My town was built from bone
of cow, pig & moon,
bone of ventricle & vestibule
& bell at mass, bone of
drugstore, bull bone
of pleasure fondled in a barn,
bone of break & weep,
of keening vacuum sweeper,
when a bone goes
wrong or especially right,
tractor grinding its hollow
starter-bone on a foggy before-dawn,
my own bone trying to belong
as the bar shuts down & every-
body goes home
to dream of a little flesh.
I drank espresso with friends all evening,
then lay awake all night, my blood
luminous like the Electric Man at the fair:
his hair on end, crackling handshake,
never sleeping. You know this pyre:
some nights coffee keeps you lit,
or it might be debt, a biopsy,
dropsy. I saw a man snoring
at a coffee counter in Missouri, half-way
to California, unaware his car
was burning in the lot outside, sirens
haunting his dream as if he were tied
to a mast. There is no safe boat in sleep,
no merrily-merrily anywhere, no vestal
handmaids of slumber.
You sleep what sleep you can find,
envy the mouse crawling under
a matt of leaves, while night voices
crowd your own bed with flashlights,
with a cup of coffee, with a couple unpaid
invoices, the whole rabble of complaints.
The Death of a Fiction Student
It’s haunting as hell when a student dies.
Last night they flashed Ali’s face again on TV.
Investigators had decided that he’d caused
The blaze that devoured the house
Killing another student along with himself
By not tending the fireplace in his room.
Somewhere I’ve got a box of stories that students
Didn’t want returned at the end of the term.
One is by Ali: the usual phantasm of spaceships
And dragons—the dream-anodynes
Of technical students. I ask them for urgency
And energeia and they give it to me
In mytho-galactic carnage. He listened to my lectures
(One remembers such details), but he turned
In his projects late. He missed some classes
As most do; he worried and talked
To me about it, like many. I gave him a B.
I saw a photo in the paper of his parents huddled
In horror outside the charred house amid shadows
That such fires leave long after they’re doused,
And I understood they’d come hundreds
Of miles because the expository report
Is no substitute for being shown, even if seeing
Would ruin them. That is the way we are,
We who love anyone, the readers of our
Own tragedies. Ali had been drinking,
But it was all right: The term was almost over,
Absences no longer mattered. He’d lit
His fireplace shortly after one a.m.
And lay down to a narrative of dream. Flames
Immolated his ten-by-ten room as if a dragon
Had breathed into his window. A senseless
Denouement, I would have told him. There’s no
Recognition in this ending, Ali. Write it over.
It’s his last night and I know it, and he doesn’t.
His suitcase is packed in the living room
but he hasn’t noticed. He’s already
irked Mom into one stroke, the next
will probably kill her. So, while the sun reddens
I drive my father around town one last time,
then he’s going away.
You want ice cream, I ask. No, he says.
So like a hundred other nights, I turn
onto Bloomingdale Road toward the reservation,
the one place where people won’t
ride our bumper at twenty miles per hour.
Even then he says, Slow down, I can’t see anything
when you’re speeding. We stop and buy cheap
reservation gas, then wander until
he’s tired enough to leave Mom alone,
then I’ll drive him back home. Some miles away
orderlies are already stripping a stiff bed,
and remaking it with sheets stamped with
the numbers of cold category, a woman is typing
his d.o.b., religion, and his color
in triplicate for admission onto an island
of old soldiers who don’t know why they’re
marooned together or when their boat
is coming back. I turn up another road,
keeping that damned sunset at our backs.
In the morning my brother
and I will be at his door. One of us will pick
up the suitcase. The other will jingle the keys.