in which i seriously consider vats

i can’t stop thinking
about compression;

about how when you’re standing
on your feet all day they swell
so you lay yourself down
because the idea of pressing
blood against meat against bone
of pressing against the bone
on the bottoms of your feet
is unbearable
so you stay down
and discover the pressure
has just shifted to your back
to your legs to your ass you get
fat you get bedsores and still
wherever you’re making contact
there it is, pressing, so you stand
and then you realize this is it:

i have to shift this weight — i will
always have to shift this weight;

there’s no avoiding it; it’s unbearable
if you think about it too much,
and what is too much? any much.
but you have to work you have to
press something against something
in this life this compression you have
to have a job you have to struggle
to eat you have to age you have to
watch people fall away you have to
shift that weight you have to
walk out into the world

you just have to.

but maybe if we were wealthy
we could commission a vat
full of special buoyant liquid:
a vat to suspend us
and we could live there and work
there and fuck there and eat
there and get out for tolerable
jaunts on our poor compressed
feet then run home and jump

(oh sweet freedom,
sweet airborn bliss)

back into the vat.

but my make-believe vats i know
are for make-believe people — rich
people — and we sick must stand
or lie down or squirm; we must
shift weight we must press meat
against blood against bone
we must press against the bone.

and let’s be honest:
even were we wealthy,
make-believe people,
we should not live in vats.

vats are not the solution.

wild with the okayness

Percy Wakes Me (Fourteen)

Percy wakes me and I am not ready.
He has slept all night under the covers.
Now he’s eager for action: a walk, then breakfast.
So I hasten up.  He is sitting on the kitchen counter
__where he is not supposed to be.
How wonderful you are, I say.  How clever, if you
 __needed me,
____to wake me.
He thought he would hear a lecture and deeply
__his eyes begin to shine.
He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments.
He squirms and squeals: he has done something
__that he needed
____and now he hears that it is okay.
I scratch his ears.  I turn him over
__and touch him everywhere.  He is
wild with the okayness of it.  Then we walk, then
__he has breakfast, and he is happy.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.

–Mary Oliver, Swan


it touched and passed through

When I think back on Tanzania
(on us and you and me and that)
it grips me again the old feeling;
all my ribs crush inward, I feel
the pain squeeze tight and biting.

But I don’t live in that feeling
anymore I learned I had to pry
myself away or die of disfunction
and I’ve grown so far and fast
it’s been a reincarnation; I don’t live
in that feeling, not anymore,
but I can — all it takes is reaching
back for it, because it’s there.

I know it’s a myth, I know that;
and the pain was so fucking hard
to let go, it was everything
I had left. Now most days
are calm struggles, peaceful
strain, you know? Familiar.
Most days are good days;
yet the pain is always there,
when and if I reach for it,

and I do — Because, because,

Because although this love thing
is a myth it’s only actually a myth
in the specific in that now it’s gone
and gripping it was gripping death.

But love? Sweet sentimental love
is not at all a myth itself — once
it was not even a myth for me;
it was once a self-evident truth, real
as the soil is real as real as anything
has ever been real altering everything
it touched and passed through.

If I take the pain out now and then
you’ll have to forgive me, because
though I and everything have changed,
though you and everything are dust,
though our myth itself became death,
before that death it was joy and after
joy it was love and after that love
itself had faded to myth it became
this sweet old bite of pain again.

And I suppose I’m sentimental
(and more than a little self-destructive)
but every once in a while I take it out
and set it on the floor of my mind
and stretch my hand out towards it —

— and when it bites me how I smile,
just happy that it lives.

in the quiet after all

i kept getting asked at work
are you okay? of course i
said well it’s just that you
are sighing a lot they told me
oh i said then a manager saw
my cv and asked what i was
doing working at a coffee shop
and if i still spoke languages
and i thought of everything
i had lost when someone
asked why i don’t drink
and i said substance abuse
cost me my only friend
and a house and a kitten
in east africa but even then
i knew it was only a symptom
not a cause i can’t remember
ever truly being happy
except with her and that
was over before it ended
in madness i wouldn’t let go
until it soured and we died
utterly exhaling as i poured
a woman’s coffee and asking
if she needed space i wanted
to die then i think and i sighed
and it was raining outside
and a lone drop went running
down a leaf by the window
falling perfect to the pavement
to explode as all the pressure
was suddenly unbearable
i breathed it in and held it
there behind the coffee counter
looking out the window hoping
this storm would slow and pass
and in the quiet after all
that helpless pain a sunset
would hug the evening sky.

if you truly don’t want me

i won’t cry but i’ll go
to the glaciers at the end
of our time and they’ll cry
for they loved us to rise
as they wash out again
the sad waste of it all
i’ll float in the stillness
of a thousand years of ice
until nothing remains
but a sunset on waves
and that endless horizon
will disappear in the dark
and i’ll pick out a star
in the black of the sky
flowing up from the sea
and i’ll swim.

the ones who know

this is for the writers the photographers
painters and filmmakers this
is for the dancers the singers
the artists the children
with fingerpaint
throwing tantrums this
is for the ones who know
that to be born inside a thing
to live inside to breathe
inside a thing you have to care
enough to die a little death
and i’m sorry if you aren’t
nodding please feel free to walk
on this it’s not about you this
is for the ones who know
the spark that sets the fires
blazing causing squirming
madness causing all
the little deaths in pain and doubt
and fear the everkiller fear is ever
present with the spark that is
as well the only road to light
in life worth living by
and this is for the spark the one
you sometimes wake up feeling
leading you to doom and this
is for the wanting this
is for the writers the photographers
painters and filmmakers this
is for the dancers the singers
the artists the children
all of them half mad and hiding
in piles of props and clothes
their vanity and fear the ones
who know the weird and ugly
broken fat and thin the handsome
sad the stunted storytellers
they who are brave
they who are strong
of will enough to ride against
themselves to catch a glimpse to make
a glimpse of beauty this
is for the ones who know
but don’t believe
they are beautiful.

kuvunjika kwa koleo sio mwisho wa uhunzi

“the breaking of the tongs isn’t the end of the forging”

he found it late and started
thinking of himself a painted
god and did it at a whirling
pace and ate his first rejections
and that made him strong

and he went about in flush
with power of it painted
gods don’t fear they roar
and live their secret songs
and publish and he ate
his first deserved tearing-downs
and that made him strong

and as he roared he drank
and fled but at his best was still
a stoned and smearing painted
god and sent off applications
to learned places he could work
the craft not carry its enormous
weight alone he ate rejections
and that made him strong

and he did it then with fire
licking at his painted guts
white and wipping arcing fires
backlit in his frantic eyes

and then the rains arrived
and then they stopped
and something soft and spent
and aimless curled up
inside and didn’t do it
anymore and didn’t want
the pity for the aching loss
for the purpose he had carried
then he carried still inside
alone as ever from the first
alone with all the scalding
flames the searing light
he felt it still in darkened
places hiding lost as ever
same as ever but he knew
that once and who can say
this once he roared and shook
his heavens rattled chaos once
he was a burning painted god

and washed of paint he looked at last
clean and blinking from himself
and in the darkness ate the truth
and it made him strong.

a little light with which to work

grant me this for now i beg
desperate grant me nothing else
if only this a little light the faith
in this the work here let me toil
lonely lonely i don’t mind
just grant me this i beg you
grant me faith the strength to lift
and wield it like a weapon
lonely lonely i will drill
down here in the deep to raise
it shouting filthy still and shining
from my fist it will come dripping
squirming wet and running
to my workshop in the fires
lonely lonely i will craft it
fine and fragile grant me this
the faith the strength to work
the bellows blow the flames
to bend it in the fires smooth
the shape to craft it beauty inset
into beauty grant me this
if nothing else for then i will
have lived and through me it
will shine and be the reason
if i find it here and make it
to the surface all the set-backs
all the cave-ins and explosions
will be nothing grant me this
i swear if nothing else the faith
to work here in the darkness lonely
just a little light enough to make it
someday shouting filthy climbing
rising laughing up and shining
from the deep to swell the clouds
and burst across the sky.

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