Some places are more striking when destroyed,
We are formed of such rebellions: cancer
in the suburbs, riot in the cell block.
Some things just seem to shine in aftermath, neon
glistening down the dark length
of the half-shelled
remnant of a Berlin church
whose name escapes me.
Names are often the only things that do.
Names for savagery, I mean,
and territories brought to ruin.
That smolder on the roadside.
We ask our televisions what really went on
when the backpack blew,
in which desert those women in scarves now seek asylum—
which is no more
than a tent and dirty children eating rice.
Bags of rice, the size of children, air dropped or thrown
from the ass ends of trucks.
Look: there’s a guy in a fedora, sleeves rolled up,
a woman in fictitious burka. They’re there
to interview survivors.
Our hearts go out
but only as the yo-yo might.
A boat somewhere right now is sinking.
Relocation is preamble to the mortaring.
We are so many easily impressed
systems of belief.
We could build a bomb shelter out of them.
Not the natives, who still can’t live on their atoll.
Not the strontium still ravaging, the divers paying all that dough
to pay respects to sharks and Geiger blips
that traffic there.
But the swimsuit named for those explosions,
with which its makers hoped to cause, in Paris,
such a shock.
Waking from a troubled sleep, I turned
and asked my wife what time it was.
Who are you? she asked. Your husband,
I said. I eat grapefruit, repair the washer.
You’re not my husband, she said. Yes,
I am, I said. If you’re my husband,
then who prepares the coffee? I do, I said,
every morning. And the glass bottles:
who sorts them lovingly, like a Cyclops
does his cheeses? Me. And the guy
that changes filters, mends the tiny holes
the photos of friends’ children make
on our walls? Yours truly. And the car
and its leaky gaskets, the sprouts coaxed
from nothing but a wet paper towel,
the 401(k) and live bird in the maw of our cat
last Tuesday, so helpless, small, and trembling:
if you’re my husband, you take care of that?
I nodded. Yeah, right, she said. Right, I said.
I think you should leave, she said,
before my husband wakes up. He’ll hurt you.
I tell her that I couldn’t hurt a soul,
that in the dream I had last night,
I went to punch a guy, and the air
around my arms grew viscous, weighty,
just like Vaseline. Oh yeah, she said,
if you’re my husband, you wouldn’t do that.
My husband couldn’t hurt a soul.
You’re right, I said. It was a dream:
the house with the broken washer,
perforated walls, all the children
smiling from those glossy frames,
the small, trembling tax shelter:
none of it was real. But it is real, she said,
everything but the hurt. That’s marriage,
I said, everything and the hurt. Right,
she said. Right, I said. So you are my husband,
after all, she said. Yes, I said. Then may I
tell you about my dream? she asked.
It was terrible, more like a nightmare,
she said. The washer trembled as it does,
grapefruits sunned on the sill. And I
wasn’t there? I asked. You were sorting
bottles. Sounds like me, I said. But when
I touched your arm, she said, you just stood
and stared at me. And? I asked. Yes, she said.
Partially Completed Model of a Sailing Ship
We are all unfinished, attendant on a voyage.
We are less the bright, sought-after stateroom,
more the brine on rigging.
My friend left his wife of twenty years
as a ship might sail from a wartime port.
Away from, yet into.
We are the workshop’s disarray, not the mantle.
My friend has washed ashore from shipwreck.
He alone escaped.
Accounts surface like the billowing gowns of empresses
Emperors stare blankly from their glass encasement,
next to portly guards jabbing sentences into phones.
A model is often just a miniature but not always.
The massive whirlpool and stitch of beasts
that skirt the incognita: those, too, are promises.
I helped my friend heap boxes in a truck.
We are such potentialities, maps drawn from fever,
blood from the rope of a vein.
Some models might take years, especially the small ones.
Those no one pays attention to.
Those built inside a bottle or because of.
Who knows how long my friend will last in such conditions.
Malarial the air around each dinner hour, arctic chill of afternoons.
Disasters also tell us stories.
The trick is knowing which presents more fiction.
in the Keats-Shelley House, Rome
Outside, tourists and pigeons scavenge
history for scraps, desperately
at ease in late summer sun. Inside,
Shelley’s jawbone, at least a piece of it.
Some things should not be parceled.
Take beauty, for example. The girl
who led me here, when she explained
the ceiling was original, was. I loved more
the look not of but on her face,
the way I often fall for space
around a poem, not what lies inside.
So many surfaces in which to finally see
myself wrecked: this jaw or death
mask behind thin glass, the great windows
of these two souls shut tight to the noise.
Our tour finished, the guide returned
to her book and hair. Both fell over her.
Dusk in narrow streets falls suddenly.
I never liked Keats the way I should.
When I think of Shelley, I think of the girl
my sister joked with as a kid. Not a wreck.
Not a hunk of bone. Outside, the fountain
in the form of a boat seems particularly
blunt, enormous. On the Spanish Steps,
some girls embark on their evening drinking.
The possibilities, they must think, are
enormous. The quality of light, ideal.
The weather fabulous, and far from Viareggio.
It is understood geography:
we are not so independent
of each other. Maps confirm
such spread into the West, past
your birthday, for example,
and far into the year. Rivers,
mountains: once they held us
captive to our own intentions—
school, work, this or that
fantastic trip to other states
of fear that we were growing
closer to each other. (Each other
comes up often in our talk,
our articles of incorporation.)
The hours spent on planes
thirsty for turbulence, doldrums
of the terminal: landscapes
we mistook for states of being.
That point in life when the point
that separates your love of me
from my frustration with fusion
cooking (though I love you
for the food I find on this,
the most tiring day our country
has endured): we have reached it.
Our long national nightmare
is over. We have survived
our own immaculate sense
of what we wanted from each other,
which was always next to nothing.