Oak Harbor, WA
As infinite as it is, it ends.
Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a harbor.
The sky would shoulder gracelessly one manner
of sheep-grey clouds. This farmhouse window
would be smaller as the wind’s eye.
Yet it ends, and the room dilutes
when evening damps its coat in dull water.
A single ferry leaves this house behind
toward larger land. The passengers
imagine their cities as they mute
into the horizon. All of them asleep—
otherwise, they wouldn’t return.
As a boy, I knew I would finish my letter
to God by the time I turned thirty.
Thirty now, I barely even speak to glass.
But dear lord is this A-Frame magnificent!
It holds back all: the sea like shifting ice,
the pines, the cars scattering puddles
across the road’s black tar,
where rain settles again like eyes
of night that stares and stares
as a mirror facing a mirror
guessing our names.
These days, a soldier is stationed before paradise
twirling his sword of flame.
Rather than windows, which provide the world
in a segment of visible surface: a core,
we look to mirrors which are evil
and irreversible in their accusations.
Consider the Rose Window with its cosmos eye.
Consider the view from my office and all the activity
afforded by this cottonwood: stray grey cats and brown and white
piebald cats chasing rock doves, squirrels in their jittery fir.
It is gracious, it is blissful in how little it has
to do with me—so with art.
Consider the great landscapes
of southern Italy, or those Italians who
simply put earthenware on a table.
Having been banished from the garden,
the children of Eve invented flutes and cave paintings
(after committing murder). Admittedly,
it’s a mixed bag. And who’s to say
the names of the animals remain the same?
One positive is we still have insects to discover
and give our names to, except now
they’re dying of our discoveries. Outside,
the sky is darkening. Things are heating up
or possibly cooling off. There will soon be a voice
recording our line of succession. Meanwhile,
we begat a prophet who’s computing the next
best time to wait on the beach at night
to watch the stars falling out of the sky.
Trust me, when it happens, and you see your own star
leap from nothing into its moment of brilliance, you won’t be asking
for proof: the cool sand; the invisible, inevitable sea.
Beyond me bounds the idea of me
like a horse over the horizon of a grassy knoll
Before that idea comes the idea of imagining
June bugs in June, January as junco
and reeds still and cold to shattering
Before the shattering comes the image
No, before the image the syntax
that holds the image up
as a doctor holds an x-ray up to the honest light
or scaffolding holds the workers above
while sheltering the dark sidewalk beside the building
Surely, before before marched like a retreating soldier from my mouth
came the idea of time as a river
turning the wheel that powered the city
Motion, the consequence of action, Word
that let light rise above the grassy knoll
that sheltered the horse that galloped over its ridge
All night I tossed back and forth in bed
the way an idea is tossed between the mind
and what we call the world
which is a word we use for our own idea of it
any place outside the mind
which in fact becomes a part of that mind
the way a mirror assumes the pose
of the room it’s placed in
And what about the hall of mirrors
which must appear before or after our idea of eternity
How instantly I’m there and walking down it
Instructions for Reading
It is said the sun and the fire aren’t one.
The sun casts shadows of the real
(pines, kites, mountains, rivers, clouds)
while the fire makes the real shadows
the way a book makes the man
walking through it think of the war
as he eats an apple plucked from an imaginary orchard
and the foreshadow of his words
projects his unlived life into the climate
of our everyday decisions about coffee
When lost in the desert,
it’s best to give thanks for the river
that does not run through it,
for the mirage of an oasis
that won’t be found.
The man makes his way out of the cave
only to find he is bound in a parable.
In this way, he is no different from us—
I as I write this, you as you read it
and return to the shimmer of your memory:
the hill the sun stretched over at 8,
your mother in the hospital,
she woke and spoke with you again.
If the devil offers bread and water
or a safe flight from the highest view,
it’s best to thank him for the choice.
For the choice becomes the words we use
for it—looking back, it was your voice
that quenched the sand ticking down
my throat, yours the fire still dancing shadows
on my eyelids in the desert of my sleep.
When the man in the dry words speaks up,
“I am dead. I am risen. Report me
to the unsatisfied,” it’s best to believe him
and to thank him
and choose not
to do as he says.