Before night ends, before my wild alarm,
black shoulders and diamond-chip eyes: I
bolt upright at the figure near my bed, but
blue mercy seeps into the room as dawn,
bare and watered-down in gray rain, brings
birds with names I don't know for all the world,
birds so calm the day may have gone deaf.
Before long, it's plain I forgot to set the clock.
Barely any light squeaks through my clear window.
Black wings, black beaks in pantomime,
blue silk the only sound as I tie my robe, its
bolt of cloth seemingly bigger than the world, its
bolt of cloth like a cold damping mist, printed with
birds and cherry trees: indigo buntings, jays
blue and depicted perfectly, as though alive. Once
before, I woke up backwards, completely startled
black-tempered, dream-governed, the cogs and springs
bare in my head, churning overtime so I could hardly
bear the residue of my own thoughts, their carnivale
bolted with wings and worms, with the crying maw,
black gullet the first thing a nestling knows.
Birds that are half machine, like something from Bosch
before Bosch ever put brush to canvas, before he
blew shavings from his work desk and began to sketch
blue earth transparent as a bubble,
bare of humans or animals, the primordial state
before any kind of entropic garden emerged
bolted through with our supposed bodily sins.
Birds with beaks made monstrous by art,
black honey on their bills where they've probed
black hearts. Over me, my father stood
blue in the pane-light, watching me sleep, his
birds no comfort to me or him because my life,
barely held together with will and fatigue,
bolted together by a broken marriage, fitfully slept
before him, and he hadn't seen this woman before,
barely twenty-six with withered wings, having
bolted when her house went up in blue smoke.
Before, he saw his black-eyed girl, intact.
ELEGY FOR OPRYLAND
Coasting, I resented my bike's brakes, hated
caring about an end to motion and to the wind
carving my spoke-gaps. My brother was gone
caving and camping where I could not go,
calling over his shoulder—always the kiddie
carousel for me, the swingset, etc., but that
carousel, the one my father and I rode each summer
coasted, lurched, broke full down, recovered. We
recalled no time it had been fluid. We'd heard:
carefully it had been exhumed from some desert
cave, someone had opened numbered boxes to find
carved cherubs, velvet carriages in pieces, horses
carved so realistically as to foam at the bit, their
carousel a parade of divans, baroque
cavernous cars wracked with the sound of gears
coasting, or trying to. In these coaches we were
carried over and over, summer after summer,
calling to us, my mother, the park's closing,
calling to us, calliope, the mouths of the painted
carved bodiless cherubim. As a teenager, I didn't
care when the park removed the old German
carousel and replaced it with another, a polished
coasting design: tigers, ostriches, bears freed from their
caves. Years later the amusement park
caved to the pressure of capitalism; a conference
call settled it, and Opryland shut down gradually,
coasting to a halt, became a shopping mall
carved from the ruins of roller coasters, the new
carousel, an arcade and acres of track that had
carried water and wheels, screaming hundreds
carried on finite journeys, uphill, down, through
caves constructed of concrete, endlessly
carouseled in pursuit of fun, whatever people
call fun at least, each roller coaster an attempt to
carve fun from fright, to hurt, to ultimately
coast into the station scared and laughing,
carried to safety, usually, as you call out:
cavernous lungs, your carving hoarse voice—
roller coaster, carousel, rusting in an open field.
INVOCATION TO THE GOD OF X
Xeric: adjective for desert, or anything sucked dry and coping with
x number of droplets evaporated or stolen, evacuated like Athens as
Xerxes burned the Acropolis temples. Even the Parthenon,
extant war-goddess temple, razed in its original form, enemies
xenon-like in their permeation, there before anyone knew, troops like
xerox copies of themselves swarming sacred ground. But not
xerox copies, because each was each, like Shi Huang Di's
xeric terracotta warriors, their thousand expressions unique like
xenon, the odorless, colorless element useful in its rarity. To its
x-axis, razed, the first Parthenon, because King Xerxes dreamed:
extant, a tall stranger ghost-oracle, howling havoc.
Xerxes sweating terror, recanting reluctance for war.
Xerxes, even in his arrogance, had the good sense to fear, and I
xeroxing handouts for my students with the US at war, know no
extant love in the young for Herodotus, as though his history,
xeric and crotchety, cannot possibly trouble the present of Generation
X, or Y, or whatever sub-final character we're calling them.
Xenon desk lamps burn black noise along the halls.
Xenon: Greek, means stranger. I am a stranger in these halls as
Xerxes in fallen dust of years is, his native name, Khashayar Shah
x'ed out in favor of the Greek name, a tyranny of history repeated,
xeroxed sheets by the ream informed by a name removed from its source,
xeric bone bleaching away from its watery host of blood and muscle,
extant name out of water like a dry pump without oil.
Extant, extant. It still means here, I say. They don't have dictionaries.
Xenon was here before we knew it was, discovered 1898.
Xeric, remember? We talked about that word once before.
Xerxes the Persian King, assassinated around four-six-five BCE.
Xeroxed copies of the essay are coming down the rows.
X as in Malcolm, as in Roman numeral, as in wrong answer, try again.
X -rays of human suspicion, imagine, would yield a black puddle
extant and growl-inducing as a bone in a yard full of hounds.
Xeroxed flyers cover the walls, conflating terror with faith,
xenophobia in neon, nearly, and a colleague begs me to help pull them down.
Xerxes awaits, I tell him, I can't just now, my class, my
xeric heart shriveling as I turn, his hands full of crumpled paper.
Xenon lamps scour seabeds; if only they could see my expatriate heart.
Khashayar Shah, foolish king, no one has learned from you, extant only
xeric tomb like a great terracotta vase. Time and greed. Xerox, xerox.
I think that poets, if they ever tackle forms, are either villanelle people or sestina people. For example, my friend Vanessa can crank out villanelles like she's breathing them out, but she isn't a fan of the sestina. I've found myself to be the opposite. To avoid sprawling, flabby lines, I yanked the repeating words to the beginning of the lines to give them a snap. After the first "reverse sestina", I discovered I had more of them in me, and I was shocked to find what I intellectually knew before I started writing them: form can force you into subjects and material you wouldn't otherwise write about.