After Robert Hass
Lord, today I fell asleep
in a slather of buckwheat
beneath the trees,
and the dogwood petals
popped softly on my cheeks,
and in my dream
I was marooned
on a strange island,
and the natives touched
me with wonder
and utter fear, tapping
at my face and throat. That's
what the fingers were,
dropping down to earth
to feel the dazed animal
at their shores. And trembling,
Lord, all of us trembling.
As though death might be
the cost of welcoming
without the use of words.
The streetlights drill into night clouds
like fresh rivets into the quilted steel
of the moving truck--ours--glinting, loaded up
with stacked drawers and chests,
and wicker chairs; a varnished
maple coffee table, and tarnished silverware,
stowed in dented Tupperware.
The yellow truck buckles
into gear, a loud liquid roar,
then grumbling afterward, onto the boulevard;
there, no cars. The flashing lights Morse
their single ceaseless letter.
I should be driving better, winding
over yellow lines on Beacon and Mass
Ave. banking wide, checking
the slim, rectilinear wings
of the mirrors for wreckage, scars. Just
a night drive down the long coil
of a nerve: Mine? Ours? Hers are sleeping --
a flashlight spilling on the city
map, jostling over bumps
and potholes, rattling light,
as the rumpled asphalt,
like knurling on a grate,
shivers her dreams. Even
in her sleep she knows
I'll wake her lost, and after that
that the truck will hardly fit
down our one-way street,
where our numbers are hanging
in the dark.
'The sky dogs are whimpering.'
At night, they shake off the smog, the white
stripes of contrails; they flick the dead birds
from their wings and breeze
toward a slick of cloudbank and lick it
dry. When they sleep they sleep
in the river, but they sleep never,
and daydream of eating these cities, scything
the long skyscrapers down to nubs, jogging
off through the air with a bus
in their jaws. Looking up, you can only spot
one or two creased stars in their bristles
as they shiver past. What keeps them aloft? Digging
their holes in the wind? Stashing
bones in the breezes? You couldn't beg
them down here with your own bones
in hand. So what's there to fear down here
on Earth? which, to them, is unholy land?
The millrace fills with weeds and asters
by late summer. The waterwheel churns
with creepers and bitter cress. The paddles
topple each from rotting starts; spokes, plates
and hub all warp and crook like a mouth
collapsing into speech. My uncle chisels
dead mortar from the mount; he paints
the apron blue in lieu of water, mixing
blue and pearl colored paint in a mortar pan
with half a broom. My aunt is Ôsick'
of late --shuttered in and drinking
in their darkened den. She contemplates
her life and calls for ice. He says:
My life just needs a new coat of paint.
He bought this sick mill years ago
for nothing much. It's not much
now, but my uncle's got, he thinks,
a curatorial touch. He likes to fix things
up; he's good at making things look sharp
before they fall apart. How's Jane?
I ask. Her scotch and ices clink
and snicker out of sight. She dreams
of liquor, my uncle never. He scratches
blotches of deep blue paint from his ruddy
knuckles without result. She's quite a woman,
is all he mumbles; and fumbles for a can
of gas, a rag, to wipe away the paint.
Hickory trees staked in rivermist. A grackle streaking through dawn
glass. Field weeds pour over cracked steppingstones and deck steps.
Cold morning. I wake up alone.
How, how many years too long?
They don't have a name for this mountain. I walked up the mountain
through a trench gouged out for powerlines and hunters stalking
afterwinter bears. I saw the wires running down into valley. Just
wires and the nearworld crowded with trees. Beech, ash and maple
blurred together until unsayable.
Today, what will you do?
A tubercular pickup truck rackets past the house. The roofers haul
buckets of nails up sliver ladder rungs -- cursing, calling aloft. In
my sleep there are hammers. I can't go back to sleep.
If can't you sleep?
I still remember my dream: my mother buries a blue dress in the yard.
It was gift from my father and she buries it in the yard.
Today, what will you do today?
I'll go digging in the yard.
Gregory Lawless 2009