Seaglasses

Our tumbled shards.

sounds called what we would not say 

until the shadows in our ears besieged 

our remainders we screamed 

for their release but they stayed 

laughing into our wet faces 

we could not see them 

or our faces where we stayed

the stank breath of death rot 

creeping through our breaths

stopping the songs

we meant to sing

of how we flew

after scratching our snakeskins

we were removed and outside 

we could not hear the songs 

in the street as the dragon still 

spread the photos called 

our monsters out 

to hush them back

Time ran off 

we had the babies’ 

toothless mouths looking back

lining their faces in half-moons 

on our beds and with them looking back 

we kited from the cells anchored 

by the buds of lost mothers in our teeth 

to one day fit ourselves back 

into homes we had once carried 

on our backs before we left 

the sea 

before the after 

we left it

back there for the 

sea

Before Seeking

What hides.

What makes the running child in an everlasting dream suddenly slow at the base of a breath, to crouch here, beneath a rib? It is a passing shadow. It is not unlike hunger or pain, but it is neither, exactly. 

To the child, it is not unlike the uncanny feeling of seeing someone familiar wearing the changed face of a stranger, and this is cause for stark concern, like nightfall at midday. 

So, the child waits here, crouching behind a rib, until it passes. The child waits for a long time. Naturally, they continue to think, this will pass. Naturally, they whisper comforting phrases while waiting. Like one day. Like when it is safe. Like ever after.

Nobody’s Defense

Testimony at sea.

When the officials came to demand my history, I pointed to the sea. She had the only enduring record, I told them, of our bodies, our wrecks, the wreckage we endured, our ancestors.

Did we call it known, once? Ask her. Did we know our first breaths through gills, and before this, much thinner membranes? When each of us was a single cell, did we imagine that this would make us invisible one day to our later selves–– or were such concerns trivial beside some vastness of knowing–– or was nothing too small to be named?

When the officials came to demand my measurements, I said, keep your instruments and I will keep swimming in this saving ignorance, in the margins of your marked territories. 

When the officials moved toward me, I said, friends, you are welcome, too. Anyone can be taught by the twilight and by the other transparent creatures known to glow.

The Visitors

Calling with matters of life and death.

The round bird call was constant. Its audience would no sooner hush life than they would have thought to banish death. These creatures tended to hide when we approached, as some children are cautious after being abruptly silenced, in the crouching way that the banished will learn to move.

It was rare that we heard her full song, and just as rare to witness the extravagant leaps and turns of her dance, the revelation of her full plumage something she had learned to save for the shadows.

And yet she would emerge sometimes, with the upright carriage of a dancer, to find us in our own reflections at the water’s edge, barely listening, as was our custom. With a deft fingertip she would nudge the temples, saying look up

Go, she would say. Go to the babies and hold them, for they are like us, too.

What Counts

On seasonal records.

1.

I’d love to tell you, but the words become ghosts, choking intention. 

2.

Once, they showed their insides, breaking open. 

3.

Meaning tends to expand at the site of the cut.

4.

The next attempt reminds: what is necessary is also impossible.

5.

The space after time’s vanishing has a way of losing its contours.

6.

To compensate, you can try cross-mapping histories to create an architecture of memory.

7.

Now we are inside the stones, now we are their erosion.

8.

By exposing matter, you can revisit its secretive nature. Some colors don’t happen in paint.

9.

The synapses around a single sentence can curl a face into the face of another time.

10. 

We pierced the soft flesh of old monuments. 

11.

A child makes bricks of debris, each block a memory.

12.

If each of these haystacks is another time of day, seeing is what happens between them.

***

Inspired by Monet’s Haystacks.

Intimate Unknowns

A brief encounter.

It was a single date, but memorable.

Who wears a watch anymore? he quipped, except if you are trying to impress.

He was referring to the old watches that just did time. 

Laughing as they entered the restaurant, she removed her coat to reveal a dress made of old watches.

What is this? he asked. 

She had her reasons. It’s been a week of dark dreams, she told him, and she was done with fighting them off. They are creatures too, these memories. She supposed they just needed a home.

Now nervous, he tried to make light. So, do you have the time?

I have all the time in the world, she replied. Take your pick. Every watch was set to a different time.

Suddenly, he remembered something he had to do. There was no time to explain, he told her. Urgent business, he said. So sorry!

She waved as one does from upper deck of an ocean liner at departure, smiling.

What followed was a beautiful meal.

***

Inspired by an encounter with this reference to L. Mylott Manning’s Kiss the Dark.

Feats of Becoming

In mythic memory.

In the days when we knew forms were only provisional, you called Leap! at the sight of the next star. Our metamorphic world buzzed with a panorama of possible and the hours were a cyclic series of somersaults.

We read by the myth from inside its closed shell, unlike the heavy-headed beachcombers trying to recover something lost. From inside, we dissolved selves well enough to forget our tired, temporary names and donned instead originals of dark dimension. In these we splashed back to the undergrounds where the Mothers knew us, to restore the old tales to their first beginnings. We chased the slivering prints of angels’ bare feet to catch them only long enough that they would whisper again the small verse assigned to each of us. This one is yours to bring forth, they told us, one at a time.

In dawn’s purple flame, the branching capillaries of eons swelled our skins, and Time’s wild clowning made us know ourselves at once alive and dead, ending and beginning, never and again. By this light, the world’s creatures seemed to know us, looking back as though waiting to be named.

To Hold Them

On the real work.

At the end of a long day in a long month, I read a hiring notice: Professional Cub Snuggler! it says, and I think, this is something. The work is to wrap baby bears in blankets, hold them in a coat while the mother gets a checkup. 

Now I can’t stop wishing that this was a model for some other things, the practice of stopping in the work week, no matter the job, for the most important work of the week. Time to hold the babies! everyone would say, and the babies would be held, and there would be enough hands so that the ones who had been caring for more babies than they had hands for could take a break and tend to other things, knowing the babies were okay.

There is a trick the handlers use, for getting the orphaned bears accepted. They cover the bark of a tree with a scented goo, and after the birth babies and the orphan run through it, back to mama, they all smell the same. And there’s something in this model, too. 

***

Inspired by this notice: “Dream Job Alert: Michigan DNR is Hiring Bear Cub Cuddlers.”

Ghost Shed

One interpretation of an artist’s role.

I may not know what to write, but it comforts me to have a wall of books between me and the outside. I am remembering the artist who covered walls––and these were high, museum walls––floor to ceiling with framed pages of books. It was tens of thousands of pages at a time, many of them containing these complex numerical representations. It was boggling, tremendous. You knew everything was purposeful, every page in relationship with everything else, but you could not take it in.

Sometimes a person would ask her what she was thinking, and she would not answer. Then, when they walked away, she would say, It’s about time. To a friend, she whispered, Season follows season

Some people evoke shimmering fonts of dizzy admiration, and she was one. Someone told me that she kept goats––three of them, in a shed––but I heard ghosts instead of goats. They had names, these (ghosts)––Micky, Mama Micky, and Kleine Micky––and I thought, that’s her secret! Even though she insisted there was no secret.

I built a sizable shed for my ghosts. This was no easy feat in a small apartment. I brought them food, water, changed their bedding, offered trinkets for them to enjoy. When the time came, I would bury them, as the artist had, in adjacent plots, each with a personalized gravestone.

By the time I learned it was goats and not ghosts that she had been tending, it was too late to change certain habits, especially after having built up whole mythologies to explain why it is that the role of the artist is the proper care and feeding of ghosts.

***

Inspiration for this piece comes from readings on Hanne Darboven