was the new one, rebar too weak,
A road too fractured by rot
To lift and carry your anger,
my anger, across the water.
Stuck in sage on a brash escarpment, he was left with a crook to shake
At coyotes : wind-sucking shapes in the night that would tear a lamb
In two without a bleat escaping. A ribcage dragged by the sleeping form.
No fight here: his knife now sheathed in leather, creation being its only use.
Had to gouge fake loves in place, up to split in the white bark,
Around a knot, or with the grain and lenticels, jagged out with
Slapdash ovals for eyes, wide-open cartoon legs, seemingly detached
From the width of the pelvis. Breasts larger than two hands on the aspen’s
Arc, soft on hard wood, the only life to caress for days and miles.
“God help me I am so lonely”, was one caption I read, near the roots.
As if the soft of the earth was sacred in this place, the only ear. “Lucia, dearest”
Were the cut words on a lodgepole pine, complete with lips across
A huge canker in the wood where a man could bury his whole face inside.
We were both half-breeds,
Off-white and tanned
So no one could tell
Which brown race bore us.
I found him on the same
Second-string line in football:
He kicked. I tried to tackle
Husky kids who ate chaw.
We lost every single game:
Left on the field, heaving.
To fortify ourselves
We tried tobacco and weed,
Even hot white lightning.
But our bodies were too thin:
We vomited under the stands
Leaning like burning logs.
In exhaustion he yearned:
Pressing harder against me,
But I turned in retreat
To a college in the far north.
He never left Missouri,
Found work with his father
As an embalmer in the city,
Slapping dead flesh
And wax to each other:
So near to the rigid vessels,
Receiving them in a basement,
Opening their thoraces
With a saw in the night,
sewing them shut with gut.
I never became a doctor
Like I boasted to everyone:
Running between classes
I tore my knee open on a wire,
And retched twice as the fat
Melted a river onto the cap.
After that, it was hard
To imagine this repeated act:
Slipping my hand into
Someone like myself.
I stand with lean, bearded men, silent men,
cold-eyed, in camo caps. They stare ahead
at nothing. I read about them in books
about the Civil War, Arkansas troops,
blue-eyed, walking into Union bullets.
They could be brothers. They could be wounded.
The unemployment office carries us
forward, pulled over clean tiles toward
a desk where a tired woman resists
Poets can’t be stoic. Silent people
seldom flower. Alone, we mumble lines
about the pain we did not seek but
finds us anyway. In company we
declare our mental illness like
an asset on a tax form, even if
we’re sane as paper. Even if we
don’t use paper anymore.
Burning fuel sheds smoke into the sky,
turning the starfield into an even darker
view of the time/space continuum.
Inside the metal door heats, sometimes
to cherry red, emitting its own waves
like a private negative sea.
A shovel reclines on a bed of coals,
wooden handle stained by grime,
sweat, coal dust light as a bruise,
softer than a whisper in the late night,
when the pipes sound as a choir,
moaning through their courses,
hidden between the surety promised by
walls. The sun is also a furnace,
boiling gases that charm over damp grasses,
make the tulip fold open,
dries the t-shirt hung on a rope.
We burn alike all the others heat up,
Between us, a single flame dices on
Our lives, gambling for an enduring spark.
The memory of you is scum that clings
To what you left behind, abandoned things:
Your schmaltzy records of singers I abhor
Are piled like overdue bills by my door;
Your lotions clutter up my cabinet;
Your ‘favorites’ greet me on the internet;
And when I go out must I always see
A friend of yours who recognizes me
From some party you invited me to?
And, really, must they always ask about you?
Your name is like a bruise left on my arm
That always goes with me, a luckless charm.
These walls still hold the echo of your laugh
As if that shrill thing were our epitaph,
But it’s so faint I have to strain to hear it—
I have to strain so very hard to hear it.