You and Me and the Dead

A pain before I move
of air and time and the apple
of jazz falling out the door
among shouts of invisible children
also death or not-me and the un-kissed face
of the girl—the light a blanket
over her shoulders—
make the day ache enough
to last forever.

A poem flew by last night
(I heard it in the air) and when I looked up
saw the North Star for the first time
in a long time, on my way home
in an alley I’ve walked a thousand times.
The earth is flat, the sky streaked with red wings.
If I’m this close to the edge
is there room for anything else?

It’s something I’ve danced
around and pointed to but have no clue
what’s really there. A streetlight, a dog
waiting by the door, an empty
table, a clean ashtray, a woman
writing in a book, the curve of her neck
an invitation to receive. The moon
is in every poem but there it is again
hanging over the biggest city
on this side of the earth and a man
cleaning his car sings a love song
written by somebody dead for somebody
dead or imagined.

Before we were here, they were.
They liked having lunch and their
nails done. They smoked pipes and took
long walks. Some had three wives
as was their custom, some had none, and some shared
husbands or had one and lived in a house made of hides
or mud and hunted with sharp sticks, painted
their skin, talked to the sky or the earth
or invisible animals, chewed coca and staked
hairless enemies to the ground.
Some thought cats were gods, or dogs were, or virgins
and others kept people as pets, grabbed them
and fornicated willy-nilly.
Many were fun and happy and many
miserable and not good company.
When they greeted each other
they bowed to the earth or grabbed each others’ testicles
if they had them, or touched noses
if they didn’t, or breasts. Some
were very important and others weren’t
and were slaughtered
because they lived on the other side of the river
or down in the valley.
Women came with cows, or were available for purchase
if a man had cows, but a lot of men and women
had no cows and they came, too
if they were asked
or whenever they wanted to. Sometimes
they loved —
did I mention that? — like we do. Sitting
late at night they put their chins in their palms
and listened.
They held hands and rested
on each others’ shoulders, whispered
dear in their own dear breath. Now
they’re all dead and this is our clear
light, our poem
and the day aches enough
to last forever. This is your life, too.
We’re both still here.