Burning Instead of Beauty
In an autumn fog, it is easy to mistake a falling
leaf for a sparrow,
simple brown of their backs: hollow-boned meadow.
A pale branch of seed in its beak, a string of feed corn.
Or, a stem so thin the air becomes the stem, and a
only mean that something is warm behind it,
and what good is that in autumn when the leaves
the little sisters of sparrows?
But think of the fog, how it must feel when it peels
from the valley
only to find a leaf that is a sparrow,
a sparrow that is a leaf. Consider that, when the fog
the sea, the sea is no longer itself.
It remains the valley, a part of the land.
a field of white blossoms blown
from the tree of wind, from the trawler's nets,
as we walk the boiled lip of the beach
the fog thickens and we become less and less ourselves
for a moment we are lost among the waves,
among the leaves, and we've really gone nowhere
it feels like something has happened, that we've gone beyond
everything, that our bodies, fragile and alone,
finally where they need to be.
It's a false voyage, of course, because when the body
longer ours, we take from it.
How dull and purple it is, raked clean, sponged and
in its own way, when it finally becomes just a body,
and we return to what reminds us of it.
Heart: oxen knee-deep in a canal.
of silt, blanket of snow.
Lung: tracks of an otter through an oyster bed.
. . . cello strings . . . the beginnings of songs.
None of this really brings us back to what we once
but we try,
and in trying, there is decay.
When the body becomes a stem, a leafy dome of air,
we crowd around
our nothingness and stutter,
pretending we see the bird cages of our chests rise and fall,
that it is easy to go on without having
what we have always had. Easy because . . .
Easy because decay slowly begins with our body's beginning.
It is slow enough for my brother's body to be facedown
pond, to remember the turtles napping on his back
as if he were a tiny whitened log bleached by the sun,
gathering up his fingers.
Slow enough to be 17 again, making love
beach with a girl who would forget me
by autumn, a girl who could kiss the kiss of a paper bird,
the trawlers offshore flashing their spotlights
into the fog beyond the one-mile marker, the slight gleam
in their nets enough to make us grab the blanket
to cover up our bodies bright against the rising tide:
crumbled outline of a refugee's boat:
all four of our lungs breathing in as much as we can.
To remember which of my father's lungs was given
man in Sweden who has almost lost his body,
the retinas sent by helicopter to Ohio for the child
who will grow
with pieces of my father in her.
Before we leave the body, the fog will cover us.
bathe in its memory, facedown in the memory
of our beginning, our end, and every child in Ohio I meet
now on will be named Father
and I will see myself in them and I will love them,
dirty faces, their thin bodies warm and feathered,
fluttering in the breeze above the world while my father,
unknowing, keeps on giving himself away.
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