with Unisa Asokan
Reprinted in Eyedrum Periodically, July 2014
A red box of matches,
a ten pound stick of butter,
a 20 pound sac of sugar, the river.
The body covered in yellow cloth, embroidered with a gold pattern.
Down to the river we carry you,
by holy Ganges’ ghastly rush. Bathers in sun
flame, at sunrise, rub their skins with ash,
press hands to foreheads dotted
with bright pigments, bend into water –
no waiting for a reason to let go.
Flies. More flies.
The family touches the skin of the dead for the last time.
Here, to the ghats, we bear you on our shoulders –
bier tented in swaths of red,
tented in fire, hands pressed to your navel.
When we tilt you into the water, flame
rises from your open mouth like prayer – press
of current, chimera – rush of nothing you need.
The fire negotiates an exchange of light, overnight.
A crew of the cremation caste sifts through the ashes and remains.
Fingers find a wallet chain, a septum ring, a flask of whiskey,
an anchor made of copper.
Holy city, where temples shoulder one another
under an ashy sky and bodies drift in the flood,
your mourners, idle now, lower hands,
stand and brush clay dust from trousers,
opening mouths to paper cones of puffed rice.
Holy water, holy river, carry me. Let me go.
“golden orb,” “Body Talk,” “The Shaman,” “Iridotymous” and “Albrecht Speaks,” Record Magazine, June 2014
dream catcher, yellow bloom,
coral legs so straight and horned they tempt
teeth, spits this sparkling mourning crown
for us to blunder into, first word already torn,
already provisional, a thread
we wipe our mouths on: no wonder
she eats silk, vanishes around the corner
of the house like fourth of July,
with moon to light us,
this story our bodies construct.
In the language of muscle
and skin and scent,
sound is sweat,
gender is only
Toss your spangled hat to the floor.
My hand in yours is a long letter,
a chronicle. I teach with silence,
Born suspect. Born exiled
on Adam’s street. My name.
Marker of my mother and her mother,
her father before, his forty-acre tract
of Carolina outland – invisible –
poverty of black on black. Word for it
litany of my childhood,
first word I remember, first word
meant for me, my skin
the story, Everyman’s story,
who I am not.
He has walked through the classroom door one thousand times.
You replay the details: pouch of dung, horn bowl, ashes,
sun-bleached hair woven with feathers and bones,
dried animal blood, healing shells.
His mask is two wounds: blindness and sight.
The force of an archetype
can knock us to the ground, shatter us.
He looks just like Jesus.
Great un-doings, grand falls, will not piece together, say why.
Spirits visit us. There is water. Man walks into a room.
He is not you, not yours. His are not your wounds.
Keep him close, without desire or need –
but tell the truth about it – you
pursued him. You sent his staff arching over the ravine.
You won’t ditch him, even though he is not, nor can be,
the lover you thought
you had saved.
Tragedy is a woman who reads portents, watches for rains
that never come. One evening during the Wanderjahre
as we stand drinking in a tavern,
I show her my drawings, trials in wood and in bronze,
scraps of paper lined up on a bench.
She finishes stories in the spaces
between them, says, as her face dents into planes,
as she bends low over the crumbs under the table,
as if she might like to scoop them up,
“When you are here, you are so much here,
and when gone, all gone.”
I take her by the arm and lead her with me
into the dusk of the square, point to cloud towers edged in rose,
church spires, my own feet in their felt boots – all species of miracle,
all ways of knowing how pain sharpens love –
recall for her my underworlds, rocks sprouting from lichen,
a triptych with its face of Jesus, my face,
dancers on riverbanks, men and women marketing in haggles,
scribes overturning words and finding bricks,
husbands at twilight counting sacks of wool into coin,
and children reckoning reeds or hacking at one another with stars,
crying, “Ha. You’re dead.”
Spoiled son, haunted soldier, oaf queen,
a hare cowers where I follow it into the sedge,
its terror, my terror,
its little life, my life, and this woman tonight, geometries,
ovals and squares of particulars, trace of foam on her cheek.
The waters of heaven and earth are all the same waters, I tell her
silently. Time is all time.
“But I am alone,” she says.