Pélican Dans Sa Piété
Had you never been with me,
I wouldn’t hold your absence now—
Had there never been a cord,
I wouldn’t have this scar, would I—
Maybe it was the whirlwind of your blood,
the amniotic undertow that had me so blazéd.
For you it must have felt
as if flesh were being plucked away…
A drift line, a double
heartbeat, a kerchief of hair—
In secret Betsy baptized me
into this strange sinful gulf.
I know this much:
Water is oak brown or steel gray
or so clear you see your nail beds
dipping in the fount. I’ve seen it rise in ditches
or lap over levees or shank down
from the sky. It hems me in
like a country club towel.
What should I have grown up on, love?
[For this poem, link to The New Yorker.]
[Below: the artist book by Michele Burgess
inspired by "The Diener."]
Double Effect: December 31
it is natural to everything to keep itself in “being,” in as far as possible.
the bridge closes behind you
in closing to you
it opens to me, a foreseeable
but unintended consequence
of your passing
the one-armed tender, drunk
and mending nets
will wave me through
Year-I-Almost-Died, I pass you
one day I’ll forget who you are
Down the bayou
I make the veillé
turn down a shell road
I get down at the levee
I like to sit on the grass
and be with the stars
I still like to drive the colors
wild I like to pray
bromeliads on fire
I curse and bless you
for all your magic
and all your monstrosities
the lizard that eats its own skin
the fern flaring after rain
And nights I laid my back on the waves
I laid my hands at my side
the darkness erasing the tracers
I stood on silver guardrails
I swallowed the streetlights
the coyotes in the mist-draped field
you were that promising date
that began with a chilled corsage
and ended on a rainy doorstep without a kiss
you were that toast, that pyrotechnic
display and its acrid smell
we slept together in a twin bed
while the dog curled on the floor
O what a better companion he is
he rounds my sleep
and covers my dreams
the bridge closes behind you
and in closing it opens for me
Just Call Me Beb
for Joy at the Baton Rouge Best Buy
Just call me beb
Just lift more than one finger
off the steering wheel when we pass
each other in the 25, my having
assumed I could use your lane
to get around the cane truck,
and your grill smiling
like a wildcat coming on
Just call me beb, like
when you put down my catfish
poboy, having told me
it was just filleted in the back
that morning and then
putting a lagniappe of two strips
in front of my friend who ordered
the Plate Lunch instead
Beb, it’s reeeally good.
Sometimes joy has to be pushed
on me, like when I tried
to cancel my order online
and then had to call the store
and I got you Joy and you
called me beb and we talked
about computers and breast cancer
and that talk you had with God
on your way home from the Lowe’s
parking lot where you got your scan
Just don’t let me whine, you said,
’cause nobody likes a whiner,
and if God said anything, God said,
Beb, I liked you from the first.
It was the best thing that ever happened
to me, you said.
I should call myself beb every day, and I
wonder, if I knew I was going to be reborn,
whether I wouldn’t grieve extra hard
because there is Life and there is This Life,
and I would have to give up hope
for this one, the hope that some further
saving possibility could be found here, and
then wait to catch a warm front
and fly away to the next, well, then I might
be like you, Joy, listening for the rustle
of palmetto leaves in the dark
as I put my steps down on the path,
the bebettes harmonizing after the rain.
In the morning the water waits like a deckhand,
a persistent curl against the shore,
who won’t back down, take no, or be denied.
It is there under the wharf and soon under
the house, whoring with any swamp rat
or snake. It rings cypress knees with pearls—
it dreams under the sun like cut cane,
throwing back the salt you wash away,
then wearing pilings down to air.
Your houses wade on stilts tall as pillars,
their sheet-metal skulls bared to a mildewed
sky. Against the fallen trees rain and lapping
tide meet, slapping of nets and fish and
naked children pulling driftwood boats
in one joyful noise around your sleep.
In the afternoon the water is there, only more,
browner and grayer, no sweeping seaweed or foam,
just its presence farther up your shore,
like a dull brother-in-law in front of TV.
He means something to somebody—
but not you, not just now. Its slow wake seems
harmless, the litany of waves before a storm
rolling benignly ashore. Intoxicating!
And then it is there, all gray length of it,
rich sex of it, it wants you so badly,
it pounds at the door, Let me take
your smallness, your jetties, your broad
coasts, your loam. It gathers
at night beyond the curtain of mosquitoes,
darker than the shut-down sky,
the boarded-up clouds. Its desire
thrums like an idling outboard. Ignore
it, and it tows itself into your dreams. It’s
everywhere, every chance, all the time.
It is more certain than death or love.
It must have been conceived by death and love.
When the last silt sinks under your feet,
you will have to walk out on this water.
Ever since the painter depicted
Your finger extended to Your creature,
we have known we crave a surrogate touch.
We press others’ palms to our faces,
as if we were still being molded,
polished by an apprenticed love revising
our rougher destinies: Each hand found
more skillful than the last, each imprint closer
to Your transforming seal. I know this,
and still I have to ask for reprieve
in illusion, to linger in this present
flesh, believe in her finishing touch.
I want this hand: its knowing strokes
inside my thighs where all portrayal begins.
Let this hand complete me for the stretch,
the soft edges of these fingers be the last
of earth I feel, let it be her own
hand—hers alone—that will close these eyes.