for Clara Reed and all who loved her
“Charles, all I want is you to be a good man and a song leader in the church.” Nana
Light is coming down through the sweet persimmon tree
walking from limb to limb to be near us.
The light through your window is rising up my legs
to my chest now
covering my forehead.
Nana, the light jumps to your bed and is gone
up the sleeves of your pajamas!
There is a grackle on your sidewalk
walking like a shopping mall salesman in new Italian shoes.
But how can I tell you about the blue fire of a grackle’s wing?
I’m not that young anymore.
There are lines on my face where white sheets of skin hang.
Before I die in a bed like you I will disappear in mountains.
Nana, two Mexican boys are running up your street with a blue jay
in a birdcage!
Fast behind them is a dog with a diaper in his mouth.
The light is all around us now and still
you are sleeping.
Sometimes I want to turn away from you
walk away from hands that smell like talc
from bones like butcher knives cutting through your arms.
There is a muley cow skull grazing through your face.
Your paralyzed legs want to jump out of bed
run 265 miles up Highway 59 to Palestine, Texas where you were happy in the church
giving away eggs to ungrateful neighbors during The Depression.
Nana, I don’t believe you know who I am today.
You grip my right hand while I feed you jello with the left.
You told me once that if God took me by the hair, jerked back my head
and put a knife to my throat
I should make my throat a fountain of praise for him!
Nana, the devil is draining all the honest blood from your face.
Let him drown in that red sea while you escape into the desert.
I took the kids to Galveston last week.
We rode the ferry to Bolivar Island and Eli said the water looked like leather.
But to me the Gulf was the hastily braided hair of a woman
running naked, shrieking through the streets of Galveston and Houston
clear to Palestine and beyond.
Cattle will be found drowned in the desert covered with barnacles!
That night we watched men dragging nets in the surf for mullet.
I saw a seagull rip the delicate skin over a ribcage of water
and come away with nothing but paper in his mouth.
I remember your hair when I was a boy
up in tight braids close to the scalp in daylight.
Let down long at night and brushed out
your hair was like Matagorda Bay
stars flattened on waves and tossed away.
Sometimes I feel my blood beating against the sky.
Sometimes it’s so quiet I can’t hear it.
Who will listen to what the blood says?
Who will put an ear to my throat and tell me what the red blood says?
Long ago you told me words are shallow graves
where tired men lie.
You said there is a love that will pull out teeth with a pair of pliers
a love that will break ribs getting to our hearts
and you were right.
Now you say the dead ring bells in heaven.
The wings of fallen sparrows fold under layers of ashes.
Shadows follow each other through the streets like widows to a graveyard.
I say let the dead ring their bells!
Let the moon sharpen its sickle blade against my spine!
Let naked trees offer arm loads of snow to the nickle colored sky!
I want blood turtles to return to the sea!
I want the earth to open her swollen legs and let us out!
Nana you lie here curled in a fetus, every tooth gone
ribs bandaged from a fall
wearing a diaper.
God has taken you by the hair, jerked back your head and put a knife to your throat.
Make your throat a fountain of praise for him.
Go to the sky
and listen to the tongues of singing locust trees.
Let them sing for you.
The sun is full in the sweet persimmon tree.
Morning doves let down their wings around you.
Hold my hand as you would the right hand of Jesus and follow his blood
from vein to vein back to the heart.