Mudlark Poster No. 48 (2003)

Michael Cadnum

Michael Cadnum is author of twenty-five books, including the novels BOOK OF THE LION, a National Book Award Finalist, IN A DARK WOOD, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, and SAINT PETER’S WOLF. A former Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, Cadnum has also published several collections of poetry, including THE CITIES WE WILL NEVER SEE, ILLICIT, and a picture book for children, THE LOST AND FOUND HOUSE. A dramatic monologue about the Gingerbread Man, “Can’t Catch Me,” was staged along with a play by David Mamet in Chicago in the Spring of 2003. Cadnum’s future publications include a book about the California Gold Rush entitled BLOOD GOLD and a series of novels based on the Greek and Roman myths. He lives in Albany, California, with his wife Sherina and his parrot Luke.

Day by Day


By day the sailboats,
sky so open
the books always faded in the noon smog.
The television somewhere,
an escaped convict in chains he
streamed behind, running.
Between the trees
the stream bed, dry,
a scuzz of mosquitoes,

now that I have time.
For the open door, this.
Hello to everyone, your letter closes.
No one answers when I call.
All night the sound of rain.
Waking, the patio dry.
Easel, brush. Loaded gun.
Every answer is a wrinkle.
Each smile a sore.

Obligation and devotion.
The neighborhood, one mockingbird
recreating the world.
Only by morning
do we see the clocks,
pulsing, a black-out
hours before. The shore,
the distant islands. By the time
the ships arrived we were
starving, tea-bark boiled
against the scurve.

So the sound, different
for each, only some of us
with perfume in our urine
after eating the doves.
Blue pitcher on a yellow table.
The open mouth of the vessel,

the quiet room, beyond.
If you asked I would tell you.
All day, silence. At night
the blue muted to the color
of the open doorway.
There are so many reasons.
The yellow parakeet
on the patio until I lowered
my hand. The house finch
learning to fly, dead the next day.
Even the hummingbird,
still warm, soft as a bookmark.
Pretend. And then, not pretending,
let the games begin.

All the way out on this arm of land
where we should not be—
all the full, silent life. Today the answer,
and all the way home repeating,
a jingle from an ad,
the way the door opens,
and swings silently shut.
The suddenness of things, not
the chaos. Roads, buildings.
Persistence masters the scrub
weeds, the blackberry tangles
along the bare creek. At last
I slept. And woke sick again,
with the heaviness here and
here. Wonder, will you.
And, when vanquished, ask.

All morning I waited for you and at last.
The river with its white sails,
the row of red and blue buildings.
The harbor was being drained,
and all night the dredge pipe rattled.
The tulips wilted, until by
midnight when the last train
tore through town the roll of
film was all double-exposed.
The long run across the sprinkler, grass
clippings all the way to your knees.

The poison oak the only green
along the hill this time of year.
All the wind folded into a handkerchief
and washed. Something is awake,
now, and turning this way.
Another refinery explosion huffs the window.
The mail is trash, worse—bad news.
And the coffee plant unfurls
from its concrete soil.
The bookshelf makes the fine dry
creaks as the white sun-
light leans upon it. The television
falls silent.

Forests, and after the black creeks,
prairie—“desert.” The owl
a pinch, its voice a slice.
No, don’t kiss me on my.
Please send for another one
this color. Between the warehouse
and the cathedral the new
parking lot, white stripes
ladled into the stencil.
I used to work in a factory that
ground lenses, each huff of dust
another millimeter of galaxies.
No, I won’t write the chairman. Ask
for another one, without
ice. Speak into this hole.


There is a moment at noon
when the sun slips back
from its height, when the hand
reaching to push the screen door
hesitates, and lifts to shade the eyes
against the angle of light,
the children across the street in their
brightly-colored swimsuits ready
to run through a sprinkler
that is not yet turned on,
and, when it turns, churns slowly,
finding its power, the day
becoming what it really is,
full and falling from the sky.

Then, by chance, I overheard you
laughing. Promise me you will.
When the hills are that color,
green going white.
The color comes even if the rains
persist into summer,
because the seed will assume
downward the weight of
all winter’s soaking cold,
open day the answer to
the storms, ocean the keep-
sake of the under-tongue,
so much to finish, the loft and
tumble of sierra.

Landscapes, a beck and two steeples.
The field steaming, rain,
off and on. The authority
of land, how little a figure is,
a red car, a Fiat or some other
sporty compact. Two kids,
and a dog. Distance,
another kind of land, father
to the sky. What we see
is only how it falls upon
our faces, a weight too great
to experience except as heartbeat.
Waking at night again, slipping on the
earphones, tuning in the World Service.
No news, I say to your unvoiced
query. Nothing harming either of us,
I mean. Cozily centered
in the cell at the bottom of the castle,
while the wind, the giant
clouds, all bucket down
white haste, politics,
financial storms, the rest
of the empty page.

The swallows secrete
themselves in the buildings,
and in the other buildings
that are not there, outlining
the invisible. When I ask
you will wait with your answer.
Was there a reason for such silence?
Insomnia was the same way,
almost a religion. Late in the day
the questions glide in, and the city
vanishes. Hold this
to the light: the watermark
a map of the way.

It stays hot late,
in this town by the freeway.
Wives wait until bedtime
to go out and water the plants.
Pitchers of water—juice carafes,
aluminum garden cans—
water from the kitchen tap.
They come back only to hurry
out again, leaving the faucet coursing
in the dark.

Sometimes everything you do is wrong.
Shake plant food out of the bag.
Or don’t. The leaves turn yellow,
the stalks insinuate along
the hard earth. This
is when you know destiny
is imaginary. Days do not
add up. Some character in leaves,
in light, possesses itself.
The gardener is a visitor.
Water in the aluminum can, the one with
the long, narrow spout, parts
the dirt, the dried leaves,
and the leaf curl, the whitefly,
arrive when the season is right.

All morning the end of the hurricane
skims over this table,
this sagging patio chair.
What we own is always
the quality of noon: shadows
contracting, the wind still.

Home, the pinpricks of light.
How long has this taken,
the walk through the poison oak,
careful to touch nothing?


Some say the field surrenders
a breath the size of the field
each night, another giant room
for the creatures who breathe.
Only the real remains, like the old, dark
filling in a molar, abiding
although make-shift.
Across the road, dust,
rain five months past.

They are cutting open Gilman Street.
In yellow helmets they are climbing
into the earthy dark.
The wind is from the southwest;
furniture factory steam feathers
this way. The bay is empty, except for
the leopard sharks, cutting
along the hightide.

Sounds in the corridor, children,
the thump of a suitcase.
Among the old creeks, where the streams
meet, the rusty shopping carts.
Hummingbirds feint,
dodge. At war for
the sugar-water feeder’s red hook,
for a perch in the green knot of the daphne.
A man in the street, his song
rising above the traffic racket.
How even the crush of rush hour
in a city center, in the ancient market,
the hubbub of a piazza
is ours, new, this hurry
so constant it stands still.

In a room a woman is painting
a mountain, dabbing the oil,
tracing the slope, the gradual
summit. Outside the thwap
of tennis. Something drops upstairs,
a metallic bounce, and silence.
When we wake at night, we
try not to speak. We share
this pretense. that we are not traveling
in the same direction.
When the telephone rings, no one
wants to answer. And by midnight,
when the streetlight is a haze
of drizzle, we have already

lost each other.
One clock, one sofa, the room
beyond the room.
The messenger arrives too weak
to spill the news. All night
the freeway construction,
lights, white helmets.
If we invented the world,
we would leave out the metal
crimp around the eraser,
the gray acre where the moss
sleeps until the winter rain.

A crew bulldozes the eucalyptus from
Angel Island, the “non-native,”
peeling the island to the native oaks.
And the freeway, too, is clear-cut,
so much screen, adolescent blue-gum,
stripped. What is proven is that proof
has to be interpreted. The clouds
this low are landscape.
“You see what could have been
intended.” In the old house the marble fireplace,
the brass fire tools. I trekked
all day, arriving by nightfall.
Why did I wait, listening at the door?

Copyright © Mudlark 2003
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