Eyes casting about for a stray hair you
might have shed, I pretend to dust
my furniture, my books, lightly
touching everything I say I own
because I cannot lay hands
on a single lash of yours today,
not even your soft curse as you blow out
a match. Evolved to a brain
larger than my ancestors', I do have
the capacity to want what I cannot see:
the figure casting shadow fingers on my wall,
a better bicycle, a ham sandwich. Abstractions
paste themselves to my mental bulletin board
from a dictionary, though
the definition of want encompasses
a sand-flayed whale
on a shore I've never seen
in addition to the following:
When I was seven, my father's friend
died suddenly on the table
during eye surgery. He taught me
how to tell time though
he was nearly blind.
He smiled to hear me read.
I knew nothing
until Monday morning—
our car never slowed
at his usual waiting spot.
Sometimes when I read a clockface,
Ben's old-man coffee denim smell
and hat with the homemade band
float back abstract as 2:13 or 5:11.
Furthermore, the mules in harness
rotate the wheel, make molasses
as they did when I was a kid watching
from the grass with the old man.
When I hear Willie Nelson sing,
I think time time time because Ben's voice
sounded like his. Country songs
stand for those passengerless years.
Time is a personal abstraction.
I declare there are no abstractions
so long as a carpool is a void,
so long as a heart attack is a table
and heartbreak is a study lamp
burning into the advancing morning.
So long as failure is a hiking boot
with a hole.
An hour goes by with or without someone.
Time again called something else.
I dial the phone with my thumb
and hear it ring on your end
where you've been writing checks
all morning for bills, where you've
fanned out the stubs that stand
for your work. Before you answer,
you smoothe the signature line of ink
yoking you to your work, and when you pick up,
I ask you Say your name. I want you
to say your name.
Seven million years ago at least
she stood upright and wished
an arc into the basin of her world
that made a scrap of bone a token.
Soon a petal became the dead.
Through her, fire became a hope.
Did hope ripple all the way
to George Berkeley, his notion that sense
and reason are the only doors to the world?
Three hundred years later we applaud
Woody Allen who says it's hard ...
to get your heart and head together.
The punchline: in my case,
they aren't even friendly.
No more the false dichotomy, the stretch
like an infinite barbell weighted
on each end. In the space between voices
a single body reconciles.
Like Helen Keller at the well,
with the word water burning cold
on her waking hand.
Your name is lavender and a brown dog.
I've come to hold your name
like a duck's bill scoops a pond.
All you've taken in and my third eye,
a smoke ring broken on its own composure,
a yellow bloom in the dust,
a white-footed mouse, shrapnel, the night
we said we will not leave this garden
until everything is named.
I enter the world in every way.
Your name: the Sunday
you were born, the first current of air
that passed over your body.
This poem is a dual epistle for my dear
friend far away, and for an early childhood mentor who passed away many
years ago. It occurred to me that every time we miss someone, we miss
everyone we've ever missed, and that raw feeling is often rationalized,
though it's bigger than and part of our intelligence. Love and philosophy,
abstraction and hard dirt—these are the reconciliations we have