Thursday, July 30, 2015

Something New and Vigorous and Shameless

Toast with marmalade. Ancient sunlight resting lightly on the northwest surfaces of curtains, restaurant tables, hands. Feeling in full possession of myself at last. The dark rind of my heart settles deeper in its nest of ribs, and I scan the world with a hunter's eye, relaxed but deliberate: the sense of being master of my surroundings, once so common and recently so rare, has come back.

I slept, in two stages, until I was all slept out. It's been a couple weeks since that last happened. I feel like the grass that finally got its rain a couple days ago: a sudden unexpected strength is running through me.

Not that this sense of invulnerability is to be believed. It's one face that turns to me, out of many.

I'm tired of all the old stories, the laments for vanished makers, the regrets for fallen kingdoms. I want to make something new and vigorous and shameless, something that will gleam, something that will catch the setting sun and hold it in the sky. Something that will force other faces to turn to me. There are more, there are more who have business with me before the end. It's time to call them up.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Where The Target Is

Downtown, a woman fell into step with me on the sidewalk. She gave me an open, curious glance, and then asked, "Are you from here?"

"From Portland? I am," I said.

"Do you know where the Target is?"

I had to think about that: there is newish one downtown, I think. "I'm afraid not," I said. "I have a vague feeling it's over thataway," and I waved my hands towards the Southwest. "But I really don't know."

"OK," she said. "Thanks!" And we parted at the next corner.

People often approach me for directions downtown: I tend to meet people's eyes and smile, which makes me approachable, but I walk briskly, like someone has definite business somewhere, which makes me seem easy to get rid of. So that was unremarkable. What was remarkable was that this woman was black.

My first thought, upon meeting her eyes, was that she was African. There was an easy boldness about her, and a cheerful friendly confidence, that was not at all typical of the guarded, formal interactions I usually have with American blacks on the street, and especially not with Portland blacks. This is not a city with a happy history of race relations, nor a particularly happy present. But this woman's accent was pure Midwestern, probably Chicago, with no African trace that I could detect.

So the interaction was heartening. It was not a "here I am a black person approaching a white person" interaction, it was an "I wonder where the Target is?" interaction. Like almost all Americans, I have a desperate longing for the racial history of my country to disappear. This little interaction made me feel that it had. We could start over. The world was new. 

There has been so much bad news coming over the wire that many people feel that things are getting worse, or at best, that they will always remain this way. But I don't actually think that's true. I think that comes of not ever having fully understood how bad things have been, not really having understood or digested the long white terror after the end of the hot phase of the Civil War. Things are bad now. But they are actually better. The fact that people can say how bad it is means that it's better.

A single interaction on the street is not evidence: it barely amounts even to a data point. But I'm old enough to feel it in my bones: this was not an interaction that was possible in my youth, and not one that was likely even twenty years ago, in this town. There is a cultural shift. The wind has changed.

There's everything yet to be done. But I'm filled today with an unreasoning joy, and a certainty that in the endin the end long beyond my end, of course, but still, in the endwe are going to win this one.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Leaving The Water

I break the surface of the water, and wait
breathing the strange air, feeling my gills
heal over: my arms were so tired of being fins.

Of course, a man can drown
or be asked to pay back taxes,
which doesn't happen to fish.

But hands can grasp hands,
or the nobbles of a steering wheel, or 
the handle of knife;

and fish, however calligraphic,
break down in the dotting of 'i's.
I will take this world of searing air

and the terror of sun,
the scrape of wind on the skin;
I will take the epithelium

of your lips pressed on mine,
I will leave the water
one time, one last time.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


I love a woman so black
the night overflows with her,
so big that there's no confining her.

There are the scars that feather backward;
there is the grace of flesh and the jet, ramen-
noodle kink of hair against my arm;

there is the curve of eyelid
that makes the heart stand still,
and listen for an answering beat.

No, not looking for absolution;
the long count of crimes can go
and sing for its supper. It's love,

the only love I know and the only one I've held
through a long strange bright and lingering summer
paused at the tremor's edge.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Hatred of White

A spider, having learned
she is not going to take it at a run
takes a step and pauses
takes a step and pauses
on the vertical porcelain.

Can we call it patience?
Has her desire to escape the bathtub
decreased, or increased? 
Is she aware of human eyes
watching her ascent
with oblique sympathy?

If she falls again
I'll drape a washcloth over the side
for easy access, but she can't know that.
She is betting her life on this climb;
and she knows well enough,
snowblind in this blaze of white,
she is a mark for every passing araneophage.

Or maybe she does not, maybe she knows only
unease, distress of spirit, hatred of white,
and the pause at each step 
is helpless as a fall.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Morning Light

Yesterday evening I walked west, toward the city, down from our little upland, across the 82nd Avenue gully, and up the slope of Mt Tabor, high enough to see the dark hills farther east. No mountain: a low cloud cover hid it. But I could see across to Mt Scott. I just wanted to walk, walk forever, hilltop to hilltop. But an hour was about what my knees would do. I turned back for home.

Always this ache, this longing to find some path out. I am so tired, and I can't keep up even with my daily tasks. I have tried to simplify, but the formula eludes me. Too many things too fast. I become duller-witted with each passing day: and even in my prime I was unable to untie these knots. What chance do I have now? Each mistake leads to the next, each waste entails more spending, every sleepless night leads to another. The taste of defeat is on my tongue. A deep breath makes me cough. I've played my bets and lost: why am I still at the table?

I know what's wrong: it's all these days without rain. Feeling sad and wan. Our neighbors aren't watering the tree they planted last year, and it's dying. 

In the morning, the young crows wake first: those strange, bleating caws of the very young corvids, demanding to be fed. They pursue their parents, begging, begging even as they forage. They forage quite competently, but they're still driven by the habit of need, even now when the need is gone.

Morning light filters into the house. I could try to sleep again, or I could wander out into the day. Sleep, I think. Or at least lie down on the couch, and imagine the paths out, and the cold rain. It will rain again, someday.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

In a Time of Drought

Already, September hints, the curtains will fall
and the bare limbs of the trees
will tell their secrets again in an urgent whisper,
while the rain 
runs down the hidden paisley gutters of the glass
back and forth, tracing the unseen curves like a finger 
tracing the features of a dreaming friend.

And you listen, you listen hard, but
it's too fast, and there are names you do not know,
names such as "Alteridae" or "Windfool,"
so the syllables keep running, faster than you can hear,
and the secrets keep themselves.

Still, the trees stand, older than us and prouder,
and the leaves are thick now, from the valley to the hill;
sap spills over, leaf by leaf, 
and the city brick is sticky underfoot.
There is no God but God and God
is a voiced velar stop, follow by a back vowel, culminating
in a voiced apico-alveolar stop.

In the beginning, we are told, was the word,
not the speaker. In which case also
the beginning was the leaf, and the tree perhaps
an afterthought, slowly bringing a sky in its wake,
and drawing a new sun up over the horizon
filling the world with the light of its desire;
and last of all 

Have you ever thought of how in English,
the beginning of God is a sort of strangling,
a drowning and a death? And once started, 
you must go on, delivering what breath remains to you?
Only then do you tap the aveolar ridge
with your tongue, one last expense of breath,
and after that act of faith, only after, 
do you get to breathe again. 

Other languages, other stories, no doubt;
and the rain will rain harder this Fall 
than it has ever rained before: 
this summer longs for the falling rain
as the word longs for a voice.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Proleptic grief: I suppose 
I had better get used to it.
So often death 
comes heralded now,
bracketed like 
a First World War
artillery barrage:
one specialist says a year
(too long) and another
a couple months
(too short) and the death
moves slowly into focus,
churning up the soil
before and after.

You may invite 
your trenchmates
to observe the remaining beauties of nature
how the blasted tree spines stand
like black runes
in the white morning;
how the rich regal purple,
blue, and green of the fly's body,
that magnificent iridescence,
is the next glory we will have:
but don't expect 
enthusiastic reply.

Better the long slow scrimshaw
better the memorized letter from home
a snatch of sleep in the rocking earth.