I. Falling

Looking out across the horizon,

I imagine the American Empire itself

enfolded in that stately

snarl of purple clouds

sailing toward me

about to crash

into sheer rockface. Here

the air glows, granite boulders

pulse with a meaning

that words no longer contain.

The wind smells of rain

falling on dry soil

and ozone, silvery and sharp.

And then it is upon us: that air no longer air but water,

colors streaming, peonies melting, foxgloves bowing, roses

pressing their drenched faces against the trellis.

Lightning reveals all things in negative,

every card reversed, one bright flash dealt out,

then another, then wind moves through dark trees.

Take that, or that, or —

leave it.

II. Rising

Last night in a crowded dream

I looked out across a long green field.

The sky, sooty yellow, darkened into twilight.

Something waited. As we watched—five, ten, one hundred

immense glowing sky lanterns slowly rose, drifted upward

buoyed by the flaming candles tucked inside,

great loops of rope suspended below them. On each rope

a young monk stood, silently holding on.

Sometimes two balanced together, touching shoulders.

Heads shaved, saffron robes flowing, they faced forward

and resolutely squared their shoulders.

We couldn’t see their faces but knew they were not afraid.

We watched and the animals watched

until their lights were as small as stars.

Then we prepared

to follow.

III. Fleeting

What we know of the world is balanced on

this beetle with the neon pink face stripes;

the stately dowager beauty

of the faded wild columbine

upright but deconstructing;

the lazy questions and answers

of birds at twilight. The obedient grass

bows over paths we’ve beaten to reach this place,

where the air still smells of honeysuckle and water and truth.

Safety nests under the brambles but nowhere else.

Here, we must know the predators: their beauty, their disguises,

the deep reach of their sight and hearing,

and that some of us will die in their mouths. This moon,

this scrap of eyelash caught in bare branches,

is sometimes the only thing that lifts our hearts. Once freed

from the tree-tops, it chases the stars, those hieroglyphs hinting

at the nature of life behind the scrim:

transient glances, fugitive color, like the signal lights

of great ships or the green flash of fireflies

pulsing in an unknown code.

IV. Grief

The pain sinks deep into muscles

strained on the rough trek into the rocky cavern

we did not know we contained

and have not mapped. Some of us are confused,

some outraged. Some insist that life is still spinning

in a pure and predetermined orbit.

If we could hold grief in our arms like a newborn

would we see its other face –our love for the world?

When grief rises behind my tongue, into my throat,

I open my mouth and utter words

in a language I have never studied:

The void offers up

genus and species, the flavors of the world roll under the tongue:

sweet, sharp, salty, pungent, piercing,

pulse in our veins until we are sated.


The little blue Schizachyrium scoparium

stings my calves as I pick early berries

while the secret names tumble off my tongue

so that they may live in the air a little longer.

buteo jamaicensis, a red-tail hawk dips and circles.

Even the caterpillar Orgyia leucostigma,

so voracious, so toxic, so beautiful,

may be erased if I do not say its name

with appropriate solemnity. Or even if I do.

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