Requiem for Aunt May
A calm sign in the trees of May: she’s dead,
not like this dirge staining the air, her name
recited in the camphor-house where the chalk
figurine, that haberdashery sphinx reclines,
riddled by the TV. There no one faces the calendar,
river-stone talks go under the bridge of condolences,
and land on the old sofa’s shoulder. I, her water-child,
keep watch over her laminated Savior, nailed
into the wall, flipping a coin whose head promises
Daedalus. Someone pries open an album, the cocoon
postcards wail on the line, pronouncing, Aunt May—
baker, builder of the yellow stone house, your children
hatched wings while your face was bent in the oven.
The mixing bowls, the wooden spoons, the plastic
bride & groom, knew before the phone alarmed
the night your passing. So you passed, in a floral dress,
a shawl softly tied to your head, the house spring-cleaned.
Enters Daedalus, father, dressed in white, hands
in pockets, strolling through prayers and smoke
of the mourning wake. I listen: his limbs
are pure starch! On the veranda, eyeing
the gong-tormented sea, seaweeds streak
his beard, salt rimmed his apologies. I hesitate
at the labyrinth of father and son, red hurt
throbbing my ears from my fall on the poppy grounds,
fog swallowing all that was carried over
years of saying nothing. Silence, this flame
held back before erupting, as an oven after heat
has been sucked from it. I begin in silence
my life, then and there, as a ghost.
My first snow, I open the pages
of Montale, the scent of iron
and light coming out of heads
of lemon trees in the middle
of an orchard where raucous boys
play, not hearing the eel-quiet laureate
who roams under a sky dappled with rust.
He comes through the gate, plucks
acanthus, unburdening himself of the city
and the classics left in his study.
Standing still, his shadow moves
to branches brushing earth,
freckling it with flame. Montale stoops
in flecked leaves, to a flickering secret,
and what could be translated
as winter fixes a spire in my chest
and my eyes go low down
with that crouching tower;
I cling to a still, revolving truth:
the world is a golden calyx,
but home is a burst lemon,
a child weeping at the cane root.
A Surveyor’s Journal
for Wilson Harris
I took my name from the aftersky
of a Mesopotamian flood,
birdless as if culture had shed its wings
into a ground vulture on the plain.
Beneath the astral plane, a war-ripped sail,
rigged to its mast, a lantern and a girl,
who swayed and stared
off where the waves raced backwards.
I begged her in signs. She jumped
overboard, arms sieving seaweed, eyes netting home.
Dear Ivy, you live in my veins.
Spurned flesh, I couldn’t bridle
the weathervane’s shift; it turned and turned
into a landfall, and I, panting panther,
sleek carnivore of the horse-powered limbs,
ran from a reign of terror.
All my despairs in green rain, on leaves;
I prayed to the mantis, head wrapped
in white, reading the “Song of God”
over a bowl of beef. Afterwards,
I hemmed into my skin this hymn:
O lemming souls of the mass migration that ended in drowning
O embroidered heart and marigold wrists that brushed the copper-brown field
O cargoes that left the dengue jungles and ended on the yellow fever shores
O compass points that needled the new to the old, stitching meridians
into one tense
O reflecting telescope that spied the endangered specimens
the vertical man vs the horizontal man,
those who lost their surnames
to the sea’s ledger, beached up on the strange coast,
waiting for the Star Liner
to cross that imagined Mesopotamian water,
the ship’s bulwarks in sleep,
weighed down a spirit-bird,
my calm, to never flounder,
to walk holy and light on this land.