Friday, May 25, 2007

Poem to Kill or Die For

This is the poem that blows the top of my head clear off and leaves me scalped and begging for more.

Poem to Keep What I Love

soon we shall know
if we have learned to accept that the stars
do not go out when we die
-- Abba Kovner
I.

Even at dawn while my mother turns
in white quilted sheets for the last peel
of sleep while the dog waits pure of heart
for her door to open, my father
already gone, circling the same blocks
of empty buildings to check wet floors
or new locks, even on Sunday, even
at dawn--the birdsong's all reckless clatter,
stacked against air like metal while cats
hide under ferns and the petal-drunk
cherry trees burn their new beauty to bits.
Spring slides down leaves. Lilacs refuse
every warning. An old man in his good hat
waves without joy and the women follow.
Something falls inside, someone waking,
a new day setting its small systems straight.
Birds insist on themselves. Again again
we learn forgetting, practice our goodbyes.

II.

In the five minutes between here and there,
Bradford Pears blooming round as balloons
on the clipped blocks of dress shops, framed
chattering white now by trees fat with air.
Poem to keep the Bradford Pears.
Poem to keep sleep, dreams that burrow
under the skin with their knots of questions,
dreams evacuating through the alarm's
blind end. Poem to keep the crowd of light
by the open closet seen only as light
upon waking and sourceless. Source
yields ending. Poem to keep five
minutes the sloped fields intact, the cows
unhesitating the blooms fastened to branches
completely. Poem to keep patience
protected. Afloat. Without pull. To keep stars
we can't see from their myth-born explosions
their traveling downward their endless arrival.

III.

Against the black spine of fear that travels
through countries, poem, keep what I love.
Against the dreams, which kidnap me.
Against the silk hip of elsewhere, cities of still
swans on black rivers, the lonely nights
mapped neat by the windows of restaurants,
poem, keep what I love. Against days
wound like toys then let loose, painted cars
crashing hard what I love though unharmed
into memory. Against freedom's hummed
lilt, tremulous, trapped in the cloaked
sweetness of magnolias at the end of the street,
the front door opening and closing,
its greeting blind keep the thumped pulse
of the dog's tail meaning yes, meaning
here and so why won't the green
shutters rack the glass with recognition, why
won't the street turn to water and fall?

IV.

After they've left for some other shore where the air
gives off scent like a heat, sweet on the skin and blessed

dumb to the one empty house on its street
in its town where its picture rich rooms have begun

to collapse. Walls are lungs, losing breath.
Walls are ribcages, necks. Out of duty to grief
the dog's starving to death. And outside--

the world gives itself up like a sham. Departure
hangs loose, quivers bone white in place of the dogwoods.

I am trying to take stock, walk through doorways
before they dissemble. I'm collecting
the colors of windowsills, shutters.

This is the green of new mint. This gold
is the dark gold of nightlights.

Poem bring my love back. Trace the shape
of their absence to being. Polish loss to its starless
immutable sheen. Demand freedom's retreat

from the air inside bones, inside fire, from the air.

V.

It isn't unhappiness, this feeling like rain in the bones.

What I love lost to the last farms
at the outer edge of the last towns.
What I love sleeping unawares
while I call to it: fern, jawbone, husk
of the laugh.
Warm fur in the sun, I am calling you.
But what does the dream mean,
the one where everything important is in danger
and my voice gurgles to whispers that no one
but danger can hear--
I want to tell you: this isn't unhappiness.
It's summer.
It's the last good light of the permanent afternoon.
The bay window watching the lake.
It is longing, and longing makes room. And room
makes the breath longer, the love patient and larger.

I want to tell you. Where are you?

VI.

When their absence hardens to air.
When their absence is the absence my body leaves.
When I will it gone.

Gone the last day moonlight waiting in milk pods
and gone the ringed oaks dropping dusk onto lawns. Gone
the light piled on doubtful black rooftops, the blithe
blink of lamps spreading outward like palms. And Nocturnes,
or opera, blue candle wax sliding, glass table's goodbye dinner
set for the deck. The goodbyes caught

to collarbones. The last day lost to sleep. Lost as miracles must be
to what we refuse to remember. Only in grief will love speak

through memory: ribbon-thin language of nomads and thieves.
Only in fear will it shapeshift, trade inherence for accident, the unforeseen.

Come back. We're the bird song.
Come back. We're the hum of the house at night.
Come back. We're rain, lifting.
Come back. We're the whole of the neighborhood, just loosening.
Just gathering dark.

VII.

Surf hum of an air conditioner cools the dark house.
All along the block, honeysuckle drops
scent, and the block takes it. I accept love.

Not its infinity, but its front porch.
All along the block: women at windows
in white nightgowns. Vines climb
a new trellis for air.

The kitchen's dimmed track lights unspool
on the counter, thread magazines loose
till they slip from their stacks.

Water glows from the bottoms of glasses.

And upstairs on a curtain: the yarn hair of lions.
A dragon's green scales are sequins we saved.

Look, it's late.
My mother's still reading on blue
patterned pillows. My father is dreaming of awe.
His head back and mouth tilted upward

and open, as if in his sleep he were trying to catch snow.

VIII.

Let me tell you about the honeysuckle
Dense heavy like water soon it will be gone

Let me tell you about my mother
Standing in the kitchen

The world dissembles the window slides
Nothing can harm me

Let me tell you about the peonies
White apologies at the edge of yards

Let me tell you how goodbyes arrive
Gray ships on gray water, enormous

Let me tell you about the peonies
How the bloom wants everything

Let me tell you about my mother
Her skin is peonies, honeysuckle, early summer light
one glass of water one kiss goodnight

The air collides

(and where are the stars
long lost to the impossible)

IX.

yes and the evenings
my mother says
the moon!

once it decides
to get full it gets
full so quickly

yes love
keep you yes
how the sleep

grows sweet
how the last
days come

undone without
regret, this scent
of honeysuckle

too ripe for regret
though we dedicate it
earnestly

-- Published in Poetry, April 2004

2 comments:

Chicky Wang said...

Who wrote this one?

a-smk said...

Taij Silverman. I don't know a poem I love more.

Sigh...it makes me every best kind of jealous.