The night is your cottage industry now

The great Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) gifted this paper-filled world with beautiful, crushing words.

“Stationery”

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.
The night is your cottage industry now,
the day is your brisk emporium.
The world is full of paper.

Write to me.

And for the first time I tell you everything

I had the pleasure of seeing the delightful and incredibly talented Tracy K. Smith (1972-) read and discuss her work a few months ago–this piece is from her second book, Duende. Check out her poem I posted in 2012 from her Pulitzer Prize winning book, Life on Mars.

“Interrogative”

1. Falmouth, Massachusetts, 1972

Oak table, knotted legs, the chirp
And scrape of tines to mouth.
Four children, four engines
Of want. That music.

What did your hand mean to smooth
Across the casket of your belly?
What echoed there, if not me—tiny body
Afloat, akimbo, awake or at rest?

Every night you fed the others
Bread leavened with the grains
Of your own want. How
Could you stand me near you,

In you, jump and kick tricking
The heart, when what you prayed for
Was my father’s shadow, your name
In his dangerous script, an envelope

Smelling of gun-powder, bay rum,
Someone to wrestle, sing to, question,
Climb?

2. Interstate 101 South, California, 1981

Remember the radio, the Coca-Cola sign
Phosphorescent to the left, bridge
After bridge, as though our lives were
Engineered simply to go? And so we went

Into those few quiet hours
Alone together in the dark, my arm
On the rest beside yours, our lights
Pricking at fog, tugging us patiently

Forward like a needle through gauze.
Night held us like a house.
Sometimes an old song
Would fill the car like a ghost.

3. Leroy, Alabama, 2005

There’s still a pond behind your mother’s old house,
Still a stable with horses, a tractor rusted and stuck
Like a trophy in mud. And the red house you might
Have thrown stones at still stands on stilts up the dirt road.

A girl from the next town over rides in to lend us
Her colt, cries when one of us kicks it with spurs.
Her father wants to buy her a trailer, let her try her luck
In the shows. They stay for dinner under the tent

Your brother put up for the Fourth. Firebugs flare
And vanish. I am trying to let go of something.
My heart cluttered with names that mean nothing.
Our racket races out to the darkest part of the night.

The woods catch it and send it back.

4. But let’s say you’re alive again—

Your hands are long and tell your age.
You hold them there, twirling a bent straw,
And my reflection watches, hollow-faced,
Not trying to hide. The waiters make it seem

Like Cairo. Back and forth shouting
That sharp language. And for the first time
I tell you everything. No shame
In my secrets, shoddy as laundry.

I have praised your God
For the blessing of the body, snuck
From pleasure to pleasure, lying for it,
Holding it like a coin or a key in my fist.

I know now you’ve known all along.

I won’t change. I want to give
Everything away. To wander forever.
Here is a pot of tea. Let’s share it
Slowly, like sisters.

This morning I disturb I destroy the window

I probably could have posted the staggering work of the poet and activist June Jordan (1936-2002) every day of this month.

“You Came with Shells”

You came with shells. And left them:
shells.
They lay beautiful on the table.
Now they lie on my desk
peculiar
extraordinary under 60 watts.

This morning I disturb I destroy the window
(and its light) by moving my feet
in the water. There.
It’s gone.
Last night the moon ranged from the left
to the right side
of the windshield. Only white lines
on a road strike me as
reasonable but
nevertheless and too often
we slow down for the fog.

I was going to say a natural environment
means this or
I was going to say we remain out of our
element or
sometimes you can get away completely
but the shells
will tell about the howling
and the losss