When I Should Have Been Playing
I went to wash my parrot in the
The river offered me its crumpled yellow chamois.
To me it seemed a lie about to happen.
It so happened I was springing ever upwards.
For fun I began to think of myself.
For fun I took two hands and a map.
For fun I came up short of breath and gasping
for a rope, when I knew there were only buoys
this far out, or the occasional baked sailor
dreaming of five lonely notes
candied off an underwater cello.
I had drifted to the lower left-hand corner
of the musical collision we call the planet Earth.
A bathtub at constant risk of draining out
or falling like a gavel through the universe
with me in tow, holding in memory
a few good days and a smiling hamper of complaints,
complaints it would take a child to mend.
But men don't cry, they shrink exponentially,
starting as giants and ending as graphite
tracing the faces of women onto the finest paper.
Every now and then it works out:
a number, a letter, a page of mirror script,
I donĚt know, anything that might make sense,
just take it and run, far and fast,
past the all-night pizzeria covered in snow,
almost to the edge of the canvas, almost falling
into the cup of culture, where there is room
for you and your charger, and whomever else
you find on your run around the reservoir
of thoughts and deeds, crusted with frozen lichen
locked in the kiss of the thought of an end.
As my grandfather's grandfather used to say,
it could be worse.
We could be trapped waist-deep in stone, we could
the use of our limbs, or, for that matter,
what Leonardo da Vinci called "the human soul,"
just close enough to the solar plexus
to be ossified, petrified, which is which?
But then it was time for tea, time to take myself seriously,
and I slept through the ringing of the bell,
dreaming I was licked again and again.
And by licked I mean beaten, defeated.
And by dream I mean good
O, I hope I have a better posture
in the year to come.
were falling through the morning,
were no steps inside the woods,
were no jade or opal markers,
ways I needed, ways of walking
through the poplars of the afternoon,
chopping birches through the night,
lain in trios by the stove,
rolling over into dreaming,
grant a gasp of dim distraction,
where I scraped, I stubbed in starlight,
all my questions in a tumbler,
glass of water, glass of whatnot,
down the gullet, through the passage,
into lines of planting,
what the garden, where the crop,
why to pick the shovel up
if not to give a birth,
if not there being something up,
what are you? where can you be heckled out?
out from under what's the mossy
hurry out into the day
where I can see you
fresh and clear, oh punk, oh stillborn hapless
foam inside the last capacious cup,
cup for which there is no further call
I could ignore things once. But.
She loves her pursuer like a comet loves a lens. She looks at
me as if I were a milepost. She wants to know what I do not
know myself. If I could move, I would explain. But the last
time I moved was when I was made. I let my maker choose this
prudish position. Because I would die within hours, how I lived
them could not matter much. The consommé eaters cannot
grasp that a shift in the seat is the mark of a king. I wish
for anything that looks like life. I would like to run and dim
the great chandelier. The right gesture at the right juncture
could interrupt or end the celebration. The diners could wander
home through the hand-shattered sky. Slip into my blind spot,
slip into the foyer, but do not laugh, yet. Place a hand at
my hairline, a hand at my jaw. Take what remains of me, put
me in a bucket. We can still escape to what is not. Yet. I will
melt, and I will flow downhill, but the wind and the air can
take care of that. Take me to the back of the world. Or drop
me. At this rate, I will never know the difference.
A Door Falls Open in the Desert
I dine on the quiet light of the stars.
If I were to stop here,
my life would roll down the asphalt
A cactus bent double.
A bone gnawed by mosquitoes.
The red on the swinging door,
ripped by occasional white.
I am neither at the center
nor at the end.
I speak less
than the sand does
when the wind blows.
A headless snake.
A paralyzed river.
I keep my Bible in a box,
my truths in a trunk.
A mesa takes the shape
of a hat
Max Winters poems
have appeared recently in Ploughshares, Volt,
The Yale Review, and elsewhere. He has published reviews
in The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle,
most recent book of poems is Memoir of the Hawk. He teaches
at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
in the October/November 2002 issue of Boston