on trains—a hundred times
each day. He gets off
at any number of stops
and people never know it
but they just missed him—
by a moment,
a moment when a streetlight malfunctions,
a moment when the breaks fail,
a moment when the wheels fall off,
if they only knew,
how a moment could change it all—
any moment, everyday. Death
is biding his time,
going about his business.
his oilskin jacket, morning,
night, when it wrinkles
a little—always looking
grand when he takes you.
Death has no mustache to twirl,
no vocal chords to cackle,
no eyes with which to stare.
His bones are not fleshy and
he is diminished
less, like a machine is less
than a man, than a mouse,
than any living thing.
Death drifts an inch
off the ground,
sometimes flying first
class, sometimes lifting off
with a shuttle, leaving the earth.
Death is just
death, without fanfare
without special effects.
Death travels like we do,
never needing a ticket to ride,
sure, stoic, often wanting more leg room.
The bus stops at the hospital.
Inside a hundred bowls of Jello
shake and quiver
as he picks over them. People in storage,
wait in each room—little
parking spaces, waiting
for him. Easy enough,
the bodies from the cocoons, fruit
from the pits—his scythe falls,
driving with precision—often with a rattle.
He lingers—sometimes silently passing
by mere moments.
We are approaching
the day of reckoning, the day
when the souls are sorted,
when they are divided,
when children learn their fathers are bound
for some other place
they cannot go—
and until then, billions of souls are waiting,
frozen in their dying-places, invisibly littering
the streets, loitering in the hospital beds,
sprinkled thinly on the wooded hillsides.
In public swimming pools
there are floating souls.
On every highway there are souls
of truckers, with their hands
frightfully-frozen to absent steering wheels,
with frightened knotted expressions,
worried about the children and families in cars—
cars bizarrely recycled into beer cans.
There are tribal souls, mountain-man souls,
hills carpeted with the souls of soldiers.
Krakatau souls are frozen like sprinters.
They are everywhere.
your great grandmother reclines,
your great great aunt is covering her terrorized eyes,
your distant cousin is shielding a child with his body
and now, even in these recent moments,
people all over the world are dying,
becoming paralytic—they join
those multitudes of other souls who linger,
they wait for the day of reckoning,
they wait to be rewarded,
they wait to be free—to stir again
and someday, for those unfortunate bastards
who will be sorted into hell,
the frozen years will become
the years they long to return to.
“Her knees were tumors on sticks,
her elbows chicken bones”
Cynthia Ozick -The Shawl.
Under the bridges,
their reflective sheens
for the glossy eyed
red headed children
in the meadows.
Haircuts are exchanged
for breaking off bit by bit.
Time brings the springs
of a million foundries
pouring tears into molds
and jumping into children
and showering into the
thinning, the thinning air,
the becoming air
starvation brings. Knees
become tumors on
sticks while high
handed soldiers march
and march, in March
and march until they
except the glossy eyes
of playful careless children
in the meadows of America.
They were introduced cute in the “Great Hall” and for months
it seemed like they were old chairs visited again
and again. On the last again,
father “fantastic” called him a no-knowing-nobody,
and applauded the Canucks with schnooks. I mean
to tell you it was ridiculous
and yet it was telling
the men from the fish, from the mice—yellow
from All American Red, and he “sighed”
when it was over. No one seemed to understand
there was no good news
to cling to. You can’t fake it, you know—
you can’t just look up to someone—
you can’t just build a ladder—and now
you can’t shout in the “Great Hall”
without hearing the hollow echoes.
You cannot remember, nor can I, the real
simplicity and complexity of being three.
The blissful ignorance of the world, mixed
with the frustration of using a fork. The stabbing
never stops. It becomes a never-ending ingestion
of the insistent world—at odds
with what feels natural.
I can only vaguely remember yesterday—
because my head is so full of it—
the great man-made erasure.
There are tiny flowers, nearly
too small to see, and they grow
from miniature fishers in the wall
of Half Dome. On a blistered
July Tuesday, some twenty
years ago, I hung freely
from a belayed harness, with
a firmly locked carabiner.
I was suspended, in time and location.
It is a place people are not
supposed to be. A place for birds
and thermals that flow like erect
rivers, rushing into the firmament.
I can only say that I was there,
between the immovable rock
and the swallowing sky—
between heaven and earth,
between a thrill and good sense.
In that impossible moment,
it was there, on the wall,
the smallest flower in the world,
planted in a pinch of earth,
living in a tiny fracture
of solid rock—purpleness
in the grey. This is how it is,
in Yosemite. The grandness
for tourists is the vista, and they weep
at the magnificence, in weeping lines,
moving along—tourists replaced
by other tourists.
The prominence of Yosemite,
is only partly understood
in the panorama. It is passed over
by the greedy—“the gorgeous”
is also revealed when looking intimately.
Yosemite drips surprises, gifts
for a lucky few, those who stop being
other tourists—those who drink
grandeur from tiny glasses.