Where have all the night tunes fled?
The thrum of locusts, those tin blossoms I loved
To hear ratchet and uncoil
swivel down from the cypress trees,
Are long gone, gone with the freight trains
Slogging through the humidity,
The tarred trestles, their castanets of wood and air and steel.
And the distant drone of the diesel rigs
Unspooling like bolts of muslin over the rooftops;
And the faint winglisp of Japanese beetles
Coasting the open window,
up the wall,
Dizzy for that place where the light sproutsó.
All of it gone, the night's music silenced
And sluiced through the oily gutters,
Into the yawning storm drains clotted
With trash and mud and drowned birds.
Gone and irretrievable, like a few stray eyelashes
Shed by a nightswimmer
through the dark into darker water.
City of forgotten history, where are your dead?
What locks has the rain picked? What dark is this
That silences your cylinders, clicks shut
Your six black moons?
much undone and rising,
The water thighdeep and spreading like iodine,
Scything the manicured lawns, jostling the shotgun shacks,
Rattling the irongates and razorwire.
Rising over the capsized dumpsters,
Over the little-league fields and playgrounds,
Over the jukeboxes and convenience stores and hospitals,
While the poor ride their flimsy housing
like sheetrock dinghies.
And the homebound traffic submerged,
Frozen in orbit on the interstate
Where the radios warble and bleed beyond earshot.
And the light we hold onto growing cold.
And the light slipping piecemeal below the surface,
This fluid scaffolding, these ghostly constellations
Blurring out of reach beneath the water.
It's the rain that calls me out and the night
That anchors me here like a stone.
The night, impenetrable, a layer of charcoal
Sheeting the bottom of a water purification tank.
The night and the silence beneath water.
The silence that we're all being swept towards.
Who will remember us? What will I remember?
Once, when I was sixteen and death didn't exist,
When it didn't follow me as it does now,
This thin, persistent whine behind my left ear,
I shucked my clothes beside the tracks
And stumbled across a soot-glazed trestle.
I listened to the pigeons rustle on the ledge
And felt the vodka slide beneath my skin
As I spread my arms to summon devils and angels,
The dumb-luck and know-not-what that got me there.
I stood on the edge of some undefined space
Where trees, washed in adrenaline,
Ceased to be trees, and the single blue feather
That floated down in front of me,
Just out of reach, held the only light
I thought I'd ever need. When I jumped
The water was no longer
Water, but a doorway, and language a mere
Afterthought filling the room my body carved
With its headlong tumble.
If I could, I'd plunge again into that weightlessness.
I'd shake this undertow from around my ankles
And sink to where the salamander skulls
Lisp their sandy refrains, where the leeches lurk
Among crack pipes and tires and stray shoes.
There where the fire ants refuse
To die, their bodies rising like bubbles
Through the murky corridors.
I'd follow the water moccasins and catfish,
Gather the coins tarnishing
In the gator mouths and swim to the concrete's edge
Where sewage and gasoline scallop the pylons,
Where the names of lovers
Are scrawled in the shadows and the homeless cling
To cardboard signs. If I could,
I'd hollow their words out and drag the lost
Faces up from the depths.
But the flood's erased the shore, smeared
The messages like octopus ink.
And somewhere behind the clouds
The stars remain, igniting the dark's amnesia.
From the driveway's edge, I watch the water
River the street,
and eddying past,
Rising at the intersection where it boils
Into a gluttonous gray-foam,
Biting at the stopsigns and telephone poles,
Spitting its flotsam out, its scum and bones.
Two Mexican boys drift by on the current
In a dead-man's float, shirtless, their bodies
Dark as skates. Just as they pass,
They roll over onto their backs
Laughing before they hit the spot where the rapids
Begin to wheel and surf out of sight.
And all night I'll worry up the stunned
Rattlesnakes, the uncorked manholes,
The water's chemical sheen and the silence
Swimming like an endless wind beneath it.
And all night I'll worry their names
Out of the rain,
Lumbrera Tremeda and Fuego Sempiterno.
I could launch a thousand newsprint boats
Into the eye of the storm to bless them,
Fill the hulls with brand new pennies
To grant them luck. I could climb the trees
With my plastic lantern and light their way,
There where the leaves whisper the inaudible
Into the swamped night's tincan.
I lie in bed for a long time before drifting
Into sleep, listening to a helicopter
Circling the city, to the silence that lifts
Like a broken buoy inside its whop.
With my eyes closed I can almost imagine
The faint sound of its spotlight sliding
Over the water, over the mirrored facades
Of the skyscrapers. A sound as precise
As a broom sweeping the linoleum floor
Of the barbershop at closing time
When the barber is alone, as he has been
At the end of each day for twenty-six years.
When he finishes, he removes his smock
And stands smoking, watching the news
On an old television. The gray dusk
Has softened the lines on his face,
Just as it's softened the chrome chairs
Behind him and the headlights of the cars
On the interstate going nowhere now
And the curses of their drivers. Soon
They're pushing the doors open with their feet,
The water and the night pouring through,
Indistinguishable, filling the floorboards
In one funneling gasp, the way grain
Swirls and spills from an exhausted silo
Into the sunlight and dust of summer.
Although they never describe it such
To the bystanders and reporters.
It happened so fast, they say, shivering.
It happened so fast . . . I hardly remember anything.
And the barber, believing their words
Are already rain and broken glass,
Clicks off the set and turns to the window,
Watching the drops weave and thread
The letters of his name, his face blank
As he stares past everything
Trying to remember what it is he's lost.
What could I say that he won't already understand
When he finds himself standing alone
In the dark, listening to the wind come again
And again, the rain running off
The awning, the sound of water rising?
A dream of flood in the midst of flood.
The water goes where it wants and I follow it
Through the drowned streets and alleys,
Through greased cavernous canals of parking garages,
Through unhinged doors and shattered windows,
Up elevator shafts and down hallways.
Telephone lines fishtail and fizz.
Dead letters ride up
out of the blue breath of mailboxes.
In a hospital basement, cages bob like lobster traps,
The shaved pink bellies of rats bloating
Against the wire mesh, the bright tips
Of unsheathed syringes
a code against steel and glass.
Somewhere a lone cello floats calmly
Across a playground of my childhood,
As if the world had never known its music,
As if it had never been anything else
But an empty boat. It docks against
The top of a swingset where crows roost,
Lifting their faces into the wind.
What I remember is water and then
No water, the earth spongy
I kneel beneath
The swing, beside the hole scooped out
Long ago by my gliding feet.
There in a shallow pool tadpoles
Squirm in the mudsuck, hundreds of black
Commas I cup in my hands and carry
To the bank of the swollen creek.
I wait a long time for the cries of their kind
To rise from the rocks and crushed grass.
Dawn, and the first sunlight in days,
Mustard-pale and seeping
Through the last of the broken storm bands
Scudding west like a fleet of ashy rafts.
I open the window and the morning air's
Steeped with the smell of mold,
Sewage, rotting fish, and something
Unidentifiable: thousands of mosquito eggs
Taking root in the mud, perhaps,
Or the musky scent of night crawlers writhing
In blind ecstasy on the sidewalk and in the grass.
I could say, now is the time to start over.
I could say, now is the time to pick up the pieces and move forward,
But some good soul says it and means it
When the smoky rasp of a chainsaw
Flares up and ricochets
Through the narrow spaces between homes,
And then the deep, intermittent
Chortle of a generator and pump, and the whine
Of an outboard in the distance
Ferrying people and pets and supplies.
I want to say, this is the music of beginning
When a face on the news stops me.
It's a Mexican man I've seen somewhere before,
Perhaps slinking in the long sheetmetal
Shadow of the day labor office off Shepherd,
Standing now on the steps of his house,
The street swollen with water and debris.
He's holding a fishing net
And scooping up a muddy wedding dress
Billowing in the backwash of the bayou.
He stands there holding it for a long time,
Watching the water empty out
Of its lace skirt and bodice. He doesn't look up,
Not even when the reporter thrusts
The microphone beneath his chin.
He stands staring at the dress,
And before I can speak I'm gone with him
To the place where he last remembers it,
Unzippered and crumpled at the bottom of a skiff
Shored where the cattails bow along the bank,
A half-mile down river from the wedding feast.
The stars never so close and silent as this,
As he and his new wife swim, the water
So black and warm against their bodies the world
Seems to be springing forth
For the first time out of the dark,
Out of their footprints pressed in silt,
Out of the willlowroots and stones and snakegrass.
And when I study his face
And close my eyes now, I can see the rowing
Back, the oars rising and dripping
Like wet wings. I can feel the hot blisters swell
On my hands and welcome them.
I can hear the music that floods the night
And blesses the boat, and there is
No reason to speak, no reason to say anything.