You held me over the water saying Trust me, trust me, trying to be gentle, lifting me over them again, I clung to rowboats, to the small gaps in the docks where the boats tied up; you drew me back You lifted me again, how long could I fasten to fear as if it only held me above the waves, your voice growing stern, Trust me, trust me, taking me by the ankles dipping me in the water Rubbing my shoulders dry afterward, asking it wasn’t so bad, was it? telling me how you had decided the night mother left never to be afraid again, how you dream of coming apart like a toy worn with love. You made them see how strange I was, dragged me out of hedges where I sang in made-up words, if I stopped singing, I would disappear like birds evaporating into the bright green silences after their songs. Ladies man, lieutenant, you used to lift me out of bed so you could have your girls there, wrestler’s arms wrapping around my buttocks, my back; I let my body go limp like a child being rescued out of snow drifts. You lie in bed now, rehearsing speeches you would have made as a young congressman; at 45, you pace off boundaries, sue your neighbors; you sell missiles now, you hold your youngest daughter And tell me you feel no guilt, persuading small countries their systems are insensitive, rubbed faceless and obsolete as old dolls; they must be strong, you hold them out over the waters saying Trust me, trust me. When the cops charged us, I ran cursing you, crying through the teargas, looking for a phone as if I could make you listen, as if the ardency of your sorrow would save all America, bombed children floating out of blurred lives Like faces in negatives, brown bodies hollowed by the exploding light its white fur sticking to them I want now at 33 still to win you over, to carry your bags to the car, to say something clever About the soft politics of the young, to lie, so you will look up as if you were going to brush the hair from my eyes and take me aside, teach me once more to believe, to be brave Which hand to lift in defense, with which hand to strike
At The Mouth
Of The Cave
You are close enough to death to know its warm, dark temperatures, it is like camping in a cave alone, learning to sleep on the loose grit of old stone, to watch bats blur and blow past you, blind and goatfooted as leaves, bats scuttling like leaves, blind wings, sly tongues that lap and suck scoop and nibble like children making small treats last. Being close to death, you know little that sings at human pitch anymore, death sings to you like radar, you know its signals, you are already sending the tiny, bat-shrills of your brain into the dark, coding, decoding at once; when you wake out of comas you remember your mother’s songs as if she too, close to death, had learned its high continuous pitch. She makes songs out of pacts she swears you to asleep, lifting your hands, who died first shall linger at whatever crossroads there may be, wait for me, my mouse-eared, my little pipistrelle; when you wake you remember only waves of sound, hummings of the walls of a cave in which you inch deeper and deeper making her find you, each time, close to death. In the trach ward, dozens of grey children flutter like small bats, she cuts your name into the brass necklace that covers the hole in your neck, you touch your wheelchair and laugh, its your wings, you say; we have to fold and unfold them around you, they dwarf you; touching you is like touching between the wings the bat’s soft brown fur. Close to death, your body crouches over you like a cave; your organs grow, stunted and stubborn as fossil reptiles; you adapt to your comas as if you had been born in their crevices, at their mouths you flicker and swerve zigzagging like those pipsqueak bats that sip pollens and nectars, crisscrossing openings little skiffs tacking before they sail free of their harbors. Roost here, take only short flights from these nesting places, live always at the mouth of this cave.
She should have lived with silent, implacable women, with cooks, with housekeepers, with schoolfriends in salt and pepper jackets whose second husbands had died, leaving them huge, childless houses, rooms named like children, rooms they kept ready, filled with dried wildflowers and historical novels. She should have lived with Alice Edwards, with Miriam Waterman, Lucy Enright, Dottie Teale, with women whose names sound like the chaste heroines of 1890 New England romances where virtue triumphs over jews and other oily anarchists — settlement girls poets used write of having throats pale and lovely as swans. She should have lived with women who had done with sex, women gardening long after the dark performed its marriages, body after body raised like books of common prayer, women working down the narrow gardens they planted by fences, by sides of summer houses rooting musk and moss rose, beach heather and beach plum. Women who take long winter walks with irish setters, who belly under barbed wire to bring back the first forsythia, who follow Near Eastern women, mimicking the lilt of their walk, showing off to nieces, who hum as they ride bicycles with fat tires and straw baskets, who dry rose petals on screens over furnaces, who sew them into their sleeves. Elderly women who sleep in boys’ pajamas, who bathe after supper and read long historical novels of slave boys or courtesans who search ruins for masters, those old sorry tyrants who straddled them softly, sorrowfully like drunken fathers who left them bewildered and made formal by their abiding love. Women who read late and rise early, who pride themselves on their spelling, calling out words from the other room, who know the names of things, gemstones, fossil rock, pottery, ships’ knots, snakes, who speak of men without bitterness as if they were rented houses they have lived in along ago, and where they had to do the wash by hand. She should have lived with women like herself, 70 year old women who swing the length of beaches, one foot pushing them along the ocean floor, women she could love as she had never been able to love her mother, whom she did not have to please, women who wake early in houses they have to see to.