"there's no through trail" —Han-Shan, translated by Gary Snyder

Three Poems by Bruce Weigl

 

Issue: Spring 2017

The World Part II

 

Dogwood blossoms fill
the air like snow and dust
the branches of the trees
and you have to close your eyes
to see the luminous shapes
and forms and don’t say Save me
to just any god.
We used to have a compass
in our heads when the sun
did not reach through the triple
canopy and at night no stars.
Still, your body feels
where the river is,
where the crossroads disappear
into walls of green bamboo.
Now, I don’t know where I am,
or why I brought you here
or what I had in mind,
but I’ll give you my hand to take.
I’ll reach through this unfolding.

 

The Sixty-sixth Winter of my Imagining

 

The frozen air comes early to the year,
surprising everyone with blinding snow,
the leaves still in the trees, where ghosts appear
and rattle in the branches beyond hope.
Some birds are trapped, they don’t know how to leave
now that the landscape has completely changed;
it isn’t that they feel that they should grieve
but more that things are suddenly deranged.
How many times can we be fooled when
every year it is the same, the light
pulls back so dark can take its place, pretending
everything will be alright.
Inside the coldest night our sleep is warm,
that’s how we finally die inside the storm.

 

On the Shores of Welcome Home

For Yusef

I.

I want to sing an old man’s song,
the evening’s blue gray light just gone.
I want to find the immorality
of our disinterest;
it’s our business
to know the geography
of the countries
we bring misery.

First there is the flesh
or the fleshy insides of
a thing or two
coming to the surface
in the flooded backyards; brother
do you know how it feels
not to have
enough food or water
for even your own angels
who float above the trailer park’s
cold descent,
what it means to sleep
in bone numbing pain
that comes from living a bottomless life
where even death cannot be afforded,
so far beyond a blue relief?

*

The moral center’s out of whack.
It may not find
its own way back
so the befuddled torturer
imagines his late dinner,
and the flesh of a single fat white larva
is sucked down the throat of a starving
man.  Don’t be befuddled too.  Don’t
pretend there’s nothing to believe in
like a cascade of flowers
thrown into the mass graves
to try and bear the smell away.
Pitch.  Ash.  Sand of bones
release me.
I shiver in my hot bed
at the mention of your name.

During moments of mortal fear and terror
in the kingdom of needs,
a clarity moves across your landscape
so that suddenly everything appears bright,
and in a stupor of amazement you see
what had been there all along.
But don’t mourn on me,
mourn on your own selves.
Flesh of chaos.  Flesh of green jungle,
rapid eye movement, rockets, mortar rounds,
voices from the bush at night, crippling,
antagonistic fear
reeling outward through the years
like a sharp wire.  Sometimes there’s
not even time to die. Trip flare light
trapped on the rain beyond all reason.

 

Like a virus, you can bring another country
home with you and not even know.
A country can take you so far away, you will never come back.  Brother,
can you spare me a rhyme?  There used to be a greater kindness;
there used to be a thing you could feel inside that binds us,
the holy sameness that we are.
Flesh of men who sit on thrones
and spend the lives of others like dollars.  Night
is not safe anymore
and the violated name our times.
Flesh of the savior, not in the host.
Flesh of the ones who took with their hands
what they had no right to own.

II.

They sell rivets that fail.  They own companies
that reap, after a cheap sowing of the young and the helpless,
a great pile of money so high you could never spend it all.
At the bottom of this hill,
people pick through a garbage pit for pieces of fruit or bread.
You can’t ask Why don’t you care or Why don’t you help
of the people who own the war
the way people own a Coca Cola plant
or a car dealership; they will look at you
like you don’t understand and turn back
to their conversations with a minor officials.

III.

Some cops kill.  No big deal. They don’t know how we feel,
how even when our hearts are shredded like lace
there’s no place we can hide.
I don’t care what you say; I don’t hear what you pray;
It’s just your own dismay at the dying gods
and the churches turned to malls,
and the long and hard fall
through a mountain desert
like the shape of smoke from far away.
This is why the dead must be burned, brother,
and why some things cannot be undone,
some wiring in the chemical brain
that can never be rewired again,
so you are set adrift
in the world of not undoing,
like the la-de-da damaged boy.  It means
you reap what you sow.
It means a galaxy of
everything you’ve ever
done or seen done wrong and
said nothing
trails behind you like the tail of a comet,
all ice and dark debris,
and we think that
something like angels
will come for us in the end,
and carry us away.  I love
the lie that god is; father
forgive me because there is no grace,
only separation, a kind of deviation
from the usual path
but not a wrath you’ll even grasp
even when you see it happen
right before your eyes; I assure you,
only peaceful thoughts, discerning,
yet still there’s something inside burning
and I’m on a ride with the hallelujah science.

IV.

We don’t know how someone could kill that way,
the children in their classrooms safe at school.
Our world is named guns, and bullets spray
free as our American minds are to fool
ourselves that we are good; there’s nothing left to do.
Dead children wait in their classrooms
for their mothers and fathers to view
their small bodies; the doom
it is to see your child dead and blue as frozen snow;
you’ll never be the same again; you’ll never see
the world in gracious light; you’ll never know
the quiet peace of simply how to be.
We want to give our lives to bring them back
although I know how foolish sacrifice may sound;
words can say but words can never be,
or stop the bullets, not even a single round
from cutting through the air, until they almost see
the flesh and bone they blast away.
You have to know the fear of how it feels
before you understand.

V.

Immigrants, misfits, ne’er do wells for benefits,
Croats, Serbs, Polacks, Slovenians,
it’s what we mean
when we say where we’re from;
summer, and all we have is each other.  Brother,
do you know how it feels
to have so much of nothing
that you don’t even know?

 

Don’t preach to me, don’t teach me any remedies
to restore the dualities
in my brain.  I know what to do with my ghosts
once the party’s over,
and I know how to set an ambush and some claymores
if the need arises; I’m full of surprises,
I like your horizons so full of hope that was never there,
just dope they gave us to forget and not scare
the good citizens around us who may not be aware
of the damage war does to boys and to girls
hurled so far away from love.

VI.

The blade of Eros in the form of a message from the spirit of someone
I had watched cross over but who seems to want to stick around blues;
it goes something like this:

Sometimes I do the right thing, and sometimes I don’t,
even at this age and
what the hell is that all about?
Love is a ribbon that cuts,
and I have crossed some fleshy bridges, brother,
that gave way to an endless green fall.
I am still falling, father,
mother of the cool sheets,
so no need for you to wait for me
at the screen door
in just a poor kitchen light any longer,
a ghost without his hauntings.

 

What went wrong is not a question you should ask people like me.
What went wrong is the name of a way of being,
an evolution towards the entropic and the nuclear,
a requiem for the bad angels, clogging the highway.
a towering catastrophe of lies; opium dreams
of the jungle green spider,
its legs around my face,
a woman who comes in the dark;
Oh space, the dream said, don’t worry time.
You can lose track of who you are;
You can say all the old Jesus stuff to yourself in the dark,
but if those black wings have your name on them
you might as well saddle-up
my First Sergeant said more than a few times,
and you may think that this is my news, so
what the fuck,
but I accuse us all of the worst crimes.  I love us all
for the worst crimes.  There is no pure humanity;
it’s a metaphor that doesn’t work, a dream without a center
you can’t wake from.
I’m not talking about myself
but about the map of our stupid failures,
because I don’t know where to turn anymore,
and all I want is to get out of this, once and for all.
All I want is a peaceful mind, and a spirit who
wants to stay close,
and some great arms that wrap around me,
and hold me still for a moment of something
that feels exactly like love,
the long night of disciplined emotion
over, the godliness to the nth degree
a cool mist, drowning us in peace.


Bruce Weigl’s published works include The Abundance of Nothing (2012), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, The Unraveling Strangeness (2002), Archeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems (1999), After the Others (1999), and Song of Napalm (1988), which was also nominated for a Pulitzer. Weigl is also the author of the best-selling prose memoir, The Circle of Hanh.  The founder of North Coast Review, he now teaches at Lorain County Community College.