Fable, July 20 [Summer Mountains 6]

Fable, July 20 [Summer Mountains 6]

Ten days before my father dies again.
It’s a long hike, but no matter

How slow I walk
I will get there on time

At the peak of grief.
Only then I’ll see a second

Spire of stone barely
Substantial through the cloud

Which I will realize
Is the true grief and this one

I have climbed is
A mountain’s memory.

Then will come a year
And another.

This is how the great
Mountain ranges are formed.

5. Detail of 4. [Summer Mountains 5]

5. Detail of 4.

(detail of Musicians riding on an elephant, 8th cent.)

Now in the dark of the tiger’s stripes
The words are full of mouths when will they close

Summer is inches away
Breathing against the glass.

The praying mantises have left the peony leaves
For the untrimmed plants by the porch

One brown mantis remains like a recluse
Behind him the sky pulls up the ground

The mail truck is tipped over the library tilts
Like one walking home from a bar

But inside the musician’s house next door
The plates hold their breath on the table

Still as a magician’s trick while afternoon
Striped shadows stalk the heart pine floors.

Musicians riding on an elephant [Summer Mountains 4]


4. Musicians riding on an elephant

8th century, painting on a biwa

The elephant looks back the way he came
He is not afraid of what’s coming

Silence of the elephant paused forever mid-step
In a landscape painting rendered on the face

Of a lute. Above them the four strings
Of the sky tell the story

Representation of the landscape based
On the look of the characters based on the

Look of the landscape

Mountain rising like a candle un-melting
Birds fly away toward the ghosts of

Mountains the host and two guests

Tiger Hunt [Summer Mountains 3]

Tiger Hunt detail.jpg

3. Tiger Hunt

8th century, painting on a biwa

Nothing left of the one by the river
But stripes and direction

The riders will rush by their bows
Blowing kisses to the future

Not seeing the shape they desire
It must be ahead ahead

Past where the 8th century lost
Its outlines past the thin brush

Strokes of history

The mountain on the left
Surges and twists dark double

Shadows almost like stripes

Sitting under a mountain [Summer Mountains 1]


Sitting under a mountain

Three peaks: the host and two guests.
A way to art where images were drawn

after the shape of words for things.
Let’s call the guests Shan and Mu.

They wandered twelve miles, their host
shrunk with each mile, even they grew

smaller till a human could climb them
without a rope. They got green, waited.

On the other side of the water two women
lay down together and the plague spread

its blanket over them. Their names were pulled
from their mouths by the one who found them

and carried on the shoulders of children
to the place where Shan and Mu sat,

leafy and waiting for their host to retrieve
them. The people planted the names

and in a few seasons the names grew
into the hills and out toward the sun

like a character for a tree, or a man
buried to his waist and left to die

for stealing someone’s name
and taking it so far from their bones.

And the mountains tried on their new names
and the sound of syllables and that it

took twice as long to say a dead woman’s
name as it used to take to measure

three mountains and that was good
and to this day nobody will build

a house on the summits or
cut down a tree at the crown.

At the terminal

At the terminal

Before I was born before he was who he was

coming back from college in Rhode Island my father
saw striding across the floor of Grand Central

Station the familiar shape of his dad

off on another government trip    They met
by accident surrounded by marble and sound
people coming and going while they stood

next to each other for a moment talking

Your death

file (1)

Your death

One day your death is born. Like a root vegetable
he forms just beneath the surface of the earth,
fed by future circumstances combined with causes
thickening and unwinding in the dirt of time
where the past and present lay beside one another.
He wriggles out slowly, turning and turning and tilling
the door of grass open. As soon as air hits its body
it grows clothes, ceremonial looking robes and headpieces
from your nightmares, your childhood. The disappointed
brow of your father, the breathing of the stranger who
followed you down the road. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. To find you, so you may meet your death.

He’s ugly and small, so your death must travel by night.
If enough living people see him, he will simply disappear.
He knows the oppression of not being accepted, not being
believed. He has no language to formulate this knowledge
into words or he would offer people he met some solace:
Yes, death is real, your own death will come for you some
day, but today is not that day, and I am not your death.
I am the death of the reader of this poem, but even knowing
I am coming they will not believe, and wherever they will be
When I meet them is where I am heading. And he’d go softly
away, but it’s never like that. Without believing in him
they stare through him until he is truly transparent, truly not there.

So another day your death is born. Like a bird he knows
where he must go. He travels by night, he covers himself
with fallen leaves and pine needles during the day or lies
in the shadow of chunks of concrete on the edge
of a construction site. Occasionally, while nodding off to sleep
an image of him comes to you, in perfect focus, this little
unbeing, like a still photo but you know he’s not still,
like a postcard he is moving towards you. He finds one night
the interstate, knows it is the most direct way to reach you,
and his hair grows more quickly as he feels himself getting
closer, until a sleepy truck driver nods off just long enough
to slide into the breakdown lane and crush your death where he crouches.

Your death is born on another continent, even farther away. His eyes
turn like dry stones in his sockets, he has stunted leather wings
under his arms that would not work to fly, and as he emerges
from a bog his head is instantly covered by a bowler cap, his squat
body glistening in shiny robes, his feet quick in colorful hiking shoes.
He learns almost by accident how to use public transportation,
where nobody looks at anyone else. One day, months along,
he comes upon a scene of horrific violence on the road, but other
deaths are there for those people, you’re nowhere to be seen,
and he sees that it’s safe to climb inside the wheel-
well of one of the ambulances. Even if a paramedic sees him
out of the corner of her eye, she has seen so much death
she doesn’t look twice. Death is in your county, coming down
a country road, stopping at a park, walking through the woods.
Emerging from the near side of the river your death notices
something moving in the tall grass, and curiosity gets the best
of him, he follows it, and as the grass gives way to a freshly
mowed lawn, he sees it is another of your deaths, and when they
see each other they both pop, neither can exist now that
they have witnessed the other. You hear a sound in your yard
and think one of your cats is throwing up, but there is nothing there.

Your death is born in the cold wasteland. He is so unappealing that
even a hungry polar bear will not swipe at him. He falls into the ocean
and rolls for years, for decades. The part of him that is not submerged
sports a tattered raincoat, then a wave crashes over him and a new
flank surfaces like a leg covered in spandex. Then that submerges,
and over and over it rolls. Your death is born on a hot summer day and
tumbles out of a palmetto tree like a cockroach and is stepped on
several times but its mass expands into the crack of a sidewalk and
keeps moving. Your death is born just a mile from you, mucus streaming
from his snout because he is so close, he has no limbs to propel himself
your way but he knows if circumstances are right you will walk right by him
while you walk the dogs, so he waits but you are distracted by a text and he
melts in the sun. Your death is born ten years from now and like a bird he knows
to travel by night and meet no one’s curious glance and find his shadow
in moments of unbelievable coincidence where his existence will not
be questioned, he’s coming, of all these possible deaths he may or may
not be the one to be here, but this poem will get to you first, this
small ugly thing with a male pronoun and a single message, if I got here
before death it is because death really is coming, you should make a place
for him every day, so many have tried and only one will make it to you.
Don’t make fun of his appearance, he is just a pile of circumstances
as unique as you have been, he will be thirsty and if you make him some
tea you will have just a little longer to marvel at your life, perfectly cast
in his reflection in the mirror as he lifts the cup to his lips.




I pulled the tiny mantis from the spider web:
barely a fingernail of stillness and fight.

The strands, delicate and deadly as time,
wrapped forelegs as if in actual prayer.

It’s not pleading, and I’m not asking
for recognition as I remove the silk

And shred the spider’s web.
We build whole faiths on this foundation,

That something larger than us can disentangle
us from reality. When nothing comes

to remove us from dis-ease, our hope suspends
us till we can’t move. But I can act, not as god

but as antibody, I can act because I’m of this world,
enough death within me to save a life

and save what would be killed without killing
what would kill. I don’t claim to be fair

as I leave it on the porch rail to finish freeing itself.
Whole faiths have fallen on less.

Some things spread, and some things don’t.
We light the match to burn it. Our mistake

was believing we were loved before we felt
the love, then believe we need to earn it.

Carry me

Carry me

It’s fake noon in the eastern spring. The hungover sun’s
an hour behind schedule, or savings time’s an hour
ahead of the real morning, but at twelve my shadow still
leans against the porch like it needs more coffee
to stand mid-day straight in this plague tilted May.
I’m carrying the dead man’s book of bad advice from
the heart. Born in Germany, brought up in Israel, he’d fought
in two wars and done something brave once, carrying
an injured man through gunfire. There’s a precision to a bullet
missing its mark that the missed can feel, the smallness of a bullet
as cause of death and effect of a whole series of processes
and willful acts unrelated to intent to kill. And when a bullet
misses all those acts lose their potency; though when a bullet
hits every human act leading to it shares the weight
of a life. He could have been chased by gnats or horseshoe flies
on a hot beach at dusk, carrying his lover piggyback to the dunes.
He could have run from car to porch, dodging snowflakes
with an armful of gifts under his coat; the speed of what’s coming
doesn’t make it easier to avoid. The storm of death is vast and
rushing; the light falling of cancer, quiet, drifting, unavoidable.

As if he realized the folly of his success against bullets, for decades he threw
himself in front of every love propelled near him, maybe he was trying
to save others from the heartbreak a single instance of intimacy
can cause as it impacts and splinters within. Even if you survive
it you can’t pull out all the pieces, and some float in your body
years later, still moving like everything internal and not fixed
toward the heart. The dead man’s advice is not really advice,
more reverse propheteering, explaining all the bullets that
are missing us as he carries me away from the moment.
And now I am carrying him, the lightest dead man ever
buried or burned in trails of trembling ink.

I want you to carry me, not like the wounded but in these words,
and there will be a lightness to the air around you as you finish reading,
like when the rain stops or the battlefield is hushed or
you come out of traffic to a quiet road in the middle of the day
and even the shadows are out of tune with the time as if
the poem itself has stopped them in their tracks to listen
and then kept going on and on for an hour.
And you’ll carry me to a porch of shade
and sunlight at a false noon but also
I’ll carry you, you’ll be just a little lighter as the book in your
hands does its real job, to lift you and bring you to safety,
to promise you nothing but to make the pain more precise and less
Overwhelming, bullets and not a bomb.