Crossing the noon desert between
Tatum and Roswell, no man’s land
where even the oil wells don’t go,
I twist the radio dial as if to squeeze
music out of the invisible air.
Few signals come,
half of them the same voice
of the same propagandist.
It pleases me, then,
to turn him off, and—
disliking even the flabby rush
of wind and tires—
leave the road and walk away
from the car, to deliver myself
to desert silence,
which, it turns out,
isn’t at all: here are cries and songs
of birds, some I can name, most I can’t:
their many voices, not still, not small;
persuasive, yes, but not rhetorical.
“and also much cattle”
It took Jesus forty days of fasting to achieve
what I did yesterday, with laxatives and gallons
of salty-sweet liquids to purge my intestines.
He was tempted by Satan with glittering cities;
Me? I pictured a well-marbled sirloin, set
in a moat of port wine and peppercorn glaze.
This morning, bored in the waiting room,
I picked up the paper and read of a feedlot
where bodies of two thousand cattle were found
in various stages of rot, foetor, and plagues of flies.
As it happens, I know the place. How many times,
on the long drive from Lubbock to New Mexico,
have I rolled up my window against the stench,
averted my eyes from the miserable cattle
milling about in their own shit?
Is it clear? ask the nurses, of the liquid that flowed
all night from my colon? Is it clear? asks the doctor
as I lie on the table in fetal position, drugged
and moments till oblivion . . . . And I remember,
hours later, after coming to, the weird coincidence
of the name of that feedlot town: Sudan.
The anesthetic’s taken my hunger away, and left me,
yes, clear—rarefied, somehow—as if I could see
my way between the food I’ve eaten, and the casual
destructions of sympathy behind it:
to feedlot cattle forced into gluttony,
and war-driven starvers fenced in a refugee camp.
“And also much cattle,“ said God, showing mercy
upon the inhabitants of Nineveh. I’ve always chuckled
at that non sequitur line, as if who should care?
But not today. Today it sounds divine.
Still half sedated, it’s easy to be ethereal—afflatus,
as the ancients called divine inspiration.
But I’m full of air in another way, too—they inflated
my bowels like a bellows, the better to see inside.
And it all comes out now, as I fart like a tuba.
Afflatus to flatulence: will today’s knowledge, byproduct
of this looking within, remain? Or, knowing myself,
will I tomorrow be craving a succulent cut?
—Engraving by Whistler
The gallery sign calls it “revery,” but it’s injustice,
you can tell, she’s brooding on: adults
who force her to sit, in starched dress, still,
like a doll left lonely on a chair.
Her sleeves are itchy; uncle most fussy, scratching
onto metal plate her all-encompassing
pout. Head bowed, hair hanging
like a veil, shoulders
sloped: all frame her downcast
eyes, her pursed lips. She stares
at her hands in her lap; the left clasps
the right like a wounded bird. Her mood
is echoed by the shadow cast
by drooping head—a mood her uncle,
twenty-four and etching like Rembrandt,
captures and inflicts by his art.