…and a picture…
the reflection… is anything as it seems?
Sigh, child, and sink into the world you know.
Let butterflies appear in snow.
So what, if the rains come back to Nicaragua?
They always do. Would you add your wishes
to the weight of ignorance
that presses down upon the world?
I don’t think so. There’s work to do.
You stand inside a world that moves on wooden wheels
and as you watch the chirping cart
roll across the concrete cobbles,
a child up-ends a bucket,
wears it on his head, and laughs for you.
Can you remember, and paint that laughter, too?
And those trucks that died beside the road
and all those tools that proved so useless.
The way he threw them down and hiked the mile,
and then on top of that, the extra mile
to walk along with you.
Can you paint those colors, too?
Try to find the spirit that inhabits an abandoned truck,
and you’ll have found the trick to universal language.
We know that face, that truck, that walk.
Just like we all spot the places
where the city keeps her secrets safe
and where the forest ties the secret love-knots in her braids.
Listen, it’s good you burn the candles
for the children of the dawn,
and all the men and women
laboring in Chinese prisons;
it’s good you recognize that we are one.
But what did Broadus say about the meantime?
Crack the word and drop its contents on the frying pan,
and listen to your mornings start to sizzle.
Think about that old black man who took the time,
(before he left to do his dying)
to send you north to find your father and your son.
You brought them home. Paint that.
You’ll find the recognition that you want inside your bones.
And who knows, friend, who knows?
You may find your brush has known the grip of other men,
and other women. Their hands will lead your hands, if you will let them.
The rains will come. The hurricanes, the liquid eyes
of thirsty, starving, children. Will these things change
for all your writing, all your painting?
Perhaps the best that we can do is celebrate, and honor them.
Ask the dancer. What he knows is he must spin and spin and spin,
and after that he has to practice spinning.
Don’t think you are the first to wonder at the questions.
That’s why we came. Feel sadness when you lose your friend,
and you may truly wish to die if you should lose your lover,
or your children. We are mated to illusions real as frying pans,
as eating. Grief is spelled out in our bones
and we are issued names to lose, at the beginning.
Didn’t Broadus tell you? I think he must be grinning.
You didn’t know he died? You have missed a thousand things
I would have shared, but gave up trying.
Now, the time has rolled around again.
I revise my gift and place it on the table as my offering.
In the meantime I build shrines, and travel.
I talk to cats and listen for their names.
I bear witness to small miracles of pleasure and of pain
and sketch them out, and write them down in long-hand.
I charge the little world I know with color,
I store milagros on computer.
One day, I’ll meet the spinning dancer who can dance them.
For now I watch the river run.
I work, and do these meantime things.
Paris and New York? It’s you I am committed to.
The children begging in the streets of Rio, the kids in Guatemala
huffing fumes and solvents, people running for their lives,
and all the cats and dogs we lose…
The way that politicians try to eat our children…
even as they promise us our safety, even as they promise us
our freedom, and the nightmares that daily feed upon us,
breathe and eat us, one by one.
The bridges that collapse beneath the best and worst,
that do not hold the weight of love,
that do not hold the weight of hope.
And the sleep which brings relief from these assaults,
and brings relief from their amazing weight,
or we should truly die from grief. This is the raw material
of our meantime. This is where our art comes from.
My words are marked, and handed down from trees.
What should I eat? Should I wear leather?
Should I buy this thing if it was made in China?
Plastic, or paper? How much does it matter?
I have a small gift to offer: I would see you dressed in rose petals,
sprays of hyacinth, lavender and lilac, covered with mother-of-pearl,
with diamonds, with the painted shells of almonds.
I would brush your skin with feathers, with starlight, with small pebbles.
And I would see your daughter learn to dance, unashamed, entirely naked,
across the universe, the seas, and stars and flowers.
Because the gift of the heart is one gift, it’s breath one breath,
its word one word. It speaks with one tongue,
in one language, one idiom.
And love sits on her throne. She seats herself, and listens.
She is easy with the world. She relieves us of our burdens
I wrote this upon the passing of my friend, Broadus Evans, from AIDS, just before the medicines that would have saved his life were introduced. He was a long-time activist in the African-American community in Wilmington, NC. He was an educator, counselor, a concert pianist and an activist in the gay and recovery communities there. He was valedictorian of his Williston High School class, the designated Black high school in the city. He graduated in the early 1950’s but he was not allowed the honor of speaking to his class at graduation because he was already “out” as a gay young African- American male. This, in the South, in the ’50’s was no small thing. He also made his own clothes and sometimes wore a black cape. When I met him he scared the daylights out of me. I am grateful to him for a lot of reasons, one of them being that in a very short while my homophobia started to leave me. He was an interesting and wonderful, beautiful man, and I still miss his friendship. My wife and I named our son after him.
I am re-posting the poem today because I think it says a lot about where my art comes from, which I started thinking about because of a comment I read this morning. (Thanks, enigma.) It’s long. Maybe too long, but I don’t know where to chop it.