My child refuses to speak
without holding the fish in his hands. Even then
he refuses to say fish. We went for a walk
where the canyon lives (his words), where the river
or wash bores through a mesa, what remains of one,
and found the dead fish, its bones or body, marooned
on dry rock. My child lets pass what doesn't belong
to him, but with the fish I guess he had business.
My child, understand, is uncertain about the value
of my company. He withholds, makes me fathom
his needs. The walk was his unspoken way
of indulging me, or I him. It's like my child,
knowing awe, is afraid to say something false.
He's so holy he's almost nothing. Then out of nowhere
he's over there by this fish, pawing at it,
whispering tedium into its trellised bone-cage.
I love my child like the child he could've been,
or could yet become. We've been coming here,
to this dilapidated river, for years, and still
its charms refuse me. The dead fish, the fallen-over
bush, the shadow of rock fallen on rivers of sand—
who needs it? And still I repeat my same mistake,
taking my child's will for my own, being seduced
by his tame quietude, his religion of light events.
My child is an imperfect revision within a tradition.
My love for him is like a flood of feeling
disciplined by impersonality. His love
is a hard lesson, made harder by not ending.
He watches the water, what's left,
the canyon walls in states of collapse.
The plateau is in recession, is lessening,
he wants to say, though he says it badly.
I felt it on me to complete the statement:
The plateau is in recession indefinitely.
So the wind will win, he was asking,
groping to ask, as though worried.
APOLOGY FOR POETRY
I remember speaking a meaning I didn't know.
It was like making a furrow in the air
or holding space for the thing I'd love
once I was sure I wouldn't know it.
Still life was some kind of weird rich:
Emptied, unbecome, lucent, flown.
In a word, enough. Or nearly, or near.
Everything's near now.
Three days I wandered in fen, in salt flats,
in parking lot, carrying these dust letters,
and came finally upon a glowing city
—or glowing something, some harsh
light-oxidized, noxious particle squall:
A chain restaurant in a shopping mall.
The letters were addressed only to some place
called "the Kingdom" and were not heavy.
In fact they weighed almost nothing
and were so small, so unobtrusive to the world
into which they were sent, that I lost them constantly.
And yet the letters didn't quit me. They clung to my form
like the patina of dust they were, or referred to,
or enacted. My task was arduous and ongoing;
I was not ennobled. The letters, however unheavy,
were a burden. I could go on: they were bane
and tyranny—gushy, indecipherable tedium.
I should know: I once got so bored I began to read them
but it disheartened me of my task, so I stopped.
You see, I was an unreliable courier: ponderous,
prone to inchoate feeling, and I stole.
So this plush booth and enormous breakfast
were not yet "the Kingdom"—forgive me this interval,
this inadequate freedom, before I'm again in the weather,
wending the beauty-damaged land with these letters
seeking any audience that will have them.
I've known earth like ribbon through my teeth and lips,
the dust which never leaves my yarn-bound parcel,
which mars my every endeavor; the dust
my only and true companion. Permit me indulgence
before I'm buffeted by wind scraped by other wind
(wind which is wind-burnt), before I again commence
my thankless task among what burned things the world
makes available to me—film on my lips, the stillness
of lorn places, the long quiet of the desert—ferrying
the trashed music futurity wants the dead to sing.
But I'm not one to complain; I love my job.
I took something I was passionate about
and found a way to pay out my life for it.
I sleep well; I sleep early and often.
In fact, I sleep all the time, dreaming incessantly,
producing content of vagary and inconsequence
the diluted quality of which has left me not undamaged.
As far as I know I'm passed out now, in public,
clutching my letters covered in dust, dreaming
(as always) of beginning again, of beginning all the time,
of beginning itself become one droning moment
which I fill with the pleasure and sorrow of my work.
In this dream I set out for some Corinth,
some wide city of the just and solvent,
and when I came upon it like a beaming thing
(teeming and quiet and strewn with the loose pages of a study Bible)
I felt finally alone, without desire.
I remembered the things I had wanted and wanted no longer.
I made some blank gesture in the solitude.
I was working a lozenge around my dog tooth.
On the unfurled wrapper was some kind of fortune or motto or joke:
ON "MY CHILD": I suppose no one who actually had a child would write this poem.
ON "APOLOGY FOR POETRY": Owen Barfield described poetry's mode as "cognition of the unknown by suggestion from the known." This poem seems to attempt cognition of the unknown by suggestion from the also unknown. Franz Wright said it better: "Everything that was once / infinitely far / and unsayable is now / unsayable / and right here in the room."
ON "THE COURIER": What to say about this poem except that it uses far too many adjectives, and that all its jokes are at the expense of its author.