There, on the backs of the leaves
in a breeze beneath the sky lay the answer
I had been searching for without knowing it
until I saw it as a color instead of a word:
silver, silver, silver.
You touched my chest with your fingertips
as I lay next to you trying to sleep.
“Try to rest,” you said, by which you meant,
Gird your loins, my love, and prepare your heart,
for tomorrow I may leave you.
like a ghost in search
of Her—my metamorphosis,
The stars were notes
on a winter page.
The beavers slept
beneath their houses
and an owl cried out
in the solstice dark.
I knew that if something
wasn’t also something
else it wasn’t itself.
I walked over to you between the rows
and held you from behind,
then kissed your neck. Remember?
“The earth is infinite,” I said.
“How much is enough?”
“Until there is,” you said.
A toad hopped at your feet.
I thought it was a rock.
The clouds were empty pages I couldn’t read,
then could as they turned in the wind.
“The ground is insatiable,” I said.
A hermit thrush yodeled his password
for dusk. “Hush,” you said
as the earth rose up in us like sap
with the force of gravity in reverse.
The papers got lost or burned;
the winners died unceremoniously.
Who could remember from one day
to the next who won what or when?
Every name became familiar in the end,
as if each neck were marked for bearing
the weight of a precious metal.
Our fate was written at the bottom
of the river: You’re slow because of your names.
I tapped the sorrow inside the day,
boiled it down to nothing, then ran
it off into a bottle marked
I found the crack
inside the core, then swung my mall
across the sky.
I said nothing
since I had sworn to the clouds
to keep their groan a secret.
Blue!” I said, which was what I also
heard in the hinge that closed
I had an ear that heard
beyond the sky as the pile rose up
to the clouds and a storm rolled in
like a caravan of black sedans and
I walked beside the Great River, watching
it flow in the darkness like a syllable that needed
a grievous heart to be heard.
I stopped to listen
and heard it utter every name as it slipped in silence
past the fields in which a herd of Holsteins grazed.
I saw it for the divide it was, both here and not here,
I saw my face in the mirror
of its silver surface and knew I belonged to both
but also neither.
The thistle flourished beside the road with blossoms
that took their blue from the sky, then blew away.
You sang along with them in a language that only hummed.
Turned your eyes into a vase as wide as the field.
Used your brain as a frog to spike the stems
to keep them alive inside your head as flowers that die
and bloom, bloom and die.
A single wave erased the mark I made in the sand
with a stick, so whatever I scribbled
was rewritten as a blank smooth page,
as if I had never existed or done anything
at all, while the lines of the famous criminal
were preserved in stone,
as if fame were a consolation
for the chance there is no heaven.
I rode wanted across the West
beneath the glare of the desert sun
that coruscated off my famous gun
like a beacon to the sheriff
who followed me, then camped
in a covert of giant rocks;
slept for a while before waking
with a start; stared at the stars
staring back like so many badges
in the merciless dark.
One minute something was everything—
mustard seed, fig treethen
nothing and no one remembered.
It was lost, the whole thing, whatever it was.
So who was holding it accountable—
this nothing—for the loss of everything?
That very moment.
With only the deepest gratitude.
Wasn’t it enough to say something once and then forget it?
Wonder later if I ever said it?
Refuse all credit for anything a cloud transmitted?
I wrote on air as if it were paper.
“Let go,” said a chickadee on its tiny branch.
“Empty your head to hear the news, then speak with a tongue
that moves like a fish in the deepest waters.”
Between the rain drops falling
on the roof and the ticks of the grandfather
clock, I felt both mortal and immortal
for which there was no word exactly,
only sounds—tick, drip, tock—
which was a kind of music without a score,
both soothing and haunting,
a lullaby that put me to sleep
with a built-in alarm, so that when
I awoke I wasn’t sure I was awake
at first because the sun was out
and I had dreamed of a place I knew
was real but would never find.
I found other lost things while looking for
the lost thing—things that were consolations
for what was missing then—things I also looked for
in the past with the same patience that faded
in the days following my search for the keys
that were right there on the table before
they disappeared on tiny invisible feet
to hide on oblivion’s doorstep—things
that were there all along like the thing
I was looking for, which was in the same place
as all the other lost things. If only
I could have opened the kitchen cabinet
or closet door and found it—that thing
that had disappeared—waiting for me
like the cat, Nemo, who slept in the drawer
of the dining room table but never made a sound
as I passed by again and again, that close to her.
The willow swept the roof
as I lay in bed on winter
nights and tried to think
about something else besides
the willow falling in the dark
and crushing me in my sleep,
which is what I also dreamed
night after night,
although I’d wake in time
to miss its fall, then fall
asleep again, still worrying
that the tree might fall in a sudden
squall or lose its grip
on the slippery earth. Why worry?
I thought. Lightning could also
strike and split the house.
But I did, especially since
the tree had begun to lean,
as well as crack at the middle.
“I’d cut it down,” I said
to the dark the night it fell,
“if it weren’t for its sweeping
my dreams translate into
the speech of a human voice:
“I am the danger that’s wed
to beauty. I am the overstory
with a thousand endings.”
The ground waited for me with infinite patience.
It was the nature of dirt.
I told it in so many words with a laugh, too many, in fact,
how comfortable I’d be so deep in its grasp.
How enlightened I’d be at last.
“How do you know?” it asked.
“From digging you for so many years,” I answered.
“What else did you know?” it said, as if surprised.
“That I wouldn’t feel the slightest urge to roll over
or kick my feet, that I’d submit to you without a word
or any last wish, just lie down on my large white flag
and breathe my last, hand over my arms to your little men,
then turn my pillow to stone and put it on end.”
How long was the day when the angels sang forever,
while those with ears to hear heard nothing—proclaimed each day
as new, although they called them the same at dusk,
although they put down their drums to join in the singing
that went out to the ends of Earth.