in 1994, for Carol
A river of blood runs under the bridge of the rib cage.
I have come home from work with a cracked tooth
the pain of it like a soft flickering of lightning.
See a new moon hung in the frost broken limbs of our maple tree.
I want to lay my face against that moon, calling, “Carol, Carol…”
A light coming on gradually inside this leather box
I call myself.
I am a working man behind on his payments.
Loans taken out in another life eat my liver like a crow.
I can’t afford these words I am saying.
Can’t afford the assurance of men who walk in straight lines
or of those who follow their own desires
toward imagined pleasure or pain.
You tell me the way to heal is first
find the wound.
Go to it tenderly as you would a woman.
Stay with her, giving what you are to what you are.
Nothing stays the same, you say.
Even pain finally moves toward itself.
When self meets self, there is an end
But I say, let all words bleed away.
I hold up empty hands asking you to make them
Above the river gorge, a line of trees taking shape as green women
in the fog.
Listen, you can hear increase of light as a kind of ringing.
All night long, roots of Douglas fir hold their ground
fingers working in the soil, binding the hillside together.
Three feet down in darkness, beneath the foundation of the house
I hear balls of gravel tumbling against one another.
Sounds like bells
the kind that children tie in laces over tongues of their shoes.
Millions of them tinkling.
Three vertebrae in the mid back that once were tender as willow, cracked in a fall from a three story building. Now they hold to each other as three widows would, living in a one bedroom apartment. I have a nose broken in four places and a ring finger that can not bend, as a swan will, to its own reflection in a palm full of water. The body worships with a child’s faith every illusion of safety but, with age, begins letting go of faith, learning to make do with common sense and the support of a brace.
This morning the moon is the color of a mule’s hip bone, the one I found in a field of crowder peas outside New Waverly, Texas in 1959. The sky is white as the face of a man in his sixties, raised on pork. I am walking to the White Salmon again, following the circle of my breath. Hear the spangled screech of hawk or eagle hunting ground squirrel in the fog. Sounds like a tambourine or the ornate rowel of a Mexican spur suddenly set spinning.
Walking in snow a hundred feet above the river, I recognize my own boot prints coming toward me from yesterday. Cloud fills the narrow gorge to its limits. Crows caw to each other over the rapids, swell their breasts and make the popping sounds of courtship. In the shadow of an overhang, egrets are murmuring and their murmur is a twin to the murmur of the river.
Without gloves on, the cold moves ‘cross the swollen knuckles of my right hand, as a wind that circumambulates five sacred hills where little fires are built. This fire is how I know the sky comes down to the riverbed and enters into bone. My hand, the color of a slice of wonder bread, is open, offering the sky back to itself. The One without a name who takes the shape of water and of air is also present in fire and in bone.
for Shelley Bryan
Last hour of the afternoon on the west side of the house
where a narrow pasture and harvested field
We sit on a rock wall looking at the sun
because a Sikh said it was good for the eyes.
The red sky standing on water in furrows where corn will grow
darkens and begins to freeze.
I look at you as if you are the sky, stunned by a light that is always
Inside me is a woman whose face is a mirror held up to the sky.
Inside me is a woman swollen with bodies inside
Now is time to light the stove, cook rough grains and winter squash
drink tea in stark and ringing silence.
ferns of ice form on yellow windows on the north side of the house.
I lie in white sheets under a white blanket
the unplowed field filling up with snow.