My wife said to me on the last night,
"Peter, I don't have this kind of dream,"
which was true and right, simple as herself
and lay like the finished meal between us.
The oil in the lamp sputtered with wet
and the youngest one lay his head on my knee
and left a damp patch that cooled
when he lifted his cheek and turned away to bed.
I wanted to stroke him
to smell his smooth neck
but my hands were heavy as wet nets
left too long in the sea.
My wife swept up the table scraps
gathered them into her fists
and looked at me.
I answered nothing.
Even this dark night
with the sea holding the sun under its waters
until it seems it must drown,
even this night is helpless against morning
which will not stay in tomorrow
but must come pilfering into this house.
Must, with the small, piercing fingers of children
wrap itself around my woven bones
and drag my heart, gaping and netted,
into the hard, bright air.
She looks at me through salt tears I taste
in kisses as hopeless as a ghost's.
We sit silently at the table
the place where fishermen's wives lay out
the dead bodies of their husbands and mourn.
She turns her face from me
and speaks to the lamp.
"I always thought," she says,
"I always thought it would be the sea."
Ashes, Milk, Coal
A breastpocket of crackling cigars,
a knee as big as my back.
My head is covered by a warm hand.
The fire pops like a rifle.
Hoofprints the shape of my own small sex
are pressed into the cement of the hearth.
They are clear and clean of ash.
He has built this cabin with his hands.
The water lips the lakeshore.
I run a finger along your temple
where the hair meets skin.
A lover's nerve endings are thin and
vibrating as spider's silk stretched
invisibly over the water to catch
shivering, silvery minnows
which might or might not rise.
The belly of the frog is spilling with eggs,
a thousand jelly eyes pulsing.
A snapping turtle, furred in pond scum,
cleans among the cattails by moonlight.
The water is the color of milk.
My lips nuzzle your unshaven chin.
An unweaned creature sucking the jaw's hard bone
for nourishment too old and slippery
for the machinery of speech.
You are born perfect, little man, and screaming.
I am crumpled on the bed like your old, shed skin.
Your name means "like unto God"
and this is the way God loves:
He puts a hot coal on your tongue.
He cracks your hips like the spine of a book.
He breaks open the body and augurs the burst soul.
Slaughter of the
For my son
Like Herod, I pretend pleasure.
Dethroned, diminished, deceitful.
I am bleeding under the blankets.
My son is two days old and screaming.
The nurse puts new blood into my arm.
Blood goes in, milk goes out.
She introduces me to what's left of my body.
At twenty-five I have a city of desires
each an infant
crying ceaselessly after milk.
I must suffocate one in its sleep,
put another to the sword.
There are so many stars
wasn't one mine? I cry, childlike,
and will not be comforted.
I am softening at every bone.
I am nothing but milk.
There is only one child
who will survive the slaughter
and only one wise and willing mother.
That woman cannot be me.
But, Michael, let the child be you.
When he nurses at my breast
his breath is warm and sweet like incense.
I know the number of each curl,
and my arms encircle him like a halo.
For God Himself this should be enough.
The women of the village walk by our window.
The breeze in their cloaks saying, "hush."
And their sandals patting softly on their heels
like a mother's hand on her sleeping child.
The moonless night is impregnated with stars.
The darkness overshadows us with gentle wings,
and we, if we are wise,
let it be done unto us.
On a warm night I lay this child
on the table by the lamp.
His fist in his mouth--this one fist,
this particular mouth.
I wash his feet, his legs, his belly.
I turn him on his side,
run the cool cloth up his warm back,
and he startles, eyes open.
I am saying, "This is a body.
Make your peace with it."
A Psalm of David
It is right that I be punished
and, God knows, inevitable.
I have never once turned from a cup
without drinking it, or
heard the sound of sword and shield
without running out to do battle.
Will I lie with these eyes,
this mouth, between my hands
and not take the full bite
of what God has given me to taste?
My hips rest within your hips
like a deer within its hollow.
You smell of warm grass.
Who are we to deny the designs of the Creator
who has made us like two orphans
struck dumb with blood recognition?
Israel was not bought with good intentions
but with a bloodlust that I claim as mine.
There are dead men all over Israel
with women to mourn them and children blank-eyed
with loss. The nation bleeds to live
by the will of God. And so do we.
Call sin the dowry I pay willingly.
I will ransom us from a lesser life.
If I am arrogant, it is desire that makes me so.
Passion extends my borders towards every horizon.
This is God's land and I am His army.