Even before she is dead your mother comes toward you
from the shadow of the seawall
her eyes blank as a sleepwalker’s.
Even now, as her other self is somewhere
filling a glass of water or breaking an egg
you stretch out your arms and wait for her to know you
and you close your embrace but she passes through
like smoke through a screen door.
At this very moment as you hold the black cradle to your ear
and hear her voice a thousand miles away at your side
going on about weather and when to fly,
even at such a time you pace the rim of the wall
gazing out over the flat sea
for a boat that will not come home.
Finding a voice means that you get your own feelings
into your own words and that your words have
the feel of you about them.
Precociously picaresque the poet sets out
in search of a journey. He is every soul
he meets and fights and kisses.
He is no more himself than a bird is
an egg. He borrows words but eats them
without remorse. His song is all the Top 40
played at once. His words have the hand-me-down feel
of his alias brother crying farewell from the field
where Gramps and Granny clasp in the gene pool
stitching the sails of light.
And whenever he finds his voice he flips the page,
looks both ways, and opens the door of its cage.
It’s September below the minimalist moon the year is running down
and the second-rate poets are drifting in from the provinces
you can hear the clump of their cheap boots in the darkness
the clatter of old tropes in their gunnysacks dragged behind them
They are trooping into the city claiming to worship the dawn
but we know we know it’s really the night they love they never sleep
they stop to surround the house
I can hear their unanimous breathing out in the garden
And whispers: they are planning some final confusion some terrible crime
I turn off the light and take down the gun from its rack
crawl on my belly up to the window stick out the barrel and open fire
round after round the room fills up with smoke and spent shells
Weeks later the sun comes up and finds me with eyes still closed
blasting away at these and similar dreams
We’ve trashed our crib the Old Lady wants us gone.
She’ll scratch us from her hide
Pick these ungrateful vermin from her hair
Crack us between bloody nails
Burn blow twist drown sinkhole us one by one.
Below the decapitated mountain the creek runs red
Through the clearcut forest drifts the sucked-up gas
The smudgy sun the super-heated wind blowing from Eden
And we roaring inexhaustibly round and round
Not a care in the fossilized world.
What on earth did we think,
That she’d let us hang out here forever?
She’ll give the place back to the sanity of the beetle
Industrious humble methodical
He rolls the dung of others into tidy piles
Pauses on the shore of the oilslick sea
And raises a feeler in simple thanks.
High on the hill and out in the chilly park
a shout goes up as random stones blaze down:
bright self-consuming wanderers scar the dark:
the sky is falling and we cheer it on.
… historical discourse is less a matching of an image or a model with
some extrinsic “reality” than a making of a verbal image, a
We don’t know the past, we conjure it
out of almost nothing, sing outside its window:
not that it isn’t there in some unknowable sense
but our desire gives it body, awakes its own
willingness to mold its curves to our wishes,
as when yes you pass your fingers down my thigh
you know by touching what it is you touch
(thin film of taut sweat) and relearn what fingers
exiled in air can never seem to remember:
what touching feels like (thus every stroker
is in stroking counterstroked) or your palm
rounding my lifted knee and so upward, flattened,
delving, knows that even a hand can kiss
and knows that being known awakes in me
reciprocal archeologies so that two subjects
make of each other objects of research: the seer seen,
more light! more light! and so onward toward breakthrough
when for you to know my lips is for me to know myself,
and for you to know yourself in knowing me
is for no film at all to block
knower from known: just so
memory lies in the adjacent chamber
neither asleep nor alive, just
leaning back, complacent odalisque or stone-white god,
waiting to be invented by your kiss,
and history whispers in your ear,
ready to happen.
Poems selected from David Gullette’s latest collection of poetry Questionable Shapes, Červená Barva Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2017.
David Gullette was educated at the universities of Harvard, California (Berkeley), North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and Roma. He was one of the founding editors of the respected literary journal Ploughshares and has been Literary Director of The Poets’ Theatre for many years. His translations include (from the Italian) work by Ugo Betti and Emanuele Tesauro and (from the Spanish) revolutionary Nicaraguan poetry by the campesino poets of Solentiname, and the first bilingual edition of the poems of the revolutionary Spanish priest Gaspar Garcia Laviana. He is founding editor of the publishing house Fenway Press. His novel about Nicaragua, Dreaming Nicaragua, was published in 2011, and his book of poems, Questionable Shapes appeared in 2017. He is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Simmons College, Boston, and Vice President of the Newton (Massachusetts)/San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua) SIster City Project.
Featured image: Photo by Paola Favoino.