With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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In the beginning was the wind
and the wind was on fire. To
teach us up from down, raw
from cooked, he formed the clouds
that brewed the rains that fell
to earth and chased all fire
up into ash and hickory, maple
and oak, where still today
it blazes through October afternoons,
where still today, when we’re oppressed
by night and wind, ice and age, we
can go to bring it down again.
The first woman and man
came near one another, wary,
wondering, sniffing, sighing.
Pines swayed. Willows. Ash.
Their mingled breaths, the air
between them, they called “wind.”
They danced up and back,
side to side, hips circling
like birds. They barked, whistled,
babbled, howled, tongues twisting.
Drum and bone. Flute and wind.
The din they called “song.”
Ever moving, they heightened
the friction between them,
motioning until sparks flew.
They discovered fire. Rain came
from them. Smoke. Mist. Steam.
They called it “spring.”
He made the eye salty
so grief would sting, and beauty,
and too much mourning
make us blind,
the ear oily so bad news
and gossip, death’s rattle
and cough could go in one ear
and out the other,
the lips and tongue sweet
so we could savor the nature
of sea, field and tree, make
a feast of every word,
so we could love.
There’s a pain the color
of a piece of raw flesh;
it can be drawn out
with salt, fire and smoke.
There’s a pain as blinding
as the desert hunters cross
on their slow way home
from where there was no game.
to cure this requires one
good prayer, eye and hand,
one stone hurled at heaven,
one plump bird plummeting.
For the pain white and blue
as the water churning
around a drowning man, move
the victim into fresh air.
There are pains crimson as
the sun’s rise, its fall,
pains the varying shades of night;
to cure these takes time.
When the sun draws up creek, pond
and pool because he’s grown mad
staring at his own reflection,
old ones must teach the children
to chew grass and roots,
meat red and raw as a wound,
songs that summon thunder,
lore of the beaver and canoe,
a fear of every kind of fire.
When the hunters and planters
grow crazy or lame, lazy, drunk
or too stiff beside their young wives,
old ones must teach the children
to stalk and leap, move
fast as cloud shadows across
the plains, stoop and rise
like the crow, the lore of seed
and wind, name of every grain.
When the babies are taken by drought,
famine or age, old ones must teach
the children to groom
their long hair until it glows
like the night sky, to dance together,
whimper and groan from bushes,
shake the tentpoles every night,
give their hands to one another,
trace the image of woman and man.
If you doubt for an instant
the awful power of the law,
pluck a wasp from the air
with your bare hand, trust
in the dollar’s worth, feast
on the juicy flesh of a pig
cooked medium-rare, hurl
stones and insults at police
and then resist arrest, travel
to the country of age and swear
“I’m only visiting, I can’t stay.”
If your world becomes too dry
and you come to feel “Beyond
my own life nothing is,” or
you swear “When death comes
walking slowly up the stairs
I’ll run to get my coat, go
with no regret,” then listen
to your blood thundering through
its course summoned by a whisper’s
roaring eloquence, the sea
in the ear’s conch, a lover.
At sixteen I grew too sleepy to move.
I’d lie alone for days praising
the beauty of nothing, until in the sky
high above the nighthawk, owl and pine I’d
see things. I found my voice, my tongue,
learned to bark, sing, wriggle, fly.
When I’d been alone in the forest
three weeks, I learned the frail language
of wood, moss, dove. After four weeks
without women or food, my penis, belly
and heart taught me the drum. Now
I can cadence you through the dance
of rites, seasons of loving and birth.
I’ll frighten leanness from your cattle
and babies, march your girl and boy
into woman and man, seed into tasseled corn.
I’ll find your hunters lost in snow, your souls.
You’ve a hurt? There’s a root, an herb, a word.
Listen. The birds
and dogs. Pine and ash.
Your penis, hair, nails.
All are speaking to you.
Listen. Winds bear
Listen. Every star’s
a tall tale. Look up.
Every pebble’s a sharp truth.
Go barefoot. Listen.
The last dream means a room,
brightest you’ve ever seen,
where long-time lovers simmer
with a passion time can’t cool,
where no one falters, where
there’s no ache, though
everybody’s touching, no one
dying just once, every lover
loving every other.
Let the businessman rend his suit,
cancel all appointments, hurl
paperweights and bills of lading
to the floor, pound his metal desk,
scatter ashes on his head.
Let young women and men
who move together (even as I write)
come apart, keep hands to themselves,
walk out into snowy woods
shapeless in coarse cloth, alone.
Let the mother withdraw her breast
from the baby’s lips,
migrating birds fall from the sky
to walk earth aimlessly.
May nothing leap, run or speak,
for at this instant, someone
we’ve never known, much less
loved, clutches chest or side,
falls all the way to ice or flame,
or starts from sleep, and waking,
Try to hatch a boiled egg
or weave your shroud from just two threads
or break the wind and mend it.
Try to distinguish wind
from seed, spore and leaf, dark from night,
mourner from lament.
Try, with your final love,
at the instant pleasure transfigures your face
and makes you more than you are,
to tie a knot in your last
stream of semen. As darkness falls, wish hard
for clay and peace, say
“If I only had the time.”