The Fictive Hour
I spend all my time at the gym.
Pulling down the bar, pushing
the plate: I sweat, and nobody’s
listening. You pull and push,
lift and sweat, and Friday’s
for painting. Let me stay for a little while,
she pleaded, here by my inheritance. Let me stay
and watch the cycle of the seasons. Patmos.
I split the feast of my intentions, my breast
calls to the three smallest shepherds. My breath
slips among the seaside huts, the hulks, I’ll
stand by the damned. And that was perceived
as new. Her son moves diagonally. He didn’t ever
hang out, simply laid down the motif, and then the key
starts to shift, the alphabet enfolds the farmer,
the palimpsest the foreman. I spit
all the line, pressing and curling. How other versions
shimmered, left on the bench. How you loved
the village. The crab cycles back to its celestial
fix, each word gears up for its own private war.
Dot didn’t understand how she kept getting
older, as if huddling on the beach, cramming
sand cookies, gel caps, frozen nomenclature
in a tidal element, an emphasis she might’ve
picked up from her early road career, Dot got thirstier
as the sun approached its zenith, but what
flash advisory she salted toward the day of her
demise faded and grew ever more hermetic.
The sentence passed like a stone. Imagine:
each of us, isolated, walled off from the main
thrust, stretching, taking solitary exercise.
Not one placed above or below another.
Let me stay a little longer, she asked,
don’t remit me to the realm of dwindled
character. We walked along the cliff side. Breakers.
Queen Street. Century Clackamas Center. Counting
for profit, disregarding luxury, the sound transmitted
a crude, cruelly faded document, contracted,
seemed somehow to pivot, crushed a beehive,
laid itself out, struggling down the courthouse
steps. You want to turn away, you see
something untoward, something burning
in the core of your eye. Who was it
that assured me, whoever it was shoring
the shaky acknowledgment, a single face
standing in for all, or for nothing? Fatally
for nothing, holding a fistful of dust and shell
over the brink, sifting it into the wind.
Start from the sickness, try to find inside it
the secret to repose. It’s a bad breeze
that doesn’t end up leading anyone
into a wild abandon, a glimpse of the plethora
dormant or merely hiding under a pile of rags
in the basement corner. No, that’s not rags:
it’s a body. It’s YOUR body. No, it’s the next-door neighbor,
the guy always nattering on about streetlights,
sorry to worry, throw out a line that stops
without any hint of further developments. The catalog
spirit came all in a rush: fleece pullover, salt peanuts,
a foggy day, crystal silence, fitbit activity tracker,
stormy weather, wrinkle-free sport shirt, bending
branches whisper kayak, autumn leaves, sonic
snow tube, sport utility shovel, moonlight in Vermont.
What kind of fool am I? It could happen to you:
a moment’s leap could take your eye off
the logic of your chart, start you yawping
like a Long Island rustic, not the smooth city character
you’d been playing since your first train
swept you into Penn Station. Meanwhile others fret
about getting back on track, but like Yogananda says,
you go on until you achieve endlessness. One wave
crests over a lobster trap, the next drops a surfer
onto Bondi’s sugary sand. I’ve got a lot of work
ahead of me, she starts to think, and one wave
tosses up a soda can that drifted its way across New York Harbor
onto Liberty’s concrete fringe, the next pulls back from the shore
in a pattern that looks to a careless observer like words, to a carefuller
the opening of Michael S. Harper’s “For Bud”: “Could it be, Bud/
that in slow galvanized/ fingers beauty seeped/ into bop.” Others think
you’d better work in the casually slurred decorator and his bright shop,
his artful retreat, or else you might lose any clear sense of the process,
of what you’re attending, where the agonizing language stakes its claim,
and meanwhile one wave is concealing another wave within its wave,
a spectrum centered on orange, a plectrum first spotted at a screening of
The Foreign Hand Tie, a plinth upon which crouch any number of once-statued
dignitaries now falling into deserved obscurity, and then another wave
deposits teeth and trees and lemons onto the step beside you, a hot burst
of afternoon. A tell. An urge. It passes. A hole punched in leather. An awl.
“I’d stop here, but I’m not making
any money,” says the trainer, as I
return to the bench for one more set.
I’d stop here, too, but nobody knows
how much further I have to go, I tell him
with my mind. Later that night I’ll dream
that we’re married, me and the trainer,
my sister in the party dragging a horse.
Now it’s dark. It’s the darkest part of the night
and the wave is in the dark, the first wave,
the second, the third, each wave surges
through the dark part of the night, and after each wave
the next wave passes, passing through the night
and passing through its dark, and then another,
another wave will pass, until in the mind of the night
each wave is the same as us and each of us is one.
And then it’s dark and I’m in the car. It’s dark,
the car, in the darkest part of the night, climbing the hill.
The car climbs the first hill, it climbs the second hill,
as the wave crests up from the sea. My skull is in the hill.
Lovers lie inside my skull, they lie inside the hill,
on each other like a wave, they move until we’re still.
Each of us a wave of love, each of us an empty hill,
each of us a fourth wave. A fifth. A sixth, last wave of dark.
Between each wave a wave. Between each hill a hill.
Within each car a skull contains a car containing dark.
I’m cresting the wave of darkening love, I’m the love
I look inside to pass the wave that breaks upon my skull.
A shelf of graveyard passes through the darkest part of night,
surfing on the cresting hill, and then the fifth, the sixth,
the seventh, bent, hunched up against the window’s fog,
climbing the skull, but still. Climbing the still dark wave.
And then it’s dark and I’m in the grave. It’s dark,
the grave, on the steepest part of the hill, climbing the night.
The grave sinks below the first wave, it sinks below the second,
as the hill glides beneath the car’s steady light. My skull
inside the lovers lies beside the hill inside them still.
They move against one another. They move and then we’re still.
Each of us the empty surf, each of us a graveyard hill.
I think there might be something wrong with me.
I’m shutting the page inside the fogged-up window,
I’m racing down the hill, and there’s the wave,
the sixth wave, the seventh, bent, hunched up against the grave,
on the steepest part of the night, the thrill of earth
and cheek against the sea-wet stone. The next one passes,
moving through the dark, the wet, the muffled thrust
the ocean hurls against the graven hill. They move and move.
I think something’s wrong. I’m getting something wrong.
Go back to the hill. I lift the hill. I pull it down.
I shut the page inside the radio. Are you the grave?
I ask its sounds. I ask its Sounds. It gives me a take,
the fourth take, the fifth. I shut the page in my mouth.
Down the hill the cars race, the lovers, the fog erased
by what used to be the night. I saw a Hill. I pulled
the wave into the steepest grave of skull. Are you
what’s wrong? I ask myself. And hear surpassing love.
And then it’s dark and I’m in the car. The words
stay over there, inside the radio. Little shepherd child,
they start to tell me, transported to another place.
Are you the place? they ask my ear. I saw the hill
erased, I start to say, I saw the hill of rags,
it was MY house that they wanted to replace.
Did you think we meant careless love? to come
so far and never get anything right. To slip
down to the blood bank, roll in like the tide
of injurious day, the sun proclaimed by a dozen
seething gulls. My sick ghost meets yours, meets
hers. “It’s all right to cry,” the radio shouts,
“crying takes you all the way to the blood bank,”
which is where we are now. This guy needs
a transfusion pronto, because his hand got jammed
between a truck and a loading dock. That one:
bad throat. Life is a succession of embarrassing anecdotes,
mostly recounted by frenemies. The body, honestly,
isn’t a help. Especially in midlife, it’s easy to feel
like some kind of gargantuan arch-angel, cast down
into the lake of eternal fire, your quondam followers
the only audience for your increasingly threadbare
rhetorical flourishes and sundry routines, flash paper,
juggled scarves. Or maybe nobody’s listening at all,
back to the future, so to speak. At least it smells kind of nice,
vanilla, cardamom, something complex and citrus-y, but wait,
underneath lurks the olfactory price tag, civet, ambergris,
flesh gone to rot, the middens tagging after your so-called
civilization. Everything circulates: energy, water, banknotes,
tones, and concomitantly a residue accrues, the protoplasmic
slime one sees coat docks or maybe even glimpses
on the underside of an otherwise shapely sentence.
Things got heavy. So I quit the blood bank, quit
likewise the gym, hunkered down for a long spell
of nothing but checking out the raccoons. I felt,
in other words, as though my frenetic efforts had left me
chasing an end I didn’t exactly care to meet. Only by
releasing yourself can you expect something like pure
sound, pure vision, to find its way to you. I guess.
These vicious little animals, at any rate, proved
continually fascinating and not at all symbolic
as they made nocturnal rounds by all the major buildings
of the settlement: the jail, the church, the newspaper
office, Maggie’s Restaurant. Not the buildings, right,
but the dumpsters nearby. My throat would go dry
as I saw them feasting. I wondered what lost paradises
could be conjured by the candy wrappers they pushed
inside rent hats, the skittering of claw against tin.
A month later, and I’m still staring one down,
or probably it’s a cat, I’m not actually looking:
I’m standing at the summit of our back porch,
top of the steps, under the broad blank vastness
of Portland’s sky, November, no stars, no moon,
nothing but the thrum of electricity circuiting
from a power plant along the Columbia
into the dimly-lit house behind me—
ok, so it is a cat. The next time I have
an encounter like this, I’m sort of saying to myself,
I want to be even less prepared, leave behind the traces
of whatever exertions. I want, if it makes any sense
to put it this way, for the moment to be the mother
of itself, even as that might entail that it splits
into a vertical column of almost identical replicas.
I don’t want to keep putting the idea of this cat
in front of the cat, NOT because, is it me talking
or has this hypothetical future encounter
started to draw me in, in and out, the way
a cool cup of cream might draw out the cat,
I stopped thinking about it, the cat
slid slowly back into the enveloping night,
and I kept hearing it. Except I heard nothing.
I heard nothing and I began to follow it.