Ten Sources of Light
Shine a beam into the woods
at night, pan through trees
and underbrush, and usually
you’ll get what you’re after—
twin flashes of light off retinas,
and something in the night
peers back at you,
so much red staring you down.
The woods are thick with fear.
You’ve seen it glinting, just as
you once heard the hunting scream
of the barred owl seizing
its prey. You lock the doors
but your window is cracked
to let in breeze or breath,
the cucumber smell
of the copperhead. In your room,
you read beneath a bulb—
so easy to pick out.
Did I tell you about
the night I saw the fireflies?
It was the first sighting
of the year, and millions came,
sudden, so many pinpricks
in the black, and all I could think
was that we were fast-sliding
past planets, cut loose.
Now I know: mating frenzy,
bodies emerging from wood,
a furious urge to glow.
That night I woke my father
and we watched together,
lightning roams in packs,
pauses in someone’s woods
just long enough to terrify—
to teach us how
that kindest face looks,
pelted by light, silver
streaking down his skin
Pink Floyd does “Comfortably Numb,”
and everyone has a lighter.
This is how it’s supposed to work:
houselights go down and we raise
our torches, sway together
beneath the flame.
I think I’ll stay here
while the metal burns my thumb
and Dave Gilmour plays a solo
you’d swear was a woman
in tears. Let’s refuse
to move forward to now,
blue lights of telephones
turning an arena cold, and even
the guitar goes sharp and shrill.
It’s best, anyway, to stay put
when the air is burning overhead
and you find yourself
an awfully long way
from the door.
When you drive at night
you sometimes see a glow
that is a town—everyone
not sleeping finds a circle
of light to read or sigh by.
In my town, there is a hill
that overlooks its four avenues.
I’d sit there at night,
choose a particular light
and imagine the story beneath:
someone cutting a body
from a photograph, someone
biting directly into
a hot loaf of bread. Two
make love. One compares a palm
to an outline on a face. No one
is joyous by lamplight,
but some find a quiet
that is happy
or at least
Here is a poem in praise
of the tiny green light
on the coffeepot, and the man
who each night unfolds a filter,
with a wooden spoon, adds
water and comes to bed.
He likes neither coffee nor
the smell of it, but he loves
ritual, and me, and he can’t
sleep until he knows
all of his work is done.
And I love him. I stand
in the dark kitchen
and turn the pot on,
and you’d be surprised
at the glow a green dot
makes. It is quite enough light
to help me find my way.
Once I saw it in Ohio—
aurora, green gauze rippling
over stars. I pulled over
as we do when something we took
to be black gestures at us
with color. I know
there are places where
these curtains of light
are commonplace, and maybe
no one looks up to regard them.
But where I parked, future site
of a shopping mall,
mounds of earth growing soft
in the weather, that was a place
where the sky stays put, where
there is so little to see
that we keep our eyes fixed
on the lines down
the middle of the road.
Already there’s a problem. My baby lies
in the blue glow of the jaundice lamp,
his body unaccustomed to dry air,
so much room to stretch and move in.
Yet he is still. Little chest rises and falls,
left hand curls into a fist. A mask
obscures his eyes and we both think
how different this world is from the one
we were expecting—the one
with rocking chairs and soft singing,
with bright eyes making sense
of my blurred face. You, little loaf,
are almost risen. How warm you’ll feel
against me. I can’t wait to breathe you in.
The day the eclipse came
I watched it through a welder’s mask:
dark stain smothering the light.
I was a reporter in a small town
and the sun was my beat.
I walked around the square,
seeking opinions—what do you think
of the sun, I asked, and have you ever
seen anything like this?
I could have interviewed the birds—
suddenly quiet in the middle
of the day, it seemed they had
an opinion. No one dares to posit
the tough questions—
where is your god now, good man,
and do you believe your star
will ever come back?
for Jenny Holzer
A great artist came from my hometown and created
this moment when art could be words crossing
a sign. She’d say things like IN A DREAM
YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU
WERE FULL OF JOY or PROTECT ME FROM WHAT
I WANT. I see her installations from time to time
in museums and I know she walked the hallways
of my school. Maybe we shared a locker, maybe I studied
from her book. What we share now is the idea that words
can possibly save us, so we light them up, set them marching.
There was a curve just past
the one-lane bridge, but we opted
not to take it, so the boy’s car slid
sideways across a lawn. A better poet
would know the type of tree
that caved in her door, but this one
remembers two things:
there was a tree where I’d been sitting,
and the car was not on fire—it was only the light
from the dashboard glowing red
after I’d scrambled into the lap of the boy.
The last thing I’d said was that
I wasn’t scared, and I still wasn’t.
I’ve always had a fondness for trees.