Tuesday, September 18, 2018



They come out of the 1940s

to be your parents. Their faces

swim and settle into clarity.

The crook of an arm. The fount

of a breast. They come from

the time before your life,

before the things that fill

your life. Before water

sprang from the faucet. Before

television loomed in the corner

and even the house cats gathered

to watch. They come from after

the war, when all the movies

were jubilant, even the sad ones

bloodless. It's as if you

were handed down to them,

as if you were a pearl

they would polish into life.

From time of great difficulty

they come, though speaking

with a deep nostalgia,

lowering the language to you

like a ladder, rung by rung.

Before you existed, they are,

which is like something

out of the Bible.  Out of

their own childhoods they come

to be stricken with this,

to be stricken with time,

of which you are the immediate

symptom. Bringing their jewelry

and shaving brushes, wearing

their fedoras and hairdos,

they come to be your parents.

You have your father's eyes

someone says. But no, you

hav you mother's face and eyes

is the more common opinion.

They send you wobbling out

like a top in front of them.

The wind could almost bowl

you over.  You turn back

and hey are dressed

like characters in a movie

or a dream.  You turn back

and this is love. Your own name

sinks in and separates you.

An Oral History of
the English Language

Sometimes I wake up with my hillbilly voice.

I don't know why. Maybe a dream took me back.

The catalpas wilting in the heat.

The dust-devils walking the dry field.

Maybe the river was trying to shine

through the silt and accumulated years.

But when my head cleared and sleep ended,

there was only the twang of home left over,

like stubble in a milo field.

Sometimes I wake with the voice of my mother,

every syllable stretched like sorghum

or cold honey. The vowels washing over

the consonants without mercy. Every word

elongated, drenched in diliberation.

The name of my sister for instance, Pam,

becomes Pay-yum ; takes two syllables,

one to release the word, the other

to call her back again.

Or sometimes I wake with my schooled tongue.

The tongue that moved away. All the i's and y's

precisely spoken, buttoned in their uniforms,

the cap brims set at the proper angles

of ambition. A voice clipped

and regulated, rising and falling

like the boots of a mercenary, drawn

deeper and deeper into the provinces,

hunting the stragglers of childhood down.

A Little Baptist Harmony, Please

Here it's pronounced the same

as hominy, which according to the natives,

served with butter and salt, can provide a man

a hundred years of life,

if he is careful. If he is not,

it still functions as ballast

for the body. For wherever hominy

enters, it remains.

Harmony, on the other hand,

is all about leaving the body.

It takes at least two, willing

to make the trip.

For if the spirit comes down

it must be lured by music.

By separate voices wound

into a braid, then looped

into a kind of snare, which,

with eyes wide open, and for reasons

of its own, the spirit steps into,

every single time.


The Postal Confessions
University of Massachusetts Press