from Hard Facts (1998)
A Field Near Eden
My neighbor's worried about losing
His cows. Not to the heat
Or to the lack of rain. He has plenty
Of water for them to drink and enough
Salt to lick. But they're still dying.
He's had to haul them off with a wrecker,
3100 pounds of them. Worse,
They were all pregnant, all ten,
Their sweet white faces staring
Into the rank sun as if they could
Lick it with the tips of their luxurious
Pink tongues and make themselves well.
My neighbor thinks they were poisoned;
He wants to have the salt tested.
I mutter a few kind
Well-meaning words and though we know
My words won't bring back his cows,
He thanks me for the intent of my words--
To clothe his loss in some form we can
Recognize if not as yet understand.
Long after my neighbor returns
To his other chores I stare at the outlines
The cows have left in the grass.
The outlines are the shape of my grief--
Ten indiscriminate shapes slowly turning
Into grass in a field heavy with grass,
A field that forgives my insistent yearning.
You may think it's the knock
On the door, the voice saying
Pay up, or we'll fit you
With Sakrete shoes and drop
You in Honey Island Swamp.
It might be cracked
Brake drums as
You're driving the Blue Ridge Parkway,
Near Little Switzerland,
Say, or Blowing Rock.
Or it could be losing
Your mind, going berserk
In a Texas chainsaw debacle
That starts with your wife and ends
Maybe it's waking up
In a strange room and not knowing
How you got there or who the woman
In the bed is or how you got,
As you look in the TV,
A black eye and your face cut.
I say it's Beirce
Writing to his wife
And riding off with Pancho Villa.
Adios, good-bye, you devils.
The Salvage Diver
In the Marquesas Keys,
He brings up gold coins
From the Arroyo, wrecked in 1620.
He brings up silver bars
That weigh sixty pounds each,
A cross with emeralds large as eyes,
A ruby stickpin that must have been
Meant for the Queen of Spain, a dagger
That must have belonged to a gentleman
Who wore doublet and hose made of silk.
Twenty bronze cannon he brings up
That may have been cast the same time
King James was rewriting the Bible.
When I touch the gold coins,
He hopes I'll see the Aztecs
Who mined the gold in Mexico.
He hopes I'll see
The harbor master who watched the Arroyo
As if left Vera Cruz
Under full sail and a blue sky.
He even hopes I'll see
The Spanish genteleman who cast
His dagger into the hurricane's
Ruby eye and followed the priest
As he gripped the cross
Into the silver bottom of the Gulf,
The blue weight of time.
The Multiplying Man
He must be part rabbit and part angel.
I see him everywhere.
He hovers around the cabbage and lettuce
At Food World, eats ribs at Dreamland,
Listens to Bach at the Bama Theatre.
I see so much of him I wonder
If there's been a population explosion
In heaven and the angels
Have migrated to Tuscaloosa.
When he moves across the street from me,
I consider writing Congress
About changing the immigration laws.
When he eats all the tomatoes,
Squash, cabbage, and lettuce
In my garden, I become desperate.
I put out poison, I set traps,
I get my gun and try
To shoot him in the act of eating
My few remaining broccoli.
While I sleep, he eats my arms and legs.
I grow wings, I take off my body,
I become an angel. I say,
I'm going to heaven where I'll be safe.
I'll sleep in a rosewood bed
Decorated with pomegranates and figs.
I, not he,
Will be fruitful and multiply.
In Louisiana, Late December, Thinking of Saint Augustine
Outside the gates the Visigoths clamor
For booty. Augustine, unmoved, works on.
The earthly city has no charm
For him since it distracts him
From the truth. He has finished
His seminal work and he endures
What life presents as penance
For his misspent youth and as a measure
Of his devotion to doing right
In the sight and sound of God.
God is not in the thunder, he'd say,
God is the thunder. I believe him,
For listening to the rain in this low swamp,
In late December, I believe the lake
May rush in or the tide may pull me out,
But the renovation of this house
Will continue. As for me I do my work.
I weigh my options. I consider consequences,
I make my plans. And I shore up,
Like Augustine, whatever I can.
Sherlock Holmes in America
We need someone like you, Holmes,
To help us out of our misery, to find
Our missing children, our absent families.
Before you could help us, though,
You'd have to kick your cocaine habit.
INS won't let you into the country
Until you say no or spend time
In a rehab clinic. As for smoking,
Forget it. Let's hope
You don't have any three-pipe crimes.
Let's hope the actors' guild won't demand
You get an equity card before you use
A disguise. And do you suppose
The courts would require you to issue
A Holmes warning before you took
A case or captured a criminal?
No doubt you'd rather stay
On Baker Street, with slow but reliable
Watson and dependable Mrs. Hudson.
Even blundering Lestrade has,
I suppose, his moments. Our crimes are such
Seedy little things; we have no Moriarty
To mastermind our mayhem. Teach us to enter,
As you do, the mind of the criminal,
To find our missing children,
To recover our lost families, as we enter
The dark, familiar ground of ourselves.
This time of year the clouds are fists
That jab with heat,
Driving me to
The shade a mimosa provides.
Under its canopy I am
The sun and I take
A welcome break from cutting grass.
I do not rest here long.
The building heat,
The low thunder
Spur me to finish before it rains.
No traveler on the silk road to China,
Hurrying to his
Next stop, his eyes
Fixed on the approaching storm,
His mind focused on each step,
Each turning of
Moved quicker than I do
To cover distance and find shelter.
Caught in the open,
I am exposed to rain and prayer:
A blossom at the bone.
I drive west on Highway 80
From Montgomery to Selma.
The branches of the oaks under
Which I pass clap and urge me on.
Marchers on that Sunday years
Ago and their ancestors
Do the same. Indians
Stomp their feet along this trail;
They cheer and raise their voices
In song. The Great Forest sighs
As the river unfolds its
Long frame, stretches, then resumes
Its running to a far shore--
Scrub pine, white sand, blue water.
A History of the Natural World
A deer and two fawns clustered
on the shoulder of I-85. They kept
Outside my headlights' stare.
They were nervous and afraid,
Unsure whether to turn around,
Rush into the dakness behind them,
Or chance the cross hairs
Of light before them.
Their warm breath sent signals
Into the night. I stopped
My car and walked toward them,
Hoping they wouldn't scare.
They bolted--the deer and one fawn
Into the safety of Tuskegee Forest,
The other fawn into a pickup
Whose taillights winked and dipped
Into the distance. I pulled
The warm carcass off the road,
Laid it gently in the wet grass,
Wiped its blood on my forehead.
I did not eat that fawn.
I did not ask for forgiveness.
In a few days I came back,
Planted a cross, drove slowly home.