WRITER IN RESIDENCE, CENTRAL STATE
I’m writing this from nowhere. Oklahoma
if you care. It’s not south, not west, not really
Midwest. Think of a hairless Chihuahua
on the shoulder of Texas, make an X,
I’m in the middle, in an apartment
above the dumpsters on a parking lot
across from a football stadium.
The shriveled leaves of what passes
for autumn scuttle across the blacktop.
Prairie Striders stand under cars saying Hey
fuck you to French pluperfects in the pines.
I’ve renamed the birds. They don’t seem to mind.
In Oklahoma when you say a word
like pluperfect, somehow you’re certain
no one in the state has used it that day.
Sometimes the parking lot feels like a lake,
a lake with light towers and cars on top of it.
Sometimes I see an Indian burial ground
under there. You don’t think of asphalt as earth,
but if they paved the entire prairie—which
seems to be the plan—it would still curve
with the horizon and shine in the sun.
And no matter where you are, if you let
the world quiet down you’ll start to hear
the most terrible things about yourself.
But then, like a teenager, it’ll tire of cursing
and deliver you into the silence of graves.
You’ll look out on the world and see
yourself looking out. Now I know
when monks retreat to the charnel ground
and stay there long enough, the demons
tire of shouting. No battles, no spells: you wait
for them to cry themselves to sleep.
If everyone were healed and well
and all neuroses gone, would there
be anything left to write about?
Maybe just weather and death.
I’d like to die on a mountain in winter
in New Hampshire, the one the old man
climbed, having decided his natural time
was done. How alive he must have been
during that short series of lasts—last step,
last look around, bend of the waist,
head on the ground, the soundless closing
of his lids. How easy to be in love
with the earth, breathing the crystalline air
as he shivered and yawned
and let the night take him home.
Back in New York City there’s a book
of Freud high on a shelf that presided
over far too much. The past, it kept
insisting, the past. There was also a mouse,
who came out whenever I was still
and quiet for long enough. She’d sniff
my foot, go to the floor-length mirror,
then drag her long tail into the kitchen.
At first I set a trap. Then I knew her
to be the secret life of my apartment,
witness to everything without comment,
her visit my reward for keeping still,
for praying in a closet as Jesus advised.
Don’t worry, said a woman last winter.
I can see you’re worried. She had the wrinkled
eyes of an old Cherokee, and spoke of past
lives without a trace of contrivance.
The silence here on weekends is so total
it holds me. Even when the stadium
is full, I don’t hear the people, just the PA
telling who tackled who—who in Oklahoma
was born and raised and fed and coached
to deliver a game-saving hit. I don’t
know where I will be or what I will do
next year, but five miles underground
in the womb of the earth there is
no money, no lack of money, no decisions
about dinner or weekends, friends
or enemies, no stacks of unanswered mail.
I’m trying to live there, so I can live here.
—from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
2009 Poetry Prize Honorable Mention