Red Elegy

Published in Blackbird

For elevenses the children drink chocolate milk from wax cartons. Some use
          straws. Some build sand mounds. There's running and chasing and so
          much falling you have to believe they don't mind the earth. Because of
          the dark clouds, the tree house is off-limits and therefore, very tempting.
          Very precious. Crows gather at the edge of the playground waiting for the
          school bell. They don't mind waiting for their food.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight
Red sky in morning, sailors take warning

The domino effect will be massive: plankton, at the bottom of the marine food
         chain provide for animals, which are then prayed upon by larger species.
         Eventually man will hear ticking from the stars, the sound of little legs
         scurrying across a bare floor looking for food and place to sleep.

My neighbor is one of those men who is building something in his garage-a
         roadster, a time machine, a brewery.

On TV a football player removes his helmet and his bald head steams. The
          fighter jets do a ceremonial fly over. The crowd cheers wildly. I count:
          one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and my house shakes. My windows
          rattle. My windows are sealed in plastic wrap. Seven.

Chinese astronomers have launched a robot spacecraft to study the mysterious
         bursts of gamma rays.


You know the story, the Princess drinks white wine from a plum goblet and falls
          head over heels for the glassblower. Head over heels.


In the hey-day, in the mid-90's, I sometimes drank coffee at a Euro-style caf in
         Brookline. After nine, after the businesspeople and students had left and
         an impromptu stock club ensued. Mostly men-old, retired, many with
         foreign accents-the Ukraine, Brazil, Greece. They spread their Journals

         and swapped tips and told jokes and stories. If you listened for just a
         week, you heard about old jobs and families. Money was made, hand
         over fist. I listened and wrote down names and numbers. Not that I had
         the ante. Like shooting fish in a barrel, one would say. I wonder about
         those men today. I hope they didn't trade their memories away. Do they
         live in a daughter's guest room? In a son's grease-floored garage? Are
         their skulls smoking? Hand over fist. Are they scratching weird numbers
         over blue paper?

Sailing over a cardboard sea . . .

A whale is not a fish, Jonah-it's a mammal. Now drink your milk.

At the start of the story, empty pockets are a virtue. At the end of the story? A
         lesson, a time machine, a sardine tin, beer cans, margarine tubs, a punch

Every time I read the word-angel-I start to count. Soul once caused the same
         feedback, not now.

A favorite story: when I was twelve our town librarian wouldn't let me take out
          Soul on Ice without a note from my mother. That was the early 70s when
          it was quite fashionable to say: the Great Wall of China is the only
          manmade object visible from outer space.

Towne. Soule. Donne.

John Donne sometimes felt that an angel guided his fingers and sometimes not.

How many children, if given the opportunity would turn themselves into birds?

On the train:
                               Do you have the time?


                    She takes out her Ashbery PDA

                              In October, the sunset trappers made a mint.

                               Damn-I'm late. Thanks!


One night, when the sidewalks are lunar, I walk. The Japanese maples that line
          the avenue are like marble nerve nets. They were a gift to the city from
          the Emperor, so during the war there was a campaign to have them
          destroyed. But what about German shepherds? people asked. But what
          about Italian ice? Would we bother to ask, today? The blossom-filled air
          makes my eyes itch. I think it's fine that we can't see at the subatomic
          level-or else I wouldn't leave my bed. And I'm happy I don't have
          infrared vision. It's best we leave the hard looks to bats, children and barn
          owls. I see a cane leaning against the park's iron fence. There's a story
          there-probably not a happy one. It's good that I'm walking alone, or I
          would worry. It's good that no one knows that I'm not home. This way, if
          someone calls my name I'll know how to answer. I'll bark like one of those
          bats with puppy faces. I live too close to downtown to see more than a
          few stars, a few planets. But I don't hear the worms, those fingers, those
          souls; I don't hear their complaints. Thin light films the park.


Dark storage.

Scientists in India are helping me to find my lost cat. They're building nanos
          that will collapse quantum mechanics. I'll be able pause in any time.
          Here, Kitty, Kitty.

Thin light limns the park. Spooky steam leaks out of grates like movie adverbs.
          One thing after another, that's life, says Echo. Walking this way, mind
          like an outline escaping it's single page, is a form of prayer. An owl tips off
          the lexicographer. My foot finds a plastic bottle. I pick it up to toss it in a
          trash can or leave it on a bench, easier for the collector, but think about
          putting something in it, too. A note-a poem-a fortune-advice-a
          joke-a sardine tin-a phone number-a clipper ship. A whale is not a
          fish, Captain. I toss it into the pond. Bad citizen. The water's sarabande
          can make you shudder, can make you weep. It's not our fault, we're built
          for sorrow-why it's all that I can do not to wade in and reactivate my gills
          and swim down, flicker my tail and fins and slide into the mud and bury
          myself in the burnt ochre mud, until spring.


You know the story. The young princess rides her carriage to the glassblower's
          hut and finds that the man is old and, well, unfortunate in the looks
          department- like a rhino with alligator skin. How lovely is god, she
          thinks, that this hideous ogre is endowed with the lips and lungs and soul
          of an angel. He can breathe life into sand. They kiss. They marry. They
          ascend. The taikonauts in Space Station Li Po blow up asteroids in their


Rothko's Harvard murals are now in Dark Storage-an undisclosed
          location-wrapped in negligee-like super-fibers that curator's call body

Rothko painted the murals using Lithol red, a commercial paint, a fugitive
          pigment that washed out after only a few years of direct sun-no one

We breathe so we don't have to think.

He loved those poems wherein red ink is blood and wine is blood and sunset is a
          deep scar, a sad heart, a tongue in your ear.

The five panels of the commissioned mural were hung in a distinguished dining
          room in 1964. By 1970 they were in sad shape-fading and scarred and
          torn-the fiberglass curtains, specially installed, were left open; the private
          room was given over to student parties; the panels were cleaned with
          ammonia by the staff, which were given no instructions. Alan C carved
          ALAN C into one of the panels.

After Oedipus left the place where three roads meet, a tornado of red dust
          swaddled the spot in wound.

In 1979 the murals were disappeared.


Lithol sky at night, painter's delight
Lithol in morning, curators take warning


A note-a poem-a fortune- a phone number-a clipper ship. A whale is not a
          fish, Captain.


The bottle bobs like an abandoned shell. Scientists in Australia are teaching a
          sect of crustaceans to use trash- soda bottles, sardine tins, beer cans,
          margarine tubs, plastic cups, match boxes, hollowed-out bibles, soup
          cans, a can of Nerval bisque, Tupperware, a ballet slipper, a wine goblet,
          a shoe, an old shoe, a cobbler's form-as shells as there are no more
          shells to convince the crabs to live.

Scientists in India are converting rats from warm-blooded creatures to cold
          blooded creatures to induce metabolic quiescence. You see, hibernation
          may be the salvation of mankind and therefore, plankton. You see?
          Reverse psychology.

I wonder if I should have dropped bread crumbs or tied red ribbons to the
          branches of trees.

                              What, Ma?

                              I said don't forget your ball of string!

How many days it took for me to see
that everyone was wearing their wetsuits.
Yes, the floods were taking their toll, but each
night brought more moonlight. I sat on my porch
and dried out. Soon, I thought, I'll be an onion
under the earth with my mask and tank.

When you spend your days playing leapfrog, you no longer hear the translation
          for splash.


I claim there a point in every elegy where the piece turns from eulogy to Euclid.
          The pivot? The volta? Where the voice speaks about the voice. Addition
          and subtraction. Adduce, spin. The spun? You know; where the
          quotidian inchworm jumps are swamped by fear, by the appreciation of the
          poet's own heartbeat. Put a finger on the vein. Lick the sapwood. Blue
          hours. The homestretch? The focus? The aiming?

Signal the missileers! -Father, it's time to fire the mother lode.

From eulogy to euphony.

Hear? Hear the little feet trying the steps? The children believe that a rabbit in
          leather hip-boots lives inside the tree house. And really, who can blame
          them? A hare in Lagerfeld's is just common sense.


Let's say the elegy's gone red. The lights are blinking. The sirens are
          screaming. The teacher has led her lambs into the corridor to put their
          soft heads in the ovens; they'll be safe there, under bookbags and sardine
          tins. Not me. I was left in the classroom, forgotten. See, I talked too
          much. I grew up on an apple farm, mostly alone. So when the yellow bus
          deposited me at the red brick school I began to gabber and I didn't stop
          until I was returned to our orchards. So Mrs. Curtis put me behind the
          broken piano with a book, so I wouldn't distract the other kids.

I'm six.

The birds have flown.

The sheep are in the manger, the fold, the dugout; they're in the cradle.

The black keys, the white keys, the red keys, the president is playing the music
          that will burn our throats but I can't put down the book-the lost boat has
          sited land-the red, the white, the black.

It was a red brick schoolhouse where my father and his father had also

This is true. Then it was the town library. Now the bricks are for sale on eBay,
          not the building, just the bricks. Whew.


The princess marries the old glassblower. They ascend to the throne. They
          have a son, an heir-a prince named Alan C. Just in case, the old
          glassblower has his apprentice arrested and disfigured and imprisoned.
          That's just politic. That's just common sense. That's just what they tell
          you to do in those books that tell monsters what to do.

Jeez. Don't you read?


At the museum:

                   Do you know what this painting means?


         She puts in her earbuds

                   Red-it means red.

                   Damn-I'm late. Thanks!


And of course, it's the glassblower's apprentice, all along. He's responsible for
          creating the enchanting goblet. And he's handsome to boot! -so his lips
          are sealed. Hot wax. And his fingers are in a box that the old glassblower
          buries in the old graveyard. Sharp axe. And his brown eyes are sewn
          shut with a needle and fishing line. But he lives; in a cell, in a cold tower,
          waiting. Plotting his escape. Drawing up plans- kidnap their son?
          Assassinate the glassblower? Or fashion the greatest goblet...ever! Wax
          melts. Whales can escape the fishing hook. Something scuttles across
          the stone floor. The rat in his lap is sound asleep. I know ways to turn a
          boy into a crow, he sings. Or worse. Yes, I can breathe white sand into


I touch my sagging body and think, how much air I will find in the water. In the
          water? Did I think that or did someone say that? I hear wings above my
          head and giggling.

I hear a voice (Boris? Bela?) gurgle from beneath the water's skin, "Life! Sweet
          life!"-and then my bottle bobs-up

and then my bottle bobs-up and comes ashore, little feet scurry it past me and
          into the ash copse.

I smell ginger.

I see red stars smear the red water.

last updated Tuesday, June 06, 2006 @ 6:09 PM