The Dark Mothers
are wailing for their lost sons.
For them little has changed since Moses
but the weapons. A grief ago, the desert wind,
the on and on relentless drone
of once soft women in the murmuring grass
now crones of the hard afternoon light.
Lizard skin and hands become bird claws,
unforgiving eyes, like the mirrors of time.
Keening out of the dark towns of my past
the dirges of the young undone
in their animal prime, the I-in-eye
vanishing in the caldrons of oblivion
where once Zarathustra dreamed.
I planted for the goddess some small conifers
now taller than our house and touching the stars,
one a great monster swaying in the moonlight
like the headdress of Shiva
swaddling a dozen birds, a million crawling things.
Together we dance on forgetfulness
and the clouds become elephants.
So this is old age, where the light splinters and the dream
ricochets, and the so-what bird laughs
like Rembrandt’s last self-portraits.
(But the poet wants only to speak of sky and the ocean
of sand, to point to the setting sun
with a shrug of indifference.)
The weight of the dead is in the weightlessness
of the vanished who gave you dimension.
The 8th-grade teacher with a Boston accent
who says repeatedly don’t call me ma’am,
the east Texas “mammy” with a face like Louis Armstrong
who carries in her sainted flabby arms
the first skewers of guilt and self-loathing,
and so on and so on with the vanishing weight of being,
the slow dissolution of knowing and caring—
the stone door, the widow’s wail,
the click of the lid.
And so she brings fire to the ragged dark
in the flare of her hipbones,
swirl of her thighs. Tapering fingers
seamstress nimble, spidery smooth.
And now your absence glows
in the vaults of her belly, toss of her hair.
The slippery dark dances. But already
she is elsewhere, tomorrow
or yesterday, phantom of your best self
curling into smoke – dawn inventing the near hills,
the charred black of your face bones
wobbling back into morning.