Viscous purple light of sundown &
the mountains in silhouette. Autumn delivers
its ultimatums, & the skeletal magnolia
shivers. Every morning this month
I’ve filled the bird feeder & by dusk
it’s empty again. Scattered on the grass,
seed husks & blood splatter; hunger
already forgotten in the roughhouse wind.
I’ll sleep with my full belly in my empty bed.
Second snow of the season in tonight’s forecast.
* * *
Three sparrows on the fence, each the size of a child’s fist,
little hands balled in frustration, &
brought to bawling eyes: when pressed
against the irises the boy sees feathers of light
rather than birds in Franciscan brown,
the ones that fly off when a screen door rattles
or a car starts up, only to settle again. So quotidian:
their sacrament of crackers, scraps of morning toast.
In Morgantown where I lived once
two cardinals nested outside our window &
some mornings I’d observe them bicker & build–
he in his Santa suit, she in muted reds.
I expected little, yet expected those cardinals might be
instructive in ways the Catholics had failed to be:
their catechism of hunger & need.
In sixth grade I carried my naivetée in a zipped case
with three number two pencils & a pink eraser.
The neighbor kids who went to public school wandered the streets
with slingshots & cynicism & stalked Staten Island’s
small game–mourning doves, squirrels, & chipmunks,
the infrequent stray cat. Was I complicit in their sin
for never speaking out? For setting the corpses in shoe boxes
& burying them in the woods beyond the close cemetery?
I wanted to be good. I prayed someone might notice.
Thus began the walk away from any credo,
& still those cardinals remained
together in the hedgerow & remain there
while sparrows launch themselves
together & return: one constant on this smashed-bottle block
with its daily newspaper delivery. No one reads poems.
Or thinks of Aphrodite, particularly not the woman
with the parakeets. They fly free in her home,
affable fireworks of blue feathers, of yellow.
She ignores the sparrows, which are homely
after all, so easy to forget, here
among wrought iron fences & unkempt shrubs.
Here kids wait for the bus as light stretches & yawns awake.
One of them will be picked on. One of them
will fail spelling. One will think she’s fallen in love for
the first time, but only for a quickening moment.
* * *
Back Roads at Night
Rain stricken leaves. Leaf slick asphalt.
The road traces the curves of a river,
which I can’t see & the name of which
I do not recall. Like a thug
night wears its darkest coat & the trees
hide their faces, hunker in. Somewhere
in these woods deer rut, maybe
a laughing coyote sniffs the damp air.
There’s an abandoned farmhouse, certainly,
its walls sagging as if it had been weeping
for decades, & perhaps there’s a double wide
where a young wife sleeps clutching a pillow
to calm her nerves. Her husband sits
in the blue light of internet porn listing
all the lovers he never had. Surely
there’s a road cut out for the semis
that deliver the wind turbines
visible above the tree line in daylight.
I’m driving away again & no one awaits
my arrival. Typical. NPR reports
a teenager in solitary confinement
for three years, how like a monk he became–
that cloister. I keep telling myself I’m fortunate
as the car fish-tails around another hairpin
deeper into October. Miles off
red warning lights along a mountain ridge.
* * *
That night the storm tap-danced on the shingles
in the way only rain does, &
I lay on thin sheets watching a stain
on the dropped ceiling morph into an image of Thomas
sticking his hand into Jesus’s side.
If I’d believed in miracles, then I would have called
the local papers or a parish priest at least.
If I’d believed in love, I wouldn’t have been there at all,
or I would have told the woman
in the motel tub twenty feet away,
slightly drunk & embarrassed
not by her nakedness but by mine,
I would have said her name & told her about the Sistine ceiling &
the way the vacancy sign glowed out the window
wetly like stained glass &
how I wished confessionals had such signs
or better yet, ones like McDonald’s telling how many had been served,
how many had been saved if only briefly.
Or I would have told her that she’s angelic
in her melancholy,
something I assumed she already knew.
The wind played a melody I almost recognized.
I didn’t understand how two lovers in the aftershock of orgasm
could feel without warning
sad & almost like strangers,
but there we were, our enthusiasm for each other’s touch
waning. A hot trickle
rippled from the tap to keep the water warm,
her body shuddering again, involuntarily
but not from pleasure. A car in the parking lot splashed through
a puddle. The whole night
watery; the whole night a long sigh.
The lamp cast its miasma of yellow light & shadow.
I wasn’t befuddled when she kissed me on the lips
to say goodbye
for what we both knew to be the last time.
What had befallen that couple who’d entered that room
all mouths & hands, touch & tongues,
all cum & sweat & hunger?
We’d felt one another’s wounds without pause,
without awe, & kept on.
There was no crying–
but the whole world was wet. When we parted,
the veil of fog remained hours away from lifting.
* * *
Nights when my spine was one vibrating wire
in the frequency of hunger, I understood
the diction of addicts, their craven dialogue of want.
I worshiped desire, was a friar in that order.
I made my pilgrimages & got down
on my knees; I prayed the way good Protestants pray,
asking for gifts of the spirit
& gifts for the shell that holds the spirit firm–
those gifts I longed for & longed to share,
calling oh lord into my darkening chamber.