a brief and strange species
—W. S. Merwin
the day begins in disarray you ought you should you must
you must you must you must the bees will not
be stilled what stitches mind to body who cues the unraveling
if it’s true we’re infused with something not found in doorknob bird or bee
why am I confused about all the important things crows
trampoline the power lines from house to house they don’t care
who runs the world I gape at the sky color of sunflower
color of blood the world is not as I have believed it to be
I find no vantage no long view across even the surface
peristalsis propels the worm into darkness electricity
animates the lamp the leaf drinks at the top of the tree
I understand none of the beautiful things the sparrow bathes
in dirt I don’t know why the birds do not ask themselves
or each other how are we to live they do not ask us to love them
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
It’s time. It’s almost too late.
Did you see the magnolia light its pink fires?
You could be your own, unknown self.
No one is keeping it from you.
The magnolia lights its pink fires
daffodils shed papery sheaths.
No one is keeping you from it—
your church of window, pen and morning.
Daffodils undress, shed papery sheaths—
gestures invisible to the eye.
In the church of window, pen and morning
what unfolds at frequencies we can’t see?
Gestures invisible to naked eye
the garden opens, an untranslatable book
written at a frequency we can’t see.
Not a psalm, exactly, but a segue.
The garden opens, an untranslatable book.
You can be your own unknown self—
not a psalm, but a segue.
Originally published in Pontoon 7: an anthology of Washington State Poets
The beginning of wisdom is in getting things
by their right name.
Ear. Nose. Eye.
We teach every child
to point and name.
The child goes to school,
learns “he” is the norm,
“she” the grammatical
variant. When the place
between her legs is left
unnamed, what lesson
does the child learn
but that what she discovers there
doesn’t quite exist
(except to be washed, face averted).
Eventually she’ll find
the language and labels
a linguistic burka, rooted
in pudere: be ashamed.
She’ll find the dysphemisms
of juvenile slang—
metaphors of confused fascination—
(Might as well call it Australia.)
Quarter of a million words
but not one with the raw
authority, the accurate—forgive me—
of the thing itself. So taboo
as to be nameless,
that place all human aching starts.
The final line is borrowed from Li-Young Lee’s “Self-Help for Fellow Refugees.”