|Oct/Nov 2010 Poetry|
The Perimeter of History
Growing up in a place like this is like
growing up on the moon. I want to picture
the second house exactly so that I will know
what to tell you: clean, clear lines like an evergreen forest.
The stale air in the living room. The dust
exchanges. The world on the wall
according to my dead grandmother: a skunk
disappearing into a log in a dark aspen grove
whose painted leaves, upon close inspection,
look like tiny flames.
Out from that aluminum siding moves skyward.
The foundation is crumbling. Everywhere
putrid green except where flames ate
a chunk away on the east side and then
mysteriously were satisfied. Another weed fire
took the power lines that used to run
from the telephone pole to the shop.
Insulation thin and stale with dry rot.
Spiders everywhere. Objects in relation
to each other become the same.
Out back my cousin Tracy is about to hang
a rooster from the swing set and then
beat it to death before sunset, but why before
sunset? What happens then? What if
he lets it live? Something will hunker down
inside him. Something will want out.
I will learn to seal everything up inside.
We all will. In 1969 the desert will swallow
an atom bomb whole. In 1969
my grandmother's pancreas will swallow
too much of the awful light from a safe distance
inside a bus. After awhile you begin
to realize light in the desert can penetrate
anything. A 1951 description
of the Nevada Test Site, included in an Army brochure
for the Camp Desert Rock soldiers,
tells them that the desert is a damned good place
for disposing of used razor blades.
This is the space without my father.
Don't try to fill it with anything else.
When it rained into the corn and dust,
he used to say it was like a cow pissing
on a flat rock. It was. My mother read
romance novels to me while I was still
in the womb. I can picture the words
echoing from flesh the size of the walls
of the Lunar Crater. The Lunar Crater
is a maar.
A maar is formed by the heating
of subterranean water. Or, in other words,
it is nothing. It is something
they tell you so you won't believe
the sky can ever burn. It is something
they put you on a bus and drive you
into the middle of nowhere to see.
It is something to help you fall asleep
at night under the skeletal fingers
of poplars that keep erasing stars.
It is used in the sense of: don't worry,
nothing can get through the maar.
Or it will bring you uncontaminated
ground water. Or it will bring back the stars
In 1963, a limited test ban treaty
was signed by the United States
and Russia, which means the tests
went underground. From here on
history becomes a dotted line.
Why would my grandmother get on a bus to see
what was miles beneath her? Why would
she feed her pancreas processions of invisible light?
In 1969 my mother graduated high school.
In 1969 Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot
for the Apollo 11 mission, ended 21 days
of quarantine by saying I want out.
My old high school surrounded by its sea
of sun-bleached pasture grass. In the hallway
there's a crack in the lime green paint
tunneling toward the attic, where all
the dead bodies of students nobody'd miss
wait for some honors student
who knows too much to find them.
I'm leaned against the wall with Jill Summers.
She puts headphones over my ears without warning,
and I hear Kurt Cobain for the first time,
singing well I swear that I don't have a gun.
I do. In that instant I look back to see her chin-length
brunette hair fall over her jawline. Her left ring finger
brushes my head when she takes them off.
I replay that moment over and over again
later, sweating under my sheets.
My mother in no more than gray light drops
an omelette on the floor and it comes up coated
in dog hair, cat hair, and God knows what else.
She scoops it up with her other hand, slaps it
on the plate and puts it down in front of me,
saying nothing. I become fascinated by the rim
where flowers reach from muck of the past.
Irises, I think. I know this because my mother
fancies me a gardener. All summer long I stay up
late at night to watch softcore porn on Cinemax,
the next day hazing into hours of watering
her butternut squash, my pumpkins she reminds me
I've planted since I was little, her marigolds, her roses,
her irises. All the desperate lives left waiting.
Richard Hugo says you write the same poem again and again.
I read this for the first time after bucking hay
out back of the feedstore, sky darkening toward snow.
Someone taps the counter with their index finger and I look up
to see my own sixteen year-old self staring angrily back.
Does that make me crazy?