Monday, March 3, 2008

Two poems by Maggie Nelson


Can beauty save us? Yesterday
I looked at the river and a sliver
of moon and knew the answer;

today I fell asleep in a spot of sun
behind a Vermont barn, woke to
darkness, a thin whistle of wind

and the answer changed. Inside the barn
the boys build bongs out of
copper piping, electrical tape, and

jars. All of the children here have
leaky brown eyes, and a certain precision
of gesture. Even the maple syrup

tastes like liquor. After dinner
I sit the cutest little boy on my knee
and read him a book about the history of cod

absentmindedly explaining overfishing,
the slave trade. People for rum? he asks,
incredulously. Yes, I nod. People for rum.

The Mute Story of November

Living as if every moment announced a beloved
and it does

Then the bleeding-off

Maybe you are the sea to me, or me to you
A reasonable enough supposition

Can’t you see, I’m busy

Gingko leaves at my feet
A flood of questing yellow

They say that everything that is growing
will stop growing soon, maybe

this weekend, the first deep freeze
The season of falling

will give way to the season
of brittle upturned sticks

Who cares, it’s all equally gorgeous
and last night, a lunar eclipse

Immaculate white moving in and out
of a rusty red rind, I pulled

a sheet of Plexiglas over
the hole in the roof

so I could watch it from inside the boat
The boat from which we ride the sky

Nothing can go wrong, do you understand
Nothing can ever go wrong

This is what happens when you cease
your management

The blue and gold of the morning
just appear on the sidewalk, ongoing drift

of garbage, a tire is good to sit in
A window pane may flake in the wind

The mute story of November

I don’t even have to steal
your words, you give them to me for free

So strange to know that you can and cannot hurt me
My heart just can’t break any more, now that

it has changed substance, is full
of fluid and fire and air and turning

like a little wheel in its broth

And I can and cannot hurt you either, now that
I am utterly virginal, preposterous

as that may sound, it’s also true
Sometimes you get to start anew

The pages of my book wet and limpid
with tea, on a Sunday, the spidery plants

reaching haphazardly in all directions
from their dilapidated mobile, it’s part

of the magic here, and the painted green
cement floor. What part of this autonomy

am I not supposed to like?; I too have been
much lonelier. Maybe in eleven rooms

you’ll find some sort of home, or base, it’s like
there’s this enormous surplus of feelings and/or words

and we prick at the tarp, letting little pinwheels of light come in
but never really touching the source

So little time, really, we’ve eaten some food, slept badly
swam in jumbled waters, very little coming

I don’t even know you, shadowed by the knowing
The knowing that has nothing to do

with life-stories, their wicked specificity
Sometimes my speech moves so fast inside me

before it hatches, and I know I’m about to flop over
into tongues, but I don’t care: this is the speed

at which I run, and you run fast, too, so I let you
touch me with one hand while the other steers a car

through midtown Manhattan, it’s almost as if
none of this has ever happened, it just shines

then gets enclosed in an envelope decorated with faded blue stamps
from the Belgian Congo. It’s such a relief

when tears come from the cold, like yesterday
on River Street, all the men lined up in their idling cars

by the power plant, what are they waiting for?
With all due humility, I have to say

I know it now, or it knows me
the peace-feeling

that stays even as the body races and pants
above or along it, when the team suddenly does

a jazz square in unison, when a dream repeals
an impediment overnight, when the whole world

The whole world is strobing

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