restricted access Words against the Walls of the City
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Words against the Walls of the City

Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreckOf the singular

We have chosen the meaningOf being numerous. —George Oppen

Night loves a ladder. A heart is housed in one.

Just this morning I heard below me remnants of the whisper—

the physical, the intellectual, the spiritual— ascending from the muck of who I was.

When I was a boy, I stared into the rose of my cathedral. It was earth on fire

from a distance. Pull yourself together, my father told me. And the words

pulled me toward him. Intuition, I know, is not to be confused

with desire. And yet (and so) it is.


Truth cherishes no one. The lie however has favorites.

A brain is made of them: little mercies, islands, wounds. I know a woman [End Page 117]

who is so many people they cannot know one another. They cannot know you.

Sleep is just one part of the story talking to another, and only sometimes

with anything to say. This gut feeling, is it wisdom or a symptom. Or both.

Dreams sleep lightly, if at all. Faces tear away from them.


When I first stood up, I became a line standing on a circle.

Just like a line to love a circle. Bloodline, family circle. In my city, people gather

at the fountain. Water pours without end. It makes me drowsy. It makes me

say the things I never had the heart to say. Eyes close, and the darkness opens.


To judge what is not quite seen is never to see it. The hubris of shame says, divide, divide.

Anxiety breaks its puzzle into small and smaller pieces as if that were one way to solve it.

The world, thank heaven, is bigger than we think. The seen bigger than the eye (it sees). [End Page 118]


My father sketched a tree and named it: us. Late at night it would grow beneath his research.

He called this family his. The greater the tree, the more of death it swallowed.

To make one. The number one. What could be more serene.

More horrific. The burden of knowing is never knowing enough.


As a boy I loved to separate the gears of a thing to see it, blind to what it was.

A bug, a watch, a conscience. Hell was the prospect of putting it back together.

I liked to be apart from things as law is from the father, the father from the criminal.

High in the thought balloon above the body, I pried open the cage of the heart,

then stopped to watch a while, to see it labor. So far away. This core. This cortex.

This sad bag with an animal inside.


Shadows cast the shadows of our moral pride. Admit it. Isn’t the devil a little boring.

Those who would cozy up to cruelty. Is it not a little sentimental. He does not cozy. [End Page 119]

He has no friend. He cannot be broken like bread. He divides. The shipwreck of the singular.


Is the shipwreck of the numerous. A junkie makes his connection,

and the valves of attention open, drowned in blood. He is alone

among the others whose bliss makes them more sweetly brief, more distant.

Crusoe we say was “rescued.”So we have chosen. Or did some other choose.

I know people who talk to themselves in their sleep, who, again and again, refuse to listen.


Once I cut a frog to see what was inside. In the tiny bowl of flesh, a measure

of light. It ached the way light does. Not because I made it ache. Me.

Or some other law. My father too cut me now and then. He opened up my chest

to lie down in the grave he made. He taught me, light is fast. And time,

time does not heal all wounds. Only the open ones. [End Page 120]


At night I close the black jacket of my gospel and say, well, what I do know is this.

Each morning a city wakes me from within. The shooting galleries of dream

moan in the distance. The words they break they mend and mend...