For Susann Cokal
I’m looking for a story that will light
my way out, a star in the sycamore’s grass,
taken from night and nothing and limbs cut
back from the wires. It is not summer,
there is no mist on the streets.
The yard, vacant with ivy and nest, wears brown,
and the streetlights. The sycamore is the loudest tree,
its bark lifting the hard wind like the saint
who prayed to the east and failed, parchment
spread on the monastery roof. Help me
spelled out in supplicant ink, roaring through
clots of frost. Look at us, late winter, pulling dead
branches from the fence at night to avoid the neighbors,
poison pushed under the shed for the rats.
Let’s surrender all illusions of spirit, because it deceives us.
The spirit is not air, even in its highest form,
no matter who sparks the flame.
Tonight, I suffer from not knowing
how to suffer. Tomorrow will be the same.
There used to be pills to cure this affliction.
Early decay, feebleness of will, Wonderful Little Liver Pills.
Beef, Iron and Wine for the poorest blood, for fever
of the known and unknown world.
The sycamore leans its branches on the telephone lines.
To hear them on the phone, those manuscripts of bark
breathing the wires, does nothing for my courage.
This is how you become a saint: Translate the ruins,
wherever they sleep. Bloom the tulip-tree early
and watch bees gather in the sleet. There is no abyss,
no oblivioned ocean. Just a landscape, like this one,
born from a river and seven hills, bones under
the hospital cobbles, ghost rope taut in the gallows.
The glad bees orphan their hive, too soon and unwise.
It isn’t death I want, but it isn’t life, either.
Introduction: From Replica of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue, Fall 1900
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