you are in the diode archives fall 2010



The Orchard

Even in the dream he’s old, returning from his shed
with a bucket of grubs picked off the roses; like them,
dead already 20 years, though in my dream
he moves steadily enough through the back field
landscaped clear to the power lines
that marched the length of Beacon Hill.
My grandfather tended an apple orchard there,
then set to making rows for sweet pea vines and tomatoes
though his wife complained of this cultivated Eden,
worrying it looked too “country” to the neighbors.
In the winter my grandfather ordered seeds
from a company out west, and all summer and partway
through fall sprayed the fruit with a thick mist
the catalogues recommended until, years later,
small, berry-sized tumors grew in his pancreas
and his wife’s breasts. In the dream,
he wears one of the thin t-shirts he favored,
the raveled neck gone transparent at the seams,
below this a familiar pair of faded slacks—
“Mao-blue,” my uncles ruefully called them—
bought in Beijing during the Reagan era.
He’d returned a final time to see his mother,
and for gifts brought back Mao jackets
and caps, Mao mailbags and figurines
my uncles and mother promptly buried
inside closets and dressers. On the fireplace,
the last, framed photos of his mother before
the children packed them off, the woman’s shape
shriveled with age, slim feet bound in black.
She died twice that summer he visited, the first
after a stroke from which she revived a day later
in the village’s burial hut. My grandfather was good,
I remember, at fixing bicycles and making shelves,
he could replace a car clutch and once
devoted an entire basement wall to a series
of aquaria he’d built himself then stocked.
None of these interests did he pass on to his children.
He sat instead quietly through dinner,
fingering his dish of salted plums, slipping each
from its wrapper to suck the meat to a pulp
that was full of the brined, tart juice of summer.
Though he wouldn’t have been able to tell this
towards the end: the pesticides, the chemo
having poisoned his taste buds, perhaps his tongue—
For in the dream—as in my memories of him—
he remains speechless, one thin figure working
in garden or basement, the neighbor’s
hissed assessment of him filtered
through the juniper hedge he’d planted as a border
to gate our garden: Such an odd man,
he seems intelligent, though who can tell,
him unable to speak a word of English—
So that I was startled,  years later, coming upon
his notebooks to find blazons of Chinese and English
blooming alongside photos of Depression-era girlfriends 
clipped and pasted in satellite configurations
on black paper filigreed with white paint.
Curlicues of dragons’ tails, emperors, rose trellises—  
The English so carefully rendered, so perfectly phrased
that now, besides his secret art, it is my lack
of remembering this voice myself that most
disappoints, his silence renewed
in imagination that renders me similarly dumb.
In the dream, my grandfather holds out a box
filled with stamps torn off missives from Taiwan
and Russia, Denmark, Sweden, each one faded
yet folded carefully up, some in onionskin,
their water stains and ancient postmarks
like pressed flowers from a winter garden.
Whose stamps were these he wanted me to see?
Why did he believe such minutiae needed preserving?
I take the box, ignoring his long face looming
in a worry over my own, attracted by the sudden
Steller’s jay that startles past his window. I look,
and the box slips from my lap, spills
its stamps like a spray of feathers from the bird
that has begun feasting now on the apples 
in a corner of the orchard. I watch
its dark head dart into the branches for the fruit,
wings shuddering their streaks of blue
that fade into the darkness.


The History of Paisley

You who wrote this poem first, how Parvati’s
footsteps rained down Zabarvan’s slopes
as the goddess fled from Shiva, so enraged
her heel-marks scorched teardrops
through Kashmir’s valleys until paisleys

burned on every hillside, through every mountain glade—
You for whom beauty submerged history,
wove its violence through the fragile threads
until the Scottish town that made these footsteps
famous vanished into myth, colonial shawls paid

for with blood, its guild of weavers, brawlers, poets
turned riot, shawls unraveled then lost,
the tall looms burning to a lacework of smoke—
Would you have known Europe’s last
recorded witch was hung here, and once I dozed

in a Glasgow movie theater, startling awake
when the onscreen travel advert shrilled my name?
“Paisley on the Beach,” it cried, at which I woke to see
the camera panning over a beach, a bikini’d
blonde with shoulders filigreed with sand winking

at her audience, Paisley become one
of Britain’s slums, the ad a dig at its fallen fortunes,
as the name, too, had become a 70's joke—
Even you, Shahid, laughed at it, asked if I knew
its origin and laughed again when I recited your poem:

the consort’s tears, her gorgeous and immortal rage.
Now two decades later, you’re gone:
cancer of the brain having sent you into a fog
of amnesia, then death;  facts your friends and college
colleagues mourned, hiring me at the end to take your vacant

post. Now I’m Shahid’s line at work, ten years after,
your presence something few had known, my nickname
capitalizing on both our chagrin and admiration,
assuming I’m to assume your position
and importance: to extend our works in one, ignoring

the complications of our individual ambitions: yours
woven from the work of Faiz and Merrill, their fame
blurring into yours, rushing mouth to mouth like a valley
brushed with fire, the whole of Kashmir become a flame
of light, a twisted tear of circling stars;

mine to sing again of Parvati who, in other versions,
didn’t run away but watched as Shiva
in his sulks rushed off, who wrestled him back
into her arms, the strength of her love even
greater than the god’s. In this story, she is the one

with steadiness enough to hold him up
or back, the one who anchors them in their fight,
even as her consort’s brilliance both highlights
and erases her. When I began to recite your poem,
you lobbed the phrases back, challenged my embroidery

with flourishes of your own until the text
became some strand of sense twisted between us,
line by line unraveled to its parade of shadows,
your face darkening as the sun began to fall—
Write about me, you begged, but in what tale of exile

love or industry where the grieving goddess walks, waiting
for her lover to forgive then find her,
tear-marks always fresh upon her face?
And if we write, will you return again to your mother,
sister, brother, the lost post office, will Paisley’s

weavers begin another shawl in which
we’re bound, part of its ever-changing pattern, placed
on the edge and in the center of its frame,
each slip of color throwing the rest into relief?
At first, I thought it strange coincidence

both town and pattern shared a name, but of course
industry overtook belief, gave
the Persian story a Glaswegian veil, overlay
upon overlay, re-engraved the pattern already
extending its reaches through every border

of the world.  What a terrifying inheritance we’ve carved
for ourselves, each generation taking up then losing
the imperatives of the next, the pathline of one’s obscurity
traced through the obscurity of others, so that we die
and die together anew, rise and rise together

anew, the pattern’s changeability both its beauty and its flaw.
Write about me, you said. You, who at the last
dedicated each poem to another,
submerged your beauty in the history of others
till each tale became its elegy, and every tale dissolved.

My name is Paisley. Your name is Paisley as well.
The softened thunder sounds its distant footfalls. 
It is raining  in the vales of Kashmir, Scotland, Utah.
Beloved, let us watch, and get our faces wet. Come:
let us sit together under this shawl.  


Paisley Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee, and three books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, and The Invention of the Kaleidoscope. A hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction, and fiction titled Intimate is forthcoming from Tupelo.