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