Writes an Earthquake
A hundred-dollar jolt of wine and chicken bits in
The restaurant throbs like a bruise. Snotty waiters balance trays
as large as trash-can lids. Cramped in a corner, Stratis labors
at his latest novel, the one destined to settle the place of prose
in the twenty-first century. He looks exhausted, his moustache
wrung like a washcloth.
rise to visit his table and inquire
about the health of this old friend, but the building erupts and shatters,
waiters topple in greasy spills, beams crack, screaming diners fall
backward from their chairs. Earthquake. The front door has burst from its frame,
the panicked city blacked out beneath a pearly hunter's moon.
is standing just outside, clutching his manuscript. "I wrote,"
he says, "I wrote an earthquake scene. Buildings creaked and fell. Wine
spilled their vintage. People writhed under rubble as gas mains burst
and started unquenchable fires." He looks stricken. "I wrote this
I wanted it to happen, and it did."
try to console him,
but the stink of the burning restaurant sickens, and I blunder away
to Cambridge Common where the moon glistens like a blob of wax.
I refuse to believe that Stratis wrote this agony into the actual,
but his face has become the moon's, inviolable and perfected,
and the manuscript he's clutching winks and flexes like flesh.
Early Centuries of Christianity
in the coffee shop
we discussed the early centuries
of Christianity, the shaping
the Greek church, the invention
of the papacy, the grinning
torments of our favorite martyrs.
drank three cups of coffee while friends
debated the priority Church
of Rome officials claimed derived
St. Peter, whose particular
self-sacrifice planted him under
the altar of his projected
that required fourteen centuries
for Michelangelo to finish.
confessed I preferred the term
"metropolitan" to "cardinal,"
and then drove home to recordings
Brahms, Listz, Bach, and Bud Powell.
The whole irrelevant history
of the Christian world is dangling
strops of kelp in the treetops,
and the rain is pale as the stone
of St. Peter's; and while the maples
seven months ago, bird calls
falter in the thick humid air.
for class, I pause at the window
to watch the winter sunset gorge
on special effects, flamingo pink
and chartreuse stratified with blue.
cheap picture postcard, I'm sure,
but I think of Beverly crushed
in her boyfriend's Mazda, Mickey
diced by a landmine, his screaming
layered in blue and green,
and Randy ashamed of the cancer
that so disfigured his innards
he refused to look in a mirror.
want to warn my students that fake
effects like this sunset may expose
the thinnest tissues of sentiment,
as if peeling childhood scabs to show
white new skin beneath. Too bad
we're all so painfully Caucasian
here in the cold North where no one
possessing tropical insights
without a tremor of doubt.
I wrench my gaze from the window
and stagger down the corridor
and stall at the classroom door and look
students ranged around the tables
with hardly a glance for each other,
their silence too permanent for me
or anyone else to violate.
last time I saw Beverley
we crouched in her living room afraid
to touch, our bodies too aggressive
for us, our talk a twitter of birds.
last time I saw Randy a nurse
hung over him like a gargoyle
and he couldn't speak. Mickey, though,
kept screaming, so I clamped his mouth
one hand, pinched his nostrils,
and exorcised his pain forever.
I'm still holding his final breath
in my left hand. I want to share it
my students, but in what world
would they understand? I open
a book, and in the fluorescent glare
of civilization we begin.
and blue surveyor's tape
flutters in the woods. Come June,
trucks will lug away the spoilage
pine, beech, hickory, and oak,
and plots for a hundred houses
will sprawl where last year's moose prowled.
lie flat on my back in my yard,
reducing my drag on the planet's
flight through space. A phoebe insists
its presence. Its coarse whistle
saws at my brain. Soon a hundred
leach fields will poison the wetlands
enraged commuters will crash
their vehicles into the last
sugar maples, killing the sap.
on my back, I'm free
to rise into the cloudy light
and disembody. The chirp of frogs
in spring pools alerts
the fates, and a calendar flaps
in the kitchen as the first breeze
spring enters and my torso
becomes that part of the landscape
the bulldozers most despise.