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Poetry

 

——–1.

 

Begin with a face, this casting pool set in bone,

——-where the other faces graze the surface

 

and slide, and who remembers what it was to begin,

——-who back then, if anyone, we were.

 

Always the shroud of a stranger across the chill

——-of the looking glass, and I am looking more

 

and more like my father and know I never get there.

——-The face on television says, we should open

 

our borders to Christians only, and somewhere a lonely man

——-says, yes, I feel that way. And one flame

 

flows into another, and who can tell them apart.

——-Who has not filled the empty holy landscape

 

of the margins. Everywhere the smoke of cities

——-and exclusionary spaces, where if you knock

 

the bodies on video feeds they sound like glass.

——-What a sound bite needs is a larger story with small

 

and smaller pieces, a girl, say, who stares

——-into the camera before the pan and fade,

 

though we know she is out there, the face among faces,

——-the Eucharist of imagined life.

 

 

——-2.

 

 

Let me begin again. Time is priceless,

——-and we are always in the middle

 

of some covert conflict somewhere, caught

——-in the river of thousands pouring into thousands,

 

gathering in the makeshift city of widows

——-and tents, and there are limits to a body,

 

a nation, a sea. There are rivers drawn as mirages are

——-across the names of other waters,

 

and what is the use of words and images that come

——-so far and no farther, of the protest

 

song and broken camera abandoned in the sand.

——-Whose grains are these in the storm

 

blown back across our footsteps,

——-where the new planes carry their payload,

 

undetected, and have no people in them.

——-The words Christian or fire or covert conflict

 

have no people either, only jaws

——-to consume the bread of imagined life.

 

And as we talk, the body of us, in us, divides—

——-it must—longing to be whole.

 

 

——-3.

 

 

Long ago they cut my father’s body open to accept

——-the harvest of a stranger’s heart.

 

When he woke, the hospital room smelled of chrome

——-and disinfectant, and he thought,

 

surely this is paradise, and his palpitations

——-spiked. Somewhere there is a flashlight

 

in the tunnel of your chest, a voice that cries,

——-who’s there, and no one answers. In time,

 

it says less and less, camouflaged in fibers;

——-the beam dims; words go deaf; the gape

 

of the ribcage swallows the Eucharist

——-in silence. Who is left to say where the stranger

 

draws its boundaries. Vein after vein

——-nets the vital muscle, and even the blood

 

of the incision is, as they say, connective tissue.

——-The bruise shade of the liver,

 

the spleen, the thyroid that is an outpost of the brain,

——-they are all braided like strangers

 

at the foot of a tower on fire. Like anger

——-flowing into anger and who can tell them apart.

 

 

 

——-4.

 

 

America has no face. Or none I know. Let me begin again.

——-It is neither driver nor the mother

 

on the bus who pulls the string, not the chime,

——-not the echo, never the house

 

particular with debt and pills and bad news

——-from Ferguson or Beirut or some such holy land,

 

and the candidate who would wear our features says,

I open my heart, but homes are homes,

 

and I turn on him and lock my door behind me.

——-A Christian nation has no Christ,

 

and Christ no nation. Or none I know. I am looking

——-for a better song. I cast my vote

 

into the water to watch it slice across the larger picture.

——-One nation under God, a child says.

 

Beneath her hand, the anonymity of the personal,

——-the vital muscle, the fist, the first

 

to fear, the last to explain. Lord of the body,

——-peerless, eyeless, compelled.

 

I search the names on the ballot for the nameless.

——-I make my pledge.

 

 

——-5.

 

 

To judge another’s words by what we know about the speaker

——-is to know neither speaker nor word.

 

So says a schoolbook a boy finds boring

——-and then he gets a beating from two strangers,

 

and as he hangs by his hair in the grasp of one,

——-he says nothing, he is losing faith in words,

 

he goes home and, once again, nothing, and over dinner,

——-nothing, and night after night, he lies

 

awake, and nothing comes. I am looking for a better song,

——-the kind that moves across the borders

 

in the old language. Or wades against the water

——-beneath the guns of the lookout, and what remains is

 

the vast unfathomed reaches of a sky. I am sorry

——-for everything I did and did not do,

 

I told my father in the end, and he was confused.

——-I still see that face among the many he wore,

 

buried in a music I could not hear, and I needed

——-my own to hear it. It felt enormous, this tune, and I

 

was small and smaller, and he was crossing over,

——-and he looked at me, my grief, as if it were a stranger.

 

 

 

——-6.

 

 

In the song of the Eucharist of imagined life,

——-a girl stares into the camera, and the liquidation

 

of eyes and money spills from the anonymity

——-of the personal into the great collection plate.

 

Protesters take their guitars to the river, and one

——-tune flows into another, and whatever music does

 

and does not do, the girl who sings feels small and smaller,

——-and who are we to know. Somewhere

 

a theorist is writing a paper and feels it too: the longing

——-for greater detail, larger scope. Somewhere

 

a man eats the bread and feels absolved and little

——-changes or all things small and who are we to know.

 

Begin with a face. Yours or another’s. Little changes

——-gather downstream, beneath the eyes, and they have seen it,

 

the power of a song, how it just might pull a body through

——-the mirror, out some painful story or door,

 

into another. The refugees’ song carries something

——-of language over the river, and the river closes behind them

 

like a wound. It forgets. And in the song you hear it

——-running. And sometimes in their eyes, you see.


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