Then I realized I had read too many poems
about pulling the dead from the living:
ragged cry of cow or horse or pig straining
against the inanimate flesh in its gut,
the human urgency, greasy hands
reaching deep into unimaginable places,
groping around, arms stiff against the creature’s
useless labor, trying to hold on, trying
to bring out the fetal pieces already half-rotten
in the placenta’s wash. Sometimes the animal dies,
sometimes not, and everyone human
goes home thinking about the change in life,
what great mystery approached
in the palm’s proximity to alien heartbeat,
what small nation, vigorously defended.
But it’s only the dumb rhythm of begetting:
with or without us that poor carcass
would have found the air. The same tall grasses
would grow in the rainy season. Late at night
we would still wake to find ourselves
shivering for no reason, no reason at all,
fresh from that hard dream of safety.
Ask for an axe, a syringe, a length of rope
plein air, coiled or loose. Working from nature dilates focus,
draws form from its pale circuit—point beyond which
each sphere reckons its ovation.
Ask for a clip, a pin, a charge, a powder.
Denounce the offset: heaven knows the personal
expands to fill a visual field, colonnade or any aural space
incurred as penalty. Ask for self, ask
whether the white you see is application
or absence, content or context, eight ducks rubbed
into glacial moraine, pinfeathers scarlet against slate-grey scree:
one landscape out of many, call it “Off-Season,”
call it “’58 Chevy,” ask for a blade, a vial,
a flashcube, a spool of fresh film. It’s important
that the work have a handmade quality, not the disconnect
of digitized tablets scaled just short of empathy
or market value. Request a hearing,
query the epic. Notice how images rise to within
a finger’s breadth but come no further, pain excised from touch.
This is the refuge between notation and balance.
It shreds in transposition. So ask for a permit,
a thrombus, a roadside stand and hot wax, at least a thimbleful.
Somewhere in these battlements an egg lies hidden.
I promise, when we find it, Naples falls.
For the instruments are by their rhymes,
as Kit Smart wrote. Walking out yesterday
the bud’s promise seemed a crystalline
hallucination, spring’s early flowing stone,
the maimed sycamores climbing in geometry
grey as steel, as smoke, as the sky
that hangs low as stiff washing from the lines.
Pity small life, the stem that pushes
up from this hard surface, the insensate
bravery. If we anthropomorphize the world,
the night reduces to our capacity for hope
and all tender fallacies. Thus purity.
Thus metaphor’s gift, the ice that spools
and circles at skin’s surface. My love,
there is no winter but the winter of the heart.
Perhaps this cold will pass. Perhaps
that bridge was not a harp at all.
“Deliverance” was originally published in Ascent, “Goldbeater’s Skin” in Gulf Coast and and “Apocatastasis” in Poetry.