The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.
Saturday mornings I surfaced to voices
of children in the other room, then sank again,
slipped into the green and brown algae-bloom
of sleep, the world above growing darker,
the stories fainter, until I couldn’t breathe—
didn’t want to anyway . . . Disappearances:
the way Chaucer’s life ended, no record
of how or where, of funeral or burial.
The way Bierce passed into silence
beyond Chihuahua, or Weldon Kees,
his empty car at one end of the Golden Gate.
Once, in a visitors’ center at a women’s prison,
I read a child’s storybook to inmates,
illustrations blue and gold cradled in my palms—
a bear, a mouse—wide-open eyes of lifers
brimming at the well of story, arms wrapped
around each other, the dried flower of cheek
against cheek, the way my sister one day
after school pressed her face to mine, whispered
the story of a grimy man who’d followed
her home on a bicycle, weaving like a drunk
from street to gutter, muttering his lewd
invitations, how our father, alarmed,
patrolled the streets for weeks, searching
for a monster, she admitted years later,
she’d created from nothing. Would it surprise
you to hear she had come to believe her own
story? That for years a man with teeth broken
and yellow had cycled through her dreams?
Perhaps you have seen him—as have I.
Today, in a shed behind a church, I sit
at a splintered table, shovels and hoes
hanging from hooks, voices rising like golden
fish in a dark pond. I have surfaced again.
I have come to hear the stories, to tell
my own, to see if by coming I will come to.
She’d asked, What do you believe?
He flicked wrecks of yellowed leaves
from rain gutters rimming the eaves
of her house, his two gloved hands
heavy and soaked. Her pale fingers
gripped postcards of glaciers,
the gray-black waters off Sitka,
the spawning salmon of Ketchikan.
He said, The snow there doesn’t melt.
It sifts into crevasses and cracks
in rocks. It piles higher and deeper,
crushed into a saturated sapphire-blue.
His back curved as he turned to a leaky
faucet, a mockingbird screamed its attack,
and she asked again, What do you believe?
A riddle she wanted to solve, he knew,
raised by the same mother and father,
marked with the same stories of loaves
and fishes, crossed with the same ashes.
32,000 years ago, he said, someone
in Europe carved a star chart of Orion
on a sliver of ivory. He replaced
the worn and brittle washer, moved
to the sprinkler valves. He knelt
in the mud, cut the black plastic casing,
joined red to red, green to green,
white to white. Rubbed his pants
with chapped, bare hands. The sun blazed
like the Eucharist. The wiring, he said.
The mind creates the abyss;
the heart crosses it.
The way the mind releases its relentless grip,
abandons the morphine-induced haze,
the ragged last gasp of breath, surrenders
the children, alone, to the dark theater.
Flesh resists, will not disband itself,
though death, insistent, summons
yet again, the way folds of sleep, as we
awaken, enwrap and urge us back
to dream of life’s audacious leaping.
Sand at the broken edge of ocean
subsumes the thinning sea. Midges
do the rest. Some find comfort in faith.
Some wander the Granite Loop Trail,
lost in scrub of oak or alder. Some
take vows to strip the veil, yoke
signifier to signified. The white van,
for instance, its bald tires screeching,
its side panel oracular: “Alpha Project:
Where Miracles Occur.” And a sign:
Welcome to the Holiday Inn.
Do you wonder why pinpricks of global
dust dance at the edge of abyss?
I have watched a pillar of wax burn
into itself, its sides slumping like a sock
on an ankle. Sometimes it seems just
flesh. Just a brain in a skull, eyes
in sockets, a jaw slung open, no flicker
of light, an abyss only the heart can cross.
Leaving the Parking Lot, I Pass a Homeless Man
only drowning men could see him
He waits in bee’s bliss and coyote mint.
Ankle-high shrubs crowd the center divide
where the road from the coffee shop slants
into a swell of traffic lights, a flood tide
of turn signals. His hair is dirty, off-white,
knotted at the back. His face sun-weathered.
It’s easy to miss him. The way he waits
as if a shrub or small tree. His eyes feather
the passersby. Blue jeans ragged, a mess
of broken fingernails edging cardboard,
lifting it chest high. Its message: God bless.
Sometimes I look away, silent and hard.
Sometimes I nod, greet him, pass a bill.
Always I see him—as the drowning always will.