56: coma, canto 13

canto 13

there are metaphors
for swords, the seas
swishing beneath the deck,
the wind blowing
in phrases tornados make,
but they would be false swords,
I suppose, opening wounds
in the skin but false wounds
bleeding false blood,
as we speed closer
to the enemy’s shore
where they wait
with their weapons
drawn and their lust
like false molten metal
going white at the sight
of our boat
on the horizon coming.

my mother, in the rear garden,
seated, said, Well, I don’t know,
I don’t know what to say,
say to him, and expect anything
better than someone else’s

that was weeks ago
and in the same garden,
she sat still, the sun
going in and out
in and out of high-passing
clouds, with a sword
on her lap,
and across its edge
she passed a stone
for sharpening it.

while my father sat
in the room with books
books of poems and stories,
books on the brain,
books on coma, one of which he’d
written, and declaimable
word for word,
books on geography,
books on history,
books on gardening, one of which my mother’d
written, but which was undeclaimable,
and apparently unreadable
by my father, as, for him,
the pages of books,
the forms of letters
on pages, were to him
false letters, false forms now.

he told me:
I don’t know
why to tell you this,
tell you that the letter L
is a G, or so I’m told,
and it’s unconfirmable by me.
Because to you it is a G,
I said, but others say it’s an L.
Quite so, he said, and he
leaned out the window
to the woman in the garden
and called down:
Maybe it’s supposed to be a G,
and she called back:
It’s unbelievable you never
read my book. I, she called back,
tortured myself on yours.
God, what other lies
did you tell?

he said, Bah,
and closed the window.

none of this I cared for;
none of this was more necessary
than the question I brought,
the question I brought
persistently and for which nothing
more than silence he gave back:

what did you see, I asked,
a week after he’d woken:
tell me what you saw,
I said, as he buttered some bread:
tell me what you dreamed.

he smiled, the weeks
ascended on short,
overburdened legs,
he smiled, quoted nothing.
he smiled and quoted nothing.
Was it waters? Was it a ladder up?
Was it a gentle old man
you spoke to in your sleep?
You must remember your
image of heaven. You always
hated that I never believed
or trusted them: your images
of heaven; your stories
of coma: the images of water,
mediation, the women who said:
I was with my dogs that had died;
and others, who, as they approached
their plateau’s of recovering, said:
I walked forests; I floated
on the softest cushions;
I remember the voices
standing at my bed side:
your image of heaven
as ladder up while away
in the distance the machines
sing their songs.

do you want to know
do you want to know
what I saw, my son?
do you want to know
do you want to know
what I saw, my son?

yes, I insisted,
I want to know what you saw.

he smiled in his room
full of meaningless books.
He smiled from the kitchen table.
He smiled from his chair
in the living room,
smiled with a sword on his lap,
the edge of which he tested
for sharpness with his thumb.

he said,
it was all those things
every one of them.

now, please,
if you wouldn’t mind leaving,
he said.

55: coma, canto 12

canto 12

in ascendance songs
David, he said, is sworn
an oath by god,
gains for keeping
the covenants. It goes,
he said, suchly:
“The lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.

If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.

For the lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.”
Psalm 132, he said.

but exactitude is not my aim,
no, it’s King James,
the one I read
and could never ever
remember, no never
but not because I wanted
to forget but because
it was and has always been the case
of my mind to forget
as we all do
things, lines, procedures
valid, invalid,
lies, truths, benchmarks,
lists, for practical reasons,
reasons of necessity,
for to, he said,
to remember every moment
of everyday
would mean death
by starvation.

and he clicked his teeth,
turned his somewhat slimmer
hands into one knuckled
ball, brought the thumbs
to the forehead
and pinched me from his vision.
But he whispered this:
“They say: At home we would be amidst our vast holdings saying prophesies and praying for rain.”

the doctors said,
all the doctors said,
the head, Crenshaw
shaking behind his desk,
while I and my mother,
not son but son,
wife but not wife,
said, Everything,
best I can say now,
everything he’s ever read,
every word he’d seen,
has come back with him;
the vault of the brain,
his vault he can reach
into any moment
for any phrase,
any soliloquy,
speech, or tid of dialogue,
and I mean any:
Paradise Lost from start to finish,
every neuroanatomy textbook
and atlas
I can list,
and, believe it or not,
every little thing you
wrote as a child:
everything, with instantaneous
recall, everything, amazing,
he said.

and and and
and and and
and and and,
we said

yes, yes, he said.
Some things have been lost,
hidden, some things lost,
he said.

what what what
what what what

Crenshaw said:
he can’t remember
he can’t remember
why any of it mattered to him.

54: coma in cantos, canto 11

canto 11

in the annals
I could write he opened
his eyes as Napoleon,
Churchill, Lincoln,
Betty Ford.

in the annals
I could write
him saying
famous sayings
from Twain or Shakespeare
and laughing about them,
merrily as he had always been.

in the annals
I could write us all,
my mother and I,
the doctor,
standing bedside
like people
doomed to mourning
and giving up,
like people on a hot
shoulder staring
at the fuel-starved
heap there,
doomed to walk
away, when,
suddenly, he opens
his eyes,
and he says, I’m home,
and we cheer,
and life goes back
to our memories
of it,
when, suddenly,
that annal, that turn
of history never happens,
and I answer
the phone
and my mother says
into her’s,
He’s awake, He’s alive,
He’s awake, He’s alive,
but, she said,
and I said, elated,
But what?
But, she said,
Just get here as fast as you can.

I did
and the verbs proceeded normally.
Upon entering the room
(think what I was imaging,
imagine what I was imagining,
imagined, had imagined,
would image, think
the possibilities through)
I saw him standing
at the mid-morning
windows, his face
at the glass,
a hand at the end
of his taut arm
like a hand pressed
to an unseen wall
or like a hand forcing
to stationary a heavy
pressuring body or force,
or pushing away,
and my mother
held away by that hand
and the doctor beside her
held back by that hand.

dad, I said, entering,
Dad, I said, You’re awake,
you’re alive,
and he moved the palm
of his hand
toward me
but his head remained
and he said,
Dad, I am no Dad
of you, he said.
And he said,
“Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay!
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept;”
Titus Andronicus, he said,
and he said,
“What were you snarling all before I came,
Ready to catch each other by the throat,
And turn you all your hatred now on me?
Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven?”
Richard the Third, he said.
And I repeat, he said,
this is no wife of mine,
“here’s a simple line of life: here’s a small trifle
of wives: alas, fifteen wives is nothing! eleven
widows and nine maids is a simple coming-in for one
man: and then to ‘scape drowning thrice, and to be
in peril of my life with the edge of a feather-bed;”
The Merchant of Venice, he said.
And I’ll give it to you
again, again, I’ll give it to you,
this doctor’s no doctor
of mine, though I know him
by the name Richard Crenshaw,
“Send out more horses; skirr the country round;
Hang those that talk of fear. Give me mine armour.
How does your patient, doctor?”
You should know that one,
he said, now turning to us
and lowering his hand, now
a softening of his lips,
and a hand to the white hair
on his chin,
he said, Don’t misunderstand.
I might love you,
I know you, my wife,
not my wife. And I know
you as son and not my son,
and I, a neurologist, physician:
“But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!”
Mark Twain, he said.

no, don’t misunderstand,
I know all of you,
but all of that is no longer,
he said. I can recall it all,
remember it all.

remember it all? I said.
Remember everything,
my mother said.
Amazing, Crenshaw said.

what the hell does
no longer mean? I said.
You were never one for dictionaries,
my father said, turning to the window,
turning back to the window,
turning away from all of us.
Crenshaw, the fascinated,
Crenshaw, the ever curious,
asked, The first verse of Leviticus.
Give us the first verse.
My father said,
“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.”
He added, Nonsense,
of course. He said,
foolishness, he said.
What need would a grand god
have of a few sheep or doves.

53: coma in cantos, canto 10

canto 10

Upon opening the door
he would open a great wingspan
and say, I’m home, in the voice
of a caller calling Is anyone home
to an empty dwelling.

Upon keyturning the car
and killing the engine
he’d say, Safe and sound.
As promised.

Once I buried all his
shoes in the backyard
because I thought they might grow
and I’d have my own garden,
a shoe garden,
shoe trees, shoe shrubs,
flowers heavy-headed with little shoes
that would grow into big shoes,
and he laughed,
saying, It might work
but I need those shoes
for now. He let me
keep certain old pairs,
a brown pair, with split
soles, flopsome, and flaky leather.
Water them, he said,
while my mother chuckled
and provided me some
amount of fertilizer
in a little paper cup.

And that grand place
where he worked.
He’d say, Safe and sound.
As promised and we’d
walk under the turning massive
walls and the grand windows
and the flags and the trees
and the crowds of city birds in them,
and the lofty ceilings
and the long blocks of counters
and the monstrous machines
with their lights and their dials
and their strange strands of tubing
and the readouts, and their stands and wheels
and the tall doctors and nurses
with their papers and their eye glasses
reflecting the white jello overheads,
and their white shoes and their busyness,
soft, whispered voices,
and the wheel chairs and the men and women
in them, with their slippers on the foot plates,
and their eyes I never saw blink,
and a man breathing on a table
and another man breathing on a table,
and the rectangles of light on the marble
floors and on the linoleum floors,
waxed and wet-looking,
and the office doors and the brass nameplates,
some with rippleglass, others solid, gray, and dented,
scratched, behind which I imagined screaming
and heavy silver tools cutting through skulls,
bone-dust ricocheting off the machinist’s safety plate,
and the long hallways out and out again
sometimes into sun and sometimes into rain,
and my father would say, Safe and sound.
As promised upon homecoming.

yes, he would open his arms
at hometime, and we knew exactly
what it all meant, as it was repeated,
repeatable, and he would say
to the house I’m home
and so I imagined
him opening his eyes,
waking in the bed,
reaching the highest rung
of the ladder of deepsleep,
open his eyes,
say, I’m home.

but this isn’t what happened.

52: coma in cantos, interlude 4


and I opened my fist
to open air
there, on that friend’s
farmhouse beyond which whole
armies of the faithful
are moving, none more
true than any other,
dependent on the common hidden,
which is indeed significant:
the object of faith is _____ which is hidden,
inferred but unrevealed,
inferred but hidden.

was it Emerson who claimed the unseen
eternal, repeating the historical record,
repeating the historical record,
with some grafting or alteration,
intuited rather than given,
but already said and passed
up the ladder, like this or that gene,
dishinged from doctrinal genetics.

it’s true I felt no power
at all in my fist; my opened
hand opened on what had been,
and I regretted
the destruction, how easy
my motion had been,
such ease compared
to the labor of the spider,
such ease compared
to the labor necessary
for walking the earth
with a web between my fingers

51: coma in cantos, interlude 3


one measure of knowledge
is to assert that if a stone is a false
stone, Eduardo will judge it a false
stone, or:
perhaps the stone is a whale and the whale
is a false whale, and thus, appropriately,
whale, stone, or whalestone,
all three being false,
Eduardo will come and say:
It’s a false stone and a false whale,
a false whalestone.
But is the stone false because Eduardo
comes to me and says: the stone is false?
And is this the same as claiming:
this story is not a poem?
Which would mean this story is a false poem
if claimed as a poem in the first place,
perhaps by Eduardo,
which is possible.

My shoes, you say, are not frogs.
My car, you say, is not chocolate pudding.
My head, you say, is not a melon.
My children, you say, are not killers.
My hands, you say, are not spiders.

a day after rain, for play, I rested
my arm on the arm of a chair
at a farmhouse of a friend for an hour.
I read a little, sipped a little,
watched the shadows from the chair legs
turn on the grass a little. After an hour
I looked at my hand, which appeared
to me there at the end of my arm
on the arm of the chair, and between my
thumb and pinky fingers, under the cup
of my palm where nature had placed shadow,
a sand grain,
a speck of pepper, a poppyseed,
the eye of a distant hippo, a hole
made by a needle in white paper,
which are all false spiders,
had built a web across the arc
of my limp palm.

for several moments
it might be described
that the universe
stopped moving as I
watched for the spider
to show itself, appear
at my thumb, at my smallest finger,
or in that bridge of organic
silver filigree, this spinnareted
house with its perceptible
ripples in the breeze, this shadowed
presumptive net
silklaced to my resting skin
by some false, busy seed,
which are all (house, bridge, net) false webs.

i spoke to the web
and to the spider.
I told the web
and I told the spider:
I will write you out of history,
write you out of the eras
and the annals,
impossible though it is,
and I turned my hand into a fist.

50: coma in cantos, canto 9

Edward, he said, came
dripping from the waters of coma
and told the neuro team
he’d always dreamed
in that aspirational fashion
of taking time for a stone and water
and a warm part
of the stone
above the water line,
the water calm,
rippling around the stone
and the sun above warm
but not too hot
and a coolness emanating
from the water
and the birds in nearby trees
dipping in for insects
with little snaps of their
beaks, little bits
of golden pollen, leaf parts,
insect wings, vegetable matter
drifting slowly on the soft water,
a green mirror
that duplicated the sky
and slow passing clouds
and maybe a plane in the distance
with a condensation trail
like the rachis of a feather
slicing the otherwise crystal world.

Yes, he’d always aspired
to sitting on the stone,
which was somewhat flat,
and taking the time
to mediate there,
to listen to world,
to filter out its noise
and false and facile stories,
unbelievable, undying faiths,
selfish leaders,
tiresome spaces,
prohibitions and duplicitous expectations.

when he woke from deepsleep
he told my father he remembered
nothing other than being on that stone,
that his dream of the stone
was as real as life, as breathing,
as the pain in his back.
He could smell the water,
not smell the water as he drifted;
feel the sun on his shoulder
like two warm hands,
not feel the sun as he drifted
deeper into meditation,
hear the birds, the insects,
the sometime plup plup of fish
coming to the mirror surface,
dishear the birds as the wind
assisted Eduardo’s meditative
diminishment in the face of all.

when he opened his eyes
he opened his eyes
to the ceiling, to the lamp there,
to the sound of machines,
air, and the smell, the smell,
the smell of clean linens,
strange orchestrations of wall,
machine, and uniform whiteness.

but no matter he wanted
to go back, to return,
to close his eyes,
return to that lake, that stone,
that sun,
that water,
those birds,
the stillness of his mind,
that freedom of letting go,
that feel of the wind
and its soft sufficiency
and weightlessness,
to the breathing,
which is all that mattered.

my father said he wept,
Eduardo did, coming out of coma,
wept to lose it all.

my father said, It impressed on me:
heaven, yet again, the promise of it,
of rest. I envied this Eduardo,
my father said, the way
he touched heaven
and brought a little of it
back to this world
and to me.

why, I asked?

because, he said,
why that image?
Oh, he said,
it’s no logician’s evidence,
but the question remains:
why that image,
one out of all the others,
that image of meditation rainless,
painless, and such moment
movementless? Why that image
drawn by some almost unmeasurable
electric capillary of the deeply
sleeping mind?

returning there,
in his own white room,
returning there, I want
to go back as who I am now
or who I’ve become
and say: if you in your deepsleep
sleep with the images
others have given,
or with those of your own,
which are never your own,
motionless, a ladder even,
a ladder up, a lake like a mirror,
if you bring the total
of those images you remember
with you, which is the definition
of you, the order of you,
you, accompanied by images:

it need not be heaven,
or any other association
co-occurencing; no,
more so this: a lake.
I would go
with you
there, this image in me now,
this aspiration;
you may indeed wish it heaven
but it’s the image of a lake.

49: coma in cantos, canto 8

canto 8

my father rolled stories
of coma patients
so that I dreamed
of dreaming
in deep sleep,
dreamed of whales
in their purple
or blue or deep green
deeps, singing,
approaching continents
with the thin long fins
stroking ocean pressures
like massive, slowmoving birds.

Martha, he said,
schooled in England,
rearing children in Oklahoma,
imagine that, he said,
would bring me cookies
at the office
and I treated her
for migraine before,
suddenly, she decended.
Her husband woke
and waited but the difference
between coma and sleep
is simple, he said,
one does not wake,
it’s too deep a sleep,
depending, of course, he said,
of the degree of depth,
which we might judge
using GCS, the Glasgow
scale, assessing the mysteries
of the nervous system, and so
imagine looking up with the eyes
of a whale,
imagine the light of the sun
above the ocean,
imagine the glow
and the graygreen grain of it,
and imagine unable to break
into full, warm sunlight,
though you might try.

Martha made no utterance.
Martha’s eyes were like ice.
Martha’s pain response bespoke
something bad to the brain stem,
which you should see as a bruised
cellery stick, but in her lips
a luminosity evoked an image
of pleasant sounds, notes
I and her husband and the nurses
could hear, though, for Martha,
we could only say
before her husband after time
assumed the paralytic posture
of widower
they must of sounded
like that hour after a concert
when the crowd has gone
and the musicians
have vacated the house
and the stage
is quiet
as the bottom of the sea.

and so, as a child,
my fascination grew
my fascination not for sleep
or dreams
or monsters under the bed
but with losing
the abruptness of morning,
with that moment when, after dream,
the real world appears again, like magic.

48: coma in cantos, canto 7

canto 7

i made loops for Lucy,
which is what I dubbed her,
brought twist ties for Thor
with which to bind the wires,
Thor, which is what I dubbed him,
and when he finished,
and when we were ready
for loading and departure,
Lucy smiling, Thor thinking
about what might’ve been after blood
spill, maybe, Cruz appeared at the open
door, and he had with him his
girlfriend, Maricela, these two,
Cruz and Maricela,
given to lovely extrapolations
hearty on the smallest spores
of experience:
lovely, lengthy dispensations
on leaf edges, lore, and life.

a mistake we came to make plain,
Cruz said, with brown pools
of apology in his eyes.
And, Maricela followed, we
forgot why we even visited.
Yes, Cruz said, with a laugh,
we argued down and argued
back up, we debated in the cab,
we paused for a cup at the cafe,
debating why we had come
in the first place,
but as to the mistake, that we
remembered, that with your key
we have, the one you gave us
we unlocked the door,
entered, and finding you out,
absent, and otherwise elsewhere,
we left and left the door unlocked,
he said with a laugh.

Lucy rose, Thor opened and closed
his hands, big hands,
good for crushing,
and I said, Cruz,
Maricela, this is Lucy and this is Thor,
who stared at Cruz and Maricela
with two disks leaf-colored
by discomfort and in his
legs, which he kept still,
I sensed the need of sprinting,
and so I said: They’ve come
for my consoles, the stereo,
the wires even, which they
came to purchase, as I, as you know,
have rare need for them.
As was their way,
Cruz and Maricela
approached both
and kissed each on the cheek,
though for Thor’s cheek
Cruz had to reach for the right one
with his lips
and, Thor, in response,
began a slow sideslide
toward the open door out,
freedom, I figured, the openness
and options of the sidewalk
and street below
for good places, dark places
to hide in.

i offered, therefore,
my voice to him. I said:
how about pizza, how about beer,
and we’ll help you remember, Cruz,
help you remember,
Yes, Lucy said, we can help you
remember and Thor closed his eyes
and said, Then we have to get going
with your stuff, these wires and these
other things, all this stuff.

Lucy had small hands,
the color of butter.
She sat on the floor
beside Maricela and Cruz,
who bit into a slice and coughed
over the coffee table.
He said: I know now; I remember
now: the play, Maricela, the play.
Of course the play, Maricela said,
we came about the play.
Yes, this play, a play about death,
a play about unplanned arrivals,
a play about why we’re here.
Yes, Maricela said,
listen she said,
it’s a play constructed
of unfinished intervals
of dialogue and character
entrances. Indeed, Cruz said,
a play told in intervals
and by the time one scene or act
ends, another will come
a day later, and when the day
comes when it’s done,
that’s the day it will end,
Cruz said, Thor watching
with the green of his eyes
made greener by horror
or the ambiguity
of everyday things
now no longer everyday,
this beer, this pizza, his Lucy
eating, who said:
death? Unplanned things?

Consider the character
of Jacob in the play, who says
amazing things. Consider
his faith in such a thing as God.
Yes, Maricela said, he said this:
May God bless you and welcome you.
And a grand assumption, it is,
Cruz said. It’s essentialism
is not even an inference.
As, I broke in, an inference
must begin with something known
plain as a squashed squirrel
under a moving vehicle.
Which is consistent,
Cruz said, as a car must be moving
indeed for their to be any
likelihood of the murder
of a squirrel. Which is true,
Maricela said, but not
for Jacob, who can imagine
when God blesses, understands
indications of the granting of gifts,
and that God would welcome
someone in the first place
with perhaps hands or a few kind
words or the offering of a chair
to sit on for rest after, say,
sixty years of difficulties.
Or maybe beer and pizza,
said Thor. I think you catch
on fast, Cruz said,
as we were welcomed
and you were welcomed
here and offered beer and pizza.
Yes, said Lucy, beer and pizza.

Thor said, I’m a Christian.
Maricela said, No,
you cannot be a Christian, friend, Thor,
you can identify as one,
you may call yourself whatever
you wish for, an honest man,
a dishonest man; but it’s impossible
to be a Christian.
Thor, yes, he took the gun
from his pocket. Yes, he
took the gun from his pocket
(a slice of pizza hung limp
over the palm of his other hand)
and placed it with care
on the coffee table
and said, Lucy and me
is Christians through and through.
Maricela said,
I stand corrected.
Yes, Cruz said,
if you have that in your
pocket you may be whatever you wish.

here, here, I said.

47: coma in cantos, interlude 2


i stand on the edge of a leaf
perpendicular to a smoky floor
and a smoky sky

why a leaf,
such a fragile creature,
and why an edge,
why not the edge
of paper,
knife or wall,
and what leaf
would this leaf be,
and why a smoky floor
and a smoky sky
whorling below,
whorling above,
high above and far below
as I stand on the edge
of a leaf,
where I could fall
or, in another case, rise,
an odder case
but possible
in this case,
this image,
this image
that requires
some mastery
of balance?

i wonder if I would die
falling, die rising,
air blasting at my face
falling or rising

what wiould I see
breaking through the gritty smokes
and how would time change?
and what would be the duration of pain?
and what would be the aspect of my limbs?
and would observers laugh
and say, Looks like a puppet?
And what’s with that smile his lips make,
the mouth emptied of teeth on impact?

i’ve read about people
who brush off the dust
after falling from blimps
or giant balloons

but I’ve never read
about them falling
from leaves
to survive
and sing about it

46: coma in cantos: canto 6

canto 6

and so I yelled
Aquinas is a fool
or to that effect ambiguous.

walking home
when I entered
my apartment I found
two thieves at work
unraveling, or trying to unravel,
the wires and cords
of the electronic machines
I owned. Later, they told,
we just turned the nob
and voila, easy, smooth,
certain. The components they
had in a portable stack,
but wanted, I learned
later, because they informed me,
the expensive wires and cords,
component cable, HDMI,
also, so the man told me,
as it was a manthief and a womanthief,
hard at work there unthreading,
unlooping, depuzzling
over what looked like the vascular
system of a giant
on the floor.

later, I told them,
I have a friend who demystifies
the stringing of mobile,
wind chime, and other complicated
hanging devices,
and sometimes lazy springs
for children or the hopelessly
nostalgic, for a living
with her fingers and eyes,
a surgeon of hanging things
she is, I told them,
or coiled things–

which brings me to I, finally I
who’s been speaking to you,
you, I who
is one of those strange
you hear about, who,
when I hear about a cause or a skill,
takes a percentage for making
it into capital, a living, as they say,
and not a bad one.
When my friend unwinds a beloved
chime, some twisted mass
of clinking music,
I earn my keep, my apartment,
and my electronics,
whose wires were now
strung out on the floor
by a manthief and womanthief.

In conversation with the thieves,
I let it be known
over beer a certain notion,
related to the unraveling of wires
or string, that in a certain
film a mother gave wisdom to her son
in the form: life is like a box of confections:
you never know what will occur,
just as one may not infer the contents
of a chocolate prior to biting.

which to me is no real wisdom at all
for several reasons: some boxes
of chocolate come with a key
and even more, such a figure
assumes a stuffer of chocolate
boxes who must know the contents
and so the generalization unravels,
and the lover of chocolate may simply
type up a letter before biting
and ask
which is not what life is like.

but this was only
after I entered my apartment
and encountered
what soon became known
as a womanthief and a manthief,
working on their knees,
and the man stood with abruptness
and the woman stopped
her fingers
and the man
pointed to me a gun

and I said:
my father’s deepsleeping
and my mother weeps
for him
and my brother,
for whom I would have given
my skin, was killed by war,
by some nameless combatant,
my brother’s name a mystery to him,
and so if you wish
if it’s necessary
you may shoot me
but you can also depart
without harm from me
with all my entertainments
for I can afford more
I’ll even assist.

45: coma in cantos, canto 5

canto 5

Henry and his freckles
are patient with me.
He says, as I wait
for a camel to appear on his arm–
his arms are continents
of ruddy, sometimes bleared
congregations of melanin
(I told him once: Henry,
Henry, I said, the Milky Way
traverses your back, right blade
to waist, and he said,
why are you staring at my
–you’re wrong,
and the camel appears.

But I want to answer
why I watched his back:
it’s true, I said, because I’m attending
to the weight of you,
because you carry everything
in your skin–there a dog,
there a horse, there a face
of someone I once knew.
I can watch you
for hours and days.

you don’t understand,
your image of the dead
is confined to what you can
make with language: heaven,
he said, you’ve interpreted as a place.
You imagine a dead man opening
a door or a window, putting his head
through, and whispering: it’s all true
to some ignorant, but that’s your problem.

yes, yes, he said: he may make a stone
he may not lift and not do it, too,
which is devilry, the devil’s gift to us
was, indeed, language.

I respond: that’s one way, I understand
Aquinas’s communalism excuse:
that heaven is not a place, and so, I ask:
how might the joke be interpreted
by those communing with your image
of god (and with it your language of excuses)
who must suddenly
recall all the psalmisms or now,
commingling, in their new placeless state,
enjoy a spirited totalistic synesthesia,
which is a reward for faithkeeping,
such a grand reward for such
a simple thing.

And he laughs at my employ
of the adjective and noun: simple thing.
I step back some: yes, I know,
I say: there are few simple things,
as on his arm a caravan appears
and I wonder where it might
be going, to what edge
to drop over
and into what water fall.

on this city street, now,
Henry diminishes in size
against the bizarre, iron,
dreams of long-dead architects,
and I send a last goodbye,
whose response is lost in a swell
of sudden engines laughing
at the departure of the red
behind green, going now

I shout to him:
Thomas of Aquino was a fool.

44: coma in cantos: canto 4

canto 4

my brother
who was a professional
of target practice for men
in countries our teachers
could never pronounce (eye rack, for example)
told me that I worry too much,
that my mind plays tricks on me,
that he saw death forms in the sands
and wondered if he’d ever see me again
out loud on the video feed and said, Dad
when he wakes should set me back on the path
of righteousness, which, he intones, is quotable,
and I say, no, just more deathforms

I told him once I would die for him
but not for a country, and he said,
For Dad or for me? For you, I said, if Hitler
himself came and said, Give me your skin
for your brother’s life, I would say, okay, yes,

here it is: my skin, peeled; it looks like a tortilla
immersed in food coloring, you know the color

but then there was a question of assurances,
how would I know Hitler, being Hitler, a liar,
a maniac, would live up to the deal, I told my brother,
which is a problem, a real problem, and so, I said,
How would my skin assist if Hitler reneged,
somehow got me to give up my skin for you my brother’s life
and then, suddenly, took it all back, and they took you
to the firing squad or the furnaces? He said:
I think would know that, knowing what I know about Hitler
and Saddam, you see, and you, he said.

even though all you want to do is destroy,
you have the destruction gene, remember, he said,
that time at Christmas, when Dad said Grace
and you asked him, How do you know, how you know,
and you pressed and pressed until he waved the knife
at the air and said, for faith it is and is enough,
and you said, But how do you know, just tell me how you know
for sure, for sure, and he took the bird, or was it a ham?
because you just wouldn’t shut the fuck up
outside and plopped it on the top of the car
and drove away

I don’t remember that, I say often, often
over the place where they buried my brother,
(the last thing he told me was: got patrol, talk to you tomorrow).
I asked the CAO,
I asked the CAO for the name, the name,
Whose name? he said, and I said, the name of the man,
who shot him and the CAO said he didn’t know and would never
know. And so, I ask at my brother’s little plot of rest:
why don’t you come back and tell me if he’s right, if he was right
about heaven or who gave us the fucking ham
and is it true that you’ve always been shot,
that you will be shot and that you were shot dead, always,
and in every world conceivable,
and that I would press and press and Dad would drive
away, did drive away, will drive away, always, with the bird on the hood,
and if he’s right, is there some rule, some instruction
you get when you die, someone, like some CAO comes
to you, to you and your mother and your father and says:
yes, it’s all true, but you can’t go back and tell them:
it’s our rule, you can’t go back; you have to to keep them guessing
because the assurance will be too great a burden,
it’s the foremost rule of heaven that you can’t go back as a ghost
and confirm it to the living,
so, you’re prohibited, or else, or else what?

I often say to my brother: it’s the best joke:
that there’s this prohibition of proof of confirmation,
perhaps having to do with some crazy reconstitution of time
so that the dead in heaven neither grasp nor understand the joke:
that they might not just sneak off, appear to a living human
being and whisper: yes, it’s all true, deepsleeper.

I have a recurring dream: I’m eating my father’s muscles
but I don’t know it’s his uncooked tissue. I’m eating flesh
and the CAO comes and says: you’re eating your
father did you know and I laught at him but wonder nonetheless
is this my father I’m chewing on and swallowing
as I use my teeth and pick up the chunks,
lay them on my tongue for chewing.

I tell my brother this dream
but only over his death
not in his life
because it would have been an embarrassing admission.

43: coma in cantos, interlude 1

interlude 1

sometimes I imagine a giant
in my house, of whatever gender,
a woman giant, a man giant,
a giant no matter, who smells, maybe
of paint, daylong day air,
or polished table surfaces or pastes to put on
for bloody cuts, and when I imagine this giant,
this whatevergendered Giant
I imagine the giant standing over me
and reaching and lifting me–
what was I doing?–sleeping, dandering
into the living room seeking a prize,
or simply acting on some impulse
drawn by movement, a sudden redrafting
of the air–and drawing me up to his or her
cheek and saying something like:
oh, oh, or sniffing my neck or, maybe not
taking me up, but simply tussing my hair
or scratching at me with its impressive giant’s fingers

and so I leave my cat and dog
alone in my house unless they ask for my hands
and fingers or for any words, as I, with my math,
have calculated the proportional size
(say 1:610, which is a building currently
impossible to build in height)
of an ant to a typical adult human body
and the answer,
the answer is terrifying

42: coma in cantos, canto 3

canto 3

my mother said the flowers
in the gardens she made
spoke to her, and as a kid
I once made a joke
about recordings,
told her, use Dad’s
and prove the case,
but in more kiddstuff
language, the kind
that always makes the hearer
wish for mankind’s better days,
the kind that tastes of saltwater,
and she put tears
in my eyes
with the voice she used
to turn my offer down

she told me
if I observe them
for long enough,
they bend nearer
and give me a thing
or two about birds,
a thing or two about giants
that used to walk the earth
before men drained
its nurturesome properties
that even the stones used to know
and vibrated off like violin rhythms
when the stones uttered
poetry to the moon

bend nearer to me, she said,
as she used clippers
on the seedmasses
to prevent unwanted
strophes and antestrophes
from writing themselves
too near the bushes,
and I did
and she slipped an earthworm
between her lips
and snapped it down
her throat and took
the mucus off her lips
with a finger and a dirty knuckle.
They’re tasteless if you
concentrate on the anxiety
of mud, she said, and there’s
a pleasantness to the feel
of falling mist, the kind
that portends a coming rain

bend near, they will,
she said, and tell me
things not merely about the birds
and the giants and the castles
of famous knights
and Mexican border fighters
who wouldn’t have tolerated
drug running
(which I now doubt),
the flowers do, she said

out of anger one day,
it was long ago,
maybe in the age of the knights
or some other common night when we
could all hear the border
fighters clashing
against the chain link fences
under falling oil cloud,
the moon as hot as the sun,
I aimed at just one of the gardens
and pretended to be a giant
with heavy feet

next day
I said something
about giants, knights,
and she slowly
went to her knees
and I while I tried,
tried hard, why
I had been angry
became an empty
box or the sound
of sanding in another room
and I told her I had trampled
them, and, if she showed me,
told me stories of seed,
I’d fix things best I could