Midday as in late summer, though it’s barely
Early March, and with the velvety rustle of little
More than skin-and-bone-wings, a warbler
Wolf-whistles the blue loveliness above.
In Berkeley, the sidewalk outside the cafe is the color
Of the sky. I’m soaking up the sunshine, lapping
A latte, tasting the flakiest croissant au chocolat
In what may be my last meal toward the end
Of the era of unchecked power of the Western World,
While a cherry-sweet chirping in the trees is clearing
Throats of winter. Today, throats are better off
In Berkeley than in Baghdad,
Where in one form or another heat hits
Like a stroke, even where a car-roadside-or-human
Bomb has not. There are so many
Sunny days for Death in Baghdad.
The sky above here, as there, though limitless
Beneath which we pray not to suffer
What is made with so much space
To suffer in, is not big enough for me
To feel what a mother must feel
On the street as she turns on her heel
At the sound of danger to her children;
Or before sending one out
For the day’s bread, knowing it could cost
The life of one who breathed
In, through, out of you.
Just this morning, taking a hot shower, I heard,
“This is as close as you will get to being with
Your mother again,” and for a second forgot
What dimension I would step out into.
Fast fatiguing, fitful sleeping,
Urgent peeing, eyesight dimming,
Are not good omens for hope,
Since all our hopes suppose
We’ll live them healthy.
Instead, a person across the sea
Nightly crumbles before our eyes,
Laying his head like a heart in a vise
For the handler’s pleasure.
The weight of multitudes and their gods:
I hate the weight of the gods
Of multitudes, but love heaven’s
Silken silence leaving no trail
But sunset’s crimsoning sail.
Light dims; cats doze; birds start up their din.
This is the hour I like best, which slides
Slow as a veil over a ravishing creature’s thigh,
Who will ravish again tomorrow.
Family and self-preservation aside, my worst fear
In the doomsday scenarios I’m given to lately
Is a quake, nuclear, or terrorist attack,
In which my seven cats scatter
To the four winds; creatures so high-strung,
And still, they’re lordly and lethal at once,
Yet whose squinting eyes pain makes
Even the kitten’s frightened face shrunken, old.
Where to, then, who have never known anywhere
But home? First, let me sweep the stones
From their path, and pray their killing
Skills thrive on living smells in the grass.
For us, there’s the astronomical
Luck in the starlight not stopping.
As a body in the rain will forget it’s dust
(Forget it, if you’re in Baghdad; dust, there,
Forgets the body was ever wet),
And summer days trail grains of sugar
Jains sprinkle on the ground for the ants,
Now September rays contract green days
To gray, as the war’s shrill whistle blows
Children at play outside of earshot, away.
In the house that is half
Winter Palace, half
Heart of darkness, the destruction
That passes for creation stirs him
More than the mistress he does not have,
More than the wife he does. Outspread
Hands against his chest are a mesh of
Body armor against being born.
Outwardly writing, inwardly yelling,
I may be mining for meanings that were never meant.
As is my way, my oxygen is cursing:
I’m breathing and cursing, cursing
And choking (though I have stopped smoking!)
I curse the day the bush gave
Partial birth to body parts – wormy
Lips, simian sneer. I waste a curse on
Breath busy having other people dying.
From outer space, the globe’s
Swirling blue mouth
Is a smoking gun.
There is a glacier, grown slowly as hair,
dissolving faster than our thoughts
run past. There is one’s self, close
to being absent at any moment, and all
of us under a sign in an unknown season
we know for certain we’ll be dying,
when loved ones will vanish, and we
unable to hold or kiss or ever miss them again.
Besides warming, there’s the double whammy
of global dimming: obstructed solar rays
the red rim on the blackening tin twilight is riding,
like the slowed down sweeping of a grain
of glucose firing through the brain, the way
memory comes from, goes into, and through
what we feel, and becomes the real;
like the past, inventing itself in the last second
I keep coming back to the places that keep
coming from the sunset I am a student of
at my desk, where every seat is a front-row seat;
the vast red vapor trail erasing the horizon
against which time narrows and place deepens
in the clarity of outline, in the last light.
I am a student of sinking that lasts
seconds, and of which I am a part, and
do not follow. The longer I fail, the longer
I live. To live, I fail; I fail, and live
in the furrows of feelings that live
in the places we lived in, empty now
of us and what we did there,
with failing faith, failed friends, in moments
that were loved, in hours that weren’t.