|Above The Tanana: For Jim Simmerman (1952-2006)
Landscape is an after-thought, like hope.J.S.
Sun ratchets off a fish-wheel like machine-
gun spray. An airboat blasts upriver
flaunting the rack of a dismantled moose.
An island like a coffin floats off-shore,
and black spruce grow from it, green rockets
questing skyward like the piquant vows Ive made
while sitting on this shelfto trust in life,
not death. Two months ago you put an end
to pain though I just heard today. Grief takes
my skull, noon spins toward dusk, dim lights on
water, murky shapes, dissolving branches,
slime the river carries as your corpse decays.
Oh, Jim! Ive sifted the peevish factstwo
hip replacements failed, your last pooch given
away, a recent love estrangedyoud been
to hell and backand so on whiskey and
what else you pulled the curtain, left us
here to plumb the tale. This was the summer
of yellow-jackets, of wasps and fatal stings.
A whale got beached and rotted sixty
miles from here, six hundred from the coast.
These aberrations clustered round your death.
And paging through your letters (back when
we wrote such things) I found a sly request
for one of those river poems. No urgency
Id figured, figured wed grow old together
in the craft, mellow like two peppers in
a pot, or like some aging boy band, you
on bass and me on uke. Four days you lay
alone, four days. I hold my breath and
see that jaunty walk and cheeky grin
shut down. Youd seemed a buoyant optimist,
an army brat, black belt and softball buff,
but under those riffs a darker music
thrummed. I heard it louder the last time
we met, as, antsy, less in focus on
your meds, you pulsed a hunger to be
somewhere else, to step outside your pain.
The pain I couldnt see. I see it now,
that slough in which the self begins to drown.
At The Farmhouse In West Branch (1965)
for Bob Grenier
Your guests had to wade through
a pig-sty, so youd greet us at the gate
and prod those massive porkers out of the way
with the handle of a broom.
In back of the rented house, we strolled
in the shade of walnuts and mused on
our trade, while you bagged the fallen fruit
which wasnt like stealing, you said,
since theyd only rot on the ground.
Inside, you laid out the treasures
youd picked up last summer at Groliers,
the latest Ashbery teasers and another
little-known poet whose bare-boned
fluted quatrains, cold
as the Minnesota sky, youd squint
and cackle at. You read the world
like thatthrough the eyes
of poetryuntil sky and piglets and
walnuts (which Emily baked into pies)
unshackled my bookish soul
and my love began to unfurl
the first acceptable stanzas
I ever wrote, while Emily,
as her pregnancy advanced,
jotted on greasy napkins,
God knows how, the knock-out
poem of the year in the bitchy
fastidious voice of a mother sow.