At Night, in November, Trying Not to Think of Asphodel
I’m no use for parties, for the idle language
which is all how hellish are the days
and dark or where did I find
that thread count or what do I think must be
done about et cetera. So I smile
and nod and never say much,
happy to be thought impaired
or mute and when asked
to name what I couldn’t live without
were I marooned on a desert island,
I say viable organs. Not a book and its pages
slipping from cheap binding
and not an album
that’s not an album
but summer’s totem forever
and not one deft lover
and not the red ringlets
of her hair let down in a grotto beside the sea.
To be consigned there,
to that island, that home
to the fetish of consolation,
is nothing I ever want
to want. To be stripped of desire
as if it were a bandage.
But here in the night made of alarms,
a train shambles
through the dark
and it’s hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made
for them. Or I did,
thinking of you
who taught me regret.
There are nights when I dream
of stolen oranges.
How we ran away with the sun in our arms.
And there are nights
when I can’t speak,
not even to the wind
in the strange tongue of the dark pine trees.
Easy in a college town to hang Klimt
from your many times repaired wall
or life and easy to think this better,
somehow, than violence or routine
or the kaleidoscopic degradations each waitress
in her kindness prepares
for you. Lord, a long time
I have thought of what more there is
to say. Lord, I have thought
this. Sometimes committed my flesh
to unbearable action
if only to gain speed in retreat.
If only to wake in the dark strangeness
of agreements: falsehoods
and broken words and spasms
of summer. And now a loveliness passes
and it does not matter
of what it is made or when
or living and named and nightly possessed.
Lord, it does not matter
that any of us keep on
but we do. In great numbers,
in harrowing efficiencies,
we cannot do anything but this
persistence that will not go.
I am trying, Lord, to love this world,
however it is fated
to end. Behind the wall a girl
is making love.
Two rooms distant I can hear her
and want to leave
even through the spill of rain.
But I stay because
there is nothing to leave
my mind will not carry with it
in a kind of tortured attentiveness.
I know her name
if only by her business card
given to me like I would have a use for it.
Like I had waited there
for her name. Not
all my life but a devoted time.
What else but her name and her nerves unspooling now
could I wait for? Besides
silence. Or mercy.
Or deafening rain. Her sign to now, now,
Lord, be still.
Bordering on The Tragic
We kept hearing good things about Muncie.
There were meat-eating flowers
in the very same world. Ravenous weeds.
A long time I watched her kiss
the waitress she held like a secret.
I watched her drop like a tooth into ink.
She never told me.
When I left, children sang.
When they sang, the world was less a riddle.
All the dreams were deciduous.
Litter in the night. Scant cities
dumping light in the sky.
Who could say to them the sky had enough?
The birds rattled bones
time had hollowed for flight.
The children had tried to sing like them,
their belongings in bandanas
knotted to switches swung
across their baby-fat shoulders.
I was never proud to pitch bricks
through bakery windows
when it was dark, to sift glass for crumbs.
That was hunger, I think,
though I never feared
the end of my body
beneath the trees where I hid from time.
about blood, blood forever.
Through green wood I heard every hymn.
And then they’d pass into the silence of others.
Whose hearts splintered.
And I hadn’t caused it,
not in my distance
or in all the nearness I had left,
but to the air I confessed all the same.
Oblivion: Letter Home
Thanks for the bleach and the directions back,
even though we’ve had this discussion
already. I should tell you before I forget
or the crushing pain roars back
how much Emily appreciated the red yarn.
She couldn’t stop smiling. Until
she vanished one night or decided
to leave. When I think how much the same
those are, even my bones sigh.
Down the street there are children
who need baths and when I find water,
I carry some in my hands and tell them
I’ve found another hidden river
in an owl’s nest or inside one of the leaves
running mindlessly about
as the dead tend to do here.
I try to reveal their faces
or slick the knotted hair from their colorless eyes
or let them drink a little
but all they want to do is run.
I go back giving water to the ground
and names to their miner faces
and trying to recall the gloves I wore
when I was eleven. The trains I tried to believe
were only sound. The box
I sent you should be there before long,
though inside it all I placed
was a cricket’s green leg.
I’m sorry about that but I was thinking of you.
All the weight that I could afford
and the only thing at night
singing that will not want to eat you
or wound you for sport
and before you ask, yes, I was careful,
though there were times
when all that saved my skin
were Grandma’s prayers so give her my love.
Oblivion: Letter Home
Thanks for the cucumber lotion and coupons
you cut out of the Sunday paper
though I had to bury them in an old thermos
or sink them with bricks and twine
so nobody killed me. Reading the obituary
for Mr. Kondrackie was sad
though he once beat me with his walker
for guessing wrong. We all have our faults,
I think. Dad used to tell me that
before locking the door to the basement.
He’d spend weeks down there
with his electric putting range and German
films. Did you ever figure out
what he ate? I think about that
when the glow of major cities burning
is strangely beautiful. Almost comforting.
I’ve been fixing up an old culvert
cannibals once used for a stop-over latrine.
It takes a lot of imagination
but I think you’d be proud
of the flow from one end to the other.
It’s been raining here all week.
And according to the woman
who pitied me during the night
and wanted nothing for her time
or the shadow of her body near the fire,
three years have gone by,
all of them marked by endless rain.
It seems hard to believe.
The people here are nice.
The ones capable of more than
savagery or tandem autoerotic asphyxiation,
at least. The food is bad
and you wouldn’t care for it
in that it barely exists.
But it’s been good for me.
When I laid the rags I wore
beside the woman
who had been cold when I found her,
I wasn’t afraid.
I never once thought of you.
Write back soon. Tell everyone I’m not dead.
Paul Guest is the author of The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, winner of the 2002 New Issues Prize, and Notes for My Body Double, winner of the 2006 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World was recently awarded a Whiting Writers’ Award. In 2009, Ecco will publish his memoir, One More Theory About Happiness, and a third collection of poems, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge. He is a visiting professor of English at the University of West Georgia.