What do you call the records kept by those who escape from war with nothing but their lives and memories of the dead? Not History, but its adjacent double. The shrapnel in tissue when the bleeding learned to stop waiting for peace, to start saying this is the leg now, the cause going no further than the blast itself as if to say, here is the end of time as you knew it as if to blow into injury some reminder: this is the living now.
These fragments from the blast, this thread that bound us once so long in the weather and the sweat of my grip, past the point of being able to imagine an end or a beginning, love I only want to offer them to you, for keeping even after safe is gone.
Mama, says the child, of another dream.
Of black smoke above the hillside, how it
rose against blue sky, the tide of us––
running and we don’t know. Where.
An alphabet of sorrows in the rubble
in the smoke. Punctuated by the bright
of a dropped stuffed duck, yellow fuzz
against the soot. Place the crosses
in the road against what rolls its
aim over caterpillar tracks, its
aim our end. Save us. From these
signs. We want to be saved from
what they call signs of the times.
Of the times that they call of the
end. Of the dream with the smoke
where we move in the tide and––
calling. Calling but the phones
when we press do not move.
Something moves with us and in
the shouting and there is no time––
These times, these times. None
of it for names.
But try, child. Name it.
A memory. Of clouds. How they carried early poems. As if to illustrate some measure. It had to do with distances. The ones between language and aim. The ghosts were not deterred. They had seen it all. So long silent, they were done with all that, pushing out from the chest, up.
We stood below it, whispering things like: One of these days when I call, I want to say your name and know it because in the beginning was the word and I want to go back there,
but I don’t know if she will have us––
anymore, such as
we are and–––
Then came the long wait.
Find it by nightfall, the living wet familiar, still unsinged. Float a string of yourself to what begins from the land of the dead in living earth between us. Not total fog. No unobstructed view––an edge. Only this, so take hold. I know you wanted. We looked, remember? How it never made anything but us.
Gone the crayon-blue sky, the bicycle spoke arms of yellow suns to catch us up inside sheep clouds. Here is sheet of rain and not the fat drops, distended snow globes reflecting like faces we knew, like some place of love without return, hold on. There is a sound on the roof.
It is birds, baby. They fall.
In the pause before the next beginning.
These lonely ships over wine-dark waters carry the sons of mothers long trained to cry in secret if they cry at all. So much has been swallowed already. Mothers, when you go, too, may you sing what went before you and after, what was taken into the void you know so well and will not be recovered except by the rare fruit of your trembling womb, in the long-awaited retelling. Give us their stories again.
In here, the past is paper fragments. We gather them up and try to remember. One sings. The song happens in the middle of a room. The occupants of the room are engaged in various tasks. The tune is off, the phrasing disjointed. No one minds.
In here, only new arrivals worry about death. We all did, says a veteran resident. But you get over it. How? We want to know. The resident explains how something breaks. It’s like a levee and you let it because it won’t be stopped. The flow is too fast and the volume too high.
Besides, the resident adds, you can float. Besides, the resident adds. You’ll land somewhere. Eventually. Now, we let it take us when it comes. We float in this narrow strait, washing between shores according to the tides. Paper is gone now, but songs pass through, sometimes.
Select a large fish with many bones,
and sturdy shoes. Arch support is key.
Fasten the wings so the clasp is tight
and do not modify with glue. Even if
it seems like a good idea at the time.
Remove the lug nuts, affirm intentions
in the mirror, look both ways. Remember
to fasten the lid and check that the needle
is sharp. Remember the eye of the needle
and hold your hands like this. Be sure
your feet are facing and your head, like
this. Mind the gap. Beat well. Always
preheat. Cover with a damp cloth, pay
careful attention to the edges. Wait
ten seconds before you speak, look
both ways. Never forget.
Time was not the grace we had expected, but groping and atonal. In its presence, we barely knew ourselves. We’d see the photos later like, yes, but where was I? Memory moved to answer, but spoke only the language of missing parts, and we were not reaching for those, exactly. We held our hands just in front of our hips as we walked, fingers cupped as though holding the faces we missed.
Then let it be known that the bleeding bodies of our words went first. Once emptied they could be sharpened to capital letters and fired toward certain ends. The first layer of a portrait is wet on wet, a luminosity that won’t come again. Point being, let this not be a likeness, but more.
When everyone had waved goodbye and the cars between us hummed a question of what might be saved, there came a flame at the end of the sharpened tip of a sawed limb, and we could touch but not taste it. We meant to leave the known world, but it chased us, yipping at heels.
We meant to tap the skies until from somewhere behind their altitudes we heard the click of a door about to give.