At the museum, I learn I am as tall as some bombs (5′ 7”). The bombs in question are dumb bombs, which means they do not question gravity. They just land where they land, bury what they can. Placed in rows, they look something like soldiers. Dumb soldiers. The placard explains how all bombs used to be dumb, how the term was coined retroactively by whoever made them smart, taught them about lasers, thermodynamics, critical theory, all the things a contemporary bomb must know to stay competitive in a growing field. War was simpler when my dad lived here. It was called Saigon then & the bombs were so dumb they didn’t even know it. All they had to do was their jobs. Christ. This place has no damn A/C. The casualties are colorized, the tourists are foreigner than me, & Lennon serenades us on a loop, asking us every three-and-a-half minutes to imagine no possessions. My phone dings. Take museum with salt, texts Ba. It’s propaganda. Fish sauce, I reply. I send him photos: me standing in front of a nearly forgotten apartment, an elementary school, a wildlife sanctuary. I allow him to imagine me happy. I tell him on Tuesday I fed mangoes to a ten-year-old elephant. I do not tell him it was recovering from a landmine blast. I do not tell him his friend groped me last night at the bar, & I definitely do not tell him I am a communist. The world is a list of things I keep from my father. Before I leave, I run my hands over the shell of another sleeping bomb. But I’m not the only one, sings John. We’re dumb as hell. Full of hurt.
I think my lover’s cane is sexy. The way they walk like a rainstorm stumbles slow across the landscape. How, with fingers laced together, our boots & canes click in time—unsteady rhythm of a metronome’s limp wrist. All sway & swish, first person I ever saw walk with a lisp. Call this our love language of unspokens: We share so many symptoms, the first time we thought to hyphenate our names was, playfully, to christen ourselves a new disorder. We trade tips on medication, on how to weather what prescriptions make you sick to [maybe] make you well. We make toasts with acetaminophen bought in bulk. Kiss in the airport terminal through surgical masks. Rub the knots from each others’ backs. We dangle FALL RISK bracelets from our walls & call it decoration. We visit another ER & call it a date. When we are sick, again, for months —with a common illness that will not leave—it is not the doctors who care for us. We make do ourselves. At night, long after the sky has darkened-in—something like a three-day-bruise, littered with satellites I keep mistaking for stars—our bodies are fever-sweat stitched. A chimera. Shadow-puppet of our lust. Bones bowed into a new beast [with two backs, six legs of metal & flesh & carbon fiber]. Beside my love, I find I can’t remember any prayers so I whisper the names of our medications like the names of saints. Orange bottles scattered around the mattress like unlit candles in the dark.
Last night it startled me again—I dreamed of the corn maze through which we walked, almost a decade ago, in the presence of our other lovers. It was all burned down. Purple corn glowed in the fields enveloping the ruined maze, the woodlands washed by October sun. Instead of you, I found in the salt-white music of that familiar landscape an old piano, hollowed by the draft of time, and the handle of a porcelain cup in scorched soil. Relics of an imagined, civil life. Today, in the lemony light by your grave, I recited Merrill: Why did I flinch? I loved you, then touched the damp and swelling mud, blue hyacinths your mother planted there— ants were swarming the unfinished plot of earth like the black text of an infinite alphabet. I couldn’t read it. There was no epiphany, just dirt, the vast curtain between this realm and the other. You never speak to me, I thought, not even in dreams. For hours, I sat there, mocked by the bees— silly girl, their golden faces laughed, she still wants and wants. A warm gust shook the trees, and a pigeon settled into the dusk of a wet pine, and then another.
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine. Hands that can grasp, eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are useful; when they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the same thing may be said for all of us—that we do not admire what we cannot understand. The bat, holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse that feels a flea, the base- ball fan, the statistician—case after case could be cited did one wish it; nor is it valid to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in defiance of their opinion— the raw material of poetry in all its rawness, and that which is on the other hand, genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
Things will go on like this for Ever. No Thing shall shatter. No Tree. No Blade of grass shall be There. No Thing but Blue rocks shall Fill the valley where I Sleep. Things shall go on like this for Ever. Things shall be un Broken. No action shall shatter. No Thing shall escape and no Body shall shatter ideas and no Being shall shatter. No Tree. No Blade of grass shall Be present to Witness the Incident.
Everything shall be always thus. No Thing shall be turned or moved. Touched. All shall forever be so.
I have relinquished my shame now that I have mastered what wasn’t lent to my name: three languages, one of them dead. It is hard to misbelove all that isn’t as absurd as my forked childhood—first of the menses, padar’s stethoscope, to have hours upon hours to marvel at words like driftwood, trope, misbelove. To miss my life in Kabul is to tongue pears laced with needles. I had no life in Kabul. How then can I trust my mind’s long corridor, its longing for before? I have a faint depression polluting my heart, sings the lake. That there is music in everything if you tune in to it devastates me. Even trauma sounds like Traum, the German word for dream. Even in the dirty atrium, Lou was waiting, tenderly, for Rilke—René, he signed his letters, the apostrophe arced with love. Oh— in love, I was always and providential, but what I want is not of love. Its meatless mojo and limen bore me. I do not want to open, neither for food nor men. For loneliness, I keep a stone to kiss. At night the entirety of me arches not toward the black square of absence, but toward you.
On the first summer day I lay in the valley. Above rocks the sky sealed my eyes with a leaf The grass licked my skin. The flowers bound my nostrils With scented cotton threads. The soil invited My hands and feet to grow down and have roots. Bees and grass-hoppers drummed over Crepitations of thirst rising from dry stones, And the ants rearranged my ceaseless thoughts Into different patterns for ever the same. Then the blue wind fell out of the air And the sun hammered down till I became of wood Glistening brown beginning to warp.
On the second summer day I climbed through the forest's Huge tent pegged to the mountain-side by roots. My direction was cancelled by that great sum of trees. Here darkness lay under the leaves in a war Against light, which occasionally penetrated Splintering spears through several interstices And dropping white clanging shields on the soil. Silence was stitched through with thinnest pine needles And bird songs were stifled behind a hot hedge. My feet became as heavy as logs. I drank up all the air of the forest. My mind changed to amber transfixed with dead flies.
On the third summer day I sprang from the forest Into the wonder of a white snow-tide. Alone with the sun's wild whispering wheel, Grinding seeds of secret light on frozen fields, Every burden fell from me, the forest from my back, The valley dwindled to bewildering visions Seen through torn shreds of the sailing clouds. Above the snowfield one rock against the sky Shaped out of pure silence a naked tune Like a violin when the tune forsakes the instrument And the pure sound flies through the ears' gate And a whole sky floods the pool of one mind.
I’m ten years away from the corner you laugh on with your pals, Maggie McGeeney and Jean Duff. The three of you bend from the waist, holding each other, or your knees, and shriek at the pavement. Your polka-dot dress blows round your legs. Marilyn.
I’m not here yet. The thought of me doesn’t occur in the ballroom with the thousand eyes, the fizzy, movie tomorrows the right walk home could bring. I knew you would dance like that. Before you were mine, your Ma stands at the close with a hiding for the late one. You reckon it’s worth it.
The decade ahead of my loud, possessive yell was the best one, eh? I remember my hands in those high-heeled red shoes, relics, and now your ghost clatters toward me over George Square till I see you, clear as scent, under the tree, with its lights, and whose small bites on your neck, sweetheart?
Cha cha cha! You’d teach me the steps on the way home from Mass, stamping stars from the wrong pavement. Even then I wanted the bold girl winking in Portobello, somewhere in Scotland, before I was born. That glamorous love lasts where you sparkle and waltz and laugh before you were mine.