Education is the answer
to our social woes, and not
but the deep plodding kind, the making-
of-many-books kind, get-everybody-
kind. When I’m in Walmart
and some kid dangling by the wrist
is screaming, his mom in shorts that
slice her thighs saying something
deep to him through her teeth,
her long hair smelling like she has
more than one job, I know it’s not her fault.
She’s carrying a combination wallet/
cigarette case with a pocket for the lighter.
Her husband—well, the father of her last two,
her divorce isn’t final from her ex—
is waiting in the truck, a Ford. Her dad
had a problem with that until they went
duck hunting and worked it
out. Her man didn’t graduate
even though his junior high let
the boys go when trawling season
began, but each year going back got harder.
She took typing and bookkeeping
and even AP math. She says she manages
a convenience store, where you learn
how to just take on the present.
Right now she just needs
to find that pearl snap for her oldest
and why is it suddenly so dang hard
to find a boy’s twelve pearl snap?
There’re a few like her in every cow town.
When the copter brings a woman’s
child—a certain woman of that kind—
from the parish or the county
to the city, and we all stand around
the trauma bay watching environmental services
sweep up the gauze wrap and cut clothes,
and that woman from the boonies
is still not here, driving her husband’s
truck as hard and steady as she can,
I’ll meet her in family consult
or stand her in the shiny hallway—
she’ll go anywhere—and depending
on what the test tube intern has to say,
she’ll either squat, lay her forearm
against her stomach, and loose
that first wail-groan that defies conceit,
or she’ll tutor me in the language
of living in good faith, of staring
down what I have to say and
opening her mind to it, taking
it in like a nursling and knowing it
whole until the two can sleep side by side.
We tell her, it’s gonna be a long road, and
she says, as long as there’s a road, I’m on it.
Someone, you finally realize, has suffered
your exact misfortune before you.
This one the steady vanishing
of your birthplace before your eyes.
As common and disordered
as a parent burying a child.
You stare down the slate-dark hole again—
this time seeing the blue swirls of precursors
grieving at a murky bottom.
One shouldn’t outlive one’s birthright:
instead, after you, the feed store boarded,
shorn subdivisions advancing,
your grandchildren pulling their own
trailers to launch at sunrise. Here
Centralia’s colliery still smolders like
fields of burning cane. The trees
stand dead but don’t fall.
Veins in the Gulf will swell, too,
carrying grayed-out swirls—ghosts—
to greed’s unbroken refrain.
The Dirty Side of the Storm
Death just misses you, its well-defined
eye and taut rotation land on
someone else. No need to study the sky
for signs or watch the cows—
not with satellite loops, infrared
imagery, recognizance flights shrinking
the orange cones of uncertainty.
If it makes you feel better, go ahead
and push pins through a brittle chart.
Your coordinates square neatly east
of the worst wind shear, lightning
strikes, and bursts of air.
All convection steers clear
of your splattered doorframe.
The Red Cross mobilizes elsewhere.
Take a good look at those oak roots
from a calm doorstep and wait.
The sadness is a surge carrying
all its debris back to you, a flood
that shoves clods of ants and snakes
through your walls and then
sits in your house for days and days.
This is the dirty side of the storm.
Would Death had blown straight through you.
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.