Salvage Song

So, here we are

at the end.

We have pulled down the sails to make patches for the ocean, come

we will patch those patches with paisley scraps,

with blue and white checks like

Dorothy’s dress, we will save scraps of paper

to cover half-written books; come we will grab

one last plank from the ship to patch

somewhere out past the epilogue. Come,

there is so much farther to go.

 

Let go of the ship’s rope ladder, and we’ll talk

about walking lightly on the world. Not

that we shouldn’t have built the ship or made

the voyage, that the less anyone

could feel your wake, the better; not

some correspondence between the weight

of each step and the storm befalling us—but follow, step light,

if only because the raft is so easily tipped.

Step light down to the raft:

apply your whole self to the push and pull,

to the tumbling forward, the pause, and we will hop

from salvaging to salvaging.

 

Here at the end

you will feel you are doing nothing, and

you won’t: when you think

about the space between

water droplets, a shortness of breath

will lodge in your chest the pain of knowing

there is so much to salvage, a folding

like reaching to tuck even the voyage

back into the pattern.

 

If you have no hope, you’ve come

to the right place to be hopeful

without it. And if you’re worried

this is escape, I will assure

you: there is no escape.

We will drift

in the mess of an oceanic canal flush with pink

rhinestones from prom dates

that never happened and as we go

we will sew up the waves. When the raft sinks,

plug your nose, look up, and hold your breath

a little longer than comfortable. Your heartbeat

will pulse diamond in the water around you.

Take just enough with you

to swim back to the world.

 

So here at the end this song

is for drifting, this song

is for knowing your drifting goes somewhere, this song

is for pulling with all your might

against dead air. Out here,

you will have so much desire you will forget

how to have desires,

but that’s okay, because this

is the end of the world

and we don’t have new things.

 

And I don’t mean to say

this couldn’t be a love story.

Only that we’ll have to salvage

from the love stories already written, here

at the end of the world.

Kondottiyans

The repatriation flight skids off the tabletop runaway,

thundering in the tailwind.

Homing dreams crash through the optical illusion.

 

Breaking the pandemic shackles,

they gallop toward the gruesome gorge.

Downpour and darkness cannot immure their vigor.

They are incandescent with compassion,

forget their masks.

Excruciating voices.

They hasten to hospitals,

carrying the passengers in PPE kits,

who are either dead or dying.

Their WhatsApp messages multiply agile hands.

They wait before the blood banks.

The forlorn kids are glued to their hearts with the love-epoxy.

 

They return home to quarantine themselves

at dawn.

Humans aren’t extinct among men.

 

September 20, 2020

COVID Summer: Against Dystopia

They ask her if this is the end,

Armageddon, Ragnarok—is Jesus

Going to come sort this. Can it get

Worse. Winston Smith knew

Dystopia is not drama but grind,

The constant scrape of fear.

We’ve tried dramatic speeches

(Appalling, sublime); it’s time

To get on with the slow business

Of building, growing from seed,

Rejecting the martyr for the maker.

 

July 31, 2020

COVID Summer: After, Now

There will be rooms of people

You’ve never seen before.

And won’t again, strangers,

Brazenly loving music,

Eating dumplings, browsing scarves.

There will be breaths let out,

Unchecked; there will be strange air,

Strange beds, cafe tables

That wobble as you write.

There will be spontaneous outings.

You will linger in the ice cream shop,

Not hurry out to lick your cone

In the street; you will rush

Between drinks and a show,

Take a cab, hug a friend. Now

There are calculations, comparisons,

Care. Familiar walls and making do,

And it does. But only for now.

 

July 31, 2020

Each day the world grows smaller & larger

as we retreat to our homes (those lucky to have them),

stock up on what we think we’ll need—toilet paper,

hand sanitizer, flour, beans—begin to understand

what it means to hunker down. In public, try out

social distancing: smile, nod, nervous, wonder

is this six feet? when what we want is to embrace

every service person we meet: the efficient,

masked bagger at QFC, the weary pharmacist,

the stoic neighbor hobbling up the street.

The world now in our living room

and we watch in disbelief as bodies stack up

on nightly news, as doctors in Italy must choose

whose life to save. Meanwhile our phones beep

the rising Covid-19 count for our county,

new guidelines for gathering, from 250 to 50

to 10 in a week. Then tonight, on the news,

watch those exiled on ancient iron balconies,

the last common space, join their voices, reach across

what little divides—to fill the death-drenched air

with song: rock, arias, and last, their national anthem.

And from our living room, an ocean and a continent

away, we hear a voice, our own stubborn belief

in the human species, despite all the ways

we’ve bungled it, rise above the fear,

the uncertainty, the despair—join in.

 

—March 18, 2020

Times and Seasons and Vanity upon Vanity

I didn’t know I could stop and trace the roads

of my palm the way my baby does, and tell

myself that moving fast isn’t everything, that other folks had

walked this path, that Earth isn’t mine alone, that am

not as great as I assumed, that it doesn’t pay

to eat with both hands like crabs, that I’m vulnerable.

 

I didn’t know I could live without sports and pop

myths, the lure of sex and the wild, the fantasy

of Hollywood and the charm of yachts. I didn’t know.

Please, tell me again: why do you harm your neighbor

for the glory you met and will leave behind tomorrow?

 

I’m home now—the pandemic struck too fast for me

to shield myself as I always do when others mourn

the loss of the things they love. I’m quarantined from

all the things I bleached the ozone with my chimneys.

 

Reckon, there’s a time for everything: a time for pollution

and a time we’re chained from messing as we pleased,

a time to worship wealth and a time to croak

 

health is greater, a time for folly and a time

for duty, a time to crave the grandeur of greed

 

and a time to love everyone and everything as yourself.

 

—July 5, 2020

In the Flowery Countryside

Where shall we put the bodies, sir,

fifty thousand more today

and that is just at dawn

the cemetery’s gates are chained,

undertaker’s curtains drawn

 

curtains drawn good man? this will just not do

dig another trench, deep and wide;

but do not upset the people,

dig it out of sight

 

dig it out of sight dear sir?

the woods beyond the city are full,

there are few spaces now to hide

perhaps we should head further out,

in the flowery countryside?

 

in the flowery countryside? yes, good man, that might do

there is no time to spare

and do try to be good,

place them down with gentle care

 

place them down with gentle care, of course I want to sir,

but backhoe bucket does not allow

for gentleness in placing down;

perhaps some farmers will lend a hand

 

farmers might lend a hand good man?

indeed, this could save time,

now be sure to bury them deep enough

in the flowery countryside

 

in the flowery countryside is where I’ve been, sir,

and farmer’s time was loaned

we did run out of markers, but

we marked the places with stones

 

marked the places with stones good man,

that was very kind

sadly now, you must stay

away from the flowery countryside

 

the farmers cry, no more! no more!

and leaders claim this problem is not theirs

perhaps the only thing to do now, good man

is load the trucks and head towards the capital city’s front stairs

 

—July 4, 2020

Dynamic Equilibrium

Looking at a fluid-filled conical flask,

the reactants colourless,

you’d think nothing of note was happening.

 

It’s been the same of life in lockdown:

we go nowhere, see no one, touch nothing.

 

And yet, my son has taken up jogging and cooking,

my daughter, YouTube yoga, art.

My lecturer husband has been finding new ways

to connect with his students.

 

Me, I’ve been filling my own flask with words,

pouring myself into stories that one day I’ll share.

 

We’ve all been planting seeds and learning of the gifts

of nature; this unhurried way of life,

the dynamic quality of patience.

 

There is nothing static about this;

the very molecules of our being

are rearranging themselves.

 

—May 31, 2020

Art Installation in the Time of COVID-19

Collaborators:

 

Wind, sunshine, water,

clouds, fruit, rocks

 

Text:

 

my son asks if I have an idea

of what happens when we die

 

I tell him I don’t know but yes

I’ve ideas, words, approximations

 

of concepts outsized by my

grasp—eternal, ephemeral,

 

what is essential work

in these days when luck

 

unluck has gone viral

and we cannot hold

 

hands to pluck hope, ripe

fruit needs to be washed

 

with sunshine, love, will

to create, postponing

 

questions past our certainty—

who are the gardeners,

 

what is the garden, I

ask him, what is essential

 

for creation, for life

growing, blooming, seeding,

 

he smiles. The wind uplifts

and we are cirrus high

 

where we marvel at how

much we see and don’t know,

 

hear and cannot understand,

hope and do not know how to

 

hold.

 

Music:

 

rocksplash of rapids,

your unswerving heart

 

—May 17, 2020

Unnatural Selection

You must know Darwin—not any darwin

in forums with telescopes on his eyes

always singing the beard like a puppet,

or one having his tag by accident;

I really mean the God of chance—

he respected me, no, he deified me

not because I once mirrored his incubation

when we sat alone on HMS Beagle,

but that I surpassed him in jest—

 

this, too, he dismissed when I reviewed

the Origin long before it absorbed us.

I had asked as throes gripped him,

what he would be after the time—

My friend, he called, there is no death

but transmutation, and we laughed at sophistry.

So, Darwin never died as you presume,

and not only he, but every extinct thing:

 

do not compose elegies for Tiktaalik roseae,

dinosaurs, Raphus cucullatus and golden toads

or remind me of Suyá and Ostrogoth,

St. Helena olives and Sri Lanka legumes—

they have, indeed, been transformed—I know

he would agree wherever whatever he is,

that the Holocene extinction is natural selection.

 

He knew I detest praising friends privately,

I sing them loud as a thrush

I laud public approval, which he adored,

and I told him in undressed words

that I did not share his lust

and how he swore in the name

 

of greed and in its night-birthed misnomers

we give all the things that limp

backwards into the beautiful door of love;

the stubble smiled and laughed at me,

yet he did not stir my head

 

to make differently how we should live.

I never meant, friend, to distract you,

to cut new pathways in your mind

to discredit or credit the new whiskers,

 

and believe me, I wonder every day

as I walk across shacks and skyscrapers

how many of us daily go extinct

 

by our fatal greed and inverse love

that wet the long lungs of death—

 

and which of us, Malthus, is next?