Tuesday, August 2, 2011

For J and N, a million times


Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.—Robert Frost


It is courageous, or at least secretly brave, to use the word
love. A word that mouths open on like God or Suicide,
a word that teeth cannot chew wholly through: caustic, mythical, smashed

between dictionary pages on an unlit shelf between James Wright,
his solemn admission: I have wasted my life and Nancy Drew
with her secret rooms, pretty questions, and an uncanny intelligence

   I once believed
I wanted to have if only to chase down devils and men
in long dark coats. And devils in long dark coats disguised as men.


I stood in a field. It was late September and the air smelled
vaguely of fire, or more like the beginning of fire, long
ribbons of smoke twining from chimneys. Light spilled 

like an accident from a hole in the sky.
In that field a girl died, was killed. His thumbs
left a necklace of bruises, delicate purple pearls

around her neck. February, 1998. She was late coming
home. While her father was on the phone with the police
she was raped to silence at the base of a wintering oak.

Her ears became seashells cradling the oceanic roar
of his name. He told the cops later that he whispered
his name in her ear as he drove her body back into the frozen

ground, gripping fistfuls of her long brown hair. Fists filled
with silk, going-cold fire. Then he wrapped the warmth
of himself, those big apehot hands, around the base of her neck.


Three years later I stood in that field, bright September.
The trees dragged their palms
across the needle tips of grass, grass unbending

in the smoky wind. He’d hung her coat on the brittle hook
of a branch. I could not feel her ghost when I touched the smooth bark,
could not feel the violence that had followed her boot prints.

How could the sky could just watch, the oak
just stand there? Later that night when I felt
your breath unraveling like dim smoke from your mouth

I knew you’d come before me. Hard not to imagine you were him
I was her; the ceiling was witness to our fragile hunger, the bed
accomplice to our shy violence. Every last moment shrieking out

of its skin, on fire. She must’ve begged to escape into a snow bank,
to extinguish the horror, to freeze before dying. In this same way I climb
your body, claw my way from that winter crushed

field I saw, didn’t see, in the bloodlight of September,
from the end-roar of his name in her ear, his name from the memory
of myself in that field seeing nothing but making my way

through fallen leaves that crunched like snow to reach
her death that was not mine
but could’ve been.