Seeking Shelter

The rain. A sudden squall, the delight
of running, hand in hand across the grass
already slick and wet. Rain as hard
and sharp as hail, its sting and burn against
the skin. My girlfriend’s thin t-shirt riddled
with translucent scattershot. Pierced to
her flesh. Bullets of desire
                                                 I think now,
the deluge of shootings in the news
unwelcome metaphor, a bloodstain
even on memory, how on the first crack
we’d run—if it wasn’t too late, our shirts
already blooming—for different cover.

Don’t get me wrong. The past, too, is shot through,
not everything under the alcoves
of St. Agnes laughter and stolen kisses,
the girl, that boy, gone. I forgot them,
two teens huddled against something more
than rain. It doesn’t come back, what they ran to
beyond the obvious,
                                        the rain
a trigger squeezed, memory a gunshot,
darkness flashed to light. Outside my window
a downpour. A girl runs beside a boy,
his skateboard raised above their heads. She shrieks.
It could be terror, but I think not yet.

Voyeurs

Voyeurs

We’re bottlenecked in traffic crawling
over the hill. You know it’s a wreck
or traffic stop and we’re all rubber-
necking, kissing misfortune, a morbid
fascination.
                  They’re bottlenecked
at borders lined with concertina wire,
a stream of refugees dammed, damned
to get away from atrocity in-
to squalid internment camps, lives of no-
thing streaming on the Internet
and we’re looking, peeping through
the window of our screens.
                                                It’s a bottle-
neck at Sharm el-Sheikh, and we come
back for more. Was it an accident or a bomb?

Bamboo Chicken

A marvel of scaly orange, his daggered toes
hooked with dark intent, he climbs,
the fiery crest that ripples along his spine
a flag of fierce announcement. Whatever is
is his. If all he wants is his place in the sun,
the better to bask in blazing glory,
so it is, high in the arching fronds of palms.

But what stalk bears vainglory’s weight,
the gravity of overreach, and doesn’t yield?
What comes crashing down the laddered fronds,
fire-fall and thrashing tail? Tumble taken,
the ravenous eye of spite nonetheless unbowed,
he hisses in the verdant grass, green and cool,
and lumbers, flaunting his armored flesh.

Goldenrod Elephant

Sanctuary. Forest cleared, a bai
around the mineral-rich waters
of need. As many as a hundred feed,

the mothers and their clinging young, the bulls
at the forest’s edge. Oh great golden god,
you know only the placid peace of twilight,

how the forest, deep, dense with darkness, hides
your dwindling kin. From the misted trees
the ghostly herd emerges, a mirage

among the scattered pools. Great golden god,
you have no word for kill, but death you know
too well, tusks no protection from its loud

report across the field, your children felled,
pierced by sudden nothingness, what was peace
mirage. Into darkness the trampling few

are vanishing, deep the rumbled warning
echoing through the trees, the panicked pain
and fear. Great golden god, oh helpless one,

you wander a forest where silence grows,
the bai a space that gathers emptiness,
the place your heart, alone, will die oh great

and golden god, oh great and golden god.

 

This poem was inspired by an article in the May 11 issue of the New Yorker, “Elephant Watch,” about the poaching of forest elephants in the Central African Republic. The title of the poem is based on the Wednesday, June 2 poetry prompt from the Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides blog: “Use the color of your shirt as the first word of the title, and for the second word, choose the first animal you think of.” I had just read “Elephant Watch” that morning, and I was wearing a goldenrod Santa Cruz Warriors D-League T-shirt. Elephants are extremely visible targets for poaching, especially as the price of ivory continues to climb on the black markets as elephant populations plummet. I thought the goldenrod shirt, too, was extremely visible, and imagined the elephant god in gold.

Encomium

. . . and you in your welling up
out of sleep said, I have a lake in me, . . .

—Mark Doty, “Deep Lane” (November and this road’s tunnel)

and if you did not already know it,
it would come to you in another language
without tongue, this world too full of beauty

and dismay for it to be otherwise. But still,
here is a man leaning against the dark
leathers of the kind man who ferries him

home, out of all the roads, this one that lifts
“into the wet-yellow lamps of the maples,”
traveled this way, this time, only once, an ache

for the comfort of love so simple he wants
again the clarity of this moment, and what
instead from the deep rises are the words

that almost color the smallest seeing so.
You know this way, this time, only once, is
metaphor for the passages of blood,

what trails behind you and recedes—the camera
drawn back and lifted to the gray-limned sky—
but you are riding forward, leaning into

the curve, your chest pressed against the dark leathers
of love and sorrow—you have a lake in you—
and what unspools behind you is a deep lane of mercy.