Wading into the Surf with Fifteenth Century Poet Sage Kabir at Wrightsville Beach, NC, Along with My Nine Year Old Son August

WB

Wading into the Surf with Fifteenth Century Poet Sage Kabir at Wrightsville Beach, NC, Along with My Nine Year Old Son August

I agree, my friend, the water and the waves are the same.
Knowing their names does not make them different.

How quickly six hundred fifty years of wisdom
are occluded by a splash of salt water in the eye

as my son insists when we haul him again from under
his arms and up through the air that he be thrown

into the wave and not the water

July 7, On A Highway In North Carolina Between Thunderstorms Around Sunset

July 7, On A Highway In North Carolina Between Thunderstorms Around Sunset

The moon sticks from the sky like a cat’s
claw snagged in a dark gray carpet.

Except the room is moving, the carpet is
shifting until the entire crescent, unmoving,

is visible. And like something caught
in a dream it hangs there and does not fall.

Those things that are so much bigger
than we think they are. That are not caught at all.

On Drinking a Portuguese Wine on the Last Night of June

On Drinking a Portuguese Wine on the Last Night of June

This is how the month tasted, too. Full and lush on the front,
a vacation rental that is not too big or expensive but rich.

On the back, like the sound of surf slipping through the sand,
the taste of something going away, complexity escaping completion, dry on the tongue.

Security

Security

[Hear a recording of this poem here.]
nola street

A moth hovers by the closed door and moves on in its hectic pattern.
For a moment I can see my life in the invisible inscriptions of his path.

It is only the context of the rural airport
that makes us think for a second

he might be waiting to get in and declare his baggage
take off his shoes and present any liquids or electronics

and of course present official state identification.
So that this moth might be allowed to fly. Instead, he nods off tiltingly

on his own wings.

The wall of windows looking out on the runway
shows the sky, mountains and land on a photographer’s grid. Clear

of obstacles. In its reflection on the smoky inner windows leading
to the security check the sky is a rainbow gone haywire —

refractions off reflections. This is how it looks when you have
to break the truth into its elemental colors. They come out

as something else, warped and wary, wavy but unmoving.
Always looking like they were caught doing something.

But it’s not the truth that does the damage.

In the plane the woman from New Orleans, flying back to bury her dad,
tells us all to stay out of the neighborhoods, or anywhere there’s no light.

It is hard to avoid all the dark places in the map of one’s mind
but I try to follow her advice as I drift off in my corner room.

I don’t know how much later, that series of soft knocks on all of our doors, even high up
on the 20th floor. I could have dreamed the knuckle on the door.

It could have been my own hand curled in that soft and uncertain fist.

 
*

 
My eyes fog up when I walk Canal Street in the early morning.
No, it’s my eyeglasses. I walk the streets farsighted

welcoming the humidity inside.

In the hotel bars it is the same time all morning afternoon and night.
Not too early and not too late.

I just had breakfast and looking through the glass wall to the stools beyond
I can see the face of the clock that never changes.

It looks like a paper coaster seen through the bottom of an empty glass.
it looks through me to the back of my head and scratches something there

like a memo. It is the sound of brown magnolia leaves resting on a palmetto frond
in a hot breeze. It is the music of painted stucco. Red, yellow, mustard, red.

A street gutter that is never dry.

*

Three locks on the hotel door.
two visible, and one I cannot see.

The top lock, a long loop of metal like a tongue.
that is always sticking out. It can hold the door open, or closed.

Just below it, the oblong lever that moves the unseen
dead bolt. To add to my security, but from what?

Then, the invisible one I cannot control.

When the door shuts it locks automatically.
Only with the key the shape of a playing card can I open the door. It can never be unlocked or ajar.

Its weight swings it shut and it locks How did we get to the place in the world
where a closed door is always a locked door?

where you need a key not to protect what is yours
but just for passage into the next foreign space.

Still the room is hushed, even in a thunderstorm.
Lights bounce outside off the high buildings

but it is like children bouncing a ball in the neighbor’s driveway.
And the housemaid has crafted a turtle sculpture out of two towels,

and left it beside the bottled water, the ghost tour coupon, and the chicory coffee.

[Author’s note: I was asked to be part of a great reading at Black Swan Books in Staunton, Virginia on Friday June 17th. Although I was in New Orleans for a conference that week, I wrote the poem below, then recorded it on my phone, interspersing audio of three street musicians I recorded on walks over the course of the week. It seemed a shame to miss the reading, which was all about the relationship between writing and music, when I was staying in a place of such varied musical heritage. This poem is one of three works I prepared for the reading, which were then played at Black Swan. The recording can be found here. –JS]
nola man

June Flight

In a mind as mild as an eight o clock sky in early June
a thought swoops by like a swallow or bat

too quick for me to identify it by flight pattern
though it’s a thought that swerves and starts

again and once again after something unseen

not a thought that travels distances well but I’m not going far
content on the porch of my consciousness

a small level space on the outside of a house
I will never enter. The breeze

in my mind comes from someplace else and the thought banks impressively
in the same way logic sometimes makes us think we have direction.

The mind sky’s crayon color is half time and half heavy air

and despite its endlessness the thoughts flying in its late afternoon light compete
for an even smaller piece of space

held by a memory the size of a twilight’s tremoring bug
something I cannot even see but something that feeds the thought —

the whole reason the thought took flight is that this is the time
the memories come out of the earth and rise;

what they are doing there I do not know. Inside my house
in each room ceiling fans are rotating just above lamps shaped like leaves.

Perhaps they are turbines of an unknown will, a helicopter fleet in reverse
trying to keep the house from flying up in the air as it eventually will

like the tiniest memory of something bigger than my life
rising into the chasm of June light.

May 26 (Werifesterra)

May 26 (Werifesterra)

Last night I heard the first crickets of the year
and the first click and hum of air-conditioning units

five hours before my own calendar page turned over again–
I was in the woods of my mind, looking for a word that never lived

in the way some look for creatures that cannot be
where they have been seen though it cannot be doubted

something has been seen. By looking for this mystery
I was creating the word. Is this how love is created?

A word that suddenly obtains meaning and mystery
in the deepest neck of our woods? Five hours

from the fifty first anniversary of what I cannot remember
the machines and fans hijacked the night

lifted it in the bothered air like helicopters waiting
on every building to take off. But they never leave.

History just another season we can’t hear change
traveling as we are, faster than the speed of truth.

The mystery opens like the mouth of a wolf
and closes like bare feet running on a path

and in the middle is a window neither open nor closed
and a festival we can attend only as words to each other.

It spreads out like a spill against forgetting.
All the grounded helicopters

are silenced when the thunder knocks the power out
and people open their windows cautiously

one day closer to forgetting there was a night
without open windows and crickets.

The bare feet of a word prowl across my eyelids.
Each footprint is different, like a word in many languages.