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.
Wherever I walked, I saw my father’s face
across the face of a stranger. Then it left,
and the face grew stranger still. We were
all fathers and mothers then, with hearts
that knocked in us like angry neighbors.
Last night’s dream was a black scarf falling,
fainting from a great height, the smooth
hands of its ephemera signing the air.
Once when I could not sleep, the planet
opened, rubies ached in the gash like eyes,
and I, a child, entered. I walked against
a flume of steam; I looked, and some there
felt the rumble in their feet, some heard—
as I in passing heard—their own lost name.
Then I was descending a flight of stairs
to take a chair at the internet café,
to join the others, heads bowed, ears wired,
mouthing messages to the no one there.
Can you hear me, someone asked, and so
I turned, listened, looked the other way.
The great intellectual breeze that moves
through all things, it moved. It withered.
I love that moment a stranger speaks in
your direction at someone on the other
side. You become, if not transparent,
a dark reflective surface. A bead of ink,
an open pupil. Can you hear me, asks
a voice somewhere, and yes, I say. I can.
Hell has no guide, no message, no mouth,
no dead in flames as the dead imagined,
only these fetishes, rings, movies, blogs,
and you can go there. You can download
Tor and put your body in the gorge.
Among the Silk Roads and assassins,
you can scan a catalogue of automatics
and find what a bit more capital will buy.
The crime scene tape that flutters against
the tenement door, it understands you.
It whispers, come, enter, make your notes,
read the pattern on the playroom wall.
You’re going to need all those drugs, to find
what bodies find when they are far away.
Hallucination is a private room and all
the walls are fire. I learned that once,
those days I was sleepless and neglected
to shave, and my arms in phantom pain.
Doctors wrote things down in files they
did not show me and said, I see, well,
that is all for now. So this is hell.
Never knowing where your choices end, if
the voice in the fire is fire or the branch.
Or a summons to suffer what those deprived
of choices must. When I hear myself,
I am writing things down in files labeled,
That is all for now. And more simply,
all or now. Or I have no heart to ask.
The window blinds cut a shadow lattice
across our faces, and as time withdrew,
our faces remained. Whatever the dragnet
pulled from the sea—call it water, a whisper
of rope—it is all the great forgetting now.
Today, said the teacher, we are learning
about the world. Who here can find home.
Then she dizzied the globe, and I looked,
confused, and looked again. I searched the ocean,
name after name where it floated from shore.
True, the earth was changing. Nations flowed
into nations. Some grew. Others vanished.
I must have been somewhere down there,
but where I stood was nowhere to be found.
Last night a ghost came to me and said,
a little terror haunts everything we do.
I do not think the voice talked to me
alone. Take any tower when it falls.
Refuse blossoms, and slowly it settles.
Wounds harden. The urge to scratch becomes
its own problem, until that problem settles,
hardens. Time heals, we say. We say it again.
The children at their computers in class
look down, where the towers fall and fall.
They enter the cloud, the way light enters
the eye. It drags a bit of cloud-dust in,
no sooner felt than blinked into extinction.
The dead cannot hear you. Whatever they say.
When my father was in a coma, I walked
nights. Streets opened their gates at dawn.
Fog rolled in. Smoke bloomed in TV
sets suspended from the hospital ceiling.
The world made a noise in the corner,
and as it grew, I grew. I searched the web.
We all did it. We made ourselves a part.
Compulsion had a cradle’s rhythm, a pulse.
Open a page at dawn, and news rolls in.
I lived in two worlds then. My father in none.
When my nation burned, I played music
for the man. No one knew if he would
wake, if he heard us worry. Come back,
I whispered. It is beautiful here. Come back.