Action/Reaction

Consider this breath, the sound
behind it; consider the open mouth, the next note.

If a scream erupts in a forest, and no one hears it
—or if none of the hearers can connect 
the substance of the scream to the face 
of the wounded, whether because 
these hearers are out of sight or otherwise unable 
to perceive how a body nearby could be capable 
of keening like that, or because the hearers are not 
in the habit of connecting the nuanced arrangement 
of particular human features to the nuanced arrangement 
of particular human sounds, when considering a  
particular cry of distress after shutting eyes tight
against any witness— did it happen? 

Same question may be posed 
with other variants. If the cry was piercing 
and potentially recognizable but muffled 
by the presence of a sudden hand 
against an open mouth, does it count?  
If the moment of the cry coincides 
with the collapse of the known world 
and the known world in question 
was once synonymous with the depths 
of the forest, did a cry even happen, 
if the place that it would have 
poured into was suddenly gone? 

Now consider other variables. 
If access is granted, but no one is told, 
does the person at the gates no one was trying 
to approach after years of denial get to shrug, 
raised eyebrows, and claim innocence––based 
on, well, I didn’t say they couldn’t. . . 

Get to: what does this even mean? A body gets 
to do what it will do until acted upon by an opposing 
force. Except in the case of survival. Except in the case 
of protection of children. A body will persist until 
it can’t, and in persisting, adapt to certain givens 
for the sake of survival. As in, this door is locked, 
this knob will burn your hand, this exit will get you 
shot. If someone on the other side unlocks the door 
quietly in the middle of the night, hides the key 
and leaves it closed, is it to be considered open?

Alma Thomas, Grassy Melodic Chant, 1976, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Define: cry. Which sounds are included?
Define: pains. Which count?
Define: life. Which forms are we talking about here, 
who is screaming––and who has stopped?

Where do these faces go when they leave us?
Here’s a better question: why do we keep 
insisting that they are ours?

If someone shuts their eyes against some 
never-ending light, can they be considered 
a witness? If someone builds a dam across a river 
of time, can it be stopped, and what is the name 
for the resulting body? And if someone removes 
a dam and the river moves again, now altered 
in shape, is the dam still real, or has it been erased?

If eyes trained on sky notice wild promises in stars, 
do these vows have any bearing once obscured 
by the light pollution of the empire’s cities?

If breath denied fails to void the depth 
of inhalation, what do you call the sound that follows?
The rising, leaning, lilting unsparing hallelujahs of 
nobody knows, the forever-present notes that no hand 
grants and no thief can steal, reaching back to some original 
promise, in the first splitting of atoms, when it was 
discovered that the matter they contained was mostly 
open spaces for the vibration of shimmering notes, 
haunting the seeming solids behind the spectral gates; what is this?

Consider moving. Listen. Consider this breath, the sound 
behind it; consider the open mouth, the next note. 
Sing.

About the artistAlma Woodsey Thomas, now a renowned figure of African-American art history, had her debut showing at the age of seventy-five, after a thirty-five year career of teaching art to D.C. junior high school students. 

Simultaneous Open Windows

Sketching rocks bathed in light since the sun rose, try to remember dawn.

Open fist against graffitied bricks, he watches crows, remembers death.
Painted peacock lady smiles over traffic lights; checks the mirror, pouts.

Back-to-back on the park bench, a pair wonders if they are dating yet.
Babies bearing swords beat against trees and stones while sandboxes still wait.

Queens rock hi-tops, heads leaning toward hips, and braided babes run.
Mob men in trench coats talk business and horses while sirens wail upstairs.

Holiday blue notes shine cool on midnight sidewalks; her walking pace slows.
By park fountains he reminded her, What’s the point? ––Meaning, of her rage.

Baby boy finds mama’s stash. She won’t know what he eats, until later.
He fell in love: first God, then the ancients, then woman; then he was done.

Don’t tell me what to do, she says, leg crossed over knee. He listens, nods.
Bullet clears rib cage to stop against spine; now there is no need for shoes.

If you sit beneath trees long enough with snacks out, squirrels come to eat.
Makers cross the street. Meeting halfway, they embrace. Cars honk and they laugh.

Joining foreheads, seated lovers bow, form a heart by the fountain mist.
The bracelet was there to remind him to count each memory, but her.

Sketching rocks bathed in light since the sun rose, try to remember dawn.

Notes:
The title comes from the painting by Robert Delaunay (1912, oil on canvas; Tate London). The poem came from an exercise done on the seventeenth of the month. In honor of Alan Ginsberg’s American Sentences (A haiku without line breaks, seventeen syllables), I aimed to write seventeen of them. Then I took some liberties with arrangement and punctuation. Sometimes breaking from the sentence (into two or three), I kept lines of seventeen syllables, each aimed toward a particular scene, during a particular twenty-four-hour period, on a particular street, in an imagined city, present day.

Deep Sky Observing

“We don’t live in a general-purpose universe.”

So you own a star chart. 
There is much more.

What’s wrong?
Not seeing anything.
Try averted vision.

What books? What size? 
How far? How much? 
When? 
How far?
Are we there?

How many inches?
Just wait. I have rid myself 
of rarely used accessories 
in my garage.

For example?
I found out 
that I did not want 
to be a mathematician.

What is the best way?
Look at your maps. Find 
a dark country road. In
hunting season, be careful!

Traveling alone?
You may have to walk. 
Worth the effort, 
for dark skies.

Cloud cover?
Pay attention. 
Conditions repeat 
over time.

How do I––?
Look. Use eyes and 
mind: a technique 
for seeing. Take a break. 
Nap. Wash the mirror 
until the solution 
drains away.

How about something 
–for general purposes?
No.

Why not?
We don’t live 
in a general-purpose universe.

Brand new equipment!
Try it out.

Going all the way!
The new bracket does not fit.
The drive gear needs more lubricant.

Wasting precious dark sky time?
Patience. Try out that new mount 
before you leave. 
Be prepared.

Inspiration (and found words/ phrases) from the opening three chapters of:
Coe, Steven R. Deep Sky Observing: The Astronomical Tourist. Springer, 2000.

Before the Storm

Drunk on abundance, they weren’t ready to accept any limits. They had no practice. It was not as though there was a choice to be made, though later it would be framed as though there had been.

“Eclairs lointains” by jmbaud74 on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic License

Consider one beginning, how above the blue carpet of a grandmother’s living room, there had been a painting of a small boat in a storm, against a dark sky. 

Below this, on a stand, an oversized bible, the pages slightly gilded at the edges; what it meant to wonder, in this place, on a summer afternoon, back against the blue carpet, how it was that anything at all had started, how from this wonder a body might get up and walk to the book on display, turning to the beginning, and puzzling over the words, in awe of the poet’s certainty.

Only words and nothing else until a command came, and then it was Light,  and after that, the seas and the forests and the beasts and a man and after him, it is said, from a bone taken from the center of his breathing, a woman; consider learning, how she met him in the garden; consider wondering how they knew how to play, and imagining the horror of living ever after, dying to know it again, after they beheld in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge the limits of what they could know. Drunk on abundance, they weren’t ready to accept any limits. They had no practice. It was not as though there was a choice to be made, though later it would be framed as though there had been. In the beginning, knowing nothing but abundance, how can anyone look away when the very source is given, to taste? 

They say she bit first. Of course, she would have been the one among the branches, gathering fruit. Later she would be painted as a sinner, but how could she be anything but a child in these original days? Here, someone whispers: serpent, man, or God––in the beginning, does it matter, or is this a moment when it is possible to imagine a single hope, constant as a pulse? How it whispers, like the rustle of leaves at the edge of a branch at late afternoon, “Stay.”

Live at the Apocalypse!

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse. I thought it was coming to us.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse.
I thought it was coming to us.

Sure, but let’s meet it.
What do we bring?

Whatever you want. Everything! But you may have to check it at the door.
Will there be snacks?

No, just a single unrestricted feast.
Dress code?

The less, the better.
What else?

Bring every ending, every lilting note of your unuttered cry––
What about the pets?

Well, obviously the dog comes with.
And the cat?

You know cats. I suggested this morning and she just gave me a look.
Like, “Again with this apocalypse?”

I think she’s probably done a few already.
What about the sleeping arrangements?

Have you been listening? Who’s sleeping?
Will there be singing?

At first, only silence, and then, there will only be singing.

In the Waiting Room

Considering the anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States at this moment I was reminded to return to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting,” which returned me to the hope that inspired this response, this love note to America, for an occasion somewhere between Last Rites and Baptism.

Sparrow by RLGNGNZ on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 License

SPARROWS WAITING
We were sorting the Grapes of Wrath, 
waiting for the shift to be done. 
Our unrest was everywhere: 
flags and chanting; paint and the piercing 
of swords into the flesh at the sides of sworn enemies. 
When was our Last Supper, and when would it return?
Wonder, we looked for you everywhere, waiting for our numbers
to be called.

The whales waited elsewhere, 
bleeding oceans back into their ears;
do they hear each other through the current of it? 
We wanted to know 
what they’d been saying all along 
after hellos and we wanted to lie down again 
––the lovers, the weepers, the dreamers, 
across the Great Divide, our bodies bridges 
for the feet that could not believe 
unless they stepped across us, 
unless they put their hands in the wounds 
of their feet in our backs, back to the Lost Continent 
they’d been trained to disbelieve     America, 
we were waiting for your music for so long 
that when you hobbled back to the Dark Tower
your intimations of immortality bleeding out 
from stray bullet wounds, your torch arm falling 
slack, we couldn’t help ourselves     America, 
we circled you, we circled ourselves         no one 
was looking, but     we were there; we stood up, 
our single bodies     no longer the bridge 
it was our hands     Now        we held 
them         the shape of us unfastened 
from the overpass     ––still, we held,    some 
of us        even though         the gaps 
of our         form were         widening
our collective         path        an open mouth. 
Eye, be on your     sparrow now.      Watch us 
as we stand before ourselves

waiting

here.