During the news in the Thirties, my mother
Hummed with symphonic sadness for grief, for failure.
And soon, cave-deep in my father ranged a belief beyond
The God-long expanse of plumbing, and wiring, and facts.

He’d lie down to sleep in
The vanishing wilderness of his own life, ask the murdered
To look out from that great savannah of heaven where the herds
Increased and tell him how he could do anything

But plough the pages of The Herald with his small bone
Tractor of a hand. Eventually, he went to war.

Last night, upside down in my sleep,
The past fell ahead of me like the road to a myth…
In my hand, a luminous map of the century, the edges held up
By ghosts. I gazed into far-off space

Where some man pulled cranks on a nuclear control-board
Like Dr. Strangelove’s soda-jerk son and saw
The boots of the military disintegrating in the desert
Around Los Alamos, yellow scorpions nuzzling up in the heels,

The heavy metal of hearts exploding, and all expressions
Of intent became desert, the voice left too thirsty to even speak.

One can read and misread the textures of that dream:
Dust settling on the brow of the commander-in-chief;
Scarlet flowering the jaws of the scientists;
The long human coat of the army unbuttoning.

How many times, after napping among the verbs of fantasy,
Has death risen in the real dark with orders its only transport out?
Myth becomes nothing but its pitiful love story freed of time and space:
There we are, digging in our garden, or sweeping up the litter

Of a local violence, when war paratroops down to us
As if from a deeper dream or intelligence.

Quiet as ash, it settles on our future…
A landscape borrowed from Dante or Asimov: gray, pitched rock
Sprouting a lavendar root here, a stalk of blonde wheat there,
And a longing that rises in a howl from the middle of nowhere.

This Issue

January 21, 1982