I wonder if I’ve really scrutinized this experience like
you’re supposed to have if you can type
– Frank O’Hara
“For the Chinese New Year & for Bill Berkson”
I was born in Tennessee.
I was raised on ideas.
Now I fall down
as a person
in bodily emulsion.
But spiritually speaking?
I’m not suffering.
I’m looking at nine pictures on a light blue wall
in black frames with white matting.
In one the Secretary of Defense walks through Iraq
in a suit and boots,
surrounded by a thick white line.
If it wasn’t like this I wouldn’t care,
which is not to say I wouldn’t mind.
Some find this layering of thoughts within the ever-diminishing moment
to be a complete defense to the charge of privilege,
but surely more is expected, and there is no defense;
we commit crimes
and show ourselves and each other
To be meticulous is to give up in a way still marked by effort,
which for many is the one, true art.
What did the New Critics think about plagiarism?
Repetition as a form of time travel?
Conservatives prefer repetition in service
of an incantatory mourning for a lost world,
but one plagiarizes the self
in the commission of boredom.
Maybe it’s the difference between new meanings
and a complex weave of old ones,
or those who hold no new meanings are possible.
Or maybe all that’s possible
is a new ordering of priorities within experiences.
A sensibility and its chosen course are what matter most to me.
The present calcifies into interlocking crystals,
leaving so much gratuitous precedent
to be lined up in the narrow hallway of one’s attention
that a trajectory could be plotted to anywhere.
You go through each room and remove a single wall,
but only in your mind,
and still the house collapses. It wasn’t built to last.
What kind of imposition would that have been anyway?
Words on a page
and a bare molecule of intentionality
coming through this pinhole of sensation and time.
My face, lit by screens
and angled penitently towards coffee,
withers like a democracy
under its loudest features.
Sometimes it’s hard to watch,
I know. Not at all like yours, or yours,
presences to which my life
is a distracted vigil,
having found no higher calling.
Certainly not this,
which could happen or not
and all that’s at stake
is whether I’ve told you.
You drive us through the rain in Virginia
after taking me to see
my 93-year-old grandfather in Nashville.
My dad and I went to his hospital room at night,
where he told me about the Korean man
he’d met at the church he built in Nagoya
who had to hide from police
after becoming a suspect in the kidnapping of a local teenager.
He hadn’t kidnapped her.
Years later they learned
she’d run away in the middle of the night
to avoid an arranged marriage.
But prejudice against Koreans
ran high in late ‘40s Japan,
so my grandfather’s friend became the target
of an investigation whose misguidedness
ensured its longevity.
I forgot to ask my grandfather, whose name is Ernest,
what Nagoya was like in the late ‘40s,
after a quarter of the city was incinerated
by American fire-bombing
that Robert McNamara, who also lived to see 93,
later conceded was a war crime.
A few weeks after the Korean man disappeared
he called Ernest and asked to meet
at a popular restaurant in town.
Ernest arrived at the appointed time
and found the restaurant packed with people.
A hostess, upon learning whom Ernest was meeting,
directed him to the restaurant’s second floor,
which he found completely empty
except for his friend
who sat alone at a table at the far end
and waved Ernest over
as soon as he came up the stairs.
They talked for a couple of hours,
during which time the man explained
that he was innocent,
but, given the conditions in Nagoya,
he would have to remain out of sight,
at least for now.
He thanked Ernest for his friendship
and went on to explain
that he owned the restaurant they were sitting in,
as well as a couple of nearby hotels,
and he was actually quite wealthy.
A few years later,
Ernest’s job as a missionary
was moving him to Tokyo,
and apparently his friend learned he was leaving
because he called Ernest again
and asked to meet at 10 p.m. the next night,
this time at an address my grandfather recognized
as being in the industrial section of town,
mainly warehouses and the like,
with few stores or restaurants
and probably no people around at night.
With some trepidation,
Ernest went to the address at 10
and waited. The streets were empty
except, after fifteen or twenty minutes,
a yakimo man whom Ernest heard a couple of blocks away.
Yakimo men drive carts around at night
selling sweet potatoes—yakimo—that are roasted over charcoal
on the cart itself. You can hear them at night bellowing out,
“Yaaakiiiiiiiiiiiimooooooo!” Eventually the yakimo man
came right up next to Ernest, then stopped his cart
and said, in Japanese, “It’s me.”
It was his friend,
who explained that this was one
of several disguises
his circumstances unfortunately required.
He said he’d heard Ernest would soon be moving,
and he just wanted to see him again
to thank him for his friendship.
They spoke briefly,
and then my grandfather’s friend rolled his cart away,
occasionally calling out, “Yaaakiiiiiiiiiiiimooooooo!”
And now you and I
are driving through Virginia again,
the sky a further gray.
I woke up this morning with you
in Roanoke, thirty-five years old
for the first time, in love
and astonished. I jogged three miles
while listening to “The Weight” seven times in a row
and thought the song
could be a pacifist anthem:
you righteous people
go on and kill each other;
all us sinners will be here,
living in peace and mutual assistance.
The feeling vanished, or perhaps deepened
past visibility, when I heard about the acquittal. Bastille Day.
A wary sun bided its time
in the drowsy grad school of an overcast sky,
and then, finding its moment,
delivered a bleaching intensity
to the reading glasses
resting on the dashboard
of our financed Acura
under a dewy windshield,
casting bleary water shadows
through the double lens
of windshield and glasses
across the car’s front seat,
the deep blue fabric of which
was brushed into dark and light patches
working crossways from the sun
cast complexly through fat leaves
of the adjoining yard’s many hardwoods.
A single leaf shadow
bobbled over the plastic lid
of a day-old coffee cup
sitting in the center console
next to the gear shift,
white and blue-gray
mixing over the still black hole of the spout,
a small, circular cinema.
Doubled, tiny threads of dust on the rearview
glowed in a stripe of light
reflected from the trunk forward,
as the air inside the Acura
warmed, circulated, and gained humidity,
seashells of fog
developing from the bottom of the windshield
at the defroster’s vents.
Spots of dew on the roof
shrank as they dried,
leaving concentric trails of pollen and air dirt
in a yellow-brown haze
against the car’s light blue exterior,
sediment at the level of microns
building glacially over weeks
of quickly warming summer mornings.
Seatbelts and downward seams in the upholstery
leant no sense of vertical logic to the interior.
The passenger side buckle rested partially
on a pile of folders and papers in the seat.
The silver tip of the buckle
breached the edge of a pie chart
printed on the piece of paper
at the top of the pile.
The chart was in grayscale
and demonstrated striking productivity.
Before the dewdrops on the windshield dried,
the bumpy shadows of four of them
fell evenly along the rounded edge
of the chart’s largest triangle,
giving the edge’s black line
the appearance of growing darker
as it travelled through the dewdrop shadows.
Up very close, the paper itself
was a thicket of rough fibers,
a cotton ball flattened,
and the black line of the chart’s edge
was a dense, black dust
resting on the thicket,
containing to one side
a far less concentrated
swarm of black particles.