from Narcissus in the Underworld: 1-8

Somewhere in the middle of my life,
in the shadow of towers that wall the street,
I turned, and in the traffic and the talk
and clash of horns in contrary motion,
someone called, but what I saw was no one.
Only the multitude, a hundred-some,
and the furious drifts of steam that rose
through grates of iron in the sidewalk.
There I was, confused in the general
havoc. I turned, the way death turns
a mirror to the wall, or a home to some
mausoleum of coats, hats, black umbrellas.
Somewhere in the middle of the night,
my brother called, and I became an orphan.

Peacock

Geoffrey Hill is dead, and still, now, as I read his words,
his voice keeps crossing over. And a woman at a nearby

table says to her companion, I am so many people these days—
mother, child, whore—I feel exhausted. And as she laughs,

her unlit cigarette keeps making little circles, and the other
woman listens. I want to say, I know the feeling, when I know

I cannot. I want to break through unspoken boundaries.
I cannot write of Nobody, says Hill. No one to narrate this.

The Republic

When the Star-Spangled Banner crackled into fragments
of applause, and cannons thumped the sky with blanks,

the poison in the thermometer sank a little deeper,
but hell, if we would let that keep us from our children,

however lame our backs or vulnerable the offensive line;
the price we pay, knowing a sacrifice for the team spoke

volumes of our ritual need to pretend victory or loss
would matter much or long or express some higher purpose,

a power more sharply felt in the shock that sweeps us
into one hush, one speechlessness where anthems go,

Zion

In a wasteland south of the Great Salt Lake, the man on the cliff edge calls,

his voice lost among the echoes. Each echo stranger than the last, more

removed from the throne and throat of human error. So vast the emptiness

I cannot tell you what is echo, what a voice. One bird becomes two,

two—in silence—one, and still, to me, the many. Where there is design,

there is a story. Where there is beauty, the ache of light that is everywhere

broken. Two birds become one, one the many, a flock against the sheer

Fable

My father’s flashlight led me down a flight
of the trapdoor stairs that shivered on their springs,

and there in the basement, the icebox was our lord,
our great provider, fat, white, streamlined

as a Studebaker or bathosphere, stuffed
with what it takes to survive a nuclear flash,

should it arrive. Here, he said. We will be okay.
Everything will be okay. And I trusted him

because I had no other, and winter was a place
I could not touch. Every white the chalk

that frames the flesh gone missing in the blaze.
Every vision broken and still we dreamt, cold