Early September: fall is proceeding
as it is supposed to: the only purple,
asters in their appointed place
next to the only yellow, goldenrod,
claiming the ditches.
Sumac is the only redseeping
as it should, down the open hillsides.
If Spike were alive, expensive
dopey Spike, your big golden
who never got it right
his one hunting season retrieving
lily-pad after lily-pad
like gleaming green tortillas
dripping from his big dumb mouth
if Spike still lived, he would sniff
and get up for that family of geese
hustling south on schedule.
Leaves just begin to rust; green still holds.
A full month before Small Game begins,
the road-kill doe lies skewed, bloated
and tolerable: overhead the necessary ravens
scroll a black mandala on blue sky.
But on the shoulder of the road
sits a true vulture; sunlight slicks
the wine-red corrugated head
too far north, it is too far north. Never,
I've never seen one here before
David, we are only fifty-four.
How to bear the beak of disorder.
White winter sky blurring into white
heading home, west from Pittsburgh
on the flat track of the Ohio turnpike.
Aftermath of last week's blizzard:
still-buried corn fields, highway
wearing blinders of plowed drifts,
gray, slow to recede as grief.
Sunshine, road turning silver,
thin twinned electric tracks,
my brothers Lionel chugging
endless circles through cotton-batting,
the ever-winter of our childhood,
circle after circle, like the giant
windmachers sprinkled over wheat fields
in Denmark, huge white pylons topped
with huge white pinwheels turning
endless cartwheels, spinning
from the nothingness of wind
the strange current, fierce, underground
in cables stretching as far as Copenhagen.
A red Peterbilt blasts his horn, points
at my ridiculous pup sleeping
sprawled, paws up, sun-gold on the back seat,
sleeping the deep sleep all babies sleep.
Rumple of northern Indiana, car drawn
in the wake of the trucks: Angola,
Elkhart, South Bend, the complication
of Chicago, 100 miles north to Milwaukee
and what is still home, last hour of daylight
throbbing tangerine sunset on my left shoulder.
Once, a gladness.
Perhaps turning your head
your smile when you saw me,
perhaps you were hunting,
when you came home,
when you set down your gun,
I've looked everywhere,
as if mislaid, but mine,
as something lost in my house
is mine. Delight,
a place, a time, once,
perhaps we were fishing,
perhaps in a hushed voice
you told me where the trout lay,
or walking silently in the woods
you touched my arm,
pointed to where quail sleep
in the deepest bracken. Memory,
from the Greek memare,
to care for, which is to mourn,
to look for, to go down
underneath, to dive
as the sunken treasure hunter,
inside the barnacled tangle
for a gleam. Or to dig,
by feel to dig down, to ferret
inside the dark warren (ferret:
furnitas, Latin, little thief),
by sound, by scent, finding once
a quivering, a softness.
World champions: he holds
his sister above his head
with one hand, twirling her,
her slender backbone in his palm,
her full weight pressing into
his muscled arm, as she lets him
whirl her faster, lower her, lower,
lower, eyes closed, her head
four inches from the ice. Once:
in Wisconsin-cold moonlight
we followed a black ribbon
of frozen river, skating out
onto Kellogg's swampwindswept,
ice so clear we were suspended
between two mirrored skies.
Scarves flying we are playing
crack the whip. I'm the one
on the end; the stars, the moon
are whirling, the world whirling.
do you understand? we're whirling
in wild cursive this little story
within our story. My brother holds
onto me with one hand. We're laughing,
he's yelling, Hold on! Hold onto me!
Morning was sunning the deck.
I was minding my own business,
pondering the idea of the soul,
when two hummingbirds whizzed
out of nowhere and staged
a miniature dogfight.
My daughter once saw a ruby-throat
peck another one to death
she took down her feeder.
but this time the loser
just buzzed back to base
whatever base might be
for such a minute feathered engine.
It was the winner who surprised me
fresh from his tiny victory,
he turned on me, me,
a sun-glassed Goliath! He whirred
straight over, eyed me steadily
(a cruel green eye in a slick green
helmet) as he throttled up
and threatened to lunge.
I wondered if he thought
I was a huge honeysuckle
the mother-of-all fuchsias
or whether it was folly, blind
compunction to puncture a giant
unknowable. It scared me
that much I knew, and I jerked
my knee away from the menace,
real or imagined, I couldn't tell.
It was his presumption
I admired. In two seconds he was gone.
Whether it was two seconds
or someone's lifetime, your lifetime,
beyond goldenrod, gone.
Some poets want their tercets
to stay triplets, not expand
to quatrains, contract to couplets,
which might feel as if in the end
there was too much, too little,
a few too many, or too few words,
an uneasy imbalance that topples
the pyramid of a three-part
harmony. But I live twinned, unable
from conception to be apart
too far from some close half-other.
Think of how every heart
divides, needs each hollow chamber,
one side to fill, one to empty.
A missing line is my missing brother;
not until he was gone could I see
I was his not him, he was my not me.
Inside of her
I could not tell
where he, one soft side,
left off, and I,
the other half, began.
Curled back to back
we made a butterfly.
There was never a picture
of it; with her body
she grew that picture
inside each of us.
After she found him
where he had fallen,
and after he died,
she taped the first photo
by the phone,
the hospital snapshot
of her propped up,
young face tentative,
smiling, a sleeping full moon
on each winged arm.
Long ago she wrote my name
with an arrow to one
his name on a thin line
to the other. Now,
she hasn't taped it well;
again it's fallen
to the kitchen floor
She's not smiling at either
of us in the snapshot,
she's smiling straight ahead
this one is you, this one is your brother.
These poems are part of a chapbook length sequence that
I wrote in response to the death of my twin brother several years ago.
The poems came to me quicklyover the course of a semesteras
I grieved, and while I intended them as elegaic, what I learned from them
is that the elegy is as much about the bereft as the beloved.