LIBERA NOS A MALO

12311306_10153398015347893_6493216149465489250_nThis poem appears in the current issue of The Manhattan Review, Vol. 17, No. 1:

LIBERA NOS A MALO

             (for Mark Ludwig)

1.

A friend halfway around the world

refers to his home as his motherland.

His email asks me to understand,

 

but half a century in that last century

purged for me some arrangements

of words no matter who deploys them.

 

Fall-out, we call such consequences now.

 

2.

I have lived here all my life but

never on just earth, rather

on a language landfill, mounded

and overgrown with tinder, dry,

inviting an errant spark, a cigarette

flicked from a fiction headed

elsewhere fast on cruise control.

 

Residue rumbles away on a signal

via satellite down iron tracks now

overgrown with grasshoppered weeds,

the smell of sun on creosote.

 

3.

Who dies? Soldiers? Or sons?

Real boys, face down among

the scattered corpses:

 

in brown water at the cattle crossing,

wedged in a crevice in the rock,

scattered across a blasted field.

 

Then blessings, old school as a last

cracked chunk of naptha soap,

are chanted over graves (oh man,

hard work, fat city in full view,)

 

the mourners’ full measure of grief

the principle product

of what had once been wilderness.

 

The age of wonders was one short story.

 

4.

Here is a riddle: if I am

a misgiving, tagged in a code

to scan, a son at the sky’s edge

waiting for love or money,

marked man from smoketown,

a lyric sung at zero db,

gravity’s own voice, perhaps

a little blue boy of a singular

urge, why was I born and why

do I feel foolish asking why?

 

5.

The dead are noisy as a hedge of wrens.

I am ignored among them.

 

Whose is that face in the shadows?

The art of this inquiry is all night

 

work, done while weeping for them,

their separate woes, our common lives.

 

6.

Afterward, forward

is undefined. I suspect the past

does not resemble its photos:

 

breath in a jar,

tremulous as a willow,

 

so long see you

a single parenthesis mark

in the long dialogue,

 

when the grass is straw,

and the ants, the bees, and all

the late languages

are ghosts, each one alone,

bewildered by the music

of creaking branches.

 

7.

Deaf to the winter sun,

I returned where the grass

would never again be as tall.

 

Late messenger, the bare trees

whispered, pray for forgiveness.

 

All of my fathers are dying.

The archive is on fire.

 

The possible arts: resistance,

refusal, requiem, remembering,

 

require another schoolroom

where the work, parsing the syntax

 

of the ways things happen, scars

inadmissible, begins again.

 

8.

Fixations and saccades:

certain movements of the eyes

are discouraged,

 

redirected to luminous

ciphers, fixed like a laser

on the heart of the amygdala,

 

and our children, never

having read a word

of mercy, will be our jurors.

 

 

9.

 

Once I no longer believed,

I could not say what it was

I had believed.

The words themselves

became delight, illuminating

a single yearning,

and I saw that darkness,

reassuring, undescribed, remained.

 

And I can still see paradise aflame

through all the days of obligation.

 

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