One little lonely moment on the train from Brisbane to the coast, and just like that

I am back on the train to Mount Koya
watching an old man at the station,
tending to the little gas lamp flames
that keep the points from freezing shut
while behind him, another man pulls branches
from the drying stack outside the shed, sings
and stokes the stove that keeps them both
from freezing in the air.
And here we are again —
hands sifting through a language
to describe two men tending to their fires
while I think about a cedar tree —
how it holds the fall of snow
and how a history is written in its rings.

Is there a name for the sound of snow
descending through the still?
Or the way a trail cut into a hill insists,
even as it fades and disappears, on being
followed?

I think I have spent a great deal of this life looking
for ways to leave the body.

For example-
I can walk until this trail disappears into the snow,
look up to cedars reaching up like prayers
and keep on walking

or,
I can think of an old man at a train station
breaking branches for the fire,
hear them cracking into splinters,
and imagine writing on my ribs
the noun for snowflakes snagged
on cedar branches
as the man breaks prayers between his hands
and sings them to the air.

i want to believe in small things first :

1.

that when my daughter stands
on the branches of the old apple tree
and moves her arms just like that
she is not pretending to be

but is

a bird

2.

that the sound of a bird
mid-flight is nothing but vowels –
no lips, teeth, or tongue
to clutter up the air

3.

that the day i fall out of myself
there will be one long
bird-song note that slows
as much as it needs to last

and no longer than that

4.

that for now it’s enough
to lay in the sun like this
beside the tomato bushes
watch the corn stalks brushing above
and be an old dog
waiting

for some small sound to leave
the body

in which iphicles imagines (how else the story might have gone)

image

(i)

in another version of the story
daddy doesn’t turn to tumours

doesn’t lose the means to walk
and brother doesn’t carry him

to water where the horses
stamp their hooves and turn away

(ii)

in another version of the story
daddy doesn’t drown

just gets old
then older still

so we watch him –
skin slackening

bones hollowing
joints fusing

eyes milk-white dividing
split the gaze

(one eye looks upon the world –
the other on the question underneath)

(iii)

in another version of the story
daddy just grows old

and quiet
till one day he doesn’t speak at all

so herc and i, we see ourselves –
see how a body’s just a line that ends

and how a father’s not a thing
if not a map to silence

(iv)

and before he goes, herc and i
will find him there one day –

standing at the water’s edge
as though he sees another way

my brother will be on his way
to claim the murder in his name

and i will only ever be a question
and daddy, standing always

at the water’s edge
will only ever be

a kind of silence
calling back.

in which iphicles imagines (drowning)

image

1.

in everything i write
there is a drowning scene

in which the body is
and isn’t water

in which everything is
swallowing

and being swallowed

2.

i want to blame everything
on where we are in history

                              (which is to say:
                               ‘observed or not
                               the boy is always
                               drowning’)

3.

and sometimes there is a return,
sometimes not

sometime a witness,
sometimes not

4.

i dream (and it is like this) –

eyes filling first with blue
and bursting out from in
/ erasing /
/ boundaries /
/ seeing everything /

and then the world is named
( a grief  )  ( a grief  )  ( a grief  )
 
5.

all i want
is to make ‘blue’ a name
for bursting out

as leaving is 
 
6.

i will tell my brother one day:
it was panic first
a churning blue ( inversion )
then something resembling quiet

that the moment before he pulled me
from the water
hauled me up by the hair
i thought “a thing like this is not so bad”

that there should a name
for this colour of water

a grammar for the pressing in

for the “okay then” of outward breath
(such pretty bubbles rising)

7.

and then the sudden rushing in.

elegy in which the world is visible / invisible / or immanent inside a body

your father, greying now and shrinking,
swings the leaf blower out before him

and hurls the red tree’s leaves back into the garden
while your mother pulls weeds like failed lines

from a poem she will never finish. i want to ask her,
what is the name for grief when it is no longer grief?

did your parents plant the red tree the year you died?
or the year we cut down all the palms

that lined the street and cracked the concrete
as they fell. why do things like this persist?

when a mind has died what is the name
for the breaking of the world inside it?

my daughter – now five – runs by me,
all language (by which i mean the world)

is immanent inside her. if you had lived,
what would you have said to her

as she curled herself against your ribs?
when i explain the world and what it was

before she was born,  she goes quiet
and disappears into her own gaze

as though watching her own ghost
walking through a room,

as though she sees a world
that never was.

to my dumb left lung

image

at this poem’s beginning pneumonia
is the first word suggested
by predictive text. then marathon.
then thank you.

dear shadow-patched and broken lung,
did you know i haven’t written anything
that matters for months?
did you welcome the barbarians
because you knew that at least
would make for some kind of story?
do you understand narrative structure?
tension? velocity?
was it you who replaced language
with these frequencies of silence?

did you – you strange and strangled flower,
you broken bagpipe – did you intend
a reason to actually slow?
to walk like a bad heart, grateful
for each thump and staggered footfall?
to understand how altitude
trades for oxygen and arrives at blue?
to find the poetry in being swallowed?
to know the earth and how it kisses
with its whole mouth? to swallow saltwater?
to open wide and swallow sea?

to wake up in the morning drowning
in it, bobbing eyes to sky,
swallowing the blue,
kissing with your whole mouth, wheezing pneumonia, marathon,

thank you.

the birth of rome

image

1.

imagine god is a wolf
at the banks of the Tiber.
in its jaws wolf-god
holds a baby by the scruff,
another child lodged somewhere
in its throat.

2.

imagine wolf-god drops the baby
in the reeds at river’s edge.
lets it roll into the shallows.
the baby, fresh and filmed
with blood, can’t tell howl
from lung from water,
can’t tell bone from sky
from fur.

3.

imagine now that wolf-god
starts to tremble, drops its head
and starts to wretch.
watch as wolf-god rasps its throat
and wracks itself in spasms.
watch as wolf-god wretches up
the other- child who can’t tell blood
from blood
from blood.

4.

imagine though that other-child
knows just how the story goes,
knows he’ll grow to kill his brother,
found a city full of weeping wives,
and watch the city tumour into empire.

imagine other-child wants to speed-up
history.

imagine that before the wolf-god
births the other-child, other-child digs
his little hands past wolfy throat, tears
through wolfy lungs, finds the wolfy heart
and eats it.

and watch as other-child
drags itself from wolf-god’s carcass,
mouth all full of wolf-heart,
watch it sets its eyes upon its brother,
watch him take the brother in his little hands
and drown it.

5.

see that this is how the world is sung –
waterlogged and blue,
twitching in the hands of boy,
as boy looks down at what he’s made,
boy with dead-god dripping
from his mouth,
boy with yellow-eyes and yawning,
boy whose jawline breaks and swings
as lips pull into a smile,
boy who spits the gristle of a dead-god 
off a soft pink tongue
and shows the swell of gums

o, this is how the world is sung-
o, little howl hurled up to sky,
o, swallower of hearts.