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The Storm in Air

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PAGE 1

THE STORM IN AIR: A COLLECTION OF POEMS By MATTHEW LADD A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

PAGE 2

Copyright 2006 by Matthew Ladd

PAGE 3

for my parents.

PAGE 4

iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to grat efully thank Debora Greger, Mi chael Hofmann, and especially William Logan for their help in the preparation of this manuscript. I also thank my peers in the wr iting program for their remarks. And I thank Meg Shevenock, for her insi ght, and for tolerating my pettishness.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................vii CHAPTER 1 QUESTIONS FOR A FRIEND....................................................................................1 Questions for a Friend Who Disappeared.....................................................................2 The Lemon Grove.........................................................................................................3 Leaving Super 8............................................................................................................4 Music at Myrtle Beach..................................................................................................5 Tornado........................................................................................................................ .7 The Accidental Theater.................................................................................................8 Departures.....................................................................................................................9 The Storm in Air.........................................................................................................11 An Insufficient Friend.................................................................................................12 2 BIOGRAPHIES..........................................................................................................13 Hlderlin Alone..........................................................................................................14 Sister du Rosier Writes to the Venera ted Mothers of the Sacred Heart.....................15 Polonius in Bed...........................................................................................................16 After Death, Remembrance........................................................................................17 Evening and Morning, St. Lucys Parish....................................................................18 The Rise and Fall of Chri stianity in Santa Fe.............................................................19 Lot with His Daughters...............................................................................................20 Two Views of Christ With His Mother......................................................................21 Artist Painting a Lake at Dusk....................................................................................22 3 POEMS ABOUT WOMEN........................................................................................23 Courtship.....................................................................................................................24 Winter in Cambridge..................................................................................................25 Watching for Deer......................................................................................................26 June and September, 1994..........................................................................................27 The Sister Farm...........................................................................................................29 Two Trees...................................................................................................................30 The Dark Building......................................................................................................31

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vi Early Memory of My Mother, Amarillo.....................................................................32 Two Emerge ncies.......................................................................................................33 Night of My Mother Laughing...................................................................................34 For My Sister on Her Birthday...................................................................................35 Carousel......................................................................................................................36 4 DEATH POEMS........................................................................................................37 Leslie......................................................................................................................... ..38 Death of My Father: The Daybed...............................................................................39 Death of Cordell Green...............................................................................................40 Death of My Grandmother..........................................................................................41 5 MITOSIS....................................................................................................................42 Mitosis........................................................................................................................43 6 AFTERMATHS..........................................................................................................46 The Long Parade.........................................................................................................47 Twilight, Prairie..........................................................................................................48 Burying Protest in the Age of Cassandras..................................................................50 Descending, Descending.............................................................................................51 The Big Sleep ..............................................................................................................52 Ten Eschatological Vignettes.....................................................................................53 Appalachian Diurnal...................................................................................................55 The Art of War............................................................................................................56 The Tests Are Sometimes Wrong...............................................................................57 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................58

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vii Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts THE STORM IN AIR: A COLLECTION OF POEMS By Matthew Ladd May 2006 Chair: William Logan Major Department: English This collection, completed during the tw o years of the poets residence in Gainesville, is an attempted meditation on loss, including but not limited to death and sickness. The poems range widely in styl e and manner. The poet hopes to demonstrate that any subject worth writing about does not give itself up easily, but must be approached obliquely, through windows or side-doors.

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CHAPTER 1 QUESTIONS FOR A FRIEND

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2 Questions for a Friend Who Disappeared Where did they leave you? In the Amazon River, dumping you at the mouth like so much silt? In Audrey Hepburns hands, suspended above a tiny sapphire bracelet, its powder-blue bevels like frosted drops of wate r? The thunderstorm broke into our hotel and, as the downpour raged, I saw you clutching your luggage, pilfering nickels and dimes from the champagne-colored fountain, pulling up bulbs from the flooded orchid beds. You were gone the next morning. I ate my eggs alone. Desperate for dialogue, I sc oured three continents with a Vespa, questioned sm all men in saffron robes, girls who spoke in the winking lace of their nighties. Seventeen weeks. Things have begun to replace you. August ushers in a new semester, holidays stamped in red ink. I enter the kitchen like someone lost for decades in the latitudes of exile Napoleon, Crusoehugging the nearest shore, watching the kitchen sinks lip catch the sunlight and lose it as I lost you: easily, unmoving.

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3 The Lemon Grove We greeted the wildlife preserve by blowing kisses to our parked cars, then hi ked straight in for an hour, past the high ground, to cypr esses where muscular deer left their mnage a trois to plunge through thickets of gorse and sawgrass. A few of us plunged in after and almost drowned in a thick sea of greenbrier that only parted when I thought wed stop, revealing a square field marked by parallel rows of lemon trees, identical, pungent with fruit. They stood at the boundary like unexpected guests embarrassing us with apologies or gifts. We skirted the manicured edge of the grove and found a dirt path, followed it to a pasture, a barn, the last outbuildings of an empty plantation. I felt my face, bleeding in places from the briars. We turned, and a gated mansion lay ahead like the face of an ances tor, silent, half-known, a myth half-remembered in ten shades of white. The gauntlet of oaks, adjoining gardens: all fell away at our approach, the mansion lawn unrolling beneath us, as if what glitt ered from the lemon trees had started it moving, the firs t small turns of a machine.

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4 Leaving Super 8 Shrouded in pre-dawn fog, the highway has changed overnight: barren, colossal behind the swimming pool and white chairs. One night, it seems, is not sufficient to destroy the nights that, for years, came before. We drove for eighteen wonderful hours that day. After planning our young writers exodus out of Illinois, that hearth of black soil and erstwhile muse; after poaching the lambs from our fathers pastures and stowing them in covered pickup beds; after the corn-fed vigils and a week spent composing ballads that flung us into each others bronzed arms, we rested. We thought it time to declare victory, to pack up the glittering weapons. We telephoned the farm girls to say their sweethearts wa ited at the Super 8. So many of my friends have gone since then. In summer, the parking lot becomes an oven of roaring trucks; in au tumn, the evening rain cools it. Factions come and go. The skirmishes of my youth remain, scored on the walls like the clumsy scratchings of a forgotten prisoner. Tiny soaps and bottles rest on the bathroom counter, still sealed. The s ilence was never enough to keep me from leaving, until today, when I woke and saw the highway empty of travelers and widening. Isnt that, after all, the je ne sais quoi of sleep? The fragile lamplight blurring those wet scars of headlights on the uncurtained window?

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5 Music at Myrtle Beach I Our pediatrician die d, whod resurrected toddlers from coughing fits and glazy chills, accouterments of childhood, he had called them. Bottles of clove oil, zinc, the polished case of tweezers, clasped tight . No one dared speak ill of the dead that day, as we had so often. Quilts thrown off, I cured my own fears by sweating all night. The frozen rain composed Te Deums on the window, like the voices of distant cousins, dr awn steadily to crescendo as the storm billowed. Suspended half-out of bed, I let my white cells fall to the cloudy sheet. II South Carolina always sustained the dream I never had: an empty beach house calling my family home, its master bedroom opening wide to the shoreline and charcoal lip of sand. We swam just once, late summer, Myrtle Beach, before we knew itbefore it had earned a name, when solitary bathers st retched on the sandbars and left as quickly. I saw my face reflected in a tide pools glass, blurred, as if in motion. I heard my hands, held to the ground, humming until I dipped them in the water to mute them like cymbals. The tide pool rose in silence and volume. At home, our white ash bl oomed, filling the garden with color, fragrance, the health of our nuclear clan endangered by the ocean. How unwell the school days began, our heads slumped in fever on the tiny desks! A month of aborted lessons taught us how to be patients, clutching our pink nurse passes.

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6 III So life has been all ci nnamon sticks and whey, the pillows hug, the glass thermometer tapping between my teeth. In quiet hours, I dream that I am dreaming Carolina, or that the pediatrician lives again. A bullfinch lies sedate among the leaves, and I am twenty-seven, twenty-eight, still young enough to feel my fevers role inside the choir. Georg Frederick Handel, I hear you in the next room, through the smoke of sundry voices, tapestried arcades that echo when my slippers hit the stone.

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7 Tornado Dont be afraid of the blackout. It will look like daylight, once your ey es have grown to fit disasters scope, a filter for your hindsight. The neighborhoods wake up, confused and sick. Their flattened streetlamps point to where it touched down like a skittish drill b it, and bounced through a trailer park, eight blocks of furious slough black in the distance. Mesmerized, we crouched beside the bed. As if in a Kristallnacht the windows imploded from their frames. A tree planted itself into your bedroom wall; the telephone poles flew out. And nothing kicked our teeth in, as though our strongest enemy was stillness, space, the calm before the calm.

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8 The Accidental Theater Behind the greenhousewith its silver trays of bonsai and tapered lemonswollen fields, strewn loosely with cat tle and bricks of salt, measure the earths curvature. Ducks paddling under the village bridges, where your friends stand dropping coins or stones into the river, are oscillated gently by the ripples. Some houses on a terrace have caved in. Those thin, electric girls we chased last fall have disappeared, their brothers gone or dead. Early, the sunlight gree ts your sleeping mask, another day whose ears have caught the guns booming in unison over the hill. (After wed suffered that repartee, the would-be benefactors frowns, we walked along the esplanade, like grieving nobles dumb to the bark of gu lls above the seawall.) We drive hurriedly thro ugh dead-end towns, as though afraid of stalling. The highway hums like a radiometer. You fall asleep in time to miss the accident, still fresh: two smoking cars, totaled. A dappled, telescoped doe, tangled in ribbons of windshield glass, immortalized by floodlights, frozen in mid-leap where it lies.

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9 Departures I Our ceiling lamps blazed, burning rings into the hardwood floor, yet we remained to witness March storming into April. Like birds wings beat ing the watery air, we pulled apart and snapped back together. A few of us fiercely wept in midnight conclaves. I heard myself speak in the combustion chamber of sad and restless housemates. Strangers' gardens stared at me. Too dumb for sleep, I wandered new streets and learned the names of common flowers: spiderwort, phlox. My friend had traveled with me incessantly, as if three months could fuse our hands together, each finger calm and dry as a bar magnet. The mockingbirds warbled angrily at each other, and a phase of the moon ground forward, sanded down to the quick. All of us wondered, after we'd thrown our half-eaten apples into the penny fountain, how many Chicago days he'd woken to, how many exotic stones had surrendered themselves to his feet, and whether he thought of his friends. Nights, I closed my eyes to become a stone in Chicago. I opened them quickly, not to see his face. II A neighbor left the laurel branches leaking sap onto the screened-in porch of Father's house. It had been only a year since the divorce, since splitting the children like atoms, yet our trajectories brought us spiraling back. The filter pond coughed up wet bricks of clay and silt, knocking his new girlfriends puppy unconscious. She cried and flew back to Maryland. We stayed, sat through his illness, watched his teeth erode and, after several y ears, finally disappear. That evening, the paper-wasps nest hummed its antiphonal chorale for the last time.

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10 The next day, the police switc hed on their loudspeakers and demanded that all the children were to leave. Wed been cracking the thick, marble headstones during our long walks through the cemetery where Mother was buried next to a statue of two lambs nuzzling a sorrowful lion. How she would demand at bedtime, can you sleep without kissing your mother? Perfect strangers no longer brought desserts, and every night we walked outside to watch stars flicker on above the skyline, as if being unwanted were a game we still played with skill and verve. A year later, only my brother and I were unmarried, so we moved back. The entire house reeked of camphor and cloves, but we never found the heart to clean it out. We lingered for hours in his bed, long past the heat of morning. III Dogwood leaves piled up in my sisters bedroom. I left the light on. She practiced a eulogy, then retreated when the last electric gusts left the screen door flapping on its hinges. The vestibule brimmed with guests: relatives, neighborhood kids, anonymous friends who bore steaming, silver casserole dishes. The whole wreck lit up like a chandelier. The house, ecstatic, channeled heat onto a yard thick with January snow, and the local football te am carried its sponsors to another victory. Our grocery calendar peeled away the next months photograph. It featured a cluster of cautious developers amazed to see their subdivisions teetering on the edge of an open fault line. Within a week, we could see it wasn't working. Money was running out, so we scattered ourselves like stray marbles on the floor of the sunroom wed loved as children. Fathers grandfather had engineered it to gather light from every corner of the backyard. Now that the last tree was gone, sunlight flooded the room, giving the garden moles a view of the gears behind the mole-blue sky.

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11 The Storm in Air As a child, I dreaded water. I could not sw im, would not bathe alone, and enjoyed only listening to my mothers lullabies, wh ich I sang to myself after her death. Singing in that voice reminded me of her hands, how they swooped like gulls coasting an empty beach, hungry, unable to rest. Years passed. Each morning I heard my fa ther dress and assemble his machines. Life grew quiet, and in the center of night, I scuttled between bedroom windows to create friendships with rooftops, vacant ma rkets, the layered foliage of town gardens. My mothers record player, stuck on Wagner, faded, leaving only the books to lie untouched beneath he r bed, their spines' golden letters thrown on the wall in overlapping patterns, like chips of s un bouncing from an antique chandelier. I found a thunderstorm could still frighten me, its billowing vestment of clouds vicious as ever, its quilts of rain bridging the distance between houses. The delicate skyline would blur, melt, but not quite disappear, and I wondered whether the towers with their dressed brickwork, would come into focus again. After she die d, my mother did not return as I had hoped, so I continued singing, letting my voice be ar its sadness over the rooftops, reminded of the conclusion to The Trial when the two gentlemen escort K. to the killing field and let him choose his own knife, as if, by doing him this small service, they could apologize. I ran to the bedroom window: the world was apologizing to me! The sky, towers, st rangers: everything wa s apologizing to me!

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12 An Insufficient Friend Beyond the shallow lakes surrounding this town lie walled cities, mansions of cedar gables. They rise from books, from photos in the bedroom. The pillows gather dust in the late morning light that breaks through my kitchen windows. I know this house the way you knew deat h: like a perfect number. (The portico we ownedof cool, scalloped brick provided the best steps for smoking cloves or watching girls in skirts and espadrilles walk by as if shopping for penthouses. At times they spoke to you.) Old men jawing at four-hour stretches pause to scent the air, shuffling their dominoes. Suddenly its raining. The lakebed fills up, unmoors the paddleboats from their mud dock. This is our last day to rent a canoe, to create an hour of silence for ourselves, and float as if your diagnosis had been good. The chance of that, you say, was months ago. Remember? Where are the cities of the previous age? Where are the manuals for mourning them? My grief, I have learned, is nothing special, the garden of one museum like so many others, terraced, laborious. Solicitude I expected, worry, not this bafflement. A manual opens, its leaves empty, like you.

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CHAPTER 2 BIOGRAPHIES

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14 Hlderlin Alone His nails grew long, as if to track his madness. It frightened the sane : the Tbingen carpenter who took him in, the pale and savage students whose taunts he met by hurling shit and rocks, the woman he loved, whose soft apologies fell like sunlight from her window. When the poems swelled his tongue, he would walk out to free them, would don his tweeds and pace the Neckar River. Mothers, bathing their children, paused to watch him, the way he used small bits of wood or leather as interlocutors for his tte--ttes with spirits, old prof essors, brothel girls. The year that Hegel's Phenomenology was finished, he ventured deeper than his friend and broke the surface rarely, just to play piano, or write consolatory letters to his dead mother. Through his window, he could hear the Neckar draining to the Rhine, but could not follow it long enough to dispel his own heartbeat, the voices booming within: those barking, eloquent sirens of the Ich .

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15 Sister du Rosier Writes to the Venerated Mothers of the Sacred Heart 1852 I. Havre to New York These swells I hear them say, are unusual, too big for spring and I think of Jonah and his pride, then of jonquils casting shadows in the abbey courtyard. I have learned something of the dialect of sailors, enough to wonder why they are not Christians, they talk so much to each other of their sins. The sea is always pr esent, surrounding us like a vision of His face. Sister Gisele has gone four nights without sleep, fo r fear of drowning in bed. I cannot comfort her. When compline ends, I stand at the bow, my hands at the wet, wooden rail, and imagine He has flooded the world again. II. Barbacoa to Panama These peopleblack as p itch, cutting our path with dripping machetes walk through the rain as if their tiny idols were keeping them dry. Our mules, then, must be cursedonly three are left. The rest are dead, lost, or exchanged for passage across the isthmus. Christ rode a mulean ass through Jerusalem, where the bricks were dry and palm fronds covered the dust of the street . Last night, we stopped fo r shelter at a farmhouse crowded with goats. A black man barred the doorway. I was tired, and hungry, and touched my stomach, thinking of the Holy Virgin in her birth-pains, whether, perhaps, the innkeepers had been lying. A girl brought milk. Something had been arranged. My dreams were filled with water and the faces of men. The next morning, sunlight blazed from their machetes.

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16 Polonius in Bed They are such fragile instruments, the young. They worship us for yearsthen they glimpse death and bolt like hares, suspicious, crying foul. That's January's giftprognostication! Consider Hamlet: brooding, oversexed, stalking through Elsinore like someone's ghost, wielding his rictus like a seamless mask . Yet I've seen dogs less scrutable than he. He wants Ophelia. Denmark's haw, that winter quilted in glassy ice, grows warm and glows red at the tips. So Denm ark's prince, whose choler conceals a swollen flower in his chest between his legs, wherever blood is rising. His humors are capricious, thoughhis mother distracts him, and the shadow of his father. He feigns a taste for politics. I hear him at night, conjuring friends in empty rooms, speaking of daggers. Playing with himself. His juvenile methodsthe headaches, sullen retreats will never deceive anyone but Ophelia. He wants her? He shall have her. This director is not too old to stage a proper match! This father is not so doting to forget his daughters charmher silhouette. Her scent.

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17 After Death, Remembrance Whose prayer is a palm at the small of her wrinkled back cannot be guided elsewhereshe is stuck motionless, save her breath on the bathroom mirror. Outside: electric crosses in the yard, put there years ago by a man staring from photographs. Her small hand leaps to her mouth as she coughs. The wedding, a dream of lace and white camellias, lit by ellipses of damask armchairs, candles, dampens her eyes like smoke from a snuffed wick. Runnels of saline shr oud her cataracts. Comme il faut the wedding dress was returned to the seamstress, who cut the sleeves and married that next year, feasted on gingered plums in bed. Those dandelions that congregate at midday, their habit of muscling in on the grass under the crosses low-wattage duress sadden more than anger her, as if shed been fooled into buying flowers that we re not asleep, but dead, their heads clasped firmly like frail lockets. Inside, the bathroom mirror tr anscribes her face. A vision of him she thinks, could be no more than this.

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18 Evening and Morning, St. Lucys Parish I. There is no love but this, the need to forget. Warm with coffee, the townships few parishioners gather their coats a nd weather the crunch of frozen rain to celebrate midnight mass. Inside, each cups a hand to shield his candle snug in its paper drip-guard. A mural of beasts, all gentle, flanks the pulpit: kneeling cattle, red-mouthed lambs, a hen clawing symbols in the dust behind the manger. Midway through the eucharist, a shout: someones daughter has slipped outside and fractured her collarbone. The ambulance crawls over the ice. Her father greets it with a curse. II. After bright dreams of her dead husband, an old shut-in rises early, Christmas morning, and heats a pan of water on th e stove. Sleet whispers against the window, shakes it, becomes the voice of God around her. She ope ns the door, walks out into the pearled glaze of His twilight and frost. When they find her at sunrise, she is little more than a blue nightgown in the snow. The evening mass finds them more catholic in their concerns: their memorials, funereal hymns Their vigilant ushers poised below the enormous painting of St. Sebastian gazing up at heaven, his stomach thick with arrows.

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19 The Rise and Fall of Christianity in Santa Fe There they worked hard, carving the doors and chairs from walnut, cedar. Knobs of hammered tin lay in a box; the masons smoked outside; the carpenters spoke like Ch rist, in fearless whispers. When their son followed his instinct into the river, they could believe in God, believe the current that swallowed him was real, a fickle wind that coughed him up two hundred yards downstream. She turns and disappears. He drives three nails into a loosening post, between whose rails he sees the river dry, their sheep returning. Her face is gone, remains gone, is replaced by lamps, the finished home. He watches out for what would cross the plai n, at night, to wake him.

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20 Lot with His Daughters From Zoar, Lot can see the double tongues of fire where Sodom and Gomorrah burn. He watches, wonders if he shouldnt go back, collect himself, retrace those panicked steps back to the gates, that cold, abysmal bed now glowing like a Canaanite in hell . Perhaps hell see his wife along the way. At night he wakes, and walks outside the tent to watch the cattle, penned, upright in sleep. The tongues of fire have tu rned to plumes of smoke ascending, like an altars hammered frame, in damascene gold above the flaming wings. The cattlepale, dumb, twitchingbegin to low as if to protest this tardy wakefulness: You bring the devil with you when you come. The plain unravels eastwar d. The sun is grazing the topmost leaves of the heavy, knotted grapevines that shoulder the beat en thoroughfare to Sodom. This place is no Damascus. The die was cast before his vagrant ancestors first drew breath. He crawls into the tent, already exhausted. His daughters, up since dawn, undo their braids.

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21 Two Views of Christ With His Mother I. Annunciation I conceive myself: as one who will inherit His Father's house and brush the plinths with a bleeding hand, who will hear the ancient stone pillars snapping like femurs beneath the oak rafters that stretch to guard the pews' dusty ve lvet; as one whose mother will, propped on hay bales, brace her contractions with thin, ivory arms and spread her legs to release me; as myself. I enter her womb with a worshipful kiss deep in the blue della Robbia chancel, screened by white linens against the cathedral's cool, sexless marble. II. Pieta Mary. Be nothing if not someone elsethe reluctant muse of another's midnight garden, the morbidity that awakens prayer but be my receptacle, sculpted by the weight of sunlight breaking, noisele ss, through the ruined arcade to send my body floating down to your arms, its red gashes chiseled out of my bac k. You see? I exist only for you to hold me, as when I was a child and dreamed a cathedral dark in a foreign square where guilty creatures wandered in, and were amazed to see death below the vaulted arches, the cruciform house of God. You cannot hold me forever. We shall stay like this I dead, you grieving until His saints arrive, and rebuild these walls around us.

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22 Artist Painting a Lake at Dusk Two pied-billed grebes, scissoring from th e bank, disrupt the waters yellow sheet of sunlight. An egret snaps open its wings, alights on a branch. Behind it, a cluster of trees becomes the backdrop for a tiny chapel on the farthest bank, its s quare stained-glass window s casting rectangles on the water, checkering the surface like a tablecloth. During the eighteenth century, those lush, de licious pastorals were rarely painted by only one hand instead, one artist might paint the gra ss, the sky; another the skeletons of trees, a third the farmers on horseback, the dog at their feet. So to create a lake at dusk its water, chapel, cypress knees and egrets, its textured light would require the Carthaginian dynamo of the Aeneid where labor thrives and sweet thyme scents the honey. Maybe the artist today is painting the grebes, whose bills he carefully daubs with a meniscus of glossy black, to find theyve vanished, like a pair of el ectrons, only visible in the coils of energy they leave behind. The lake looks blacker, deeper. A few people are leaning over the little bridge, gazing down at their reflections, and at the reflection of light from the blazing chapel, which is now too bright to look at directly. Singing is coming from the chapel, a Baptist hymn about soldiers with golden swords and everlasting armor. Though I suppose Aeneas, exhilarated as he must ha ve been to crest the final hill and see Carthage its bronze gates, its towering horseheadw as only driven to land there because Troy had been burned to the ground.

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CHAPTER 3 POEMS ABOUT WOMEN

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24 Courtship All afternoon, their vow els rose and fell. She made a tiny cushion of her stomach, and he undressed and graced it with his head. The bedroom walls drew back and held their breath. Outside, the world went on much as before. A freighter shuttled over a blue canal; the ice-caps quietly drif ted from their poles. A few dead mansions folded into bricks. She kissed him lightly. He could taste her plans: the slate-roofed house, th e parsley-frosted garden. Effortlessly, he saw his turn and took it above her, a moving ceiling for her hands. Outside, the world went on much as before. The freighter paused, then crawled across the water.

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25 Winter in Cambridge New York was cold that year, its branches thin as decorative iron, our onion bulbs dusting the salad bowl with copper flakes. She said that onionskin made her think of fire, of wallpaper from her mothers empty bedroom. In Cambridge, from a distance of five time zones, I hold up the negative of a shot she took of herself facing the camera in my clothes. The oak leaves quilti ng Trinity and Kings, their corbeil gardens, shrink beneath the cold; gesturing bobbies pause between shopfronts. The town seizes itself. Her questions fall like warnings from the phone How wet is it? Will I make friends? for thirty minutes, until she leaves for work. I picture Battery Park breaking off into the Hudson, a fleet of children crouched at the abrupt shore. I picture her boarding a plane, the plane flying toward me, her voice in this room, sudden and undeniable.

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26 Watching for Deer Behind the house, two elms divided the scurf of grass from wild holly. We stamped our boots at the yards edge, to ward off the chill riding lead-colored air. A cedar waxwing, then nothing, then a faun the size of a small dog, mottles visible only through your binoculars, profile frozen against the tangled scre en of woods, then gone, your breath suspended as if youd been unplugged from a machine. I felt the epicenter shift back under our feet, its shockwave ruffle the roots and stop where the faun had disappeared. I saw your neck tighten and release. The slate chimney was smoking like a furnace when we turned back. Through the bedroom curtain, I can hear the forest contracting and expanding with the March hours: the elms bud, forming shoots, and the house falls from its frame like muscle from bone.

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27 June and September, 1994 June That day the roar of Corpus Christi beaches muted us, months before the storm flew in, I saw the terns flame out along the boardwalk, white in the sun. The beach was scorching, empty, so we hunted for shellspursued the alluvial waves like eager dogs, clawing the hapless foam and found three sand dollars the size of nickels. We lined them on the sand like captured soldiers and cocked our thumbs, and made demands. September A skein of worsted spins between your hands, spooling onto the floor. The yellow threads tremble until you snip themAtropos making a sweater for her sisters baby. Your eyes are blank: your fingers lack that grace your mother knitted with though these are things that only mothers do well. I walk outside without a jacket, dark against the frost. A clock inside my chest goes off. June The terns, on skyhooks, swung above the surf. Nonviolent now, you retreated to our room. I found you later, unde rneath the bed, the hair about your face like a Madonna, as if you were dec lining the invitation to carry Christ. A cloudbank veered to the east. The bedroom windows rattled in their frames, and I crept out to swim, forgetting the tide was high, and that you wouldnt follow me in. September Mosquitoes decorate the front screen-door; a small fire dies outside; you move behind me. The sweater hangsunfinishedon a chair. Further inside, the white, clawfoot bathtub steams like a hot spring, calling you home. Once, you earned praise fr om me by standing still,

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28 the praise that hooked my eyes to your marble heel from beach to beacha map, a dynasty.

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29 The Sister Farm Fog surges toward the pasture fence whose crossed stakes are buried in espaliers of red Virginia creeper. Farm equipment rises from the pond like a sentry, overl ooking the fairway with mirrored blades. He, from the porch, stares back at the unblinking sunrise, the dying farm, both parents finally gone. Everything is his si ster and her love. Honeybees, the memory of bicycles in a foyer, of green carpet in a hallway splitting into two bedrooms, of cereal bowls. Bruises on her ankle glint from a pecan tree her breath escapes from cracked nutshells. His eyes reverse the paysage: a mirror flipped, a sudden self -portrait on acres spread past him. Her absent body wakens his like a key turning an engine. A lace of rabbitholes at the farms periphery begins to creep in, wate r lapping the rim of a well whose windlass clings like a stubborn bat.

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30 Two Trees This is how I remember being young: getting warm by opening the oven. During my twelfth December, freezing rain glazed the grass. Each night, thin fingers reached from a stand of maple trees to the lawn, as if theyd found some haven there. My father, then, came home one day to work for hours on our spruce. That night, I peered from behind the dormer like the flu-stricken child I was, to see the spruce ablaze with the sulphur lattice of Christmas lights my father had wound. That was a time and now is the time of us. We have a garden, a mud room, small drawers for scissors and other utensils. Our tree, instead of sprucethe one that remained after the waterfront lo ts had been bulldozed and a beautiful new institute built over them is cherry. Now, even the institute is old. High-school friends are always surprised to see us still here. You kiss me like an indecisive sylph. The cherry tree is never lit, and never fails to blossom, white, unvarying, year after year.

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31 The Dark Building We stood on the plateau and spoke of hell: if it existed, and which of our friends would go. The sun bounced off your skin, as if from glass, until you bent down to put on your clothes again or the sun setI dont remember which. But night had come, because the plateaus edge merged with the sky, and the thin, grassless path that led to my fathers car had disappeared. I needed a negativesomething to return the inks to silvers, shadows to their forms, to rinse the surface cleanso I undressed to give us light, although you made it strange by mimicking me. I found the path before you, and under the pine needles, walked myself back beside you. Today, you won t be escorted, touched except in emergencies. All the bolts are thrown in your minds house, where you suffer my hands to map its rooms. Remembering what of theology proved unimportant, I probe the papered walls for cracks, or taped-up photographs: an exit.

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32 Early Memory of My Mother, Amarillo The kitchen sink, chairs, yellow drawers surround my mother, deep in her designs for men and clothing. Lace rests on a board. Her son approaches through the tunnel of the hallway, calls out like a disciple in the tumultuous grip of the sea. They find in each other difficulties gone, the lightbulbs switching on, two wooden chairs marching neatly around the dinner table. The curtain falls; someone is sweeping. In Texas they eat beef with a bowl of jalapenos. She might, in ten years, catch a lung disease. Midnight, pillows light the room, framing their heads. Never further from rest, she feels how young he is, still, and untouched.

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33 Two Emergencies The Nissan, guided by a sleeping driver, drove through the bedroom wall that shielded my brother. Its engine paused, like a koan, then ignited as if the silence had forced it to a decision. My brother woke and slept, and woke to rooms of sky-blue, sea-foam, lemon, albumen white and saw the eye of emergency had passed him by for othersthe sleeping wo man who drove the car, and then my mother. We did not hear of it for weeks, until, gripping her chrome walker to keep from doubling over, she called the police. It was a burst appendix. Prompted by dread, I brought her hyacinths in a frosted vase and entered the hospital chap el, where twin statuettes of the Virgin Mary presided over the stillness. They seemed, perched on their columns, to ask for nothing; they seemed like birds. Bewildered, I remained mute, kneeling on the hassock, as if to speak might wake them and steal volition from my mother.

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34 Night of My Mother Laughing My parents take turns balancing on their knees the girl who, bedtime stalled to celebrate her mothers hugely swelling (again!) stomach, suddenly swats at thos e tiny, kicking feet so cruelly that my father sends her to bed. A few minutes later, she has come back down for nothing, a glass of water, a question. My father sends her back up with an answer. This is the Friday night my parents have watched approach for weeks, with the music and conversation that, lately, takes a little while to begin . Shell have to grow up. Sh e cant stay three forever, my father says. Hes just turned twenty-five. They watch each other, as in a silent film that wants no more than for its stars to be happy or self-assured, the Subaru paid off, the house replete with b ookshelves and a heater that evenly warms each room. The bricks are white, the kitchen smells like flourthough my fathers rubber shoes are gray, like the woolen pants he wears to rags and slaughters with an iron. The baby kicks again, hard, with both feet, and my mother laughs like her daughter, clear and high or like Persephone, returning to Demeter.

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35 For My Sister on Her Birthday Here, the winter sky is detailed as a stone. Pecan trees, hung with cr ooked, vacant shells, twinkle like candelabras, their blackened trunks rigid against twilights loose, expanding ceiling. Visitors pass below the Japanese lanterns your husband strung to mimic a promenade to the front door. Inside, the house is warm and dim, as if lit by a pink cigarette lighter. You tuck your childhood into the armoire and introduce yourself: the Ho stess. Your friends laugh, but they are dumb and harmless, excitable only in Death, to whom you are still faultless. This absence does not fau lt your architecture. You are a Corinthian column with bone-deep flutes; I am acanthus, watching the thunderstorms pause and blow over, the gables rinsed with rain. Already, days have passed since Ive seen you. Like these, your late st company will pass to leave you here, solitary, leaning against the kitchen count er in your sundress.

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36 Carousel The Pacific Ocean shone like a waxed floor and disappeared behind the shouldered dunes. My childhood carried on elsewhere: I learned to read, almost drowned in a neighbors pool, was bitten by insects, st udied constellations . Years later, I would read Ibsen and picture myself as Oswald, motionless in a kitchen chair, my mother orbiting like a hummingbird. She came up to the city, once, and I showed her the terraced Guggenheim, the sober Frick, the Central Park carousel, its horses turning in unison. We spoke of the ones suspended nearest the sweeping edge, and when it slowed we walked away holding hands like a married couple, but said little, because she had gotten sick. She was so small. I could carry her, if I wanted.

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CHAPTER 4 DEATH POEMS

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38 Leslie You were my first, and most familiar, death. My young legs froze at the paralyzing news, yet I walked on, out of the waiting room and into the parking lot, where breakers filled the mouth of a dark lagoon, and gentle nurses distributed nectarines from a wicker basket. I saw you were not dead, but merely asleep among the driftwood and rocks, and I woke you up. You told me, See? The prologue is almost over. And we walked back to the parking lot together until the music began, an invisible storm flooding the distance between my ears and legs, rocking their fluids. As if in a dream, I rose to meet the steady parade of relatives. Do you remember that afternoon, the one you were born and died in? Faces, scents, a sudden room the size of a backyard? I remember that someone apologized and everyone left. YesI remember leaving.

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39 Death of My Father: The Daybed After my grandfather died, my mother began to sleep in my grandmot hers house, though our own was only half a mile away. As he was dying, he allowed my father to tape some interviews, to ask him about the army, the Oklahoma dairy farm. He lay under a window on his daybed, smelling like medicine, the sun falling in thick, yellow bars over the hospital blankets We would eat lunch around a card table, hearing my grandmother read Jonathan Edwards sermons to him in the bedroom. The day before he died, my mother sent me back to our house for a sweater, or pillsit was June and very hot, too bright to look at the sky for long, and everything, even my mothers gauntlet of lilies fronting the walk, was glazed by a film of heavy sun. Inside, I switched on the lights, and the cool, black living room lit up: our leather couch, chairs, my fathers antique clocks. Then my grandfather's daybed materialized from a dark corner behind the mahogany hutch, glowing like a slab of solid flourescent light. I was surprised, not by its being there, but by the realization that I was waiting to be blinded by it. Everything else was the same. I turned back to my grandmother's, having forgotten whatever I'd been sent for. That was years ago. Now, my father is finally dying. When I went home to see him, the nurses had moved his hospital bed to the ce nter of the living room, where he, before he sickened, had cut a skylight into the vaulted roof, to let in the sun.

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40 Death of Cordell Green Cordell, the window lifts its eye to the peony espaliers and the house next door. Shadows drift across the lawn. A pink-shuttered playhouse downtown is gathering dust in your afternoon dream. You, in spring, lacking the straight mans reflex for self-denial, drove west down the escarpment from Lubbock to Post, to the oil-tongued ranch hands and all those slender, greenhorn cowboys flashing their studded steel and leather vests. Your vision of Italy, fueled by gold paint, faux gold leaf, summoned you to a stucco courtyard invisible before. The f ountain sputtered and dried. As your eyes closed, a few acquaintances were strolling into your line of sight. You have been dead these five weeks. I realize, picking thr ough the cotton stubble, that my obligations to you are gone as well, my promises to fly with you to Venice. In a small studio, no one begins your portrait.

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41 Death of My Grandmother An open cherrywood casket lined with silk commands the room, my grandmother's body inside. Outside, my sister bends to pick a daisy. The wind collects the skirt about her knees. Watching her, I remember the morning after another deatha cousinsdecades ago. I was no more than seven. She was ten, and we ate breakfast alone in the sunroom, while our parents shopped for bout onnieres and headstones. The funeral is today. My brothers and I will open it with a hymn, our scratchy throats nestled in collars and too-familiar skin. The hearse will slip thro ugh traffic like an eel; the casket, given a hole, will fall inside. A few explosive daisies, pressed and framed, stare from the wall. Outside, compact with roots, the yard shudders unde r its veil of leaves, caught in the quiet c onvergence of my eye with what is passing delicately from it: my sister, married, her children strange and bright.

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CHAPTER 5 MITOSIS

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43 Mitosis I. Prophase Something has changed. The old, beloved vestiges no longer inject our eyes with color. Flickering worries reach into the night and stir up forgotten hives, lengthen the hours below the cumulonimbus that threatens this morning's projected peace. We may dress each other and glide from the house, yet more space has grown between everyones gestures, like a rain or frost that lies for years in the attic before it drops like a hawk on the sugar maples. A threshold has been crossed, a method of hearing the clocks, the clinking lamps we wake to. Civil wars, for example, are methodical: the tedious climb, slippery with blood, to the climax on the precipice, the quick drop in pressure. . Yet certainty is as exotic here as d eath. The perfumed bodies of newborns burst into sinews overnight; the suburbs overflow. To prepare for departure means admitting that your well-oiled meachines did not prove sufficient. Nor could you withstand those fountains and sunlit plazas turning to powder during last weekends vacation, our forays through the leafy courtyards of boarded-up houses. II. Metaphase Dont you feel that I want to tell you something important? About winter, agi ng, the serene and industrious cattle grazing freely in our neighbors front yard? Solitary lamps gaze from their translucent posts, and everyone else seems recently dead, obscured by the plashing, steaming roar of this double intimacy filling the cast-iron bathtub. I would write more letters if your address were still inked on my calendar, but today I merely wandered from room to room as if I had woken into a dream of lying in bed listening to you catch the la st expatriate's train. Remember when we could be sure ? When one lung was enough to keep us breathing for weeks at a time? Somehow the entire proce ss accelerated too quickly

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44 fractures appeared on the gl obe. The adults never came to dilate the aperture an d reveal those rugged canyons as only creases that shaded a young girl's neck as she turned to brush her hair at the bathroom mirror. We fixed the house ourselves. It was morning again, and the automatic plows we re seeding their fields with legumes and sleek root-vegetables. The outdoor markets remained shuttered. I rememb er precisely that August day your family's orchard fell sleepily into the pond. III. Anaphase Before I go to bed, I concentrate on being pulled toward the clouds lying past these blackened windows, out where the town's bridges are spread on the water like delicate insects. I splash my old wounds with peroxide, but fresh ones keep cropping up. I shred photographs at breakfast, or peer through the wrong end of binoc ulars, watch the room recede, chuckle like a lama tuning in to nirvana with a wink of his third eye. Afternoons, I force myself to stand completely still, to study the hardwood floor, its grains shifting, spelling hello in no ones language. The question is whether anything here is capable of seeing anything else: a menagerie of animals stands at the far end of the lawn, signaling for help. Buildings slip behind the horiz on as your lens retreats. It's impossible to verify, from this vantage point, whether those objects even move : the mountain range, the tiny cups of lukewarm milk you used to drink, your confident eyes traversing me with the speed of tectonic platesas if, when you woke, I would be there forever, hanging up dress shirts one by one, or still in bed, my eyes quivering under their lids. IV. Telophase There are theories about th e origin of the universe that begin this way: the water pipes bursting, the house falling into halves, like a split peach. Small irregularities come into focus, become visible as if through the barrel of a kaleidoscope, its plastic shards re volving like a troupe

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45 of synchronized swimmers. Two enormous hands detach from their wrists and begin to contract, and the boy in school who used to cut himself suddenly appears after years of mysterious inactivity with a metal cane and a daughter of average beauty. If ever we earn a frontispiece, it will not be because our generation triggered new methods, but that it learned to revi ve itself in the aftermath. None of our neighbors would listen, so we carved new doors out of existing walls, built weapons for the younger recruits. Then I remember waking to the same household objects, only to find they were finally talking to me, even the hydrangea wallpaper. Milk bottles we re cooling in the sun. Dawn broke, and I knew the slaughterhouse would be gonesure enough, only pale weeds remained, the lone delivery van. No one misspoke. A few families vanished in the first eclipse.

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CHAPTER 6 AFTERMATHS

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47 The Long Parade The long parade is over. Now we can sleep in separate bedrooms again, listening for the thunder to break ove r our heads. Instead we hear sparrows twittering in the yellow-leav ed birches. Our foreign neighbors are finally moving back in! Their big crates of blue dishes and vintage French dolls are like a reunion with the neighbor hoods history, as if a stray galleon, straggling in from last year ss armada, had run aground in our flowerbeds. No one feels left out, and the iron grillework sparkles with each ring of the telephone. In the aftermath, we forget to mail the thank-you notes. What a surprise to find bits of decay flaking from our heels, shooing us out of the house and into the height of afternoon. Th e sidewalks, filled with tourists, are galloping into the vani shing point. Its summer at last: khaki-clad families crisscross the pavement, buying orange ices and donkey rides for their children. Some babies are still stiff from hibernating, but the bouyant weather ha s us all planning our twoweek vacations at last. A few dogs cock their heads in a vacant lot. This week is endless, punctuated by homemade meals, the crispest ev enings. We encourage each other to live generously, send gifts, candy for every occasion, because the guest rooms are open year-round, and the girl with the tray of peppermints always says Yes. Seas of blue spruce and Scotch pine surround us like a fable, while the amateur sculptors hoist thei r chisels to the workshops applause: whats next for our town? Who can im agine the most splendid figurine? We remember how the proces sion began: brass horns puffing a Sousa march, horses, dancers, throngs of floats passing out of earshot, the abrupt and lingering shudder of a cymb al. . Tomorrow, after the men sweep up the ticker tape, well have breakfast on the patio. A calm before the longer, more beautiful parade.

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48 Twilight, Prairie The everlasting pilgrimage is dead, and I go with it. For whose sake did I not thread my fingers through the spokes of the fi gured wheel? Or lean my grandfathers scythe into my stomach, tasting its metal? I suffer my family grain to fall on rocky ground, for I am the end of the line. My hip-socketblack, well-loved by God has crossed the torn and blasted railyards of Abilene, of Amarillo where I lived as a child and played below the strata of mica straining to gaze on heaven. Driving, I pass the poppies of blurred childhood, fragmented skylines, of distant cousins nameless in memorys milky frame, their vaporous summer holidays, their oval mirrors and marble houses. I am never alone: I trust the black-eyed pea and buffalo grass between the teeth of rusting gears behind my father's house, the wounded mobile home no longer beautiful beside the barbed-wire fences and bruised roads. These I have etched, a thorn to my palm, harvesting rows of cotton like the cloudy cells of veins measuring the forearm. Bloodless now, I fill myself with wine instead, and lie in my grandmothers flower garden, cushioned by clover and jimson-weed, unfolding according to my season. I remember children planted in dead land. I remember the hour they pushed through the topsoil, their feet deep underground. I watered them. I came to wrestle a hundred sins, to drown a thousand glittering sorrows

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49 spread like scales of fish among the sand by the gulf shoals of silt-gray estuaries, where I once lay weeping to recollect the silence of winter brushwood, the steaming salt licks that cover the inland plains.

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50 Burying Protest in the Age of Cassandras Those he amazed or disappointed could not prove him dishonest, or those who mattered less would not have risen and thrown handfuls of mud at him and his acolytes. With a paper scepter, he crowded the lions into their dusty pen, declared himself illegal. There were women receptive to him; his rough, white tongue brought children to the table, which was oak but rotting. We convened at dawn, trudged out to the yard, and began to speak. Thrilling! To know that, among the ferns and ilex, the next revolution waited! Meanwhile, he crept away in the bloom of our morning glories, while more desperate teenagers fled his house, unimpressed by the banquet. Sunday followed with a softball tournament, and trophies; Sunday was silent, long and effervescent. The Concorde landed and spat out the exchange students, and hushes fell on all but the deaf, who cried. Out of the grief and confusion, he returned, and introduced us to healthier ways of living. This way, he said, w henever people wake, theyre nearly immersed in color. The color white, one girl suggested, wasnt a color at all, but a perfect mixture! Sadly, no one heard.

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51 Descending, Descending I stepped out from the balconys shadow and gathered my overcoat more tightly around me. Red dust clung to the Arizona hills. Cars lay scattered beside the hotel like insects. A few lilacs still slept in their crystal bezel. The modem already chirped indignantly from its wire-fretted slot. I walked stairward as the noises grew. . Sunlight filled the hallway. The descent was long, yet startling as a bell rung right at the ear, the stairway white, its carpets unraveling. My bare feet sank down into them. A radio program filtered from a door. What use is science, the caller mused, when thousands are searching only for love? The landings were empty, the lobby unattainable. Glaciers, they say, calve most in summer, se nding their little icebergs out to melt. It felt, too, as if I were being sent, though nothing pronounced itself in the fashionable air. And where had the banisters gon e? Ceilings piled above me. A man in the newspaper once said, It was all a dream, my wife never appeared to me in that costume. I remembered that story even as I descended and landed in the room of someone who loved me. She said, I have been looking for you, and you surprised me. Behind her, the windows looked away.

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52 The Big Sleep I In the house that no one sleeps in, a girl with a waterfall of blonde hair lets a yellow kimono slip from her bare shoulders, pulls it back on, lets it slip off again. The silk never quite hits the floor. Her smile is a klieg light. Her lace choker is embroidered with little bells. She closes her eyes, as if to remind herself that the man taking photos is merely her vehicle. The heat of her eyelids puts her to sleep, the kimono in mid-descent. It may be her best position yet. II Doesnt it always happen that way? Dont you always fall asleep in your best outfit, the thin, hand-sewn herringbone, the Empire dress with the plum tatting? You think to yourself, That brandy and milk couldve been warmer, but you know it was perfect. The doorbell has been ringing for a week. Children press their faces to the window. You hear voices outside the door, so you answer, but its only a cluster of fruit baskets staring up from the welcome mat. A girl in your mind keeps halfway stepping out of a black peignoir. You wink at her like a thirsty shutter. Someone must really love me, you think. And yessomeone always does.

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53 Ten Eschatological Vignettes 1. With no way of knowing how we arrived, we cut our shelter from the pink rock of a canyon. It was inevitable. Thoug h clouds lit up the night, and bread littered the ground the next day, it happened so suddenly: like lightning, a colossal failure of vision as we prayed for the next images to take their places. 2. The melody reiterated it self through horns, winds, and finally a piccolo, which freshened the perspective before it set us down in the feverish village market. Shirts! Necklaces! Balms cluttered in frosted vials above the miniature wooden scales, and we were calling as if through the noise of a hundred years. 3. Another catastrophe, around the same time, had been occurring, the rei gn of a merciless tyrant raised by money. You asked for it he growled, and shot out a chandelier as his came raman panned the wreckage. Two hours earlier, the judge had passed a few new laws that no one would honor, let alone those facing death. 4. So a new creation myth began, involving two kneecaps that divided the first populat ions equally between them. A stand of birch, however, would not be separated, its caramel ring of trunks gl ossy in the August light. An ouzel darted among them before settling sphinxlike on a small, humble bough. 5. Wind pummeled the Venetian b linds. Inside the cottage, we discussed tunneling out a network of exits in case the neighbors became jealous. It was possible only in that quivering frame of reference we all shared. Spring opened with rains of reconciliation, but all we returned to wa s the stillness of an oven. 6. We woke to hailstones lashing the kitchen windows, our tte--ttes boiling down to simple reflex.

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54 Whether the hurricane had taken so many lives as to send us daily to the hospitals remained debatable. Brighter commercials rose from the ashes of the long businessmens war. 7. Our children started answer ing questions correctly. The mountain range, which had formed the backdrop to our lives for so many years, started shrinking without a word. The wind picked up again. Apricot cobblers swept that seasons coveted blue ribbons, while country girls sold wagonloads of kittens along the boulevard. 8. Yet our fallout shelters were not, were never cool enough! Each block party, having climbed to a giddy apex, fell apart like a matchstick cathedral! That is, until a boy about my sons age fell into a forgotten mineshaft and rediscovered a mosaic of smooth stone tunnels. The scientists grinned: their intelligence tests had been right. 9. No one could have predicted the neighborhood murderers confession: two gol den retrievers and a dream of hearing our suburbs nameless oxides singing. Phalanx of Canada geese overh ead; fruit in the orchards. Autumn blew in, a wildfire of swirling foliage. None of us could remember what happened the day before. 10. Truly, that weekend was nothi ng less than mythological. The pets ran loose; the kids governed for a brief afternoon, and we neglected nothing. We greeted each other with rhymes and jettisoned the fieldhands who had not already gone. How the thermometers fell in soft patterns those holidays! Holidays where to laugh was so much better than talking.

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55 Appalachian Diurnal When things draw near, or happen, we perceive nothing of them. Except what others bring us we have no news of those who are alive. Dante, Inferno X. Shade-dampened leaves snow down on the forest floor. Beyond the wood s wet brake, the strangler fig coiling like a trellised tentacle, a town lies level on a plain of palmetto and furze. Its people walk to the cadence of hymnals. Its streets are de licate as the glass valves of its factories. At night, its parks thicken with dandelion and sp rays of false morel. These people are civil: coins fall from their hands in thick shower s. They celebrate winter; they write biographies of dead ancestors; they harvest ice from the half-frozen ponds, which catch each mornings sunlight as if the eyes of Argus were opening onto the dawn. The town, stubbor n, clings to its plai n like a barnacle: the storm sweeps in with its million-fingered waves, but even the tenements stand fast as stones. The weapons are clean and locked in the armory; the trophy h eads are neatly piked in the campo. I face the gashed forest across its sea of furze. A few yellow ra ils break between us, their wings flashing like tiny silk chasubles. The factories smoke has filtered the sun to an orange wafer. If the sky is anything, it is a kind of forgetting, a way of erasing the twisted roots. They gr ow everywhere: a handful of soil finds them knotted, like hair, in every direction, sprawling and churning, claiming the ground as their destination.

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56 The Art of War When he left me for the spears and camp-tents, when he strode from the garden like a man in love, I watched and stood silent until he disappeared into the dust and noise of his fathers regiment. Wasps in the wasp-trap clatter at midday. Here, past the brittl e kitchen windows, the soldiers, swaddled in cloaks as though sleeping, file below the sunlight on pale donkeys. Lying in bed, I could hear the potpourris rustle in the glass globe with the hole at the top and smoke twitching inside, the parade of herbs assailing the room like incense for the dead. Sliced apples and coffee ar e brought, as if breakfast were only a matter of rising to the occasion, nodding affection to thos e nearby: cousins, grandparents. Helicopters glide like flies overhead. I had arranged my dresses according to their cut: the sleeve's angle, the neckline's scoop and trim. I opened the wardrobe door. A snow of moths shook themselves from th e dappled dressing-tree. Our weekly visits to our ancestors' gravestones are battered by rain and autumn's frozen mud. The steel train races on along the hill, and those passengers who cannot sl eep share newspapers. Ignorant of the scars he left on those women who waited, negligeed, in their doorways soft light, he returned without a voi ce. He offered me nothing but elaborate gestures, the stills of arabesques. Everywhere, the smell of burning clothes. Crowds circle the perimeters of winter solstice fires. Beside the bed, our radiator keeps ticking, lulling us to an uneasy sleep. The art of survival goes on outside.

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57 The Tests Are Sometimes Wrong From your house, Prousts unforgiving knot of salons is so much silk thread, toilet water, cattleyas gathering dust on a nightstand: here, the greed is under control. The beveled bay windows peer across the street at other windows, reaching beyond the peering as a measurement, distilling the beautiful from not. You see the neighborhood clea rly, as in a painting by someone, perhaps, distinctively American, Whistler or Winslow Homer, a practiced restraint peculiar to the descendants of Puritans: a stroke of tough, impeccable lightning piercing the lawn that runs from an open door, and, inside, an overalled child gnawing the leg of a table. The andirons dead weight is merely a black blotch. . You have an idea of the pure, godless light these details cast, and thick and fast as the critical questions arrive, you answer them all, and sometimes magnificently. Chiaroscuro of leaves on a living-room wall, the remnants of a party thrown last night to celebrate your achievement in the arts. A man in shirtsleeves rises from the sofa and helps you to your chair. His hands seem tremendous as he moves across the room. Whatever happens now, you must not forget to thank him, to pretend the world you inherited had done all it could to protect you. . My eyes snapped open. Where was I? Tubes and monitors were attached to me. They also placed a blanket around your knees and watched as you wheeled yourself past the ventilation fans, down a shallow hill to that house you always wa nted for someone else.

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58 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Matthew Ladd was born in Culver City, Cali fornia, and spent most of his youth in Texas. He has received degrees from Te xas Tech University, the University of Cambridge, and, most recently, the University of Florida. His poems have been published in such journals as The Paris Review FENCE West Branch and Passages North


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0013889/00001

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Title: The Storm in Air
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0013889/00001

Material Information

Title: The Storm in Air
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0013889:00001


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THE STORM IN AIR: A COLLECTION OF POEMS


By

MATTHEW LADD


















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006





















Copyright 2006

by

Matthew Ladd





















for my parents.















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to gratefully thank Debora Greger, Michael Hofmann, and especially

William Logan for their help in the preparation of this manuscript.

I also thank my peers in the writing program for their remarks.

And I thank Meg Shevenock, for her insight, and for tolerating my pettishness.















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv

ABSTRACT ............... ..................... ......... .............. vii

CHAPTER

1 Q U E STION S FO R A FRIEN D .............................. ..............................................1

Questions for a Friend W ho Disappeared................................... ...................... 2
The L em on G rove .................................................... .......................... .3
L e av in g S u p er 8 ............................................................................................................ 4
M u sic at M yrtle B each .................................................................. ................... 5
T orn ad o ...................................................................................... . 7
The A accidental Theater ......................................... ................ .. ........ ..
D ep artu res ...................................... .............................. ..... ......... ..... 9
The Storm in A ir ................................................................ ............................ 11
A n Insufficient Friend ...................................................... ..... ...............12

2 BIO GRAPH IES .................. ................. ............ .......... ................... 13

H olderlin A lone .................................................... ....... ... ...............14
Sister du Rosier Writes to the Venerated Mothers of the Sacred Heart ....................15
Polonius in Bed ................. ..... .. ............................... ....... ........ .. 16
A after D eath, R em em brance ............................................... ............................. 17
Evening and Morning, St. Lucy's Parish ................. ......... ......... ...................18
The Rise and Fall of Christianity in Santa Fe ........................................19
L ot w ith H is D aughters.............. ................ ............... ............................ ...............20
Tw o V iew s of Christ W ith H is M other ........................................... .....................21
Artist Painting a Lake at Dusk....... ......... ........... ........................ 22

3 POEM S AB OU T W OM EN ................................................ ............................ 23

C o u rtsh ip ............................................................................................................... 2 4
W inter in C am bridge ........................ ................ .. ......... ....... 25
W watching for Deer ................................. ... ..... ........... ......... 26
June and Septem ber, 1994 ................................................ .............................. 27
The Sister Farm..... ........... ......... .................. 29
T w o T re e s .............................................................................3 0
The Dark Building .............. ......... ............. ......... ...31


v









Early Memory of My Mother, Amarillo ......................................... ...............32
Tw o E m ergencies ....................... .................... ... .. ....... .... ....... 33
Night of My Mother Laughing .........................................................................34
For M y Sister on H er Birthday ............................................................................35
C arou sel ..............................................................................3 6

4 DEATH POEM S .................................. .. .......... .. ............37

L e slie ... . .......... ...... ......... .......................................... ......................................3 8
Death of My Father: The Daybed ...................... .............. ... ................. 39
D death of C ordell G reen ...................................................................... ...................40
D eath of M y G randm other............................................................... .....................4 1

5 M IT O S IS ................................................................4 2

M ito sis ..........................................................4 3

6 A FTERM A TH S ........................................................... .... ................... .. 46

The L ong Parade ....................................................... ..... .............. 47
Tw ilight, Prairie ........................... ..... ........................... .......... 48
Burying Protest in the Age of Cassandras ....................................... ............... 50
D escending, D escending.................................................. ............................... 51
T h e B ig S le ep ...................................................................................... .................. 5 2
Ten Eschatological Vignettes .................................. .....................................53
A ppalachian D iurnal ......................................................... .. ............ 55
The A rt of W ar ..................................... ............. ............... .... ...... 56
The Tests A re Som etim es W rong................................................................... ......57

B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ..................................................................... ..................58















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

THE STORM IN AIR: A COLLECTION OF POEMS

By

Matthew Ladd

May 2006

Chair: William Logan
Major Department: English

This collection, completed during the two years of the poet's residence in

Gainesville, is an attempted meditation on loss, including but not limited to death and

sickness. The poems range widely in style and manner. The poet hopes to demonstrate

that any subject worth writing about does not give itself up easily, but must be

approached obliquely, through windows or side-doors.















CHAPTER 1
QUESTIONS FOR A FRIEND









Questions for a Friend Who Disappeared


Where did they leave you? In the Amazon River,
dumping you at the mouth like so much silt?
In Audrey Hepburn's hands, suspended above
a tiny sapphire bracelet, its powder-blue bevels
like frosted drops of water? The thunderstorm
broke into our hotel and, as the downpour
raged, I saw you clutching your luggage, pilfering
nickels and dimes from the champagne-colored fountain,
pulling up bulbs from the flooded orchid beds.

You were gone the next morning. I ate my eggs alone.
Desperate for dialogue, I scoured three continents
with a Vespa, questioned small men in saffron robes,
girls who spoke in the winking lace of their nighties.
Seventeen weeks. Things have begun to replace you.
August ushers in a new semester, holidays
stamped in red ink. I enter the kitchen like someone
lost for decades in the latitudes of exile-
Napoleon, Crusoe-hugging the nearest shore,
watching the kitchen sink's lip catch the sunlight
and lose it as I lost you: easily, unmoving.









The Lemon Grove


We greeted the wildlife preserve by blowing kisses
to our parked cars, then hiked straight in for an hour,
past the high ground, to cypresses where muscular deer
left their menage a trois to plunge through thickets
of gorse and sawgrass. A few of us plunged in after
and almost drowned in a thick sea of greenbrier
that only parted when I thought we'd stop,
revealing a square field marked by parallel rows
of lemon trees, identical, pungent with fruit.

They stood at the boundary like unexpected guests
embarrassing us with apologies or gifts.
We skirted the manicured edge of the grove
and found a dirt path, followed it to a pasture,
a barn, the last outbuildings of an empty plantation.
I felt my face, bleeding in places from the briars.
We turned, and a gated mansion lay ahead
like the face of an ancestor, silent, half-known,
a myth half-remembered in ten shades of white.
The gauntlet of oaks, adjoining gardens: all fell away
at our approach, the mansion lawn unrolling
beneath us, as if what glittered from the lemon trees
had started it moving, the first small turns of a machine.









Leaving Super 8


Shrouded in pre-dawn fog, the highway
has changed overnight: barren, colossal
behind the swimming pool and white chairs.
One night, it seems, is not sufficient to destroy
the nights that, for years, came before.

We drove for eighteen wonderful hours that day.
After planning our young writers' exodus
out of Illinois, that hearth of black soil
and erstwhile muse; after poaching the lambs
from our father's pastures and stowing them
in covered pickup beds; after the corn-fed vigils
and a week spent composing ballads
that flung us into each others' bronzed arms,
we rested. We thought it time to declare
victory, to pack up the glittering weapons.
We telephoned the farm girls to say
their sweethearts waited at the Super 8.

So many of my friends have gone since then.
In summer, the parking lot becomes an oven
of roaring trucks; in autumn, the evening rain
cools it. Factions come and go.
The skirmishes of my youth remain,
scored on the walls like the clumsy scratching
of a forgotten prisoner. Tiny soaps
and bottles rest on the bathroom counter,
still sealed. The silence was never enough
to keep me from leaving, until today,
when I woke and saw the highway
empty of travelers and widening.
Isn't that, after all, theje ne sais quoi
of sleep? The fragile lamplight
blurring those wet scars
of headlights on the uncurtained window?









Music at Myrtle Beach


I

Our pediatrician died, who'd resurrected
toddlers from coughing fits and glazy chills,
"accouterments of childhood," he had called them.
Bottles of clove oil, zinc, the polished case
of tweezers, clasped tight... No one dared speak
ill of the dead that day, as we had so often.

Quilts thrown off, I cured my own fears
by sweating all night. The frozen rain composed
Te Deums on the window, like the voices
of distant cousins, drawn steadily to crescendo
as the storm billowed. Suspended half-out of bed,
I let my white cells fall to the cloudy sheet.

II

South Carolina always sustained the dream
I never had: an empty beach house calling
my family home, its master bedroom opening
wide to the shoreline and charcoal lip of sand.
We swam just once, late summer, Myrtle Beach,
before we knew it-before it had earned a name,

when solitary bathers stretched on the sandbars-
and left as quickly. I saw my face reflected
in a tide pool's glass, blurred, as if in motion.
I heard my hands, held to the ground, humming
until I dipped them in the water to mute them
like cymbals. The tide pool rose in silence and volume.

At home, our white ash bloomed, filling the garden
with color, fragrance, the health of our nuclear clan
endangered by the ocean. How unwell the school days
began, our heads slumped in fever on the tiny desks!
A month of aborted lessons taught us
how to be patients, clutching our pink nurse passes.









III

So life has been all cinnamon sticks and whey,
the pillow's hug, the glass thermometer
tapping between my teeth. In quiet hours,
I dream that I am dreaming Carolina,
or that the pediatrician lives again.
A bullfinch lies sedate among the leaves,

and I am twenty-seven, twenty-eight,
still young enough to feel my fever's role
inside the choir. Georg Frederick Handel,
I hear you in the next room, through the smoke
of sundry voices, tapestried arcades
that echo when my slippers hit the stone.









Tornado


Don't be afraid of the blackout. It will look
like daylight, once your eyes have grown to fit
disaster's scope, a filter for your hindsight.
The neighborhoods wake up, confused and sick.
Their flattened streetlamps point to where it touched
down like a skittish drill bit, and bounced through
a trailer park, eight blocks of furious slough
black in the distance. Mesmerized, we crouched
beside the bed. As if in a Kristallnacht,
the windows imploded from their frames. A tree
planted itself into your bedroom wall;
the telephone poles flew out. And nothing kicked
our teeth in, as though our strongest enemy
was stillness, space, the calm before the calm.









The Accidental Theater


Behind the greenhouse-with its silver trays
of bonsai and tapered lemon-swollen fields,
strewn loosely with cattle and bricks of salt,
measure the earth's curvature. Ducks paddling
under the village bridges, where your friends
stand dropping coins or stones into the river,
are oscillated gently by the ripples.
Some houses on a terrace have caved in.
Those thin, electric girls we chased last fall
have disappeared, their brothers gone or dead.

Early, the sunlight greets your sleeping mask,
another day whose ears have caught the guns
booming in unison over the hill.
(After we'd suffered that repartee,
the would-be benefactors' frowns, we walked
along the esplanade, like grieving nobles
dumb to the bark of gulls above the seawall.)
We drive hurriedly through dead-end towns,
as though afraid of stalling. The highway hums
like a radiometer. You fall asleep in time to miss
the accident, still fresh: two smoking cars,
totaled. A dappled, telescoped doe, tangled
in ribbons of windshield glass, immortalized
by floodlights, frozen in mid-leap where it lies.









Departures


I

Our ceiling lamps blazed, burning rings
into the hardwood floor, yet we remained
to witness March storming into April.
Like birds' wings beating the watery air,
we pulled apart and snapped back together.
A few of us fiercely wept in midnight conclaves.
I heard myself speak in the combustion
chamber of sad and restless housemates.
Strangers' gardens stared at me.
Too dumb for sleep, I wandered new streets
and learned the names of common flowers:
spiderwort, phlox. My friend had traveled
with me incessantly, as if three months
could fuse our hands together, each finger
calm and dry as a bar magnet.

The mockingbirds warbled angrily at each other,
and a phase of the moon ground forward, sanded
down to the quick. All of us wondered,
after we'd thrown our half-eaten apples
into the penny fountain, how many Chicago days
he'd woken to, how many exotic stones
had surrendered themselves to his feet,
and whether he thought of his friends. Nights,
I closed my eyes to become a stone in Chicago.
I opened them quickly, not to see his face.

II

A neighbor left the laurel branches
leaking sap onto the screened-in porch
of Father's house. It had been only a year
since the divorce, since splitting the children
like atoms, yet our trajectories
brought us spiraling back. The filter pond
coughed up wet bricks of clay and silt,
knocking his new girlfriend's puppy unconscious.
She cried and flew back to Maryland. We stayed,
sat through his illness, watched his teeth
erode and, after several years, finally disappear.
That evening, the paper-wasp's nest hummed
its antiphonal chorale for the last time.










The next day, the police switched on their loudspeakers
and demanded that all the children were to leave.
We'd been cracking the thick, marble headstones
during our long walks through the cemetery
where Mother was buried next to a statue
of two lambs nuzzling a sorrowful lion. How,
she would demand at bedtime, can you sleep
Ii iihiut kissing your mother? Perfect strangers
no longer brought desserts, and every night
we walked outside to watch stars flicker on
above the skyline, as if being unwanted
were a game we still played with skill and verve.
A year later, only my brother and I were unmarried,
so we moved back. The entire house reeked
of camphor and cloves, but we never found the heart
to clean it out. We lingered for hours in his bed,
long past the heat of morning.

III

Dogwood leaves piled up in my sister's bedroom.
I left the light on. She practiced a eulogy,
then retreated when the last electric gusts
left the screen door flapping on its hinges.
The vestibule brimmed with guests: relatives,
neighborhood kids, anonymous friends
who bore steaming, silver casserole dishes.
The whole wreck lit up like a chandelier.
The house, ecstatic, channeled heat
onto a yard thick with January snow,
and the local football team carried its sponsors
to another victory. Our grocery calendar
peeled away the next month's photograph.
It featured a cluster of cautious developers
amazed to see their subdivisions
teetering on the edge of an open fault line.

Within a week, we could see it wasn't working.
Money was running out, so we scattered ourselves
like stray marbles on the floor of the sunroom
we'd loved as children. Father's grandfather
had engineered it to gather light from every corner
of the backyard. Now that the last tree was gone,
sunlight flooded the room, giving the garden moles
a view of the gears behind the mole-blue sky.









The Storm in Air


As a child, I dreaded water. I could not swim, would not bathe alone, and enjoyed only
listening to my mother's lullabies, which I sang to myself after her death.

Singing in that voice reminded me of her hands, how they swooped
like gulls coasting an empty beach, hungry, unable to rest.

Years passed. Each morning I heard my father dress and assemble his machines.
Life grew quiet, and in the center of night, I scuttled between bedroom windows

to create friendships with rooftops, vacant markets, the layered foliage of town gardens.
My mother's record player, stuck on Wagner, faded, leaving only the books

to lie untouched beneath her bed, their spines' golden letters thrown on the wall
in overlapping patterns, like chips of sun bouncing from an antique chandelier.

I found a thunderstorm could still frighten me, its billowing vestment of clouds
vicious as ever, its quilts of rain bridging the distance between houses.

The delicate skyline would blur, melt, but not quite disappear,
and I wondered whether the towers, with their dressed brickwork,

would come into focus again. After she died, my mother did not return as I had hoped,
so I continued singing, letting my voice bear its sadness over the rooftops, reminded

of the conclusion to The Trial, when the two gentlemen escort K. to the killing field
and let him choose his own knife, as if, by doing him this small service, they

could apologize. I ran to the bedroom window: the world
was apologizing to me! The sky, towers, strangers: everything was apologizing to me!









An Insufficient Friend


Beyond the shallow lakes surrounding this town
lie walled cities, mansions of cedar gables.
They rise from books, from photos in the bedroom.
The pillows gather dust in the late morning light
that breaks through my kitchen windows. I know
this house the way you knew death: like a perfect number.

(The portico we owned-of cool, scalloped brick-
provided the best steps for smoking cloves
or watching girls in skirts and espadrilles
walk by as if shopping for penthouses. At times
they spoke to you.) Old men jawing at four-hour stretches
pause to scent the air, shuffling their dominoes.

Suddenly it's raining. The lakebed fills up,
unmoors the paddleboats from their mud dock.
This is our last day to rent a canoe, to create
an hour of silence for ourselves, and float
as if your diagnosis had been good. The chance
of that, you say, was imunih, ago. Remember?

Where are the cities of the previous age?
Where are the manuals for mourning them?
My grief, I have learned, is nothing special, the garden
of one museum like so many others, terraced, laborious.
Solicitude I expected, worry, not this bafflement.
A manual opens, its leaves empty, like you.















CHAPTER 2
BIOGRAPHIES









Holderlin Alone


His nails grew long, as if to track his madness.
It frightened the sane: the Tuibingen carpenter
who took him in, the pale and savage students
whose taunts he met by hurling shit and rocks,
the woman he loved, whose soft apologies fell
like sunlight from her window. When the poems
swelled his tongue, he would walk out to free them,
would don his tweeds and pace the Neckar River.
Mothers, bathing their children, paused to watch him,
the way he used small bits of wood or leather
as interlocutors for his tete-a-ii't,
with spirits, old professors, brothel girls.

The year that Hegel's Phenomenology
was finished, he ventured deeper than his friend
and broke the surface rarely, just to play
piano, or write consolatory letters
to his dead mother. Through his window, he
could hear the Neckar draining to the Rhine,
but could not follow it long enough to dispel
his own heartbeat, the voices booming within:
those barking, eloquent sirens of the Ich.









Sister du Rosier Writes to the Venerated Mothers of the Sacred Heart


1852

I. Havre to New York

These swells, I hear them say, are unusual,
too big for spring, and I think of Jonah
and his pride, then of jonquils casting shadows
in the abbey courtyard. I have learned something
of the dialect of sailors, enough to wonder
why they are not Christians, they talk so much
to each other of their sins.

The sea is always present, surrounding us
like a vision of His face. Sister Gisele has gone
four nights without sleep, for fear of drowning in bed.
I cannot comfort her. When compline ends,
I stand at the bow, my hands at the wet, wooden rail,
and imagine He has flooded the world again.

II. Barbacoa to Panama

These people-black as pitch, cutting our path
with dripping machetes-walk through the rain
as if their tiny idols were keeping them dry.
Our mules, then, must be cursed-only three are left.
The rest are dead, lost, or exchanged for passage
across the isthmus. Christ rode a mule-an ass-
through Jerusalem, where the bricks were dry
and palm fronds covered the dust of the street ...

Last night, we stopped for shelter at a farmhouse
crowded with goats. A black man barred the doorway.
I was tired, and hungry, and touched my stomach,
thinking of the Holy Virgin in her birth-pains,
whether, perhaps, the innkeepers had been lying.
A girl brought milk. Something had been arranged.
My dreams were filled with water and the faces of men.
The next morning, sunlight blazed from their machetes.









Polonius in Bed


They are such fragile instruments, the young.
They worship us for years-then they glimpse death
and bolt like hares, suspicious, crying foul.
That's January's gift-prognostication!
Consider Hamlet: brooding, oversexed,
stalking through Elsinore like someone's ghost,
wielding his rictus like a seamless mask ...
Yet I've seen dogs less scrutable than he.
He wants Ophelia. Denmark's haw, that winter
quilted in glassy ice, grows warm and glows
red at the tips. So Denmark's prince, whose choler
conceals a swollen flower in his chest-
between his legs, wherever blood is rising.

His humors are capricious, though-his mother
distracts him, and the shadow of his father.
He feigns a taste for politics. I hear him
at night, conjuring friends in empty rooms,
speaking of daggers. Playing with himself.
His juvenile methods-the headaches, sullen retreats-
will never deceive anyone but Ophelia.
He wants her? He shall have her. This director
is not too old to stage a proper match!
This father is not so doting to forget
his daughter's charm-her silhouette. Her scent.









After Death, Remembrance


Whose prayer is a palm at the small of her wrinkled back
cannot be guided elsewhere-she is stuck
motionless, save her breath on the bathroom mirror.
Outside: electric crosses in the yard, put there

years ago by a man staring from photographs.
Her small hand leaps to her mouth as she coughs.
The wedding, a dream of lace and white camellias,
lit by ellipses of damask armchairs, candles,

dampens her eyes like smoke from a snuffed wick.
Runnels of saline shroud her cataracts.
Comme ilfaut, the wedding dress was returned
to the seamstress, who cut the sleeves and married

that next year, feasted on gingered plums in bed.
Those dandelions that congregate at mid-
day, their habit of muscling in on the grass
under the crosses' low-wattage duress

sadden more than anger her, as if she'd been fooled
into buying flowers that were not asleep, but dead,
their heads clasped firmly like frail lockets. Inside,
the bathroom mirror transcribes her face. A vision
of him, she thinks, could be no more than this.









Evening and Morning, St. Lucy's Parish


I.

There is no love but this, the need to forget.
Warm with coffee, the township's few parishioners
gather their coats and weather the crunch
of frozen rain to celebrate midnight mass.
Inside, each cups a hand to shield his candle
snug in its paper drip-guard. A mural of beasts,

all gentle, flanks the pulpit: kneeling cattle,
red-mouthed lambs, a hen clawing symbols in the dust
behind the manger. Midway through the eucharist,
a shout: someone's daughter has slipped outside
and fractured her collarbone. The ambulance crawls
over the ice. Her father greets it with a curse.

II.

After bright dreams of her dead husband,
an old shut-in rises early, Christmas morning,
and heats a pan of water on the stove. Sleet whispers
against the window, shakes it, becomes the voice
of God around her. She opens the door, walks out
into the pearled glaze of His twilight and frost.

When they find her at sunrise, she is little more
than a blue nightgown in the snow. The evening mass
finds them more catholic in their concerns:
their memorials, funereal hymns. Their vigilant ushers
poised below the enormous painting of St. Sebastian
gazing up at heaven, his stomach thick with arrows.









The Rise and Fall of Christianity in Santa Fe


There they worked hard, carving the doors and chairs
from walnut, cedar. Knobs of hammered tin
lay in a box; the masons smoked outside;
the carpenters spoke like Christ, in fearless whispers.
When their son followed his instinct into the river,
they could believe in God, believe the current
that swallowed him was real, a fickle wind
that coughed him up two hundred yards downstream.

She turns and disappears. He drives three nails
into a loosening post, between whose rails
he sees the river dry, their sheep returning.
Her face is gone, remains gone, is replaced
by lamps, the finished home. He watches out
for what would cross the plain, at night, to wake him.









Lot with His Daughters


From Zoar, Lot can see the double tongues
of fire where Sodom and Gomorrah burn.
He watches, wonders if he shouldn't go back,
collect himself, retrace those panicked steps
back to the gates, that cold, abysmal bed
now glowing like a Canaanite in hell ...
Perhaps he'll see his wife along the way.

At night he wakes, and walks outside the tent
to watch the cattle, penned, upright in sleep.
The tongues of fire have turned to plumes of smoke
ascending, like an altar's hammered frame,
in damascene gold above the flaming wings.
The cattle-pale, dumb, twitching-begin to low
as if to protest this tardy wakefulness:
You bring the devil iih you when you come.

The plain unravels eastward. The sun is grazing
the topmost leaves of the heavy, knotted grapevines
that shoulder the beaten thoroughfare to Sodom.
This place is no Damascus. The die was cast
before his vagrant ancestors first drew breath.
He crawls into the tent, already exhausted.
His daughters, up since dawn, undo their braids.









Two Views of Christ With His Mother


I. Annunciation

I conceive myself: as one who will inherit His Father's house
and brush the plinths with a bleeding hand, who will hear the ancient
stone pillars snapping
like femurs beneath the oak rafters that stretch

to guard the pews' dusty velvet; as one whose mother
will, propped on hay bales, brace her contractions
with thin, ivory arms
and spread her legs to release me;

as myself. I enter her womb with a worshipful kiss
deep in the blue della Robbia chancel,
screened by white linens
against the cathedral's cool, sexless marble.

II. Pieta

Mary. Be nothing if not someone else-the reluctant muse
of another's midnight garden, the morbidity
that awakens prayer-
but be my receptacle, sculpted by the weight

of sunlight breaking, noiseless, through the ruined arcade
to send my body floating down to your arms,
its red gashes
chiseled out of my back. You see? I exist

only for you to hold me, as when I was a child
and dreamed a cathedral dark in a foreign square
where guilty creatures
wandered in, and were amazed to see death

below the vaulted arches, the cruciform house of God.
You cannot hold me forever. We shall stay like this-
I dead, you grieving-
until His saints arrive, and rebuild these walls around us.









Artist Painting a Lake at Dusk


Two pied-billed grebes, scissoring from the bank, disrupt the water's yellow sheet
of sunlight.
An egret snaps open its wings, alights on a branch. Behind it, a cluster of trees
becomes the backdrop
for a tiny chapel on the farthest bank, its square stained-glass windows casting rectangles
on the water,
checkering the surface like a tablecloth.

During the eighteenth century, those lush, delicious pastorals were rarely painted
by only one hand-
instead, one artist might paint the grass, the sky; another the skeletons
of trees, a third
the farmers on horseback, the dog at their feet. So to create a lake at dusk-
its water, chapel,
cypress knees and egrets, its textured light-would require the Carthaginian dynamo
of the Aeneid,
where "labor thrives and sweet thyme scents the honey."
Maybe
the artist today is painting the grebes, whose bills he carefully daubs with a meniscus
of glossy black,
to find they've vanished, like a pair of electrons, only visible in the coils of energy
they leave behind.

The lake looks blacker, deeper. A few people are leaning over the little bridge, gazing
down at their reflections,
and at the reflection of light from the blazing chapel, which is now too bright to look at
directly. Singing
is coming from the chapel, a Baptist hymn about soldiers with golden swords
and everlasting armor.
Though I suppose Aeneas, exhilarated as he must have been to crest the final hill and see
Carthage-
its bronze gates, its towering horsehead-was only driven to land there because
Troy had been burned to the ground.















CHAPTER 3
POEMS ABOUT WOMEN









Courtship


All afternoon, their vowels rose and fell.
She made a tiny cushion of her stomach,
and he undressed and graced it with his head.
The bedroom walls drew back and held their breath.
Outside, the world went on much as before.
A freighter shuttled over a blue canal;
the ice-caps quietly drifted from their poles.
A few dead mansions folded into bricks.
She kissed him lightly. He could taste her plans:
the slate-roofed house, the parsley-frosted garden.
Effortlessly, he saw his turn and took it
above her, a moving ceiling for her hands.
Outside, the world went on much as before.
The freighter paused, then crawled across the water.











Winter in Cambridge


New York was cold that year, its branches thin
as decorative iron, our onion bulbs
dusting the salad bowl with copper flakes.
She said that onionskin made her think of fire,
of wallpaper from her mother's empty bedroom.
In Cambridge, from a distance of five time zones,
I hold up the negative of a shot she took
of herself facing the camera in my clothes.

The oak leaves quilting Trinity and King's,
their corbeil gardens, shrink beneath the cold;
gesturing bobbies pause between shopfronts.
The town seizes itself. Her questions fall
like warnings from the phone-How wet is it?
Will I make friends?-for thirty minutes, until
she leaves for work. I picture Battery Park
breaking off into the Hudson, a fleet of children
crouched at the abrupt shore. I picture her
boarding a plane, the plane flying toward me,
her voice in this room, sudden and undeniable.









Watching for Deer


Behind the house, two elms divided the scurf
of grass from wild holly. We stamped our boots
at the yard's edge, to ward off the chill riding
lead-colored air. A cedar waxwing, then nothing,

then a faun the size of a small dog, mottles visible
only through your binoculars, profile frozen
against the tangled screen of woods, then gone,
your breath suspended as if you'd been unplugged

from a machine. I felt the epicenter shift
back under our feet, its shockwave ruffle the roots
and stop where the faun had disappeared. I saw
your neck tighten and release. The slate chimney

was smoking like a furnace when we turned back.
Through the bedroom curtain, I can hear the forest
contracting and expanding with the March hours:
the elms bud, forming shoots, and the house
falls from its frame like muscle from bone.









June and September, 1994


June

That day the roar of Corpus Christi beaches
muted us, months before the storm flew in,
I saw the terns flame out along the boardwalk,
white in the sun. The beach was scorching, empty,
so we hunted for shells-pursued the alluvial waves
like eager dogs, clawing the hapless foam-
and found three sand dollars the size of nickels.
We lined them on the sand like captured soldiers
and cocked our thumbs, and made demands.

September

A skein of worsted spins between your hands,
spooling onto the floor. The yellow threads
tremble until you snip them-Atropos
making a sweater for her sister's baby.
Your eyes are blank: your fingers lack that grace
your mother knitted with, though these are things
that only mothers do well. I walk outside
without a jacket, dark against the frost.
A clock inside my chest goes off.

June

The terns, on skyhooks, swung above the surf.
Nonviolent now, you retreated to our room.
I found you later, underneath the bed,
the hair about your face like a Madonna,
as if you were declining the invitation
to carry Christ. A cloudbank veered to the east.
The bedroom windows rattled in their frames,
and I crept out to swim, forgetting the tide
was high, and that you wouldn't follow me in.

September

Mosquitoes decorate the front screen-door;
a small fire dies outside; you move behind me.
The sweater hangs-unfinished-on a chair.
Further inside, the white, clawfoot bathtub
steams like a hot spring, calling you home.
Once, you earned praise from me by standing still,






28


the praise that hooked my eyes to your marble heel
from beach to beach-a map, a dynasty.









The Sister Farm


Fog surges toward the pasture fence
whose crossed stakes are buried
in espaliers of red Virginia creeper.
Farm equipment rises from the pond
like a sentry, overlooking the fairway
with mirrored blades. He, from the porch,
stares back at the unblinking sunrise,
the dying farm, both parents finally gone.

Everything is his sister and her love.
Honeybees, the memory of bicycles in a foyer,
of green carpet in a hallway splitting
into two bedrooms, of cereal bowls.
Bruises on her ankle glint from a pecan tree-
her breath escapes from cracked nutshells.

His eyes reverse the paysage: a mirror
flipped, a sudden self-portrait on acres
spread past him. Her absent body wakens his
like a key turning an engine. A lace
of rabbitholes at the farm's periphery
begins to creep in, water lapping the rim of a well
whose windlass clings like a stubborn bat.









Two Trees


This is how I remember being young:
getting warm by opening the oven.
During my twelfth December, freezing rain
glazed the grass. Each night, thin fingers
reached from a stand of maple trees to the lawn,
as if they'd found some haven there.
My father, then, came home one day
to work for hours on our spruce.
That night, I peered from behind the dormer
like the flu-stricken child I was, to see
the spruce ablaze with the sulphur lattice
of Christmas lights my father had wound.

That was a time and now is the time of us.
We have a garden, a mud room, small drawers
for scissors and other utensils. Our tree, instead
of spruce-the one that remained
after the waterfront lots had been bulldozed
and a beautiful new institute built over them-
is cherry. Now, even the institute is old.
High-school friends are always surprised
to see us still here.
You kiss me like an indecisive sylph.
The cherry tree is never lit, and never fails
to blossom, white, unvarying, year after year.









The Dark Building


We stood on the plateau and spoke of hell:
if it existed, and which of our friends would go.
The sun bounced off your skin, as if from glass,
until you bent down to put on your clothes again

or the sun set-I don't remember which.
But night had come, because the plateau's edge
merged with the sky, and the thin, grassless path
that led to my father's car had disappeared.

I needed a negative-something to return
the inks to silvers, shadows to their forms,
to rinse the surface clean-so I undressed
to give us light, although you made it strange

by mimicking me. I found the path before you,
and under the pine needles, walked myself back
beside you. Today, you won't be escorted, touched
except in emergencies. All the bolts are thrown

in your mind's house, where you suffer my hands
to map its rooms. Remembering what of theology
proved unimportant, I probe the papered walls
for cracks, or taped-up photographs: an exit.









Early Memory of My Mother, Amarillo


The kitchen sink, chairs, yellow drawers
surround my mother, deep in her designs
for men and clothing. Lace rests on a board.

Her son approaches through the tunnel
of the hallway, calls out like a disciple
in the tumultuous grip of the sea.

They find in each other difficulties gone,
the lightbulbs switching on, two wooden chairs
marching neatly around the dinner table.

The curtain falls; someone is sweeping. In Texas
they eat beef with a bowl ofjalapenos.
She might, in ten years, catch a lung disease.

Midnight, pillows light the room,
framing their heads. Never further from rest,
she feels how young he is, still, and untouched.









Two Emergencies


The Nissan, guided by a sleeping driver,
drove through the bedroom wall that shielded my brother.
Its engine paused, like a koan, then ignited
as if the silence had forced it to a decision.

My brother woke and slept, and woke to rooms
of sky-blue, sea-foam, lemon, albumen white
and saw the eye of emergency had passed him by
for others-the sleeping woman who drove the car,
and then my mother. We did not hear of it
for weeks, until, gripping her chrome walker
to keep from doubling over, she called the police.
It was a burst appendix. Prompted by dread,
I brought her hyacinths in a frosted vase
and entered the hospital chapel, where twin statuettes
of the Virgin Mary presided over the stillness.
They seemed, perched on their columns, to ask for nothing;
they seemed like birds. Bewildered, I remained mute,
kneeling on the hassock, as if to speak
might wake them and steal volition from my mother.









Night of My Mother Laughing


My parents take turns balancing on their knees
the girl who, bedtime stalled to celebrate
her mother's hugely swelling (again!) stomach,
suddenly swats at those tiny, kicking feet

so cruelly that my father sends her to bed.
A few minutes later, she has come back down
for nothing, a glass of water, a question.
My father sends her back up with an answer.

This is the Friday night my parents have watched
approach for weeks, with the music and conversation
that, lately, takes a little while to begin ...
"She'll have to grow up. She can't stay three forever,"

my father says. He's just turned twenty-five.
They watch each other, as in a silent film
that wants no more than for its stars to be happy
or self-assured, the Subaru paid off,

the house replete with bookshelves and a heater
that evenly warms each room. The bricks are white,
the kitchen smells like flour-though my father's
rubber shoes are gray, like the woolen pants

he wears to rags and slaughters with an iron.
The baby kicks again, hard, with both feet,
and my mother laughs like her daughter, clear and high-
or like Persephone, returning to Demeter.









For My Sister on Her Birthday


Here, the winter sky is detailed as a stone.
Pecan trees, hung with crooked, vacant shells,
twinkle like candelabras, their blackened trunks
rigid against twilight's loose, expanding ceiling.

Visitors pass below the Japanese lanterns
your husband strung to mimic a promenade
to the front door. Inside, the house is warm
and dim, as if lit by a pink cigarette lighter.

You tuck your childhood into the armoire
and introduce yourself: the Hostess. Your friends
laugh, but they are dumb and harmless, excitable
only in Death, to whom you are still faultless.

This absence does not fault your architecture. You
are a Corinthian column with bone-deep flutes;
I am acanthus, watching the thunderstorms pause
and blow over, the gables rinsed with rain.

Already, days have passed since I've seen you.
Like these, your latest company will pass
to leave you here, solitary, leaning
against the kitchen counter in your sundress.









Carousel


The Pacific Ocean shone like a waxed floor
and disappeared behind the shouldered dunes.
My childhood carried on elsewhere: I learned
to read, almost drowned in a neighbor's pool,
was bitten by insects, studied constellations ...

Years later, I would read Ibsen and picture myself
as Oswald, motionless in a kitchen chair,
my mother orbiting like a hummingbird.
She came up to the city, once, and I showed her
the terraced Guggenheim, the sober Frick,
the Central Park carousel, its horses turning
in unison. We spoke of the ones suspended
nearest the sweeping edge, and when it slowed
we walked away holding hands like a married couple,
but said little, because she had gotten sick.
She was so small. I could carry her, if I wanted.















CHAPTER 4
DEATH POEMS









Leslie


You were my first, and most familiar, death.
My young legs froze at the paralyzing news,
yet I walked on, out of the waiting room
and into the parking lot, where breakers filled
the mouth of a dark lagoon, and gentle nurses
distributed nectarines from a wicker basket.
I saw you were not dead, but merely asleep
among the driftwood and rocks, and I woke you up.
You told me, "See? The prologue is almost over."
And we walked back to the parking lot together
until the music began, an invisible storm
flooding the distance between my ears and legs,
rocking their fluids. As if in a dream, I rose
to meet the steady parade of relatives.

Do you remember that afternoon, the one
you were born and died in? Faces, scents,
a sudden room the size of a backyard?
I remember that someone apologized
and everyone left. Yes-I remember leaving.









Death of My Father: The Daybed


After my grandfather died, my mother began
to sleep in my grandmother's house, though our own
was only half a mile away. As he was dying,
he allowed my father to tape some interviews,
to ask him about the army, the Oklahoma dairy farm.
He lay under a window on his daybed, smelling
like medicine, the sun falling in thick, yellow bars
over the hospital blankets. We would eat lunch
around a card table, hearing my grandmother read
Jonathan Edwards' sermons to him in the bedroom.

The day before he died, my mother sent me back
to our house for a sweater, or pills-it was June
and very hot, too bright to look at the sky for long,
and everything, even my mother's gauntlet
of lilies fronting the walk, was glazed by a film
of heavy sun. Inside, I switched on the lights,
and the cool, black living room lit up:
our leather couch, chairs, my father's antique clocks.

Then my grandfather's daybed materialized
from a dark corner behind the mahogany hutch,
glowing like a slab of solid flourescent light.
I was surprised, not by its being there,
but by the realization that I was waiting
to be blinded by it.
Everything else was the same.
I turned back to my grandmother's,
having forgotten whatever I'd been sent for.

That was years ago. Now, my father is finally dying.
When I went home to see him, the nurses had moved
his hospital bed to the center of the living room,
where he, before he sickened, had cut
a skylight into the vaulted roof, to let in the sun.









Death of Cordell Green


Cordell, the window lifts its eye
to the peony espaliers and the house next door.
Shadows drift across the lawn.
A pink-shuttered playhouse downtown
is gathering dust in your afternoon dream.

You, in spring, lacking the straight man's reflex
for self-denial, drove west down the escarpment
from Lubbock to Post, to the oil-tongued ranch hands
and all those slender, greenhorn cowboys
flashing their studded steel and leather vests.

Your vision of Italy, fueled by gold paint, faux
gold leaf, summoned you to a stucco courtyard
invisible before. The fountain sputtered and dried.
As your eyes closed, a few acquaintances
were strolling into your line of sight.

You have been dead these five weeks.
I realize, picking through the cotton stubble,
that my obligations to you are gone as well,
my promises to fly with you to Venice.
In a small studio, no one begins your portrait.









Death of My Grandmother


An open cherrywood casket lined with silk
commands the room, my grandmother's body inside.
Outside, my sister bends to pick a daisy.
The wind collects the skirt about her knees.

Watching her, I remember the morning after
another death-a cousin's-decades ago.
I was no more than seven. She was ten,
and we ate breakfast alone in the sunroom, while
our parents shopped for boutonnieres and headstones.

The funeral is today. My brothers and I
will open it with a hymn, our scratchy throats
nestled in collars and too-familiar skin.
The hearse will slip through traffic like an eel;
the casket, given a hole, will fall inside.

A few explosive daisies, pressed and framed,
stare from the wall. Outside, compact with roots,
the yard shudders under its veil of leaves,
caught in the quiet convergence of my eye
with what is passing delicately from it:
my sister, married, her children strange and bright.















CHAPTER 5
MITOSIS









Mitosis


I. Prophase

Something has changed. The old, beloved vestiges
no longer inject our eyes with color. Flickering worries
reach into the night and stir up forgotten hives,
lengthen the hours below the cumulonimbus
that threatens this morning's projected peace.
We may dress each other and glide from the house,
yet more space has grown between everyone's gestures,
like a rain or frost that lies for years in the attic
before it drops like a hawk on the sugar maples.
A threshold has been crossed, a method
of hearing the clocks, the clinking lamps we wake to.

Civil wars, for example, are methodical: the tedious climb,
slippery with blood, to the climax on the precipice,
the quick drop in pressure. .. Yet certainty
is as exotic here as death. The perfumed bodies
of newborns burst into sinews overnight;
the suburbs overflow. To prepare for departure
means admitting that your well-oiled machines
did not prove sufficient. Nor could you withstand
those fountains and sunlit plazas turning to powder
during last weekend's vacation, our forays
through the leafy courtyards of boarded-up houses.


II. Metaphase

Don't you feel that I want to tell you something
important? About winter, aging, the serene and industrious
cattle grazing freely in our neighbor's front yard?
Solitary lamps gaze from their translucent posts,
and everyone else seems recently dead, obscured
by the plashing, steaming roar of this double intimacy
filling the cast-iron bathtub. I would write more letters
if your address were still inked on my calendar,
but today I merely wandered from room to room
as if I had woken into a dream of lying in bed
listening to you catch the last expatriate's train.

Remember when we could be sure? When one lung
was enough to keep us breathing for weeks at a time?
Somehow the entire process accelerated too quickly-









fractures appeared on the globe. The adults never came
to dilate the aperture and reveal those rugged canyons
as only creases that shaded a young girl's neck
as she turned to brush her hair at the bathroom mirror.
We fixed the house ourselves. It was morning again,
and the automatic plows were seeding their fields
with legumes and sleek root-vegetables. The outdoor markets
remained shuttered. I remember precisely that August day
your family's orchard fell sleepily into the pond.


III. Anaphase

Before I go to bed, I concentrate on being pulled
toward the clouds lying past these blackened windows,
out where the town's bridges are spread on the water
like delicate insects. I splash my old wounds
with peroxide, but fresh ones keep cropping up.
I shred photographs at breakfast, or peer
through the wrong end of binoculars, watch the room
recede, chuckle like a lama tuning in to nirvana
with a wink of his third eye. Afternoons, I force myself
to stand completely still, to study the hardwood floor,
its grains shifting, spelling hello in no one's language.

The question is whether anything here is capable
of seeing anything else: a menagerie of animals
stands at the far end of the lawn, signaling for help.
Buildings slip behind the horizon as your lens retreats.
It's impossible to verify, from this vantage point,
whether those objects even move: the mountain range,
the tiny cups of lukewarm milk you used to drink,
your confident eyes traversing me with the speed
of tectonic plates-as if, when you woke, I would be there
forever, hanging up dress shirts one by one,
or still in bed, my eyes quivering under their lids.


IV. Telophase

There are theories about the origin of the universe
that begin this way: the water pipes bursting,
the house falling into halves, like a split peach.
Small irregularities come into focus, become visible
as if through the barrel of a kaleidoscope,
its plastic shards revolving like a troupe









of synchronized swimmers. Two enormous hands
detach from their wrists and begin to contract,
and the boy in school who used to cut himself
suddenly appears after years of mysterious inactivity
with a metal cane and a daughter of average beauty.

If ever we earn a frontispiece, it will not be
because our generation triggered new methods,
but that it learned to revive itself in the aftermath.
None of our neighbors would listen, so we carved
new doors out of existing walls, built weapons
for the younger recruits. Then I remember waking
to the same household objects, only to find
they were finally talking to me, even the hydrangea
wallpaper. Milk bottles were cooling in the sun.
Dawn broke, and I knew the slaughterhouse
would be gone-sure enough, only pale weeds
remained, the lone delivery van. No one misspoke.
A few families vanished in the first eclipse.















CHAPTER 6
AFTERMATHS









The Long Parade


The long parade is over. Now we can sleep in separate bedrooms again,
listening for the thunder to break over our heads. Instead we hear
sparrows twittering in the yellow-leaved birches. Our foreign neighbors
are finally moving back in! Their big crates of blue dishes and vintage French dolls
are like a reunion with the neighborhood's history, as if a stray galleon,
straggling in from last years's armada, had run aground
in our flowerbeds. No one feels left out, and the iron grillework sparkles
with each ring of the telephone.

In the aftermath, we forget to mail the thank-you notes. What a surprise
to find bits of decay flaking from our heels, shooing us out of the house
and into the height of afternoon. The sidewalks, filled with tourists,
are galloping into the vanishing point. It's summer at last: khaki-clad families
crisscross the pavement, buying orange ices and donkey rides for their children.
Some babies are still stiff from hibernating,
but the bouyant weather has us all planning our two-week vacations at last.

A few dogs cock their heads in a vacant lot. This week is endless, punctuated
by homemade meals, the crispest evenings. We encourage each other
to live generously, send gifts, candy for every occasion, because the guest rooms
are open year-round, and the girl with the tray of peppermints always says Yes.
Seas of blue spruce and Scotch pine surround us like a fable,
while the amateur sculptors hoist their chisels to the workshop's applause:
what's next for our town? Who can imagine the most splendid figurine?
We remember how the procession began: brass horns puffing
a Sousa march, horses, dancers, throngs of floats passing out of earshot,
the abrupt and lingering shudder of a cymbal. Tomorrow, after the men
sweep up the ticker tape, we'll have breakfast on the patio.
A calm before the longer, more beautiful parade.









Twilight, Prairie


The everlasting pilgrimage is dead, and I go with it.
For whose sake
did I not thread my fingers
through the spokes of the figured wheel? Or lean
my grandfather's scythe
into my stomach, tasting its metal?
I suffer my family grain to fall
on rocky ground,
for I am the end of the line.

My hip-socket-black, well-loved by God-
has crossed the torn and blasted railyards
of Abilene, of Amarillo where I lived as a child
and played below the strata of mica
straining to gaze on heaven.
Driving, I pass the poppies
of blurred childhood, fragmented skylines,
of distant cousins
nameless in memory's milky frame,
their vaporous summer holidays,
their oval mirrors and marble houses.

I am never alone: I trust the black-eyed pea
and buffalo grass between the teeth
of rusting gears behind my father's house,
the wounded mobile home
no longer beautiful
beside the barbed-wire fences and bruised roads.
These I have etched, a thorn to my palm, harvesting
rows of cotton
like the cloudy cells of veins
measuring the forearm. Bloodless now,
I fill myself with wine instead, and lie
in my grandmother's flower garden,
cushioned by clover and jimson-weed, unfolding
according to my season.

I remember
children planted in dead land.
I remember the hour
they pushed through the topsoil, their feet
deep underground. I watered them. I came
to wrestle a hundred sins,
to drown a thousand glittering sorrows






49


spread like scales of fish among the sand
by the gulf shoals of silt-gray estuaries,
where I once lay weeping to recollect
the silence of winter brushwood,
the steaming salt licks that cover the inland plains.









Burying Protest in the Age of Cassandras


Those he amazed or disappointed could not
prove him dishonest, or those who mattered less
would not have risen and thrown handfuls of mud
at him and his acolytes. With a paper scepter,
he crowded the lions into their dusty pen,
declared himself illegal. There were women
receptive to him; his rough, white tongue
brought children to the table, which was oak
but rotting. We convened at dawn,
trudged out to the yard, and began to speak.

Thrilling! To know that, among the ferns and ilex,
the next revolution waited! Meanwhile, he
crept away in the bloom of our morning glories,
while more desperate teenagers fled his house,
unimpressed by the banquet. Sunday followed
with a softball tournament, and trophies;
Sunday was silent, long and effervescent.
The Concorde landed and spat out the exchange students,
and hushes fell on all but the deaf, who cried.

Out of the grief and confusion, he returned,
and introduced us to healthier ways of living.
"This way," he said, "whenever people wake,
they're nearly immersed in color." The color white,
one girl suggested, wasn't a color at all,
but a perfect mixture! Sadly, no one heard.









Descending, Descending


I stepped out from the balcony's shadow
and gathered my overcoat more tightly around me.
Red dust clung to the Arizona hills.

Cars lay scattered beside the hotel like insects.
A few lilacs still slept in their crystal bezel.

The modem already chirped
indignantly from its wire-fretted slot. I walked
stairward as the noises grew .... Sunlight filled the hallway.

The descent was long, yet startling as a bell
rung right at the ear, the stairway white, its carpets
unraveling. My bare feet sank down into them.

A radio program filtered from a door. "What use
is science," the caller mused, "when thousands
are searching only for love?" The landings were empty,

the lobby unattainable. Glaciers, they say,
calve most in summer, sending their little icebergs
out to melt. It felt, too, as if I were being sent,

though nothing pronounced itself in the fashionable air.
And where had the banisters gone? Ceilings piled above me.

A man in the newspaper once said, "It was all a dream,
my wife never appeared to me in that costume."
I remembered that story even as I descended

and landed in the room of someone who loved me.
She said, "I have been looking for you, and you
surprised me." Behind her, the windows looked away.









The Big Sleep

I

In the house that no one sleeps in,
a girl with a waterfall of blonde hair
lets a yellow kimono slip
from her bare shoulders,
pulls it back on, lets it slip
off again. The silk
never quite hits the floor.
Her smile is a klieg light.

Her lace choker
is embroidered with little bells.
She closes her eyes,
as if to remind herself
that the man taking photos
is merely her vehicle.
The heat of her eyelids
puts her to sleep, the kimono
in mid-descent. It may be
her best position yet.

II

Doesn't it always happen that way?
Don't you always fall asleep
in your best outfit,
the thin, hand-sewn herringbone,
the Empire dress with the plum
tatting? You think to yourself,
That brandy and milk
could've been warmer,
but you know it was perfect.
The doorbell has been ringing
for a week. Children press
their faces to the window.
You hear voices outside the door,
so you answer, but it's only
a cluster of fruit baskets staring
up from the welcome mat.
A girl in your mind keeps halfway
stepping out of a black peignoir.
You wink at her like a thirsty shutter.
Someone must really love me,
you think. And yes-someone always does.









Ten Eschatological Vignettes


1.
With no way of knowing how we arrived,
we cut our shelter from the pink rock of a canyon.
It was inevitable. Though clouds lit up the night,
and bread littered the ground the next day, it happened
so suddenly: like lightning, a colossal failure of vision
as we prayed for the next images to take their places.

2.
The melody reiterated itself through horns, winds,
and finally a piccolo, which freshened the perspective
before it set us down in the feverish village market.
Shirts! Necklaces! Balms cluttered in frosted vials
above the miniature wooden scales, and we
were calling as if through the noise of a hundred years.

3.
Another catastrophe, around the same time,
had been occurring, the reign of a merciless tyrant
raised by money. You askedfor it, he growled, and shot
out a chandelier as his cameraman panned the wreckage.
Two hours earlier, the judge had passed a few new laws
that no one would honor, let alone those facing death.

4.
So a new creation myth began, involving two kneecaps
that divided the first populations equally between them.
A stand of birch, however, would not be separated,
its caramel ring of trunks glossy in the August light.
An ouzel darted among them before settling
sphinxlike on a small, humble bough.

5.
Wind pummeled the Venetian blinds. Inside the cottage,
we discussed tunneling out a network of exits
in case the neighbors became jealous. It was possible
only in that quivering frame of reference we all shared.
Spring opened with rains of reconciliation,
but all we returned to was the stillness of an oven.


6.
We woke to hailstones lashing the kitchen windows,
our tete-'t-iie,\ boiling down to simple reflex.









Whether the hurricane had taken so many lives
as to send us daily to the hospitals
remained debatable. Brighter commercials rose
from the ashes of the long businessmen's war.

7.
Our children started answering questions correctly.
The mountain range, which had formed the backdrop
to our lives for so many years, started shrinking
without a word. The wind picked up again. Apricot cobblers
swept that season's coveted blue ribbons, while country girls
sold wagonloads of kittens along the boulevard.

8.
Yet our fallout shelters were not, were never cool enough!
Each block party, having climbed to a giddy apex,
fell apart like a matchstick cathedral! That is, until a boy
about my son's age fell into a forgotten mineshaft
and rediscovered a mosaic of smooth stone tunnels.
The scientists grinned: their intelligence tests had been right.

9.
No one could have predicted the neighborhood
murderer's confession: two golden retrievers and a dream
of hearing our suburb's nameless oxides singing.
Phalanx of Canada geese overhead; fruit in the orchards.
Autumn blew in, a wildfire of swirling foliage.
None of us could remember what happened the day before.

10.
Truly, that weekend was nothing less than mythological.
The pets ran loose; the kids governed for a brief afternoon,
and we neglected nothing. We greeted each other with rhymes
and jettisoned the fieldhands who had not already gone.
How the thermometers fell in soft patterns those holidays!
Holidays where to laugh was so much better than talking.









Appalachian Diurnal


When ;/h,,h draw near, or happen, we perceive
ii ill,, of them. Except what others bring us
we have no news of those who are alive. Dante, Inferno X.

Shade-dampened leaves
snow down on the forest floor. Beyond the wood's wet brake, the strangler fig coiling
like a trellised tentacle,
a town lies level on a plain of palmetto and furze.
Its people walk
to the cadence of hymnals. Its streets are delicate as the glass valves of its factories.
At night, its parks
thicken with dandelion and sprays of false morel.

These people are civil:
coins fall from their hands in thick showers. They celebrate winter; they write
biographies of dead ancestors;
they harvest ice from the half-frozen ponds, which catch each morning's sunlight
as if the eyes of Argus
were opening onto the dawn. The town, stubborn, clings to its plain like a barnacle:
the storm sweeps in
with its million-fingered waves, but even the tenements stand fast as stones.
The weapons are clean
and locked in the armory; the trophy heads are neatly piked in the campo.

I face the gashed forest
across its sea of furze. A few yellow rails break between us, their wings flashing
like tiny silk chasubles.
The factories' smoke has filtered the sun to an orange wafer. If the sky is anything,
it is a kind of forgetting,
a way of erasing the twisted roots. They grow everywhere: a handful of soil finds them
knotted, like hair, in every direction,
sprawling and churning, claiming the ground as their destination.









The Art of War


When he left me for the spears and camp-tents,
when he strode from the garden like a man in love,
I watched and stood silent until he disappeared
into the dust and noise of his father's regiment.

Wasps in the wasp-trap clatter at midday.
Here, past the brittle kitchen windows,
the soldiers, swaddled in cloaks as though sleeping,
file below the sunlight on pale donkeys.

Lying in bed, I could hear the potpourri's rustle
in the glass globe i/ ith the hole at the top
and smoke twitching inside, the parade of herbs
assailing the room like incense for the dead

Sliced apples and coffee are brought, as if breakfast
were only a matter of rising to the occasion,
nodding affection to those nearby: cousins,
grandparents. Helicopters glide like flies overhead.

I had arranged my dresses according to their cut:
the sleeve's angle, the neckline's scoop and trim.
I opened the wardrobe door. A snow of nmith
shook thin e,1e v \from the dappled dressing-tree.

Our weekly visits to our ancestors' gravestones
are battered by rain and autumn's frozen mud.
The steel train races on along the hill, and those
passengers who cannot sleep share newspapers.

Ignorant of the scars he left on those women
who waited, negligeed, in their doorways' soft light,
he returned ilthi,,t a voice. He offered me nothing
but elaborate gestures, the stills of arabesques.

Everywhere, the smell of burning clothes. Crowds
circle the perimeters of winter solstice fires.
Beside the bed, our radiator keeps ticking, lulling us
to an uneasy sleep. The art of survival goes on outside.









The Tests Are Sometimes Wrong


From your house, Proust's unforgiving knot of salons
is so much silk thread, toilet water, cattleyas
gathering dust on a nightstand: here, the greed
is under control. The beveled bay windows
peer across the street at other windows,
reaching beyond the peering as a measurement,
distilling the beautiful from not.
You see the neighborhood clearly, as in a painting
by someone, perhaps, distinctively American,
Whistler or Winslow Homer, a practiced
restraint peculiar to the descendants of Puritans:
a stroke of tough, impeccable lightning
piercing the lawn that runs from an open door,
and, inside, an overalled child gnawing
the leg of a table. The andiron's dead weight
is merely a black blotch. You have an idea
of the pure, godless light these details cast,
and thick and fast as the critical questions arrive,
you answer them all, and sometimes magnificently.

Chiaroscuro of leaves on a living-room wall,
the remnants of a party thrown last night
to celebrate your achievement in the arts.
A man in shirtsleeves rises from the sofa
and helps you to your chair. His hands seem
tremendous as he moves across the room.
Whatever happens now, you must not forget
to thank him, to pretend the world you inherited
had done all it could to protect you. .. My eyes
snapped open. Where was I? Tubes and monitors
were attached to me. They also placed a blanket
around your knees and watched as you wheeled yourself
past the ventilation fans, down a shallow hill
to that house you always wanted for someone else.















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Matthew Ladd was born in Culver City, California, and spent most of his youth in

Texas. He has received degrees from Texas Tech University, the University of

Cambridge, and, most recently, the University of Florida. His poems have been

published in such journals as The Paris Review, FENCE, West Branch, and Passages

North.