The truth is, the whispered shape of his death
Is too loud to hear.
It's in the sound of traffic overhead,
Like a saw mill's whir
The moment after the lumber passes through it,
Changes into time, into
Charred houses where the linen was stripped
From beds & lace from
Dresses to bandage time together & hold it still
For one more moment.
It began as no more than a joke with one wing
That flew in circles
Through the smoke & talk of infinity assembled
In Bell's Tavern.
Look around. There's nothing left of it.
The wind leans
Against the girders, flange after gray green flange
That frames what's left,
A hush of space beneath a freeway overpass,
Singed air & asphalt where
You can trace a pattern in the shattered glass
Of a green bottle
Or read a destiny in spit before it dries,
Or bear witness
To a drunk guy lurching to a stop
As if to confer
With a god who swirls around him in a windblown
Gust of trash,
Slow waltz of grit when the body isn't there,
Flesh becoming pine
And a water that tastes like leather. Who
Would ever have thought
The body could be poured? Like anything else?
Who would have supposed
The body pouring out of the body in the stench
One whiff of it & you wouldn't be able ever again
To live with yourself.
You'd live with it as though it were someone else.
A woman I once knew
Asked a gravedigger about exhuming remains, moving
The dead from one place
To another. The gravedigger was neither old nor
Young. He'd just been out
Of work too long. It was the only job he could get,
He said. He had intended
To move on after a few months, but then. . . . He was
Drinking a coke, & resting.
"What's in the coffins," she asked him, "when, you know . . .
You open them up?"
He looked at her briefly, "Just hair," he answered,
"Just miles & miles of hair."
If the soul is just the story that it tells, then
Did his answer, his smile,
The way he took his comb out of his back pocket
And slicked his hair back,
Spite the soul with something like the soul?
And who really gives a shit?
Except those who, like children who hope the story
Never ends, & gather
To watch a fermented body pouring from a chalice,
Or the boy who wished
To stay awake forever, & who, with matches & a spoon,
After a while found a way
To do just that. They found him, face white & thin,
Almost, as a communion host,
Dead in a little swanboat in the park, one foot dangling
In the water of the pond.
My account of him is not a cautionary tale. As far
As I'm concerned, he made it.
I could feel Death in that space where Booth, who was,
As far as anyone can tell,
A space himself, or avenging angel, or absence, planned
The assassination with two friends.
And so what if I could? The drunk was talking soundlessly
And the traffic went on
Overhead. I rubbed my hand across my eyes as if
To free them from what
Fettered them like a hawk's in a king's hand
And when I opened them
A second later, the drunk was gone. The king was dead.
I could see the nothing in
The space it ruled. Beside it there a small plaque
Almost illegible, commemorating
The wrong thing, the recruitment of soldiers, sailors,
Shiftless drunks, debtors,
Guys out of work, who fought the War of 1812, & then
The Mexican War, & then. . . .
But after that, the meadows turned to blood. What
Happened after that was genocide.
The Self sounds like a guy raking leaves
Off his walk. It sounds like the scrape of the rake.
The soul is just a story the scraping tells.
The Self has no story. It is a sound. It scrapes
Against all things. He lets the rake do all
The talking now, the raked walk keeps the stars
From blowing out in the night sky
Above his house. It isn't music that he hears:
The sore screech of the wheel in the addict's voice,
Who, having kicked it, becomes the quiet shape
The shadow of his body makes. A rhythm
Only, 2/4 time, without a melody, the flesh
A lighter gray around the scar the stitches left.
Sore screech of the wheel that never rests,
Thin girl at her loom. Thin girl at her loom.
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