The View from the Tower
THE H'ORS D'OEUVRERIE
For the price of a drink it was yours.
For the occasion, you put on heels or a tie.
Oh, if this was Babel's, we were Babylonian.
The jewels on our hands spoke in glasses,
low soft lamps on lips, a tip of the head,
fingers shaping phrases at once excited
and blasÈ. We were always talking a bit too fast,
pretending we knew a little bit more,
our ennui, pure cover.
Nobody sat there without being pleased
with himself, without more-a lot more-
than reason afforded expectation, stretching
into darkness that now came close
and sat obediently on the table and in a gesture
spilled over the bay, unfolding the envelope
of night and folding it back,
the ripe plum of talk dangling, lit off one spot,
as the fabric of every world bunched
from great looms. The very air was velvet.
In extremity I was born, and I have loved excess,
my share of sin. I have wallowed in ego,
expanding, loving the world,
in awe of pride, vanity and all that's half
talent and rage, and I have loved what I had,
without regret, when others have never presumed
as much, when others stood, so much raw strength,
unable to move beneath the weight,
cities built on the backs of people,
flesh for foundation
It never is fair,
but, hell, I was just having a drink.
We were all just having a drink
a look a meal a job an office a business
a way to get on. If the road's open do you worry
that someone can't get to it? Did I worry that someone
couldn't understand post-structuralism?
I wrote books, as Babylonians will,
and books build minds, even in Babel.
The towers are ash, people are ash,
broad stairways empty soak in dust
vast as ancient tombs crumbled
on their core. Their treasure
is a million papers cast upon the sidewalks
like so many pearly shells a storm spills.
Here, a resume, there, disaster protocol,
balance sheets see-saw in the breeze,
memorandums float like coughs,
confidentials all over the street.
What's left of these people are pages and ash-
on every walkway, stair, door, ledge, sill,
melted knob, twisted rail, heaved street, all the little
bones retextured in ash, sucked in stubble
of a window, a few whole bits-a shoe, a phone,
a clip, a foot, a pylon like a beachhead, what flew-
but mostly you could cup them up your palm, puff
your cheeks and --
But the stench of these bodies will not move,
lodged in Manhattan crushed in granite
a putrefaction, electrical burn. You cannot go
anywhere without the smell, and what makes
good copy cannot be put here.
Twenty-seven hundred fell into ash and entered every pore.
Hold the mouth, but they will find their way
to the windows, before or behind the eyes,
and they will jump
that jump over and over,
as the truth of the body is the want of wings,
climbing to the sky and falling
and falling, in motion,
Fill in the box: last name, first, middle initial,
relation, address if other than applicant.
The story we don't want to hear is the one
next to the skin, seeped into the skin, the one
you came from the one I came from,
coded as genes,
click ticking every cell.
O my beloved, come to me,
for I am sick with loathing and cannot keep
anything apart. My skin is pieced and
all my bones are out of joint.
Every line runs into the next, a mob of thought,
and no where does the flesh stand apart.
Every cell is a story, wall
to wall to wall, the same story.
furniture hurt or gone and a child,
smashed wife, walls flexed, smiles twisted
like lids stuck on wrong that can't unscrew.
quiet child so good, so good, God knows
he's been raised right, the will to be
perfect fruit-this child will mend the tree.
and it works a while, perfection keeping. It seeks
imperfect ones, foreigners, the weak, poor, abused.
It speaks punishment and rule.
It understands the flaw within, wishing no worse
for anyone than for himself.
What children do is bear the world.
The sun's in the cupboard, and earth in thin plates
layers days upon him. Fine sand settles
upon his eyes, day by day, strata by strata.
Lakes flow to him, power moves like water.
What travels all the way under
sounds small and garbled, and he learns to listen
to himself, for only that voice is clear.
Unhinge a star, go drown hell-smaller tasks
than giving the boy back to the man,
who looks like other men,
who will take any blame to keep alive,
any burden to believe that fate is not random,
the world not cruel, the bosses and rulers are just,
God good. Our lives are not limestone for the road.
This boy kept faith against all odds,
his mine fire running through burying ages,
rippling in curtains as people come
to a surface they call holy, enfolding destruction
in the name, pouring the walls like wax, raising
the body of flame, pure tongues, letters script
in heat, this one who fears nothing
as fear was all, and in his image
the world will be known.
HOW IT STARTS
I knew a boy
lovely in his ways, doe-eyed,
gentle. Coats of deep softness
were his arms.
Take a boy,
any boy, color of late summer dusk,
both gold and dark,
keening as a cricket's cry
all the night. His passion
made a lap for stars,
gave blue that infinite stage
Come twenty years
and he's both corner and animal
and there is no point where one can say
here evil started
but with the quick-nerved boy
ears holding the distance
as though the farthest danger
sat within his skin,
the troubling beat in triple time,
and long enough that constellation
turned, by misted degrees
from animal form to man falling out
of the night, the stars
come with him, exploding.
Anything in his way will combust,
because each loss
collapses space, consumes all air,
and nobody stands alone,
nor has time found for pieces their absent form,
or an emptiness large enough for the burning.
HOW TO WITNESS A WAR
After a while it becomes routine,
certain as a boxed mix,
the footage all table-top,
towers crumbling like wedding cake.
Where is the groom wiping icing
from his face?
Even my nightmares start being funny,
heart Indy-ing up, and I wake to stare
at red numbers
a secret code
the number of dead
the balance of my checking account?
a sum I must justify to judges and God who pity me not?
No, it's the clock, hour colon minute.
What fear does is eat your time,
days clicking away to document investigate medicate
thera-pudiate, nights rachetting up
with voices sucking at the shingles,
finger-nailing the caulking,
tap tapping the screen, the numbers drifting up,
and always someone pointing blame,
what you overlooked, some detail small
enough to be the swinging door for a fly,
and never will you see the crack
until the walls crumble and somebody dies,
and somewhere in a safe deposit box without
address or key are the stolen years
defending your life, blinking 12:45
Who's got the corner on terror?
My mother with her face pressed against the wall?
Your mother who drove you to the lake when you should
have been watching cartoons, screaming she'd drown you both?
The else-where mothers who watched their children starve?
Who's got the corner on terror-its grid-locked teeth?
But after a while it becomes routine-the mother
vacant in her gaze, the chill of the factoried mind,
Taylorized souls, the credit card, the mutual fund,
the auto loan, the t.v. movie, the best seller recipe book.
Poetry's expensive as hell,
but hell is without poetry.
Red numbers blink through the lids,
the price one pays to see
the manufactured enemies,
the manufactured hatred, swollen greed sucking
pockets clean, groping with wetted stained hands,
wiping the ass of graft, slicking the floor of nations
as boxes of fists export their rage, their land
of no-one's-good-enough, their buy-me hunger
and sleep, layering repetitions thick
as the sweet fat of whores.
What I'm talking about is waking up one day
not knowing the country you live in,
not knowing who you slept with twenty years,
understanding the fist is meant for us all,
that mother is ours, and no home is safe,
days bend to nights, the one foot after another flight
from bought-and-sold sleep, the red-eyed march
you'll bury me when I die and not before I die.
I put my feet on the floor, I stand,
I turn my gaze from nothing.