An Atlas of the Difficult World

Across the freeway stands another structure
from the other side of the mirror it destroys
the logical processes of the mind, a man's thoughts
become completely disorganized, madness streaming from every throat
frustrated sounds from the bars, metallic sounds from the walls
the steel trays, iron beds bolted to the wall, thr smells, the human waste.
To determine how men will behave once they enter prison
it is of first importance to know that prison.

a precise, detached calliper-grip holds the stars and the quarter-                           moon in arrest:

...because even the alphabet is precious.

...because life is short and you too are thirsty.

By dawn you were pure electric.    You pulsed like a star. You awoke in the last darkness before the light poured in.

Driving the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge no monument’s in sight but fog prowling Angel Island muffling Alcatraz poems in Cantonese inscribed on fog no icon lifts a lamp here history’s breath blotting the air over Gold Mountain

FINAL NOTATIONS

it will not be simple, it will not be long
it will take little time, it will take all your thought
it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath
it will be short, it will not be simple

it will touch you through your ribs, it will take all your heart
it will not be long, it will occupy your thought
as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied
it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple

you are coming into us who cannot withstand you
you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you
you are taking parts of us into places never planned
you are going far away with pieces of our lives

it will be short, it will take all your breath
it will not be simple, it will become your will

Flags are blossoming now where little else is blossoming
and I am bent on fathoming what it means to love my country.
The history of this earth and the bones within it?
Minerals, traces, rumors I am made from, morsel, minuscule
fibre, one woman
like and unlike so many, fooled as to her destiny, the scope of
her task?
One citizen like and unlike so many, touched and untouched in passing…
A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot us one who wrestles for the
soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country…

I don't want to hear how he beat her after the earthquake,
tore up her writing, threw the kerosene
lantern into her face waiting
like an unbearable mirror of his own. I don't
want to hear how she finally ran from the trailer
how he tore the keys from her hands, jumped into the truck
and backed it into her. I don't want to think
how her guesses betrayed her - that he meant well, that she
was really the stronger and ought not to leave him
to his own apparent devastation. I don't want to know
wreckage, dreck and waste, but these are the materials
and so are the slow lift of the moon's belly
over wreckage, dreck, and waste, wild treefrogs calling in
another season, light and music still pouring over
our fissured, cracked terrain.

I don’t want to know
wreckage, dreck, and waste, but these are the materials
and so are the slow lift of the moon’s belly.
over wreckage, dreck, and waste, wild treefrogs calling in
another season, light and music still pouring over
our fissured, cracked terrain.

If you had known me
once you’d still know me though in a different
light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.
But it would not surprise you
to find me here, walking in fog, the sweep of the great ocean
eluding me, even the curve of the bay, because as always
I fix on the land. I am stuck to earth…these are not the roads
you knew me by. But the woman driving, walking, watching
for life and death, is the same.

If your voice could overwhelm those waters, what would it say?
What would it cry of the child swept under, the mother
on the beach then, in her black bathing suit, walking straight out
into the glazed lace as if she never noticed, what would it say of the father
facing inland in his shoes and socks at the edge of the tide,
what of the lost necklace glittering twisted in foam?
If your voice could crack in the wind hold its breath still as the rocks
what would it say to the daughter searching the tidelines for a bottled message
from the sunken slaveships? what of the huge sun slowly defaulting into the clouds
what of the picnic stored in the dunes at high tide, full of the moon, the basket
with sandwiches, eggs, paper napkins, can-opener, the meal
packed for a family feast, excavated now by scuttling
ants, sandcrabs, dune-rats, because no one understood
all picnics are eaten on the grave?

I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet.

I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn                           between bitterness and hope

I know you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on because even the alphabet is precious.

I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language guessing at some words while others keep you reading and I want to know which words they are.

She is here
because no-one else was there when worn-to-skeleton
her enemy died. Her love. Her twin.
Marghanita dreamed the intravenous, the intensive
the stainless steel
before she ever saw them. She's not practical,
you know, they used to say.
She's the artist, she got away.

sleep comes hard. I’d rather lie awake and read.

So che stai leggendo tardi questa
poesia, prima di lasciare l' ufficio
con l'abbagliante lampada gialla e la finestra nel buio
nell'apatia di un fabbricato sbiadito nella quiete
dopo l'ora di traffico. So che stai leggendo questa poesia
in piedi nella libreria lontano dall'oceano
in un giorno grigio di primavera, fiocchi sparsi di neve
spinti attraverso enormi spazi di pianure intorno a te.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia
in una stanza dove tanto è accaduto che non puoi sopportare
dove i vestiti giacciono sul letto in cumuli stagnanti
e la valigia aperta parla di fughe
ma non puoi ancora partire. So che stai leggendo questa poesia
mentre il treno della metropolitana perde velocità e prima di salire
le scale
verso un nuovo tipo d'amore
che la vita non ti ha mai concesso.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia alla luce
del televisore dove immagini mute saltano e scivolano
mentre tu attendi le telenotizie sull'intifada.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia in una sala d'attesa
Di occhi che s'incontrano sì e no, d'identità con estranei.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia sotto la luce al neon
nel tedio e nella stanchezza dei giovani fuori gioco,
che si mettono fuori gioco quando sono ancora troppo giovani. So
che stai leggendo questa poesia con una vista non più buona, le spesse lenti
ingigantiscono queste lettere oltre ogni significato però
continui a leggere perché anche l'alfabeto è prezioso.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia mentre vai e vieni accanto alla stufa
scaldando il latte, sulla spalla un bambino che piange, un libro
nella mano
poiché la vita è breve e anche tu hai sete.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia non scritta nella tua lingua
indovinando alcune parole mentre altre continui a leggerle
e voglio sapere quali siano queste parole.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia mentre ascolti qualcosa,
diviso fra rabbia e speranza
ricominciando a fare di nuovo il lavoro che non puoi rifiutare.
So che stai leggendo questa poesia perché non rimane
nient'altro da leggere
là dove sei atterrato, completamente nudo.

Some rooftop, water-tank looming, street-racket strangely quelled
and other known and unknown there, long sweet summer evening
on the tarred roof:
leaned back your head to the nightvault swarming with stars
the Pleiades broken loose, not seven but thousands
every known constellation flinging out fiery threads
and you could distinguish all
-cobwebs, tendrils, anatomies of stars
coherently hammocked, blueblack avenues between…

It was New York, the dream-site
the lost city the city of dreadful light…we
went striding the avenues in our fiery hair
in our bodies young and ordinary riding the subways reading
or pressed against other bodies
feeling in them the maps of Brooklyn Queens Manhattan…

Streets closed, emptied by force Guns at corners
with open mouths and eyes Memory speaks:
You cannot live on me alone
you cannot live without me
I'm nothing if I'm just a roll of film
stills from a vanished world
fixed lightstreaked mute
left for another generation's
restoration and framing I can't be restored or framed
I can't be still I'm here
in your mirror pressed leg to leg beside you
intrusive inappropriate bitter flashing
with what makes me unkillable though killed

- this is where I live now. If you had known me
once, you'd still know me now though in a different
light and life. This is no place you ever knew me.

We write from the marrow of our bones.

You grieve in loneliness, and if I understand you fuck in loneliness.

You were a woman walked on a leash.
And they dropped you in the end.