We may never know the mystery of sleep.
We don’t want to become machines.
But we let our vagabond thoughts run riot,
not like hurricane but like breakfast table,
spread with honey and cereal. And then: falling
over the dog, kicking the ribs out
of the heirloom chair. Somewhere
between the end of the table and half-past
nine, the stock-market crashes. We watch and can’t
believe we are watching. And then: hot flannels
to the face, brocade of poppy-heads. Forget,
forget—bag of ground pepper dipped in whiskey
and placed in the ear.
We never want to hear what people are saying. We never
know exactly what is needed. Blister Compound, Opium Powder,
Lint. Baths or Fomentations; Forcepts or Pins.
If you swallow a bee, if your throat is stung inside—
you are not necessarily closer to the mystery, your own dying.
Tonight I will place a key over your bee-sting
and force the poison out. You are very lucky. I don’t
even know you, but still you owe me nothing.
Our love rhymes with: cub scout, clod-hopper, trouble-shooter, sore
thumb. Sitting in the kitchen with our fruit cocktail skin.
Who says love can’t last? A little syrupy, yes, a little soft;
a can of exploding snakes, yes, a dissolving eros-aspirin. Yes.
I could be your silent auction—all that old lady furniture
delivered from the house on the hill: velvet drapes, china poodles,
chintz, chamber pots on your doorstep. Now & Forever, like
an interstate. Why not jackpot everything—imagine
those satin pockets in the dead ancestor’s tuxedos. Imagine
the cool slide of your hand entering—imagine yourself dressing
before gilt mirrors, the wool seams unthreading, the smell of wet
sheep, and your hands moistening like pudding cake
on fine bona china—it isn’t proper, but could you please
pass me that candelabra? I need to check the laundry in the basement.
Meanwhile, try to imagine a mansion of fabric against your skin.
Already the branches of the family tree have forgotten the itch
of your amputated limb. As a precaution, I’ve welded the keys
to all our doors into matching bullet-proof vests. Did I say
forever? Yes, I guess so, so then you’d better
sew all my openings shut with thread pulled from the bed sheets—
you’d better bury me beneath you, our hands
and feet tied. I want to be trapped by the cage of your ribs
as it slowly sinks into mine.
Striped woods, stirred berries and spatula collapsing
into forehead light — this was my contemplation interrupted
by the bear. The bear, bouldering into my cabin as I stirred
dried berries at the stove. Standing on my hind legs stirring when
the bear entered, a wall of fur, standing on his hind legs. I was married
to this bear. And so my husband entered with his bear-skin
cloak thrown over his eyes as his forehead touched mine, and
the forehead of the bear-skin touched mine. And I saw
him for the first time. His forehead shined a flashlight into mine.
Luminous, even though I was shy and looking at the spatula.
The bear in his bearskin made the cabin collapse. And I was married
in his hair. Then an arm, a spatula reaching through me to the cabin
window where the striped woods collapsed and left me without
a bear-skin of my own. I wore a striped mattress. The woods
were filled with them. The bear said: you call that a parka?
The bear said: lets strip this mattress down to particles and contemplate
that. Let’s contemplate, said the bear, the idea of the mattress
in its smallest form. And beyond that, the bear said, let’s imagine
that the mattress contemplators and the mattress itself
are empty. Lets imagine our imagining is empty. Are you
gonna eat that? said the bear, because if you’re not, I’d love
to have it. Then what would there be? No mattress, no bear, no idea
of mattress, no idea of bear. No bear interrupting with his stomach
growling and reaching for the spatula. There’d only be
Luminosity, said my husband, the flashlight in my head.
After she had swallowed him
completely (taste of soap-chalk,
ammonia, her mouth smelling
like water, like a dog’s mouth),
she forgot the vows and how
she got there — the stranger’s
kohl eyes leading her
to the broom closet and his hands
festooned with rings.
After all, her husband was a stray dog—
in the yard he carried a mirror
on his back, his eyes flowering.
He spent his days in the city
snapping at bees, getting his nose stung.
In the evening, he returned
with a mouth full of fur.
Sundays, she watched him
in the garden swallowing sticks,
his own arms, dragging
his rear legs like a wedding gown.
To him, daffodils were now
a bouquet of knives. He snarled,
shook his head, left, right, an impatient
bride, tried to see himself
in the mirror on his back
like the bride reaching behind herself
for the last button.
Finally, at a cocktail
party, he politely leaned over
and bit the wrist of a neighbor.
She passed a tray of canapés, saying
“The best thing to do is take him
out behind the barn and shoot him!”
A tinkling of laughter, then doom.
Her bangs flipping back like tidal waves.
Truth is: she had been his wife
two hours when she selected
a new lover— what was his name?
( In the cramped dark fumbling,
smell of chlorine, and entire forest
of brooms falling) When they were
through, a bare bulb exposed
the tiny room: he wore a beard, and
in the janitor’s sink he washed
his hands over and over again
like a raccoon.
Knowing that at any moment she could turn
into a witch, they sit the girl in the corner by the fire.
They place a wooden cross in her mouth, cakes of salt, soap.
They place a coin over each doorway.
She says nothing. When they divide up her father’s things
to pay for the scandal—his lathe, his axe, his pewter
bowls—she holds her mouth half-closed like a lock
that waits, a jagged outline, lizard or turtle, silhouette opening.
Either she’ll lose her name or a neighbor will hang.
It is known that she has been with a man, in a brake or bush,
out in the land. They say she can change into a partridge or
deer, and that the night she appeared in a field
a man followed her. It’s true when she moves, she makes
a shifting sound, and sand fills her shoes, filtering
onto the floor beneath her skirt where she sits still
as an hourglass. To try her case, they shave a bull’s tail,
grease it, and thread it through her door-clate. She places
both feet on the threshold. If she holds the bull by the tail,
she can save her honor. If not, she will keep the grease
that clings to her hands. Her face shiny now, like
warm meat. Years later she will still roll grease
from her arms. Truth will become the wolf that lurks
in snowfields of her eyes as she sits by windows and beyond
the invention of glass. Her thoughts crashed into again like birds.
The question was authenticity: silver Indian
bracelet, turquoise beads. You said, “Sterling,
925.” I said, “Nickel, cannot find the stamp,”
and we left the pawnshop’s dim arcade, your face
transparent before watches in the window’s glass.
On Queen’s West: leather jackets in a store called
“Skin and Bone,” jeweled phoenixes that rose
straight from my high school feathered roach-clip
days. Parallel wall mirrors sent soap-stone beavers
and raw-hide drums off in rows.
You wanted one small drop of blue for your
right ear. The cost: splitting a pair. An infant
squawked and sucked a fist in the back room,
his mother stitching moose-skin, surrounded
by fur. You said: “My old lover would like this,
she collected pelts.” I looked at the tied
feet and noses—bear, bobcat, minx,
deer, cow. Twenty skunk-tails in a barrel.
I thought of zooaphilia: woman who married
a bear, a frog, a swan, who fed a cobra milk
and then fell in love. Or the man who married
a horse, a goat, a bird he held to his chest
and carried everywhere. I thought of each pelt
as you, your skin. Remembered the man
who stoned two dogs to death and hung them
in a tree. His only cure: to marry the dog’s
sister in an elaborate ceremony, a feast
for a thousand guests. I thought about
the difference, a dog in a white dress.
That night you worried about my carrying on—
crying, raccoon eyes, my leaps between our hotel beds then
catatonia, unable to sleep in that tower of 500 rooms,
all with the same portrait above the bed—a naked
beauty cavorting against a furred beast; he a psychedelic
square of hair, she, S-shaped, pale, sleek. I prayed
our marriage would ward off bad omens, dreamt
of cages, stroked your hair. I couldn’t tell whose skin
was whose. I dreamed I was your animal. Let me
be your animal. But then I woke and found our bodies
hairless in the mollusk-colored room.
Line to be sewn into a skirt hem
held in my mouth ever since the unraveling
Line beneath a bridge
for years without hope I stretched my arms into the river searching for you
Line to be sent to the cornfield
history is a hallway of leaves.
Line written for electric wires
your voice inside the no history, sitting still
Line for future people
inside the work, only my empty teeth
Line from Maharaj
Presently you are in quietude. Is it on this side of sleep or on the other side?
Line that cannot be read because of its darkness
impossible walk under weight of honey
away from your hands that break me in half
Line addressing President Lincoln
when the handle and blade are gone, what remains
of your axe?
Line to be run over by a lawn mower
afraid of everything and to be of no use.
Line for a distant midnight dog-pack
because I can never speak it
Line to be sewn into a shirt collar
the streak of your finger across the hood of the car
Line for a stone growing old
a sunburst that lands inside a flower
Line written only with your mouth
desire is a trick ghost
Line for the garden weeds
slowly I am nearer to you
Line describing the better qualities of monsters
are we afraid of what we wished for?
Three lines written for bears
inside cells, water, trees, I am meaningless
darkness and light wind like breath on fur
I carry the circling cities inside me
Line for a leaf blown into the hair of the Master
seeing you, I want no other life
Line for a mouse
to die like that, held in your hands