Would You Believe, and: Ophidia, and: Valediction, and: A Thousand Wires Humming
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Would You Believe, and: Ophidia, and: Valediction, and: A Thousand Wires Humming

Ophidia

—Three blocks from the Cyprus Freeway in Oakland, which collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, with a line by Sue Moon

We climbed from the mouth of a volcano all year, the year I moved west with my sweetheart

to live three blocks from where the earth had broken open. Men in the Acorn Projects

remembered pulling strangers trapped in their cars to safety. Brother,

one told me he’d said, we can be afraid of each other again tomorrow. Twenty

years after, they’d made good on their promise. By then I waited weekly in a food line

alongside Chinese immigrant women who fished plastic bottles from the trash, eyes

roving for a coin, a lost prize, at the curb. Sometimes I’d lift my hand to the lip—

look out over the volcano’s rim, and there, in a crevice, a scrap of paper shining:     someone’s private prayer

or prophecy. Everybody held out hope, tended their small hustle. Women knocked [End Page 61]

on the door selling broken-heeled shoes, loquats picked in an abandoned yard, would try the knob

if no one was home. Could I make change for a twenty, asked someone, unfolding one

she’d manufactured from a dollar bill.     Would you believe

what lengths I went to, to call myself happy then?     Star of blood that blooms

beneath a bruised fingernail, star of silence left high in the heart of a room

after the door’s slammed. A couple sits, watching one another’s reflections in a mirror. The two

talk like this as evening falls around them, and neither has the heart

to get up and turn on the light. “My body’s here but no one’s in it,” writes a friend; for me

it’s different. I’d spent my childhood in a house made of bees; on hot days honey

dripped through cracks in the ceiling. Me, I hummed, coiled tight. It hadn’t been long since I’d slept

in a creosote field while grainers crashed in the switchyard nearby. Actual tumbleweeds

turned like prayer wheels crossing the tracks and the constellations coyotes called to,

streaked across the night, were more miraculous than freckles on the face of god. Around then, [End Page 62]

hitchhiking past Death Valley, a pair of truckers stopped for me. I used to haul cattle

to LAX, one said, but I couldn’t take looking in their mournful eyes anymore. I guess I wear my heart

on my sleeve, he said. They were climbing through the Sierras for a load of honey, telling jokes,

they both had wild white beards. I hadn’t yet come in my life to peer over the lip of a volcano,

I wasn’t yet made of a cicada’s coils and tymbal. Still, I carried a bit of string, a quipu I used

for eavesdropping on the passage of time. If someone had put a knife in my hands, even then,

I’d have taken it.     I can hear two birds quarreling, tangled in midair. I’m afraid

one day I’ll find myself trash picking, tearing corners from a twenty. I’m afraid I’m no longer

lost as the runaway I met hopping a train out of Colton that summer

who carried a small white jar of her own baby teeth with her in her pack. [End Page 63]

Ophidia

—The constellation Ophiuchus is said to represent a man in the coils of a snake. Both the celestial equator and the ecliptic pass through it, but it is not counted among the signs of the zodiac.

The days were already burning when we crossed the river

east toward Quartzite, mini-mall of rock hounds and geode hunters, small-time

gamblers in the flea market of open sky. We slept

out on BLM land among a colony of rubber tramps

in the desert, nothing but nebulae to watch for, dark matter fallen

from under the eyelids of stars. Out here our Ophiuchus

was made of serrate and spike, or had a venomous bite. It held the dark

in...