Song Out of Ruin:
At least, the light bulb tells itself, nobody
draws an apple over the superhero’s head
to show he’s had a brilliant thought.
No, in fact, an apple’s one idea
was very bad—just eat, eat, eat me.
And how dark the world became then.
chicory, ironweed, aster, thistle, Joe-pye,
poorest of the poor—the way they stand
as if anonymous, knowing themselves
to be the blur passersby barely see,
the way they disappear when winter storms in,
and then come crowding back in spring,
the ground loving them the way it does not
love the golf course with its sleek chemical green
coreopsis, milkweed, bittersweet, goldenrod,
sumac, wild carrot--
the way they bow to the passing waves
that release their seeds, needing only a little wind
to lift them across the field, a little rain,
a small crack in the hardpan to grow,
to possess the earth, as scripture says
they will, don’t worry.
Oh lighten up, I want to say. Morning glories
have scaled the stop sign, the school buses are making
their first practice runs. The world goes on.
[. . .
. . . C]an’t I praise this late
summer day, the air rinsed clean?
. . . Oh Chagall,
good to remind us of cows, hens, the moon
dangling from its rusty hinge, a fiddler
on his green violin, and the bride waiting
in midair for a man whose white shirt
blooms with dark roses. She drifts, silent,
moth-like over broken stalks, bearing no tools,
but a glass raised to the song that won’t stop,
to the groom who hasn’t yet come, to the world
that’s still undone, its sparks and its young
who can’t imagine that the light they see
comes from everything they love slowly burning.
. . . under overhangs, citizens
gather with trumpets and guitars, the music
in Cuba swelling out of sea-pitted brass
and rusted strings, out of potholes, broken
storm drains, music on every corner,
radios still playing when the cars don’t run--
is that possible, radios still playing--
too much music for anyone to block, the air
heavy with it, and the wind picking up.
Back home, in the prison art room, I said,
Everyone toss onto the table something precious,
and we’ll make a still life:
a packet of artificial sweetener, ID badge, pen, one cigarette, pair of glasses, the dog-eared photo of a toothless boy grinning under a cowboy hat, and Here—one joker said, with a card-flinging gesture--the invisible keys to the kingdom . . .
. . . I was so stunned to enter that wild heap,
that jumbled array—shattered whiskey bottle,
rusted scissors, chewed pencil, flashlight--
some requests clear,
while the whole grotto insisted on a kingdom,
invisible as it is, an other side
from which these things look different,
maybe not like things at all.
My grandmother of the Coke-bottle lenses
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
used to recite when she stumbled, “‘I see,’
said the blind man when he bumped into the light,”
which I only recalled after slamming into
the plate glass I must have thought was a door--
or didn’t think at all, lost inside my head,
as I charged full speed into spectacle-snap,
black-eye smack, at which I saw suddenly
how much I didn’t see at all, with a whole
restaurant watching. [. . .
. . .] “I once . . . was blind,
but now I see,” John Newton wrote, and then
gave up his slave ship to grieve all the ruin
he had wrought. But how did he come to see--
what shock, what light shattered the old lens?
. . . Now a small breeze
flies into the tree, so its blossoms flutter,
and a few tear loose to rise, to drift briefly
in the otherwise unseeable air,
that invisible substance we call nothing
and can’t live without.
Gone, whatever we thought it took
to make a show, just this voice now, all rust
and cut glass--send me—gouging her face,
raking that throat, hardly a voice at all, nothing
left but the lowest note she can score--
someone to—she barely mouths the phrase,
head bowed, mike dropped to her side, and us
on the edge of our seats, as the last
unspoken word fills our minds.