A Small Thing
In a shed by the Neuse River,
three men sat around a propane—
pot of beans on the burner,
simmering, bland. You were looking
for someone to pay for use
of land to launch a boat. The men
were friendly in the way of men
retired not only from jobs
they worked for a long time,
but from the women who kept them
alive enough to go back each day.
One said, I’ll take your money.
Another said, Put it in the can.
The last said, You’re going to canoe?
When you returned to the place
a few hours later, the men were gone,
as if into the misty, swollen river,
but for sale on the table—you must have
overlooked them before—a mess
of railroad spikes, heavy feathers,
corroded & pocked—shorter
than any you’d seen. And no box,
no price. On the far bank, an owl
with its lusty vocals stirred
another owl to call. A muskrat
surfaced in the wrinkles
of current by the cypress’ hips,
and in the owl banter one
could hear origins of mistletoe
and Spanish moss, pollen fronds,
bay trees in leaf, red maple samaras,
black gum, & tupelo. Upstream,
a man in a powerboat kept another
roe shad from laying her eggs. And
though something could be made of this,
later, driving back to supper
in the torpor of the old town
your mother calls home, there
on the straight between Weyerhaeuser
and the Insomnia Nightclub—
now boarded up—you turned
off the radio and stared out
at modular homes, fields of sod,
and tried to forget the spikes,
the delicacy of their stumpy heft—
how they lay, points together,
so as to make a roundness
that could be entered, and worn.
It started with a touch—there had to be a touch, a wet finger. What it ended with was warmer than the beginning, and less glittering. Glitter had been dead a long time. Even the stuff on cheeks & lips. Sometimes there was a leaf, a cow bleating. Coming back was easy. You were everywhere. Softer, in a way. The paulownia shut its eyes. No, it blinked. And in the foreground, where sound entered the picture like an abandoned simile, there was fox musk. Consider this less a postcard than notes made on the patch torn from defiance’s better eye. The creek had been bankful, an oboe. Now it tambourined.
As though there was motion beneath the internal, wholeness even was scraped bark. Sure, trees need a good rubdown. Sure, branchquiver held the plans in us, grafted to the seven deadlies. Passing did not mean without, we were told, and for weeks rain invaded the easy, growing us, leaves curled on those branches that are not like antlers or like branches either. There was no end to the leaves, anyway. We kept turning them not over, but around—a soggy origami. Lord knows they were wet enough, mold-soft, yet erect in their way, certain nodes perky even. Wilted were plenty of course. But wasn’t plenty the point.
So sun could burn through, making shapes of—how long had it been? I don’t mean to gossip. I mean the past tense is often a metaphor for significance. Look at one thing, like the shoal—that’s not one thing—how the curlers, little fingers, type away; the sun on it that wasn’t a minute ago. It’s minute, I know. We were scared. We could have been living. Wouldn’t that be funny. Yeah, hilarious. Yeah, a gas. And the joy that was in our sights, though we didn’t know it, though it was screaming, tugging us on leashes of licorice. Calling us liars, calling us beautiful. Please sing a bit. A rowdy song. Lightly.
Splendor, you said, was disintegration, & expansive, the way one thing was never one thing. More a ricochet. More a multitude. A be added. An etude. At least in those woods— some double stuff in the downstream, the mountain growing more brown. Deeper than hope could stitch new cracks in lips, we inhaled. Like each syllable was another species in the genus of believing. Here came the wind. Here came the leaving again. Not endings, we dwelt on skulls, on the larvae of the lacewing. Passion was tired of being heavy. Lacking chloroplasts, glamour’s lignum—we loved, loved by worlds we couldn’t name.
In silence we learned to speak. In closeness we learned the anatomy of distance. This woodpile, those stumps—by what hand & saw? And for what fires? The pines upslope—it was all root now, no, again. Everything coals. Briars like paint on the light’s canvas. In severity we learned glee. What was afar lived again & again & within. In pain we learned to smile. Engulched, we learned wings. Wind, after wind. Thermals of stone. It was all, and a striving after seed. Not by accident, the echoes, but openings. In study we learned to forget. In blaring, to smart. But followings, pawprints. The dry clay on the wet.
What version of flood had licked the roots, we didn’t know. But we lived by it, immune to wind because the wind began in marrow, everything else’s. We ate what we could. The woods were ticklered. And the fields, too, seemed populated by vagrant blessings—wrappers, worms—histories unaware of their chronicling. All the trunks fingered the melt. And you hung on in leaps, so ensphinctered in unspeaking us from the very stone of light becoming flesh. Consider a spiral—endolithic, broomsedgey. Or a scribble. Probably science had something to do with it. Or distance, either. Truly, and breakage.
There, where the green needles lay, where husk never ceased its fall, that orb of beaks that said bite me—we forked our pitched hearts, some roast rared wonderfully, still a pulse. Call it moss-fodder, the goal, a layer of humus less for laying than bedding down. Sometimes there was trash—truck springs, a can of timber marking paint. Always the kermitude of ferns, wild ginger like, like so many feeling words. I believe the days played hangman with our breath. What millennium was it anymore? I mean the birds could give an eye so much, and the days & the beholding, just by lighting there, just by preening.
Beginnings sure had a way of fucking with us. But it was so mammalian or mammarian, the way the bark, smooth for a stretch, came to a sphere of wrinkles like yearning’s relief map. We had to sit there, we had to remember it even as we discovered it growing as though a gift of forgiveness. Forget the wreckage of the future we were living in. I think we had given up hope of a better past, and were kids again, citizens of a wiser age, whenever that was, following the footprints of mist. Likewise, the water ran a wider course, some Sistine of stick & stalk, silt gathering, rising against the depth.
Again we witnessed the days teaching woe how to laugh, smooching it till it giggled. We almost missed walking out so dead to ourselves that a piece of shit was plenty of amazement. It was different then, the people told us, and normal not to trust them. The images were the same, the settings the same and probably the motives, too – to woo life astonishing, to see the shrubs shine, to praise & jibe. To dance on the roof of love’s outbuilding. Yes, to kick & sway along that pitch, seeing a piece of shit as a piece of shit, the sun as the sun, the moon as the sun, and the heavens of difference in both of them.
What I remember is the curve
of the egret’s neck as it drifted over the winter marsh,
for balance than loft as the breeze
like a hand carried it higher than the islands
whose canopies trawled the sky
with nets of leaf, moss, vine,
tattered, perfect nets,
as much for catching as embracing
some ghost, maybe the moon’s, or the one
the man in it lusts for, blatantly
on both hemispheres. And I don’t forget the water towers
on the horizon; the way praise felt
as unsettling as fear; the lead shot of terns,
how they banked & veered
or awareness unaware of itself. How croakful
the heron’s song, what
in the palm fronds
and in the sinusy rotwork of a washed up trunk.
there was pin oak & myrtle beneath
and blankets of broomsedge
where cardinals burst like streaks of candy
on the glass rim from which everything known
has been poured. I remember
the creek as the tide turned, its forests of calcium;
one eagle, lopey, some wolf of the sky; coontracks in the mud; Montezumas of palmetto;
the spartina’s triptych: green at the bottom,
then magenta & yellow;
the docked shrimp boat, &
smiling—who couldn’t?—for your new digital camera
among all this.