Each Lit Bell * * *
Sometimes when I walk briskly across a winter city,
Boston or Chicago, I can feel my blood warm into a chaos
exactly the shape of my body, joyful inside my clothes.
Some aspect of air—maybe pieced light & snow, the cold itself—
celebrates the unchambered fields within me.
When I finally go indoors, the chill falls from my coat.
Once in Cleveland, walking to the train in the first hours
of what would be a long storm off Lake Erie, it began
to snow. Fast flakes, painting the air
with such broad strokes. The sky was like my mother
when she had to turn to clay & a potter’s wheel, because she
could not get the paint thick enough on her canvas.
Then I paused, stopped in my shortcut through a pay-to-park
lot mostly empty of cars & leaned my suitcase against my knees.
I was on my way to the train to the airport,
to a bus in California, to home, & so young
was the day, it was still night.
I don’t know how long I stood there, as snow
hid first the stars & then the curbs & the cars.
The parking lot grew more & more beautiful,
new & solitary, a wilderness still absent the human.
The lampposts disappeared, then even the lamps were gone,
just a giant, lit cone where each one had been,
swirling & planted at the edge of the known world.
* * *
The first time I walked past the immense kelp exhibit
of the Monterey Aquarium, I stopped. Among kelp,
platinum clouds shifted shape & direction with the rapidity
of shuffled cards, & every school formed a single
body & never a single body, always a different
constellation. Each a tiny catch of light,
the fish became just-poured champagne, effervescing,
& the giant column of glass could not keep
the iridescence within itself. Each lit bell,
snowflakes holding up a lamp, could have been
a tank of those sardines, solid & fluxed, never done
making shapes of themselves, never still.
* * *
A long walk awaited me, across the withered,
industrial expanse of a middle-aged American city.
Cleveland had let itself go, as sometimes I have let my cupboards
empty or the laundry pile, or the bills, my confidence run down
to a least pulse, no matter of will. In such a city, abandoned
warehouses fall in on themselves, & the voice,
altered, too, declines, is inaudible even from within.
Empty as a lifeguard shack on the north coast when the water
is too cold to swim & the sand begins to drift & stays
unpocked by human heels, the pay-stand
of the parking lot was being subsumed. I had started
to make a path, away. Behind me, my tracks
were slowly obliterated, or filled, or healed.
I carried my suitcase, because I couldn’t pull it;
its little wheel-wells jammed with snow. It wasn’t
so much heavy, but I’d have dropped the suitcase
if that would have helped erase
my tracks more quickly.
* * *
Then, it was my own pain I wanted to disappear,
but now it’s my dying friend, Maura, I want
to abandon my suitcase for, now it is my nephew, Lucas,
making the rounds of the living room with kisses.
One autumn day, pulling weeds with my sister-in-law,
his mother, she & I on two sides of the walkway,
she actually uprooting the weeds,
& me, sitting cross-legged with eighteen month
Luke in my lap now & then leaning out from me
as from a boat to grab a small handful of grass,
for the sound of the rip of it, the pleasure, I think,
of each separate blade breaking, together torn.
But Lucas looked up, stood & walked over to his mother,
who perhaps had glanced at us or maybe not. He bent
over her as she squatted close to the ground concentrating
on fine roots, & with the body of an elderly man,
he stooped over & patted her shoulder,
bent further to look a moment into her face,
then he toddled back across the stone walkway
& settled in my lap with a sigh. If I could pack
a single rolling bag with the ache that awaits
that boy or with what this spring will be Maura’s
final grind, the last she knows of the world,
I’d gladly have left the suitcase there.
* * *
Maybe if I had dropped it, & it burst, everything
would have spilled, & I could’ve left it like that
in the gutter, already disappearing in the storm.
When almost at the end of that day of two trains, two
planes, & a bus, I stood on the platform under the false
light of the Oakland station, it was night again,
& in the grammar of commuters, everyone became
a familiar stranger. We were each both singular & the same.
When the door slid closed, I was the lucky rider with a seat,
with my suitcase pressed tight against my knees, close
to the windowed wall where black glass was stained
into cathedral glass with the bodies & clothes,
hats & knapsacks, all of it in color but muted,
a little duller, a little stranger, where in the reflection
I could stare without cease at faces as our bodies
swayed the lilting & slowing, the pitch & acceleration,
& where I could pause as I paused at the snow-lifted
torches so solidly swirling,
where a genie was trapped in her giant bottle,
a spun god, atwirl in her release, a kind of singing,
a voice utterly public that only I could hear.