Sun & Air
In Oregon once, the acolytes in saffron
sweatshirts and idolatrous medallions
made a vow to grow roots and change
address, to elect the man with the sunset
sport coat to serve as mayor and recast
community codes, to pull a nail here,
an ordinance there, the streets signs
of their Christian neighbors taken down
to make way for the Sanskrit of their master.
At last, the real estate of consciousness
was growing. Less in communal rapture
and rage that climaxed in bewildered tears
than the watchful stillness that came after.
Surely there was nobility in this.
The lotus of their suffering flush, effulgent.
Somewhere a ribcage cools in a field,
stoned on love, that kind that lifts the fog
above its place on earth, but after that,
what? The new human, the archetype
their teacher promised, what they were hoping
to become, what they feared the locals
in hunting gear and office would destroy?
And can you blame them. Say a torch
broke the glass of your hotel in Portland
or a long sleeve poisoned the salad bars
of your town cafés. Who would not feel
some shadow of their partisan nature fall
into the arms of your frightened kind.
I have been that child, that prideful victim
of my own outrage. Call it the fitful
cleansing of a birthmark, the forever
failed extradition of histories of abuse.
Call it shell-shock; or war; or call it
what it is, salmonella and kerosene
and the scarlet seam of the unclean
lesion breaking, but do not call it new.
Puritans of permission raise their cries
as Christ does at the altar, disseminating
wine with a bitter summons to forgive.
Submission and refusal. How better
to survive the next ice age or spiritual
contagion: a thicker coat, warmer meal,
a feast day between tribes; how better to live
and let live than deep inside a system
of guards to wave friends and family through.
The body of the chosen is a body
after all, and so in need of water, harbor,
seasonal fire and the couriers of sleep.
It shrouds itself in skin, as Bibles do,
and great redwoods, and the new human
laid beneath their limbs, a child of heaven
awakened from a scare to find herself,
transfixed, in a crystal of estrangement,
christened in the amber of dusk and dawn.
The holier the stone the more like stone
the power and resolve that laid it, there,
in the heart of the contested common.
The last of the temple King Solomon built.
So say the faithful in their signature black
though doubtless they understand: to build
a wall is no king’s work, but that of servants
who will go nameless, and if another god
claims his prophet hitched here his horse
with wings, there is little to say to make
a god recant, revise, or otherwise move,
to abandon a place like that. The prayer
whispered or tucked into a hole in stone
might be, in installments, one long prayer,
incanted under the breath, and if it helps,
it helps, it mortars, mends, transmogrifies
the dullness of loss that makes a stone a stone,
a holy land a calf whose gold is blood.
Every comic dies now and then, but then,
if called, they rise, and folks remember best
the deeply wounded ones who made them
laugh like friends. I am thinking of you,
Greg Giraldo, who told Joan Rivers once,
You used to look your age, now you don’t
even look your species. And then her face—
wounded, tightened, paralyzed, stitched,
healed and babied with the finest lotions—
gave way, and I saw a little white light in
her teeth, a bit of joy, however nervously
touched, beyond the scalpel of this affront
or that desire to be young, I saw her death
in the arms of your addiction, the one
that took you too damn soon, to sit in heaven
and roast God, as your best friend put it,
as if nothing were sacred where everything is,
and each cold mask crumbles into laughter.
When I think of idols that have died,
I think of the toy my father saved from
his childhood, how it reddened his shelf.
Beside his picture with the governor,
a small truck with no one in it. It served
as proof of the boy I never met, never
understood. He had so little child
in him, let alone the sentimental kind.
You should always keep one reminder,
he said. I always did, always thought
he loved me better when I was small.
Look at me, said all the rusted places.
And when he left us, they said it again,
look, but what they revealed remained
an empty promise. But I could see it,
touch it. It had wheels. Hollow places.
When I think of death, I think of this.
And it flew into walls and drove right through.