Renounce the sorrow—so oblique—
if it finds you near where you began, where
the recurring attachment to marble slabs
remakes the landscape.
At that large desk he sat upright, attuned
to a language he couldn't use—had he
abandoned it, or it him?
There are bees, to be sure, but we no longer notice them.
Each widow suggests an indifference we try to belie.
Finished with crossing plazas in the dark,
the kids escaped into the space of tomorrow
today. I've seized legions of their kind,
sent them packing, yet they return,
and I'm reminded of a hostel near the Liffey
and the way the heat increased
with each step I took. Oh how we loved
to ride and ride and look upon all we passed!
Can we cite our viewings as experience,
live in books till it begins to get light
and be content with those who write reviews?
Upon the promontory the general reviewed the troops,
I’ve been told, and at least one nose was shocked
by the rich odor of the salt sea mixed
with an indelicate aftershave, too flowery
for the occasion. Again that tune,
speaking its precise diction to power.
I'm trying not to remember all of it.
There were ponies on the lawn, Shaun said,
but when I looked it was merely dogs and sticks.
The car spent much of its time at the curb
and later had its own spot, smug, accredited.
We sat inside it and listened to mix tapes
while gazing at the football stadium
and its bright lights. And when we stand
on the Highline we suddenly realize
we're seeing New Jersey. Dalmatians
gathered confidence in the parks, so sleekly
condescending to all the other canines.
Pitchers were steaming cold, and all night
the songs of the lost continent surged
like so many currents, contradictory,
knavish, chagrined. Yes, castanets at times,
to accompany the piccolo and lute
and always the piano so lively, almost capering.
When I climb into the helicopter
I'll be glad to say I was here
if only for those afternoons when we met
and talked, or sat together in the Iseman
to survey the spare choreography.
There was warmth available, the more poignant
because we walked through it, bound elsewhere.
Naked men on stage
might distract from the talk
bubbling up around you, the fancy
Jacquard throw, the pouts of doormen
and dedicated rascals. Come by
and we’ll ignite the faucet for you,
escort you to the bench in your name.
Such reliquaries, when he only wished
to be buried at sea, hugger-mugger.
But who would’ve thought, old man,
blood. He wore the badge until
it made him feel an imposter,
saluted by comrades, isolated.
Please take back your scarf
and don’t part the seas
on my behalf again.
I want to leave you
where I found you—
your outstretched hands,
the inlaid dagger, hat
with its veil, evidence
enough to sink a ship
or toss a desk at.
Standing in the doorway, one revives that final scene,
the body swaying at the end of a rope,
the onlookers masked and united by purpose.
Tell me again how you can stand it,
using that diction that settles the question,
otherwise I'm adrift like seeds in the breeze
and this little den with its undusted shelves
makes no pretense in my favor.
Caution the stars, if you can. Their rays are numbered.
If you come from there tell me the truth
or else I don't see how I'll remember,
Arkansas was it, Minnesota somehow?
Your gifted flights find me wanting
the combination you withheld, the wording
that would turn the coat inside out,
eclipse the pencil pushers, the cognoscenti
captious and drinking happily
on the night the seals attack. Got fish?
How recreational this business of riding the El,
trekking past the lake, ascending the Wheel,
pausing for memory in that cold courtyard
of the university where a name shakes its chains
and refuses to march to soft regrets
so that coffee, when it comes, cheers us up
or leaves us flat, at a loss in Chinatown,
as the scroll’s unrolling reaches its end, or
near enough, daddy, catch what comfort you can,
sex is fleeting and all this youth pours out
its simple question: why is this all we know?
He apologized for forgetting to plane the beam,
and for leaving studs where a stray toe
might scrape them. I coughed assent
but then I always do and what I wear
soaks in brine habitually.
Admit no alarm, all murder in jest
in this case made singular, and caution
returns to plague the fabricator
soon enough. The band tuned for hours
leaving us to our own devices, devious
as they may be. Ungowned, these sprites.
If you can ride the carousel, remind us
it's May in Maryland. I'm hoping they'll cap it
at sixty and extend my condolences to all who come after,
for this privilege has ceased to pay its way
and now lies in wait for the fat broker
and his muscled cousin, knowing full well
who broke the bank and what restitution must come.
Have we supporters in this crisis, a stevedore
or Indian shaman, a blonde consultant
or able therapist, whoever best
returns messages before we despair,
stammers and all, after crash-landing?
Don't mention it with your mouth full,
dear heart, there isn’t room in the back
for both of us, and anyway we were just
getting to the part when clouds escape
with the cat's own tread while some
lightly caparisoned gelding whinnies.
The immigrant strives to repeal the decree,
enacting for bystanders the scene
that rarely left us dry-eyed, oft dumb.
Levees were the last adjustment to the budget.
©Donald Brown 2010/2013