Republic of Glass, Endless Knot, By the River
BY THE RIVER
Outside, snow claims its solitude
flake by flake. Women's voices pitched
like frantic birds are trapped inside
the radio. A cloth falls on the sand
where they lay out steaming
tea in glasses sliced
by morning sun. Between bowls of dates
and morning prayer, the bomb—
Glass, precise and poised to rise
in breaking sheets shatters, falls
inside us too.
We want to reassemble something.
Silence, in the silence of this house
where dogs pace, impatient for their walk.
Routine holds our day together. We go out
as the landscape sinks back
into itself; veils over veils wash the mountains
pale with clouds. Snow clings
to my hat and the dogs turn white,
my polar bears, my mountain goats,
breaking trail to the river.
Black water eats the snow—
silence, an attitude and not an absence.
Wind fingers pine and fir and then dispatches
voices from the war. A journalist in Teheran asks
the little prostitute, how did you get into this
line of work?
She whips around, a grass-blade
in her teeth, dancing barefoot
in the dirt before
she came home pregnant and locked
the bathroom door. The match led
a bright red thread up her oil-soaked
arm. Better this, than let her Uncle kill
Grandmother sees the strange orange glow
beneath the door and lunges, smothering
the girl with her chador. As the small spirit
goes out, the dogs return with the stench
of winter-kill to drop a gnawed-on backbone
at my feet.
The way to recover faith in this splayed world
is to be still and wait for what's given—
a water-ouzel dappling
on a river stone
blinks the transparent membrane
of her inner eyelid, a screen
that lets her see as she dives deep, deeper—
gone for what seems like forever. She surfaces
downstream carrying a song from the dead,
a quick rush of notes
glistening over us, moving on.
Above my bed the skylight makes a tribal carpet,
rectangular with stars swinging out from pines.
Betelgeuse, you point, Arabic. I look it up:
beyt al-jawza; often confused with Gemini—
House of Twins. My finger loves the scar
above your heart. What entered, altered,
Your body, complex as knotted kilims.
I hold my hands above your chest and feel the desert heat.
August and on the deck outside, south winds
pitch the umbrella like a missile. In bed, I'm drinking
apple wine from cut-glass crystal, as if catastrophe
were my best friend. I whisper, I may never
be this happy again. When you leave me
I'm lost inside the palace, stumbling through ruins
until dawn, or, hunker down with boys
behind clay walls to stop the ceaseless winds.
Dazed, we watch the heat take on a lion-shape,
padding the trash-strewn road toward sheep
as the shepherd fires his stolen kalishnikov
at nothing I can see.
There's a shop called Joseph's on the corner
by the high school where kids stab out
their cigarettes. I keep coming back to touch
the gabbeh carpets—fiery
birds rise to singe my hands.
Each rug's its own geography. Once
water rocked reed beds so far back in time
as we bomb Basra,
we might be bombing Eden.
Street grit and slush blur the windows.
February, I ring your door bell,
slide my body into yours.
I want to talk but don't talk
is what you say, mouth to mine to silence.
You can't bear my terror that you'll disappear
or comfort me with willow copses. Spring,
we could prune my raspberries,
tying them back with orange twine.
I buy the flaming peacock carpet, unroll it
beside the bed where we make love but you
won't spend the night, and I can't stop
thinking of you wrapped in the oldest weaving
ever found around a Quashqu'i warrior—
a lion holds
a thread inside his mouth that leads
to everything—trees, animals, borderlands.
He could unravel the entire world.
Beduins still say, Man is lion of the tent. Not much
has changed geographically since a nomad
led his flock through spare hills, unrolled
his rug and stared upward at the stars
—one fell—a bird on fire
into his arms. The story's still told where
smoke cooks meat. A peacock angel cast
from heaven is what they say. The shepherd
smothered the fiery feathers, wrapped the bird
inside his robe, offered ewe's milk from his
It's said the bird taught the Yezidi faith:
in exchange for such selfless service.
Accept the defect in each person, each event.
Now, descendants of this shepherd
watch their homes go up in flames. If
we lived by this faith, even war would be
a call to prayer, to anointing.
As I trace your spine, I would feel
our patience widening to encompass
my curious need to disbelieve
and yours to escape. The tree
above my bed weaving us
into the stars where we swing
clear of our mistakes.
REPUBLIC OF GLASS
Nights in Kosovo could have been our days.
Planting shallots for the nuns on their island,
we rode the ferry back. As mist
ghosted the San Juans away, lights came on.
We rustled papers, pointed to the map's red stars
where we dropped "smart bombs" on Pristina.
Prisoners outside the city dug graves
in a farmer's onion-field. They ate the onions whole,
white vaults of heat in the night cold.
At our Bed and Breakfast, I nudged your back until
you turned, hands still reeking shallots stroked my face.
Morning, tourists shoved their way
down the little seaside streets,
clicking pictures of daffodils. When the sun came out,
the fields turned gold.
Each prisoner in Pristina dressed in fluorescent orange;
lay on frozen ground beside his grave.
While you read the newspaper at a small cafe,
I visited the Glass Museum. The urns, all lit
from underneath glowed
cool, an unshattered universe
in amber, rose, cobalt, acid blue Danube. Unguarded—
I wanted to lift them to my cheek,
to drink the light and have it make us kind.
Voluptuous as giant perfume bottles, the jars
held only emptiness which made
room for anything: Greek peaches, despair,
starred sky above Izbekia where it's already
tomorrow in the heart. Customers wade
through bombed-out window glass. A man sweeps
his table clean with a bowler hat—
waves the waiter for the usual,
coffee and a roll.
The April sun passes through us all like rubies in a wreck.