The Lament of the Irish Women
The babies are dead
on the sea. Far from home, watery shapeless arms
embracing the little bodies, the little cries fed brine,
the timbers cracking like skulls.
Silver fish, in days to come gripped in heavy net,
split open on china plate rimmed with gold, Wedgewood and Waterford,
generations back through centuries and hurricanes and wide
bore the small squalling things down and down
to the floor from which rises Azores and Iceland and
Canary and the rolling green land of the mothers
who are told
You will bear the children of rape or you will be hanged.
Years away they will tear the lightning from the sky and put it in machines,
but also they will build drafty houses with cellars they will fill with
bones and the smell of turf on the wind will set the fist around the heart.
Better to fall forever into the gray palace of the seabed
than to eat grass and dirt in the dolmens of a throatcut land.
This is what the mothers say, but they speak with the tongue and not the heart.
Turning over and over, head over heel, slowly turning and tumbling,
held by no cord
a greater hold
Ah but they say it is the most peaceful way to die, he tells them on the beach
when the news comes in
weeks later. But what does he know, who will break his neck falling from a ladder?
Is not the world a ladder, she thinks, all of us God's creatures climbing and going down
at whim it seems. And what is at the top but the land of
dead children, we wail to see them again and this is the sound we all have within us
that we are desperate to unhear with song and silence and drink and
lightning in machines
automatons to take the helm of the world and run it onto the breakers
and shake us all down a few rungs of the ladder.
[You used to hold my hand when the plane took off]
A tiny small coughing then
a tiny small
settles on soft sand
this is the final peace of the in-between
if there is such a thing as peace
in this desert of sea
this is the calm
coming to rest within this garden of souls
waving like sea grass though there is nothing here
just the weight of the entire ocean holding
like a womb.
Someday the sea will boil away just as the land
and the coils of chain and broken ships and the thick black python of cable
that powered the machines
will crack in the sun
and the bleached bones of coelacanths and whales
will be the cathedrals to be dismantled,
to be rebuilt into a new ladder
so we can carry the babies up
- the sea will give up her-
after so much time in dark
let them, as warriors, bathe in the calm
of the stars
Hard times are upon us,
they are cracking down on shared passwords
like the final third of an illuminated manuscript;
Fine penmanship doesn't get you as far as it once did.
A nuclear error, an able archer away from
what- from looking behind us at all, much less
much less reaching out a trembling hand to a sleeping swan,
closing thin fingers around the slender neck,
squeezing ever so slightly, even if it wakes even if it honks and pecks and thrashes about and tries to leap into the air or run headlong into scummy water,
pluck a white feather, just one, and let the bird go free.
Ignore the evil eye, it's like that for everyone.
(They make their own candles, up there on the hill above the sea, behind the stone walls where the rain seeps through and it is never warm but for the giant hall where
their bodies and candles collect three times a day to sing and pray)
But they made decisions on the Costa Brava, after all. We can all look the other way
if we need to, if the sea is turquoise enough, hypnotic, if the dollar goes further.
They say - it is written in the books, the annals - they say,
on a morning of peat fires and lice, before dawn even, before anyone but the most dedicated farmhand is awake,
the men (all were men) stood in the giant hall surrounded by their own candles
and their own hush.
The sun clawed up above Norway, spilling newborn light on the curving prows of the
longboats, the yellow heads of the raiders who when they slept dreamt of the green-topped slate cliffs where this stone hall stands, open-roofed to the starmilk night.
The quiet antiphon, a stifled yawn, head tipped back, then the jaw opens in marvel:
across the spillwhite river of the sky a ship is sailing,
the keel and the hull sparkling like silver, clean of barnacle and gouge,
the sails billowing and gleaming, pennons streaming from mast peaks,
the figurehead a creature unknown to any eye or mind on this world.
Dangling, a long rope of adamant and at the end the anchor
scraping along - now they can hear something beyond the wall, those who have not yet looked up, the digteeth of the anchor chewing a trench in the turf upon which the
hall sits like an ugly brooch in baize.
The wall shatters, the anchor and the rope snag
on the rail of the altar. All mouths now O, no praisesong, no sound but awe
and its attendant silence.
The ship overhead stalls, snags, stops and hold above them, as though
some airborne Pentecost flamed in the night.
As they looked as one, a figure peers over the rails of the ship, looks down, climbs over.
It slides down the rope, slow slow like honey dripping from the shallow of a prelate's spoon. Curled around the rope, the body extends, leaning down to grasp the stuck anchor.
They stare at the figure, not man exactly but not so unlike a man as to be uncanny.
He - they decide later it is a he - struggles at the heavy anchor, tugging and winching,
trying to loose it and as they watch, a discomfort, a pain blooms upon his face, and his mouth opens to gasp, to speak unknown words that are still somehow perfectly understood
and the abbot, grey and bald as any other, mottled and putrid compared to this other
who gleams with inner galaxies and glaciers,
exclaims aloud, in contravention of their rites and laws,
"He cannot in this lower air subsist!"
and all together, they hove like sailors themselves, hand upon hand, gripping the caught anchor until they had freed it and with a lurch up and up it sprung, the visitor
rising, hand over hand, up and up the rope again, back into awe, away from the mystery he had fallen down into,
and away they were gone
and the quiet settled over the hall again,
wall broken, floor trenched, altar warped.
The nub of a swan quill scratching on parchment paper
tells fantastical things; we sit and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, try to live
the way we know we should, even if it is hard and expensive and
miserable. Even if the clouds shield this modern world from miracles,
dreams in our heads
of pineapples all the year round and wake finally alive
for five minutes.
Thai girls stand at the side of the offramp, one of them is pregnant,
her own anchor in her own altar
her own sailor leapt skyward to doze in a beach chair in Cadaques
and take communion on Sunday morning,
head tipping back to finish the wine, eyes holding the entire heaven
in their gaze, clean and clear and nothing
to spur the heart
could ever be seen.
Defense of the Revolution
We are being saved,
we are being wakeful against the drag of sleep,
we are lying on a made bed and outside there is a
thunderstorm and we are
looking out the window at the rain
and in the on/off of the floodlights flicking through
the palm fronds
we decide it is the hand of god
moving the particles of our existence
making known what was always ignored.
There are afternoons and evenings where I give in and let the encroaching twilight wraps its warm arms around and around me, creeping in from the edge of my vision and filling up my throat and pores and wringing my guts into stillness, this blessing of calm this treasure of nothingness and think I hope you die I hope we both die.
Where is the comfort in this world,
in this modern world?
Where is the embrace of centuries, the chain going backward and outward?
Sometimes they find men buried in the glaciers
of Switzerland or the Tyrol,
ancient and preserved, withstanding alone the sun coming up
the stars wheeling overhead, the river of milk
moving so imperceptibly it feels permanently in place,
as though the world we know and the skies we search
were the same as his,
even if it is hard to imagine now a shallow, warm sea
After all, even the Grand Canyon started as a raindrop-
-even the cruel English barons of Ireland dream of their grey home when they sleep-
[last night I dreamt of an apple, red and the size of a breast, and when I cut it open the flesh inside was black and sweet, this is the apple of discord, I thought and ate the whole thing, core and seeds and stem, and in the morning I woke up and vomited black bile into a marble sink.]
this panoply of color
the Ishihara test of the human spirit,
the bitter apple ash on the tongue of the race.
We stay up late, all mankind, ekeing out one more moment, one more instance of meaning
before we surrender to sleep, to wash it all away,
the morning finds us all newborn and helpless, motherless, fumbling with heavy lids
for the breast, for the song-filled voice, the blood that is our blood, the last time we were anything but our lonesome selves: someone's son, someone's daughter, someone's everything.
Our culture tells us, shows us in multiple ways, that the weak are left behind,
that a millstone will pull upon all our necks and together into the tar we will sink
singing glory glory glory.
What a miserable world we have made for ourselves, the snapping of human bonds sound like gunshots (otters hold hands in their sleep so they do not drift away from each other)
or a broken femur, which 15,000 years ago was set by unknown caring hands and its owner tended to and healed and so was able to get up and walk out into the mountains of the old world and fall into a glacier and die and see the sun again in this new world unimaginable even to our parents,
and if not for those hands there would be no modern world.
For good and all-
sometimes I laugh for no reason I can recall
sometimes I cry
or sleep and dream of glaciers in my guts, of Catholic peasants cutting turf
and falling into peat bogs
lungs filling, all the colors detonating across the shut eyelids, the pounding of the earth's heart in the ears so loud it cracks the skull and the brain shines out like a diamond in the wastes of Kimberley, gripped by dirty, unpaid hands and wrenched from the claws of continents to settle fine and unjust in the coronet of a far master.
But it is beautiful to live, to live in beauty itself,
to lie on a made bed and think about the grass
drenched and drinking
the soil beneath becoming slurry, the worms writhing in mud,
the roots of palm trees and jacarandas swelling and gorged,
to think of the world without my place in it, because we shall all be forgotten in time
until the day when our glaciers recede
and unrecognizable beings crowd around our fleshed mummies and poke and prod and wonder
why no one set the bone.
tastes like the peak of a fable, rolled around in
my beautiful mouth like anise, a cold syrup
pooling at the base of my throat, spreading across my collarbone.
Whose hand is this, linking with mine?
Whose voice is this, whispering in my ear, asking me
to pray? I've forgotten too many of you
to keep track of anymore.
Outside, I feel the earth binding itself, ribs knitting, scabs
sugaring over the wounds. The oak doors are seven hundred years old,
the woman tells me; it is late at night, and very cold
and the cathedral is a stone mountain pressing down on us.
I hadn't meant to stop here, I almost feel the need to tell her this.
What brings you here tonight, she asks, and I suppose for a moment
she is a nun, sent out to fetch the lost souls of the night.
It is my birthday, I answer, as if this explains anything.
Many returns of the day,
Yes. I say. Yes. and thank you.
She leaves when the bells begin to toll, and I shiver
at being alone.
Carved granite faces stare down. I feel a hand on my shoulder,
turn, gasp and roll my eyes.
Heat down the back of my neck.
A stitch bursts. Somewhere a rock rolls down a hillside.
The bell rings itself out, the city sleeps on, ignorant.
Deep breath now, and the cold sliding up my calves through my shoes.
Pray? That's your advice?
Well, I've heard worse. Pick a god, then.
I was eleven years old when a grown man told me I was beautiful
and it all went downhill after that. But it was like sunshine,
like a wheatfield in the summer, the coast nearby and filling the air with
the idea of
brine and slippery things. Yes, I could have laid down in the field
among the stalks of wheat, hidden. I know that now. I could have even filled my pockets and gone home and made bread
and sat in a chair in front of the oven and felt the warmth of created things, of
handcraft and earth. Something at the back of the tongue, sticky,
salty, will not go down. Instead I stood and waited for the colors of names of god
to swirl about me like a cloak, wrap me like loving arms, lead me past walls
of stone into a circle of people who also feel the blood of the earth
coursing in underground veins, and light at all hours
and whose voices sang in the endless blackness between stars, calling or praying
to the god of being listened to for once,
to the god of a peaceful and loving family of your own choosing,
to the god of remaining small and overlooked,
to the god of finally, dear god, getting something I want,
to the god of knowing better next time.
Love twisting like a hand around a shepherd's crook,
the fangs of forgiveness sunk deep and drinking,
the throat choked with
The smell of bread, of cold wet stone,
Does this maudlin paint
give me an air of vitality? of bargaining? Cheating?
On the phone all day, learning about
health insurance benefits; be simple, be easy my heart.
This, the last, dead week of the year,
where everyday feels like Sunday evening
rattles the frame of the window looking out on the canal. I
the name of someone I used to love, or who loved me,
I can't really remember; last spring they found a body
in that flow
just below my window and for
week I could not sleep.
Angle my face in the mirror
just the right way, and I could be floating in grey water.
Sometimes I would sit on the balcony and play the concertina
and the woman across the canal would play her spinet.
We would keep time
with the great kick drum, tossed into the cavity under
the broken ribs of the earth
and stitched back together with our human heartbeats and this
is why every man and woman and child
has a song in them, even if they ignore it.
But we have never met each other.
The glass is cold against my cheek, the hot is on the other
side of my skull, burning outward.
Smudge on my fingers, cheek, under my eyes.
The room is cold, with the windows open, sweat still
slithers down my spine, a frozen coin down its slot.
Look at this face, lined now and still young somehow;
I'm cruelly vain, this I cannot bear.
Something, the vent or a car outside, spits my name
and I sit up, head swimming, blood sloshing,
my mouth filling with copper.
One of these Sunday evenings this week I will take a hammer and
drive a nail into my molars
and then everything will be
as it should be
like that day in 1916 when more than 800 people from all over the world
claimed to have seen Charles Chaplin at the exact same moment in the flesh.
Later, his body was stolen from its grave. How are these two
things connected? At the pharmacy, the girl showed me how to put the drops
under the tongue instead. God bless her, god bless the nurses and
I should pack a bag and go to see the Northern Lights
but then I think, Dying in Norway? what a queen.
All these thoughts need to be collected, is what they tell you
as the road runs out. Why can't I just
blather on into the fog and let my parents and my friends and former loves -
and current ones, if there are such -
hear what they want to hear, this is the final mercy, I think. Ambiguity.
Remember what you want, because it's all true. I am everywhere, my body is stolen.
Sure, maybe I sing to myself at times
and why should I not try a little
My name is gone, swallowed up in the cold air.
I would stand up, go to the window, look for it.
Why would I do that? There is nothing
I am going to die, they said.
What do I do with this information?
Barefoot on the cobblestones, the Mediterranean
filling my lungs, I stagger and nearly trip
on the streetcar rails.
It's the middle of the night, there's no traffic,
but pretty girls just park where they want to
and I sink to the ground with my back against
the passenger door of a white Peugeot
and sob until a stray cat emerges
from the haze at the edge of my eyes
and stands watching me.
Somewhere behind me is a fountain,
burbling water falling on marble, it sounds like a woman's voice-
not just a woman, but a mother-
a mother's voice, singing to a baby awakened in the
by some incomprehensible terror.
Well, some nights are like that.
When I was a kid I would have recurring dreams of being on a boat
on a vast ocean, all alone, nothing but the sea forever on all sides and the sun burning overhead and a thick white rope coiled around my hands and wrists and forearms. Nothing would happen, no storm or shipwreck. I would just drift, until I woke up.
The atoms of the human structure, the synaptical architecture
miles and miles of nerves and veins
an unending expanse that one day has an end.
A bicycle zips past, a boy pedaling carefully over the rutted cobbles,
a girl clamped to his back, laughter.
It scares the cat, who scampers away into the dark.
My bones are hollow, I am a bird,
I vomit worms for my nonexistent children.
To remain silent is a lie, but what do I do now,
when the boys gather in their buzzcuts and their veined arms
and scream Viva la muerte
without a hint of irony?
We Will Write Numbers
This day has no night,
the boundaries are pushed back to beyond
what can be counted up.
What will even matter, in the end, when we reach the final
barrier? Reach out your
arms as wide as they will go, and I will stand beside you
and do the same; our fingertips will touch, we will be
an unbroken unity of form.
(There shall be peace in the land)
A river turns in oxbows, nearly kissing it's own back
and carving through green fields, but always in the same
(I should have told you I could live without you,
but I don't want to.)
The concertina collapses, the ends rush together, meeting with a
click, a sorrow of air.
The sun is motionless overhead, evening will not come nor dawn,
we will never see the stars or the moon, the distant winking Venus
or angry Mars. It is enough, to be denied the heavens, to be drawn back
from the edges of finite space and time to this one time and space.
A hand within a hand, secretly, under the table where no one
but surely they can all see the radiating light that is bursting and pulsing
from my chest like a newborn star, fed on the touch, the boundary finally
We are each a secret
we are each to be denied to all but the other. This is mine, we both say in our
heads, at the same time, to ourselves.
Do not let me go
is written across the sky of this new world
and we will be brave
and explore together, willful as children, fearful and adamant.
And the days remain days, even when the dark comes; thought is an egg,
held dear and protected within (I still think of you, even after all this time)
the hard iron cage of the body, which unlocked at this touch,
the hard iron fist around the heart
loosened one finger
and breathing was no longer automatic, but a conscious labor.
We sat side by side on the bus, each trembling.
We will write numbers on the backs of our hands,
on the pale fishbellies of the undersides of our forearms.
We will love each other, amateurs of war.
The sun moved forward, a molten drop falls into place,
the first of what will become,
But we love each other in daylight, and moonlight is merely
the sun reflected,
so there is no night, no night not ever, really.
The Gold at the Bottom of the River
There are beautiful things in the sadness,
else why does woe, woe and ever mourning
and sounds of a boys' choir sting and stab
at unseen wounds, known but forgotten?
a gate opens, and music, birdsong,
we were never warriors the way we should have been
but this is our Valhalla; we enter like the gods
who never paid for the walls, who never feel
the bite of iron in the back, just the dampness
of the blood and
leave the gates open behind, because whatever
could hurt us now
but each other?
It is always twilight, the edges of things are always obscure;
there is a shape, indistinct, on all sides, above and below;
the edges we don't see
I thought it was a kiss;
when it was over the heat lingered
like my name on a breath
exhaled in the cold night, drifting up toward the moon.
Dissipating, finally gone, high above the roofs,
drifting over walls,
through leaves, like a memory finally released,
turning sparkling folding over itself,
and the bells ring in the morning and the birds leap from the branches
and the sky is high and the rich shall have their ice in summer
and the poor shall have their ice in winter
and the water will flow over and over and on
and they will close the gates
and say themselves, yea at last we are free at last we know solace
and then and then-
Is there sea?
Is there the water within, to cool, to soothe?
Ash orange, bitter, the bite and grit of breath,
the scrape down the throat, everywhere dry,
everywhere the hot heat of hate,
from seven fires in a man's back
from a knee on another man's neck.
Breathing, burning, fists upraised; the air is not air
just acid gas smoke scream cry anger;
filth is a film upon the skin, it coats the lungs and keeps
the right words from being spoken.
Tar and fog and is there rain enough, when the matches kill you
in your sleep
and go again? Sometimes when you walk, you slip
along a clean clear line,
but now we walk blind and fall and there are many hands
to hold us down.
When it comes, it will be everywhere and
all at once.
On the windowsill,
a radio has been left on, softly leaking static
into the kitchen. Outside
the tram rolls by and rattles the teacup in its saucer.
Rain pitters on the window, through the nude branches
of elms and plane trees, and I watch their runnels down the pane.
Two crows fight over a chicken bone on the railing of the balcony,
their forms blurry and rounded.
There is still time. There is still time
to do many things.
In that case, how long have I been sitting here listening to static?
Minutes are consumed, by the eyes, the lungs;
syllables become a colossus bestriding the world.
I wake up and the sea has frozen over,
the waves like the ridges of a fallow field,
gulls swooping and calling through a vast
and spreading blue, a blue like a colony,
like love in a violent age;
the answers coming back off the face of the ice,
almost a foreign language, almost incomprehensible,
a thing not completely unrecognizable and so
not able to be ignored; what is this music within
the signal? It sounds endless, like a bell
ringing to the end of the universe, a long note
expanding in all directions at once.
The eyes beneath the sea, eyes overhead, passing through air
and stars, seeing the growth of things
buried, folded over by the plow; our hands plow
the rich black ground and blood comes up, tendrils
filaments ganglion, tortured things born of torture,
born of good intentions; brought up into the light,
into the breath of sky and sun, to wither to grown stronger to sprout new
invasion. Reaching and grasping, breaking the surface,
a desperation like combat, rhythm out of step out of sequence,
the last first just as it was foretold,
and a great and fathomless forgetting, knowing that something
is being forgotten, the knowledge of it precise and empty,
a vessel to be filled, never to be filled.
Plains, like glaciers or the craters and canyons of other planets,
open unobstructed ever-onward to the line where they become
something else, something bounded and so vulgar, mundane.
Ice cracking, something rolls and shifts.
There is a blinking blue light that never stops, the telephone in
its cradle, the tea in the teacup cold, everything falling into
place, slotting together like geometry,
a line down the middle of eternity, or just my own portion of it,
down the middle of my good intentions,
my bitter fruit,
the sunshine and my golden skin, numb the body the phantom limb-
mouths and geometry again, fitting and parting and fitting,
a sky overhead, a forest deep and black at my back always,
the undergrowth teeming with heedless eyes and lungs and
coiling plans, cunning tongues. I saw an osprey once, slicing
across the field of my vision, right to left, like an arrow bisecting
sight; my head remained fixed, did not turn to follow its flight,
and my lashes came together like the church and its people
and I slept in pale arms.
Shedding time, like skin, skin is time, our cells are increments of
existence. A needle, a thread to stitch them back,
the gears of a watch spread out on a tabletop, swept into the palm
of my hand, tossed into my mouth like pills,
washed down with cold tea.
Thunder frightens the crows away, dropping the bone to the street below.
It falls and never hits the ground, the distance constantly
halved, until there is no space no falling thing no ground
only mathematics, only a music made of numbers and the absence of
sound, of long flatboats carrying wine-filled amphorae
and papyrus scrolls. Skin floating on water, water sloughing into ears,
mouth, nose, pulling, the faint resistance, the sense that the sea
is filled with a greater gravity than the land;
stepping onto the beach, tall grass, dolmen, a gleaming white
superstructure, endless the things I do not know,
but there is time, still time left, still
time left to learn all the things I should have known all along,
like the calls of the birds,
or the names of the flowers outside my window.