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Ghosts, too, have dreams, she tells me-

the living and the dead
drawn out of the mist by strange, reined beasts:

chimeras with the bodies of lions and giant, croaking heads of toads,
oxen in tandem, winged and tailed with the flames of controlled burns.

Mary suspended in this dull talc.
No wind. No earth.

Light the sourceless lux of an animal's skin.
the stir of breath fading from windows, echoes whisked
through narrow corridors of brick and steel,
wind weaving the dead, bare limbs of many dead, bare trees.

No moisture. No heat.
And even if she could see beyond this thick vapor and steam,
no mountains like broken teeth in the distance,
no gulls scratching their beaks against the blackboard sky,
no breakers breaking back into foam against the rock  
strewn strands of dead oceans.


Sometimes, she's visited by family in the dream.

Her mother and father, of course. Both sisters.
it was her great grandfather
who peered through the lampblacked window of his stagecoach,
his lab coat crisp and white as creased sheets of paper-- he
who discovered the particle nature of light, he
one of 53 inventors of the atomic bomb.

Sometimes it's those first to see her dead:

the security guard still haunted by the shape of her body
beneath his pea-green parka,
the nurse's lips still cold with the faint pulse felt
when she touched her lips to Mary's.

 Other times,
it's the last to see her alive. First
a man. A young lawyer standing in his suit before his office window.
Nashville in its mid-winter husk. Bruton Snuff
in cold neon above traffic and treeline- Mary stepping
onto the ledge of the parking garage rooftop.

Then a woman,
like my mother years before those snakes of gray hair uncoiled from her temples,
cupping a Pal Mal against the wind, tips clinking like antiques
in her apron pocket- Mary falling
through air, Mary falling through sky.

Once, an entire caravan of Nepalese children shuttled by
in the fog, smiling and waving

as if Mary were back in the Manang Valley,
directing these small villagers squeeze in
as she adjusts the camera's focus,
the digital f-stop flipped to infinity,
the rising low clouds of the valley angled into the frame.

Sometimes, she tells me, strangers emerge from the halflight:

flight attendants coiling their hair in buns with Number 2 pencils,
migrants begging for work in the lot of a Home Depot,
night janitors pushing their pushbrooms down the long, 
   sterile hallways of their paychecks.

Sometimes, she calls out to them. But no one hears her.

Always it ends the same, she says:

Thick braids of mist swirl about her. Vague notion of moisture.
Vague notion of heat. A presence in the drifts of dust.

Then the slow breaking apart of the self:

frail wafts of an arm merging with the vaporclouds,
strands of hair drifting like dandelion heads from their roots,

Mary joining hands with the fog, the fogged breath of God.

Once, we were two kids who should've been in love.

Once, we were two kids who carved short cuts
and jogs from the Nashville maps
as we banged our heads to Nirvana turned up full tilt
through my Nissan/Datsun's single speaker,
so bored with the smallness of our lives
only made smaller by our classmates who parked

Friday nights around Love Circle, downtown Nashville
lit up below them like a deep sea installation in the romantic dark,
worn out condoms and the last backwash drags
of George Dickel bottles tossed to the kudzu tangled
in strangleholds around the city's transformers
as the single Cingular cell-phone tower
pulsed with red light
above us all,

both of us imagining, I imagined, what things would be
had our parents not met before we were conceived, our sisters
not raised like sisters, had we met, instead, in the shade
trees of August, swinging in the rope-nest woven
in the high branches of the tallest magnolia of Centennial Park
where we taught one another to haggle
tall, cold cans of beer from the homeless for three bucks a pop,

both of us imagining, I imagined, as we swung,
what things would be had we stumbled across each other in the dark
as we made our way to McCabe's 9th green,
had we counted the stars with our backs to the hard, flat turf
of business decisions and Dixiecrats, the pole's
yellow pennant like a heart murmur in the breeze, so dark there
the middle of the night just a mile's trek from the train's curved track
through treefrog-whine and bird and bee-song
gone quiet.

She thinks she knows what it's about,
   but I don't ask-

this a dream for me as well, for who else but the dreamself
would enter a dead girl's sleep? Who else but the dreamself
would return to this parking garage rooftop?

Mary. Again 19. The first and only snow of the year
drifting out of the clouds like white mortarboards tossed 
into the sky, 

her '95 Corolla idling nearby in its spot,
exhaust chuffing the air with a heat

like that of the earth released
     into the cold universe.

Dead Girl dead these five years long,
   Dead Girl conceived
beneath September's scar,

tell me what brings us here
ten years after the fact.

What stuffs these hands in my vest pockets?
What calls me into the night descended
like a mourning veil across the city?

No snow. No wind.

Just the white-hot glow of a glass elevator
tracing the spine of a skyscraper--
a white hot light rising through the deep--

the distant ant-like outlines of its passengers
small silhouettes of Mary and myself ten years ago,
leaning with our foreheads pressed to the cool, curved glass

as limousines and bellboys drop away
and Nashville unfolds like a relief map before us.

From here, 40 floors above the horizon,
the penthouse restaurant of the Sheraton twirls
like a spacecraft from another world.

Is that Steiner-Liff? The recycling plant of Pontiacs and Accords
stamped in slumped stacks of crushed steel and glass.

Is that I-40 and Briley Parkway and the Cumberland
silently divining the city into precincts and slums,

the Tennessee Tower looming darkly above the state capital,
the L&C marquee sizzling in the pan of night's long hour
     that tonight

of all nights
passes too slowly for the bagladies blanched
by the street's steam grates,

too slowly for the lapdancers who dangle their hair
across the hard cocks of their patrons

as the crowd noise rises from the football stadium
as our black quarterback toes the sideline
and all the aspiring songwriters
strum all at once their acoustics
and all the listeners close their eyes and rise up in song all at once
as all the ticketholders and scalpers rise with a roar
as the football glides along its predetermined arc of impossible light,

and all of the city sings out all at once in eulogy to Mary
as if this city, as if this network
of fiber optics and storm drains and vitrified clay piping
was raised to sing her name,

as if, if we placed our ears to its sidewalks,
we'd hear Mary's arias
just beneath the hoof-clack of carriage rides down downtown's boulevards
and one-ways,

Mary's arias within the tall buildings and highways
and cul-de-sacs and empty lots,

Mary'sarias within these brick-and-mortar walls-
this lyric of rebar, this lyric of steel.

Tell me Third Child,
Tell me Third Daughter slipped so easily from the womb,
what is that mineral we call moon
     candescing in the sky?

At night is it a sheared half-penny
       flipping end-over-end behind the blink of an eye?

By day does it speak,
soft mumblings of the grief we carry inside us,
this grief having dropped yet again from its dark nest?

Whitewashed Harvest, Whitewashed Moon,
        why have I come?

Your hair picked up in the wind like blonde streamers    
of fire. Your pelisse skirt and blouse. Feet
skin-bare against snowfall and frostbite.


Your death is the scent of half-burned candles, the red bloodshot 
of a sleepless eye.

Your children who will never cry out in the night.

Your children who will never break the back of sleep.

Speak, Sad Child, speak.

Tell us of the lingering, the marble-eyed
who blaze trace-paths through the grazing grounds of horses.

Tell us of the everlasting curled up with the underbellies of rocks where skinks
and salamanders roost.

I've come only for a sign.

Perhaps, an injured bird hob-knobbing shadow to shadow.
All the locked car doors swinging open at once.

Perhaps others who've come for the same reason:

the security guard and nurse smiling sadly when they see one another,
my sister writing a message upside down in the snow
like a child writing backwards in the breath of a bus window.

Mary, what would you have me say?

Do I tell you your father was in my wedding?
Do I tell you about my wife?

Do I tell you how your clothes still sway from their hangers
like snakeskins in your bedroom closet? Do I describe
how your mother goes through your writings, adds to each year's Christmas letter
an entry from your notebooks?

Or do I give you updates?

A black man is president.
Bin Laden is buried in the salt of a secret sea.
Michael Jackson died some years ago of sleeplessness.
Lisa and I still design names for our children.

Or do I take you back to the night my sister called?

Do I show you the two policemen who came to your father's office?

Do I tell you how they stood there, holding their blue hats 
before them like the orbs of life and the fate of mankind
grasped in the hands of God's first clergy?

Do I show you how your mother still jolts awake in the night,
the street rushing up at her
at incredible speed?

Or do we set all that aside?

Do I take a chance?
Do I find the words with which to woo the dead?

Do I whisper into your ear?

Do I touch you with both hands at once?

Do your bones feel like bones beneath cloth?
Do your bones feel like bones
beneath cloth and skin?

Tell me, do the living slip off their clothes for the dead?
Do the living glow like embers in the snow?

Do the dead huddle for warmth? Do the dead breathe?

How, may I ask, do the dead shiver?

There was a time when the sea was more gentle, when it did not rage against
the land, when fish leapt from its surfaces and finned through the lucid air.

There was a time when love could be taken in one's hand and shaped like clay
dug out of the soil.

There was a time when the rivers of the world could be drawn out of tea leaves
and smoke.

In the dream, people visit me, she tells me.

But you are never there.

Once we were two kids who should've been in love, she says.

In the dream, these visitors have places to go,
but I cannot go with them.

I am hanging in a fog

There's a sound like wind weaving through limbs of dead trees

There's a sound like the faint slip of breath from windows

No moisture No heat

And even if I could see beyond the mist
no mountains teething in the distance
no gulls scratching their beaks against the blackboard sky
no breakers breaking back into foam against the rock strewn strands of the oceans

There is a presence in the mist. There is a fog

The fogged breath of God

Apocalypse Now: Poems & Prose from the End of DaysWinter 2012

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