If They Come in the Morning
In the fugue states war crimes are prosecuted impartially.
Its only natural to fill the gaps.
The tesselated craters in your memory
Where the hits just keep on coming night
After night are like the edges of those old maps:
Here be the dragons
Of lost timefive minutes here, three hours there
Jumping the turnstiles to a landscape
Where nightmares would be a relief.
Always waking in some slant light
To check and sniff your hands, your crotch
For blood, semen, or swelling
Can make you long to live off the grid
In some shaven solitude where the finer points
of dear and cheap sluice through the moral gates
Of the most coarsely drawn boundaries.
Back on the mainland, where salt accrues meaning
Only in a village that lacks iron
And free is the word for both libre and gratis
The difference between ripped off and left alone
Blurs in the vestments of the analysts couch
Where value forms in the synapses of endless exchange.
In the lacy jags of the waking states
The supply side origins of nightmares and metaphors
The rogue hours, the minutes taken off the books
Swell with substance and the hallowing of fear.
There are no gaps where language knits accounts.
Chuck Taylors All Stars
When the electricity blinks
In Huntsville, the towns ear strains
For thunder in the distance.
Your lawyer, his heart ticking his eyelid
Can only sell you strategy and process
Having given up music for the law
Sold his guitar, a pre-columbian Strat
Made the year he was born
To pay for his first year at UT
And please his mothers instinct
For a trade, something to fall back on.
Like the governor, who really wanted
To be commissioner of baseball
Kennesaw Mountain Landis or Bowie Kuhn
Twitching in his sleep
When the phone rings in Austin.
Your lawyer, who took a job after graduation
At the second biggest firm in Dallas, where he made
His bones defending a Houston insurance company
Against a refinery worker who had his fingers
Smashed and torn off in a hydraulic vise and later
Contracted the same cancer that spreads across
The Black schoolyard downwind
Of the voluntary regulations in Midland
And then quit for the Public Defenders office
Once hed made enough for a down payment
And learned the ropes enough to know
Where the knots are, makes the call twice each day.
His band once opened for Humble Pie
In Erie, Pennsylvania, where the governor
Has postponed all executions until further notice.
Having bought a red Telecaster knockoff
That sits in the corner of the bedroom
Of the bungalow that matches
A PDs salary, your lawyer
Still feels those bloody, cracked fingers
In the dark or in the shower or when
Hes driving to work, but not while he blinks
Vacantly at you and explains the options
Hes exhausting on your behalf.
Looking among the visitors who come and go
Family, friends, press, movie stars and clergy
For a love that isnt just pity
The steady treason of laces and leather
Makes it harder and harder to tie your shoes.
Imagine prisons on fire, inmates fucking guards
razor wire melting like silver tape worms, imagine
slow dancing along the braided spark of discipline
like a christian killed in Wyoming, strung like a scarecrow
by boys, who eat chili fries in diners
with their girlfriends, across the enamel surface
of a slick sky, dying to the rhythm of whispers
of obedience bargained from steady youth to trembling age
inherited at dawn by sons in spats and shiny ties
men with juice, who love each other honorably
in trenches and capitol cloakrooms, with rosy fingers
diamond crucifixes and palms greased with gold
stolen from the teeth of college boys who flirt with you
in bars. Imagine having to pay the vig
on an imagination evil from youth
on the whiskers of sneaky wet kisses that raise
the hairs on your neck for the rest of your life.
The Price of Water in Los Angeles
Sunset and Highland in broad daylight. Its a tricky place. Exhaust
Swirls like tumbleweeds around ankles and antennae, part of the landscape.
It is a landscape of shifting currencies. A lotta skin.
Of high concept and tripods.
His name is Richard. Sometimes he sleeps w/ a woman named Ellen.
And once he hiked up to the Hollywood sign
On a bet. He was gone all night and Ellen fell asleep (and waited)
In the bedroom window.
He remembers things differently from Ellen
He doesnt hold the past like
A grudge or an inside straight. (Like Ellen does)
He avoids the eyes of strangers.
His mother had one good eye.
She longed for depth perception above all else
And wouldnt respond when he spoke.
When he reached the age of consent
He got married in Tijuana
And never told her.
They still laugh about it.
She didnt work and he would go with her downtown,
On Tuesdays, to the unemployment office
She wont leave him alone with words.
Words alone offer no solace: Only movie trailers, a quickie divorce
Can settle accounts and wake the nations
Like the ruby crucifix that dangles from his ear.
When she reminds him that the diminutive of his name
Is a vulgar synonym for penis
He finds himself unable to get it up.
With no hope of retribution.
His mother had a butterfly tattoo on her butt.
She made him take her to the parlor in the valley
And watch while a skinny guy with reptile eyes
And roses on his forearms bled her
He knew then that faith was a bad mix with desire.
They havent discussed it since. Its enough that she was
His chrysalis, his own blood metamorphosed into a butterfly.
In a perfect world Richard is a reporter
You make your own choices. and uses a lot of different
bylines because hes convinced
Cash up front. the CIA is after him. When
Ellen laughs at him,
The higher order she holds his face
Needs no evidence. in her hands. Sometimes
it really pisses him off.
Its not without pastoral elements:
Round the bend on the 405 just past Reseda
Forsaking the coast highway
Slicing south through six lanes of burnt grass and bedroom windows
L.A. grins back like a rancid tumor
Flayed open from no particular center.
Gogols Petersburg or Eliots London
Would float in a silver cloud or recoil into myth.
Opal Jaundice Zygotes of red and green leave only
Los Angeles haiku:
Single-minded sports cars
Mainlining La Cienega
Into the Hollywood Hills.
Snaking to the quiet beach
The water sheer at ebb tide.
Its hard to get your bearings when the quickest way to the Far East
Is to sail west past Catalina.
The cemetery behind the Avco Theatre on Wilshire. Its a preachers place
No respect for Marilyns daily rose or the leaves
On Natalie Woods grave.
What he loves most about L.A. is
Ideasthat dont fit on 3 minutes of videohave no place.
And they have movie stars
It is a city of stolen water and
No blame, movies are movies and not films and theyre in color
Hence the problem of credit.
When the whip comes down
On the common word, exact without vulgarity
And consorts begin dancing among themselves
Scouring the summertime thickets of forged visas
And the guard from St. Louis bums a light, says
Youre not from round here, are ya?
The time has passed for putting on airs
For recollecting a vulgar marxism for a vulgar world.
The murderers of our own children, the hooded friars
Who find it hard to be human with no memory
Sit stoic on the board of the holding company
That mined the harbors in Haiphong and Baltimore
With dried bones, insisting we follow our leader.
After clearing customs, time thickens and takes on flesh.
No Particular Place to Go
Sit by the river long enough
And the bodies of your enemies will fall
Like ripe peaches and float by
On their way to the water works and the romance
Of translation through the sluices, gates, the valves
And levers passing through the words on the other ear.
Move, and honey dominoes into the price of honey
Sticky in a web that quivers across civilizations.
In the fading light of old photographs without people
Its easy to lose the horizon and find yourself
Liberated from love and the future.
Tonight youre sitting on top of the world
Where theres not a lot of room and ripeness is all
And you are afraid of ideas before they even arrive.
Video Killed the Radio Star
About the latest road show
Of Uncle Toms Cabin, for instance
The critics complained that the bombs
Were too loud, obscuring the dialogue
And the flying was not realistic.
The audience was parched until
The hint of public nudity
At the cast party. The male lead left early.
Meanwhile on television, for example
There are no longer reports of men
Wearing dresses and the owl of culture
Flies only at night, so tired
That the words repeat themselves
Like billboards on Sunset Boulevard.
Each day we dont die we get older
And our clothing seems little more
Than floss and magic shoes. The hard shell
Of jealousies mutates, but the yolk remains pure
Even in little ladies during big wars
And old dogs cease their bark
Assuming they have nothing left to say.
You Gotta Start Somewhere
He wakes in mediation alone in the house
lacquering the veins of impotent passion.
His nephew spends complicated Tuesday
mornings making ends meet with a wicked
game of dominos. His friends feel hes raised
privacy to the level of arthe swears
they never quarrel. In the gaps between nickels
and dimes he sometimes finds his uncle
a middle man on his best daysflush
with hot tips and prime meridians, asking
women he meets if they want to wake up
in the city or the country. The bone pile
just over the county line is where hell find
his nephew with greasy hands on a Wednesday
night. Now he only dates models who have
their own money. His wife wishes hed take
himself more seriously.
And Then He Kissed Me
In the year your voice broke and Nixon froze wages
We sat through the bump and grind of mass every Wednesday morning
Listened at locked doors and sat with bodies prepared for burial.
The same pus can always be squeezed from new soil
And after awhile they forgot where the fights came from
Slipping into the bog of clenched sleep and a language full of detail.
Morning deadpanned down the hall, awake and aware
That cures are always drawn from long deposits of disease.
They notified the next of kin from the office
And then left early after receiving assurances
That computers would never come into general use.
Sailing after knowledge, barefoot on Wilshire Boulevard
Where boys ran combs through their ponytails and lost
Their religion, caught between going to see
About a girl and going to see a man about a job.
From the upstairs window the little lights we could always see
On the bay winked like the digital future. We wandered
And sniffed like a lost dog turning over a jellyfish
And then tripped down to the boats
Hauling keels against the swell of Gods green sea
In the year that Saigon fell and hail sobbed from the sky.
Ill See You in My Dreams
Living in the moonglow along the arc of a line drive
I knew from the start that you were the girl for me.
Sitting in the June fog in the bleachers with the cops
The retired teachers and the Sinatra fans, the guys
Still looking for Willie Mays alone under the lights
In centerfield at Candlestick Park, loneliness builds
Like quickness, as repetition and preparation
Quiver into muscle memory, jumbled among
The things they wish they hadnt taught their kids. The shot
Heard round the world never caught you in San Francisco
And the bad hops never kept you awake. Thats the stuff
That never makes the box score and made you the girl for me.
The day we swear well die together we curse our children
To solitude and sunburned sanity. I can change, I swear.
Ghost Riders in the Sky
When work disappears
In the cruel back beat of July
And all your friends are dead
Not even your mother knows all your names.
The clover chokes in the cracks in the sidewalk
And summer surprises you with jackhammers and tulips
And someone outside the Kroger shakes their head
And says, man, youve got a crazy cousin.
On Sunday afternoons when you were a kid your mother would fry chicken
For the whole family and be drunk by five oclock.
The children would take their fear into the dust out back
Down by where the weeds and the water end until it got dark.
Your aunt gets up to leave when your crazy cousin
Comes out of the closet, says
Hello, Im Johnny Cash
Bringing the footprints, the ribs, the scabbed over idea of women
To a world without women.
Always remember where you came from.
Fried okra and tomatoes, the color comics
splayed on the floor and the sports page full
Of Ahmad Jones, Abraham Lincoln High Schools light hitting
Slick fielding shortstop, who calls himself the A Train
Wears dreds and keeps a toothpick in his mouth
Even when hes turning a double play, (much
To the chagrin of his daddy, a race man from way back,
A back room kingmaker without portfolio who
Did two tours in the Navy in Nam, flogging
Gun boats up and down the Mekong river and once
Got shot by a cracker at a civil rights rally and has a soft
As a babys butt camel hair overcoat and a sweet rack
Of snap brim fedoras)
Is one badass nigger, with the solid rumor
Of a wicked crossover dribble, which is hard
To verify since hes the only one whos transferred to Lincoln.
He hangs with a jug band
Guys with low spark and high heeled nerves
That jangle elegant down the alley
In London Fog trench coats and long black veils.
In the lean years he would never forget his father telling him
Always keep your wits and your papers with you
In the occupied zones and border towns
Where a Mardi Gras of uniforms scrubs each new crack
In control and authority. Your mother never lets him go
Upstairs, where your crazy cousin learned about love
From his older sister, shadow dancing
In the back of Eddie Wilsons fathers Chevy
Singing sin softly to him from beneath callow
Eddies furious cheeks, pale
Beneath the moon when they left the top down.
On a corner in the shadow of the Hollywood Bowl
where ordinary pronouns take wing
and sex splits and stars like a shattered windshield
who will be the next to trust a friend with a girl?
Love plays havoc with fidelities
caught in the romance of rooftops at twighlight
where form follows function down the back stairs
and yet a face persists across generations.
On the Lux Radio Theatre each voice
dominates a single emotion, and the wage slave
is the flip side of the gambler, covering
the spread on the weighty past of work.
In a world seen through bottled smoke
the authentic cannot be reproduced.
After a night of rough trade
In the bug house
I dream of rolling in the back of a long black limousine
Back to town from the country
The Hudson River on my right
With November notions of ice sliding by.
My driver, a guy from Long Island named Michael
Is a regular guy, a guy I can talk to
Who drove ten years for Saturday Night Live
Has The Supremes on the player.
Night falls and we glide
Past a city of wet pavement
Seasoned jaundice yellow by the streetlamps
Reflecting New York, London in the shadows, Amsterdam
Below the horizon
A palimpsest slouching toward Los Angeles
Whose steel and concrete and trash can fires
And smell of fish
Solidly defy the digital transfer of paper money.
Its a Carey car, a black Lincoln
With tinted glass, solid doors and electric windows
That glide in silence
Hired by the hour
Taking me to dinner
At an overpriced neighborhood place
Where you might see Eddie Murphy or Tom Cruise
(Knowing the bourgeois
Spends less on his food
than the workman
I take all my meals in expensive restaurants
In solidarity, leaving
Always an extravagant tip).
Stop with me here a while and soon
Youll know everyone on this street
The doormen, the cops, the waitress on a break, the driver
Smoking against the fender or asleep in the car, the woman
On a bicycle with her hands in her back pockets, the guys
Too proud for the shelter who think of the economy
As something natural, like waves or the wind, blowing
Hot and cold, guys
whose jobs have gone south, and their women
Who know theyre not coming back. I arc through them
Like a dolphin or a lifeguard who must
Coldly keep his distance until
The drowning are ready to give themselves up
To salvation or the sea.
When I wake up I remember days
When my grandfather, a longshoreman
Who could squeeze a nickel till the Indian howled
Took me to banks like cathedrals
Or train stations
Back when train stations were train stations.
Rolling downtown in his new Olds eighty-eight
At the death of his third wife
Whose first husband
Made his money in a string of dry cleaners
Into a new Cadillac
Every two years need it or not.
The judgment of slick slabs of alabaster marble
Crossed with rivers of red carpets
The natural geometry of shameless and understood
Surveillance and the hardon
Of the implied ability to punish
Along with the rippled hush
Of stacks of folding money, deposits
Dating back to the end of Black Reconstruction
When millions were liberated from the land
And delivered to the bosses. My grandfather
Always voted Republican in a Democratic district
And longed for New York
Lighting his cigars with hundred dollar bills, buying me
A fifty dollar hooker named Viper
On my fourteenth birthday
Real movie stuff.
Having come to it late, he saw
The abstract of capital rise to the concrete of money, his verb
And his days on the docks
Sending twenty-five centuries of philosophy packing.
He never caught on, my grandfather, that real money
New York money
Never had to raise its voice
Above a whisper.
He never posed the world
Any real danger, was always daring you
To step on his blue suede shoes.
In the Jesus dreams he looks like John Malkovich
Skinny and pale, sneering and whining
In a bar or on a pier, feeding seagulls, me and Christ
Two white guys sitting around talking.
He says he hasnt slept in years.
The same thing, staring past me like a guy
Who did two tours in Nam, running the same lines
He would insist he wasnt white,
Like those white people who tell you at parties
That theyre a quarter Cherokee
Or that their great-grandmother on their mothers side
Someone this swarthy in a Lexus, he tells me
Would always get pulled over in Beverly Hills, every time
I tell him not any more, but hes pacing now
Running his hands through his hair, talking
Talking like hell die if he stops.
Who do you know has a dinner party when he knows
The cops are coming in the morning.
Twelve guys who will disappear when the heat shows
Just talking, talking about themselves
Paul was a boring fanatic and still owes me
Twenty bucks, Judas,
Hes the only one
Id still talk to. And not just
Because he was so beautiful he didnt care
Who your daddy was.
When they killed me
Only my mother and a hooker showed up.
Two fathers can make you an orphan
Working for the homeless. Nobody talks about it,
But my mother spent her golden years drunk. A guy
From the country lives in town
Could do worse than keep his mouth shut.
When I remind him about that twenty bucks
He just says To Caesar what is Caesars
To God what is Gods
Big talk with all the residuals,
The real estate bought on margin
And the deferred money
Ill give him Caesar, do I look like
God to you?
Michael tells me how difficult
Steve Martin could be. His wife was nice though.
I tell him how I knew a guy in the tank
Got kicked out of the navy for lying
About his epilepsy. He told them,
Some captain and a guy in a suit
That he didnt have epilepsy.
But they said he was in a world of hurt
If he didnt sign away his pension.
He hopped the next transport back to Carolina
And it hit a wind shear and had to crash land
At a top secret Air Force base somewhere
In West Virginia where soldiers waited
With machine guns at the end of the slide
And rows of B-52s hummed in the distance.
Steve Martin once played a white guy who thought
He was black and would get in the car and say drive
When Michael would say where, hed say just drive
As though he would die if he stopped moving.
What they thought was epilepsy turned out
To be a brain tumor that wasnt found
Until hed pushed a Wheeling Avis all
The way to San Diego to see about a girl
He knew from Atlantic City, who swirled
With breath and her hair all pretty, kissed him
Hard and said she was engaged to a Navy captain
Take me to the beach. I knew him
In the house, after they put the plate in his head
Long after the time when pushed like Judas
Up against the wall by the Roman heat
I wouldve palmed Caesars nickel and told them
Dont piss, dont shit, dont fuck
Until I call you. Do nothing
Until you hear from me. Back then
I worked like I didnt need the job
Danced like nobody was looking
I could play any song with only three chords
I wore black high top Converse All-Stars
Across the parade ground unlaced before Joey Ramone
Was out of diapers and then did the push-ups
On my fingertips. Before the cock crowed
Three times I knew every day was a good day
You can only dodge sleep for so long.
The slow, steady slide in increments that dont register
Across the span from green to bloodless pale
Has left me breathless
As though Id jumped
Down the emergency slide
Into the fire-killing foam
Covering the wet tarmac of a West Virginia airbase
To find myself in the back of this car
Where Michael has switched to NPR
Where Ken Wiwa says, Its hard to carry on
With the activities of your life
When your fathers been hanged.
My own father was an engineer
A man of aqueducts and sluices
Who wanted me to be a writer, having no idea
What assholes writers can be.
As I know my life
The way I know every guy on every street corner
I have no need to speak.
Stepping lost from the limo
Late in the evening the lingering smell of weddings
Stirs the petals of lost religion
And seeps into all the corners of the world.
The sly little despairs of descent can fool you
Gathering grains without shadows
Stacked like another novel
About somebodys divorce
With quiet vengeance in a corner
Until faith doubles back
On how I could have lived
With my seeds outside my skin
The pavement soft beneath my heels
Bearing me up like a small boy
On his fathers shoulders
Wondering what I wouldnt give
To know again the feel of my own skin
Or taste any word that hasnt already been chewed.
Missing you in hell
Wait for me, wait
For me please.
And Ill see you in my dreams.
Til Her Daddy Takes Her T-Bird Away
Three seasons cluster in a single June day.
All we lack is summer.
The thin man down the hall wears black cashmere
And loafers with sad tassles.
He tells women that theory will kill you
And wreck your sisters wedding.
Without the heat and the leaves changing so fast
The sackers of cities
Can only blame a lack of pale lace
And the ideology of modernism
For pearls turning inward out of season
Across our own V-neck sweaters
And a blue dowry lifted from
A lean hermeneutic
While the borrowed tux with tails across the hall
Fills his fathers shoes
To find the man who gives this woman.
Back then it was O.K. to pass as a thug
or the child of a good job at the post office
loitering in the trashy alleys out back of the Dairy Queen
or parking cars for tips at the winery.
Back then we woke through the mist of chilly Sunday mornings
looking awry at the girls in shiny pants, talking trash
to their brothers. Quick stepping only when we were alone
through a love struck suburb pregnant
with fresh pavement, parks and a savings and loan.
Back then we had the time of our lives
amid quiet lumber and rocket stamps licked in the dark.
The literal images riddled with the grace
that would have made us afraid of the same wet promise
every day lie folded into our memory of the present.
And the future, my friend, was a long time coming.
The Real Deal
Your parents will die while you
Still think theres a chance to make a clean breast of it
Which will leave you wondering
If this child will grow up to dodge a draft or love
Furtively in dawns doorways
Or write yet another poem about womens breasts.
No matter, he wont remember the day
President Reagan faced the press
Looking like a bewildered homosexual capitalist
Afraid of the masses, and told them
That no one remembered the holocaust
And that the murder of a crowd of South Africans
Wasnt about race because some of the policemen
Were black. You cant even begin to explain
That world to a teenager who will never see the inside
Of public school. The simple things disappear
And each day we learn again
How easy it is to lose
In the things that seemed
Real important at the time.
Breakfast at the Marion Motley All-Star Cafe
After the swift sadness of a good book finished
Or a birdie on the eighteenth hole
Dirk digs into the formalities
Of stiffening his heart against a century
Of yesterdays. His nerves prefer the reality
Of cold afternoons alone in the garage
With a fender primed but not painted.
The differences between the large insanities
And the smaller ones swim along the row
Of little labelled jars of nails and screws.
One golden hour of filing blades, patching tin
And crimping lead shot onto twenty pound test
Lets Dirk face a lack of children and allows him
To take up a task suited to his strength.
Days wed flip the songs
on the juke box at the Dons Burger Villa
in the heart of the heart
of Silicon Valley looking for Little Walter
and His Night Cats
walking the dog down from Memphis or Chicago,
surviving on chili cheese dogs
and a frenzy of aphoristic density.
Nights, when we could no longer
count on television
for the clear expression of mixed emotions,
we blew a lot of second chances
on misty champagne kisses
aspiring to the condition of music.
Ground Control to Major Tom
In an age
When the poets have plenty of Language
But no longer hear voices
And have no more need for truck stops or bookstores
And the musicians have long ago ceased
To concern themselves with moving air
Certain prophets arrive on a warm fluke
A gust of blood alcohol, fully prepared
As the weather in Phoenix becomes more
Like that in Houston.
Weather girls and middle-aged men staring at screens
Feel that the general rise in relative humidity
Foreshadows a new ice age, an age that demands
The air be refrigerated rather than pushed
Down through the house and out the windows
And advise a return to tin cans tethered by string.
The umbilical tether is all, just ask
Those Apollo guys or their Hitchcock blonde wives
The window, and not the thumb
Cut and riveted into tempered steel, stronger
Than reentry fire or the Indian Ocean, framing
Galaxies in eight inches by twelve
Is what makes us human, separates us from monkeys
Or dogs. In even the most minty fresh epochs
A solid image of nature, like a little black dress
Or your teachers sightless skull, never goes
Out of style. Seeing, again and again, and a six pack
Of Lone Star Beer cooling in the refrigerator,
The Library of Congress calls my editor
To ask if Im the guy with my name
Who wrote Space Aliens From the Pentagon.
I say no but in the year I was born Billie Holliday died
Fidel Castro drove Michael Corleone from Cuba
And in 1969, for instance, the year Miles Davis
Made Bitches Brew, the year before
My two cousins died one from cystic fibrosis
The other in Cambodia, I lost three weeks
Allowance on the Orioles and five years later
A hundred bucks Id made selling Panama Red
Cut into baggies with oregano to mothers in trailer parks
And three junior high school kids
On the best jai-alai player in all of Mexico City.
They were both sure things.
That same year they say a man walked on the moon.
You tell me, I saw it in black and white stoned
For the first time by my cousin home
Between tours and my other cousin
Who ate the dope in brownies for the pain
In our grandparents house on a clear night in La Porte
Dangling at the other end of Highway 49 from Houston
The city that tethers astronauts.
Some Friday nights in the early years
Of the Gemini Project my father, whose father gave him
My name, would come home
Full of Texas Instruments codes
To our Sharpstown rambler before Frank Sharp
Pioneered the bleeding of widows pensions
Paving the way for Senator Glenn and the Keating Five
And pile us all, my mother, my cousins and me
Into the Plymouth headed south.
We tumbled like puppies in the back seat
Past the bobbing duck derricks and the refined stink
Of crude transmuted into the acorns of working class cancer
Breathing across Pasadena and Deer Park, the moon
Shimmering oily orange, too young to cut my cousin
Any slack on her soggy lungs scratching for breath
Past Corpus Christi as I fell asleep across her
Bony girl hips and her brothers smooth chest.
Saturday morning sun off the bay found us stacked like cord wood
Across my aunts round movie star bed
In the house of three roofs.
In that house my people swelled with the audacity
Of weather prediction. With the zeal
Of fishermen or Mission Control they would stalk squalls, twisters
And wind direction with binoculars, weather vanes
And CB radios, track Beulah, Carla, Edith
Gods furious daughters hacking across the Gulf of Mexico
On my grandfathers tesselated three color charts. His calm
Refusal even as the waves were spraying upstairs windows
To take to higher ground unless his taut vectors
Revealed a coherent conspiracy of wind, his faith
In the view from a weather satellite, his cold
And unadorned love for hurricanes
As everything that daily life was not
Gave him the logic and daring of an inside trader, made him
The deft and centered eye in a room of distracted innocents
Trying to make some rough sense
Of the jostling Gulf of Mexico.
On days more ordinary
Days of still funnel skies or cloudless humidity bearing
Down like a vice squeezing any music from the mirror bay
Before anyone could say no we were past the bench
Where my grandfather, named like a King
For his father and his son, killed one beer
For each tanker that crossed the afternoon horizon,
Down the grassy hill to the pier that grew more stunted
Each time a hurricane ripped the shingles.
And we went down to the boat
The keel buffing gently against flaccid tires
Barely bobbing in a glassy bay
Like an ice cube in a tumbler of whiskey.
The oil leaking from the outboard Evinrude
Coiled through the water like the hissing smoke from green wood.
On the day my father asked my mother to marry him
He went down to that boat
Set bow against white caps, forth on the godly gulf
Bearing his woman across the bay
Wooing as the crow flies like Cuba from Florida.
Driving, you have to cross
A bridge from Seabrook worthy of Lake Ponchartrain
To crawl past the drugstores and retirement homes
Wheezing with Atlantic City nostalgia
But from the reedy beach where my father wedged the boat
And spread a Mexican blanket, the horizon of hotels
His cheap champagne and the scattered salsa notes
Could still conjure Havana before the revolution.
Its an island that leads with a nose bandaged by a seawall
Giving safe haven to a palimpsest of life
Outside of historyit is an island
Of concentric recollection, of landlords and lawgivers, Jean Lafitte
Privateer and lonely patriot
Who sold slaves by the hundreds to Jim Bowie
And later as the Republics governor left the earth
Bitter and scorched for the brief
Visits of General Gordon Granger on Juneteenth
Bringing emancipation three years late after one last
Cotton harvestSinatra, Tony Bennet and the Marx Brothers
When the Maceo brothers ran the Balinese room at the end of a long pier
That bought the time to turn roulette into gin
Rummy before the heat
Could find the back room until the Texas Rangers
(The cops not the baseball team that was once
The Washington Senators bought
By a future president named for his president
Daddy (who as CIA director imported the coke
His son would have to deny) with Harken board
Stock sold before the bottom fell out, you
Do the math) planted a guy
And busted the place
The night the mob kids in shiny suits with rolls of tens and twenties
Brought their civilian snapper school chums
From St. Thomas and St. Agnes
In white socks and their daddys scuffed wing tips
And my parents tasted rum and coke for the first time
And bet twenty one black just like that couple in Casablanca
And held hands all night in the holding cell
Six years to the day
Before I was conceived at dusk on the beach in the shadow
Of the stub of the Balinese pier beaten gray
Like Sputnik. If Castros curveball had had a little more bite
Africa would have fewer doctors and Bobby Kennedy
Would have been President when the black and white
RCA in my grandmothers sewing room
Brought the Miracle Mets into the house
Just like the pipes brought flouride and the mail
Brought draft notices. The night before she died
My cousin and I lay side by side on the twilight grass
Facing Galveston Bay breathing shallow
And talking about some hippies who were going
To levitate the Pentagon, just enough no doubt
To let the aliens slip in. She said she wanted to go
And I said shouldnt you wait until your brother comes home
And her fingertips brushed my knee and she told me
She was in love with him, wanted to lay with him
Just once before she died and her chuckle about
Bequeathing her broken double helix to children
With tails collapsed into a rib wracking cloud of phlegm
And I could only hold her hand, couldnt bring myself
To tell her about all those small secret steps
That became Frank Robinsons giant leap
From the loneliest man in right field
To the swift purveyor of judgement without mercy
All those small steps we never even notice
Like all those things Miles Davis listened so hard to leave out
Leading to the giant leap into a world where Don Clendenon
And Ron Swoboda could never be anything
More than holograms and when the hacking relented
She asked me if I didnt think that maybe
Somehow everybody was related and I said
Tonight we are all descended from pirates.