poke up like ancestral ghosts
(pale auroras of wisdom), but profligate,
the fluff shot through with brown seeds
that others might follow. I never saw it,
just fixed on my own death, sat on the sofa
ingesting poison, looked out
at the rectangular field as if it were a postcard
from some foreign land, useless, already cancelled.
I sucked streams of gray smoke down my lungs
to blacken me deeper. The embroidery sampler I did in x’s
read BAD NEWS. The butterless popcorn I ate
was a bowl full of spiders. Skinny?
My skeleton forced itself forward. No word
of praise passed my lips though a million breaths
moved through me. That’s what human bodies do, keep
breathing, no matter the venom their brains manufacture.
Now I go to church. Who’d think it?
We stand in rows, like graves, I’d once have thought,
like herd beasts lined up for slaughter. Now I notice
our bodies bend in the same places. We form the same angles.
To sing together, we have to breathe in unison,
draw the same air into the dark meat of our bodies
as if it actually were spiritu sancti and ourselves
that spirit incarnate. Every now and then,
a toddler bolts up the main aisle, pursued
by a lumbering adult. Babies list
in sloping arms and toothless grin.
The old lean on canes
and chrome walkers set down slow. People
pause to let them pass. Always a list of dead is read,
always the sick are mentioned so your own aches
seem aggressively minor. My forebears
forebore this way, in company. Bread fed them,
and they had to practice hope to keep
plowing up the Dust Bowl’s
starved earth in rows, year
after fruitless year, till the cotton came back.
At the end of my drinking,
I coiled a garden hose in the back of my station wagon
and set off driving to a town
called Marblehead to breathe in the cool
exhaust and thus stop thoughts from streaming
through my mind like bad current.
I’d left my infant son a note, glowing green
on my computer screen, how he’d be
better off. Now a column of sun
through high windows shines
on his blond head. His hand
holds half our hymnal, index finger
underlining each word as we struggle
to match up our voices, hold the beat,
find the pattern emerging, feel the light
that glows in our chests, keep it going.
for Dev Milburn