I love the light in autumn, clarified and redeemed.
The cobalt sky naked, not a blue humans know
but the blue of tapestries, epics, cities still bearing
their ancient names like Syracuse and Thebes.
This must be like the last breath of a heart seizure.
A sudden descent into purified blue. A singular pause.
In that instant you understand the skin of yellow
leaves on ponds are stained glass portals
from European cathedrals, panels straining the sun
like colanders. There’s an architecture to fall
an anatomy of edges and pebbles.
Gravel mouth thunderstorms.
Abandoned nests finches left.
Don’t dare me with that slide
into chartreuse and lime like camouflage
We are isolated in these Allegheny Mountains.
Where are October’s maple leaves?
You ate them? Crushed them with your teeth
the way a starving dog would?
Lamplight, there’s never enough light.
Do you call that baby’s coffin hole
stained like nicotine 100 watts?
Is this your idea of illumination?
It’s a simple world. Enamel and bone.
Random manifestations, a branch,
a piazza, your grandmother’s rhinestones.
You thought bells would make you deaf.
You thought the river wanted to drown you. Idiot.
Rivers think only of bridges, barges, trout.
Why would a river know your name?
Is this the traditional numerical for morphine?
The moon is never in remission.
It rains relentlessly and I have no clothes.
I lack the concepts to express my anguish.
In November nights I read Neruda
out loud in Spanish, kneel on tiles cold
and hard like an ocean of teeth.
I won’t meet him in Isla Negra.
He’s dead and I can’t get to Chile.
I don’t have charts or numbers.
I shed the expendable, calendars,
dinner parties, recipes, football and saints.
I vowed to live as a poem lives,
naked as ruins, not breathing,
but gasping in electric spasms,
capturing air that stings. Our mouths
are meshes for trapping the odd elements
of this world you take for granted.
Oxygen makes me nauseous.
Water makes me sick.
Every day is hunting season.
You burned your boat? You murdered
your lover, deserted your husband?
Your daughter loathes you, calls you hyena
and spits on the flat patches of your face?
Autumn women are solitary in towers
of light, in stucco and brick tenements,
in trailers and barns and sheds with rats.
Then dusk. They trace the outlines
of their bruises with an intimacy
of intensity reserved for a loved face.
This is their precious cargo, the cameo,
the first and only mouth waiting to be
opened like oysters or night blooming
orchids belly up drunk on white moon.
Tell them you’ve gone mad, certifiably insane.
You’re a danger to yourself and others.
You terrify even the vegetation. I’ll testify.
They gave you a phone number for an office
that closed last year? Now you sleep
in hallways and alleys and cough blood?
You say the drapes in a stranger’s bay window
can be a friend? The bus bench is a punctuation
you can count on? You’re off antidepressants?
Well, it’s great talking to you, too.
Don’t call me back. Promise
I said a poem doesn’t need waves or wind
in wild grasses. A poem translates consciousness
the way fossils in amber persist with unassailable
grace, details intact, each bone, feather, scale.
There are no uncomfortable junctures.
No hypocrisy or failed prayers.
All skies are Maui and Amalfi blue.
I wash my chewed up hands
in the Nile and Amazon. I won’t not jump
in eyes first and begging for blindness.
I’d be satisfied with ordinary alchemy.
I’ll divest myself of unnatural ambitions,
the night flying, the month of silence requirement.
I’ll give up my obituaries of murdered women collection
I’m wallpapering the bedroom in. And stop
howling for eleven consecutive days.
Sure I’ll take responsibility. I was lying.
Listen. This is a true story. Pay attention.
Moments can stall with the purity of a woman
taking six rounds of experimental chemotherapy.
(I know this for a fact. I was there.)
She was a smoker with a massive metastasis.
The scans showed her brain like a clear night
sky with constellations. Each glowing star
was a cancer cell. Her memories were desecrated.
She was fluent in four languages but could not speak
or read. It was like swallowing a hand grenade.
She sensed the chemical treatments weren’t working.
Her doctor advised she stop.
But her spouse insisted she persist.
He liked to watch her vomit. It fed him.
She was his lure, how he cast
into the village, ravenous.
And she had wit and charm. Her hair
fell out and he found that reassuring.
He had reason to call the grandchildren.
Neighbors brought cookies on trays,
strawberries in baskets with ribbons.
He finally had a reason to live
and something to talk about.
If I was a good enough poet.
If I could shed mass and cut the barbed
wire of maps and borders, the rules
men call laws. If I had the tools
I would kill that man with a glance.
It’s another shabby Allegheny autumn.
The women go underground, under water.
There’s a language for this, fluid syllables,
sentences of rain and thunder and chimes.
It’s a local dialect of tinny trinkets
and obscene bells in corridors of mirrors
with light bulbs that sting and all of it repeated
in glass, in glass, in glass until you are lost
and must navigate by the shape of your welts.
Another post-harvest bloated moon. Your body
is a Braille, your bruises a map. Your residue
of deviations is a blueprint. Your scars are highways.
I don’t bake. I don’t quilt or make bowls from clay.
I take the pulse of thunder and memorize
varieties of gray, antique pewter, tin,
the sly silver of a bread knife.
and pebbles lost beneath a rot of fog.
I can recite the incarnations of erasure
like a litany in six languages.
I don’t know what the men do.
Sidney Rifkin was born in Indonesia to Peace Corp parents and is currently working as cook on a ship a few days out from Australia.