Apnea Bear Eclipse

You won’t need your eclipse glasses
if you drive a thousand backroads miles
to the path of totality in the sand hills
by a train track in a field of wild sunflowers
as the western sky turns over itself
from blue to pink to black, a breaking wave
of darkness rolling over you – crickets
and frogs are singing! – and for two minutes
you look up in wonder at the dark side
of the moon and the halo of sun flaring
around it like windblown hair on fire.

You don’t really see the moon
because there is no reflected light,
just the shape of it blocking the sun.
You don’t see the black bear, either,
but you can tell it came last night
from the garbage strewn in the aspens by the lake,
torn and scattered like so many fucked up days.

Depression can be like this sometimes.
You don’t always see the black beast
or even smell it, but you feel its presence
in the shape of the absence of light.
Even dying is easier in the dark, you just stop
breathing in your sleep. Living again is harder –
sudden gasp unclenching the fist of your throat –
the pain that urges you onward.

They said it would be life-altering
when that midday darkness rolled over you,
but the past is resolute, a book you have read
all the way to the last word of right now,
and the future is just the vague outline of a bear
shambling in the fog that you drive through,
westward, in a race to see an eclipse.



Tell Me What You See, Mistress Moon

Mistress Moon, I feel your million-mile stare
over my shoulder as I cross the black plain
of night, but my weak Earth-bound eyes only
see the dumb grin on your pock-marked face.

You are the shape and heft of light and its absence.
In your wax and wane we know death and birth
and the mighty tug of sea-tide and womb-blood.
Tell me what you see in your blue-white sight.

Mice scurrying across the wind-spun snow,
the red-eyed wolf, the faint glow of my heart,
more ash than ember? Can you penetrate
the caul of deceit that smothers me, beneath

to the field of tiny stars tattooed across my chest?
Have you missed your mother these four billion
years, or did you long ago turn your best side
away from her, toward the cold fires of eternity?


Everyone had this strange compulsion
to pause like minarets in the ritual wind
and listen

because they were convinced
that the tautness could not go on

that some day something had to happen
that much was certain but what form
the release

might take could only be guessed at
and lying out on the roof at night
under the stars

I strain my ears trying to imagine
I hear perhaps in the direction of

the faint sound of voices calling
but it is always the presence
of silence

broken now and then by a sleepy rooster
crowing on some distant housetop
or a cat

wailing in the street below or a truck
far out on Mosul Road

bang bang
it coasts down the long hill to the Tigris
fertile old giver of life.

February-March 2003

I-17, South of Flagstaff, 1995

10 p.m., starry sky, autumn chill,
winds buffet the van like waves on a lifeboat.
Returning from the film about Neruda,
warm inside our craft, filled with poetry
and the sad rhythm of miles. You beside me:

talk of love, of a certain face, of the subtle
slurred sound of Beatrice, of your sister’s first kiss
and when I floated on my back in the pitiless sea.
We know we are editing our words, our thoughts,
our dreams, our lives, and we acknowledge this

and more. And then there’s this: How do we
polish the sacred surfaces, as Neruda writes,
to reveal the dove who is born of light?
How do we, with our hands, make the world every day?
Mile by mile, with a firm grip on the wheel?

Exit 298, adrift in the balmy space of words,
I watch you slip away, your red hair floating on starlight,
into the cool, deep ocean of night.