blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



Burning Instead of Beauty

In an autumn fog, it is easy to mistake a falling leaf for a sparrow,
           the simple brown of their backs: hollow-boned meadow.
A pale branch of seed in its beak, a string of feed corn.

Or, a stem so thin the air becomes the stem, and a beak
           would only mean that something is warm behind it,
and what good is that in autumn when the leaves
           become the little sisters of sparrows?

But think of the fog, how it must feel when it peels back
          from the valley only to find a leaf that is a sparrow,
a sparrow that is a leaf. Consider that, when the fog
          edges toward the sea, the sea is no longer itself.

It remains the valley, a part of the land.
           It becomes a field of white blossoms blown
from the tree of wind, from the trawler's nets,
           and as we walk the boiled lip of the beach
the fog thickens and we become less and less ourselves
           and for a moment we are lost among the waves,
among the leaves, and we've really gone nowhere
           but it feels like something has happened, that we've gone beyond
everything, that our bodies, fragile and alone,
           are finally where they need to be.

It's a false voyage, of course, because when the body
           is no longer ours, we take from it.

How dull and purple it is, raked clean, sponged and sewn.
          Sad even, in its own way, when it finally becomes just a body,
and we return to what reminds us of it.

Heart: oxen knee-deep in a canal.
          Tissue: blanket of silt, blanket of snow.
Lung: tracks of an otter through an oyster bed.
          Brain: monsoon . . . cello strings . . . the beginnings of songs.

None of this really brings us back to what we once knew,
          but we try, and in trying, there is decay.
When the body becomes a stem, a leafy dome of air,
          we crowd around our nothingness and stutter,
pretending we see the bird cages of our chests rise and fall,
          pretending that it is easy to go on without having
what we have always had. Easy because . . .

Easy because decay slowly begins with our body's beginning.

It is slow enough for my brother's body to be facedown
           in the pond, to remember the turtles napping on his back
as if he were a tiny whitened log bleached by the sun,
          the mosquitoes gathering up his fingers.

Slow enough to be 17 again, making love
           on the beach with a girl who would forget me
by autumn, a girl who could kiss the kiss of a paper bird,
           and the trawlers offshore flashing their spotlights
into the fog beyond the one-mile marker, the slight gleam
           of mackerel in their nets enough to make us grab the blanket
to cover up our bodies bright against the rising tide:
           the crumbled outline of a refugee's boat:
all four of our lungs breathing in as much as we can.

To remember which of my father's lungs was given
           to the man in Sweden who has almost lost his body,
the retinas sent by helicopter to Ohio for the child
          who will grow with pieces of my father in her.

Before we leave the body, the fog will cover us.
           We will bathe in its memory, facedown in the memory
of our beginning, our end, and every child in Ohio I meet
           from now on will be named Father
and I will see myself in them and I will love them,
           their dirty faces, their thin bodies warm and feathered,
fluttering in the breeze above the world while my father,
           empty, unknowing, keeps on giving himself away.  

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