FROM VENTRILOQUIES

 

Ventriloquist

It might seem nothing more than mere caprice,
a boyish gag to make you do a double
take, when I give lifeless things a voice,
as if this world, so long beneath our noble

dominance, had suddenly cried out
or cracked a joke with edges sharp enough
to sheer our fleecy, self-important pate.
Such are the pleasures of coyote-mischief.

No: below the head’s devices, heart’s
impenetrable wilds, way down inside
the convoluting dark, where God exerts
himself like a miner with his battered spade,

a something else has ears, & sips, though blind,
the ripples of that incremental striving,
dreams them through itself until the sound
becomes almost articulate & living,

given back as what, surprised, you look 
to hear: not wholly mine to give, yet given
through me as if conjured here to speak
the promise: You will never be alone.

Old Man

It makes the young people uncomfortable
to see this loosening, this derelict
 
of flesh still home such fierce attention, flaring 
like a birch tree in the blue of dusk.

No darkness can appall me. Long ago
my soul struck root, spread upward from itself
 
& down through griefs laid thick as leafmash,  
down  through failure’s unforgiving gravel,

to grip at last the bones of those I love.
Their silence carves the winter of these hands.

A cowbell’s clank beyond the hill seemed once  
the sting of every yearning. Now it comforts.  

Nor can any secrets sunder me: 
I gave them all to friends, & walked off with a cane.

Deputy

Word was he vowed to kill a judge,
said he would shoot him in the throat.  
We found him propped & seething like 
a copper coil in noon’s black thicket, 
all that dust & skull stilled purer,
potenter in him, & he’s 
just waiting at the pay-phone, too 
damn drunk to fight, old rotted hate 
come dribbling, spitting from the hole
of his noiseless yelling as we stop
the car, heat hitting like a fist
we brush aside, pull our pieces
on him crazy as a scarecrow
in the empty wind, his claw
snarled round a Dixie cup
stained Kool-Aid red & reeking 
isopropyl, cringing when
through cauls of grease-stiff flannel
& black knotted skew of hair
the stash sings answer to my hand. 
I make him watch the thirsty dirt
down his last sweet drop.

Word was he was a full-blood,
son of a chief, when they had chiefs:
the backdrop showed him four-foot-
ten, the needle eighty pounds,
the records positive. We cussed
& scrubbed our hands, laughed at his
pathetic threats, his boy-sized body,
boots flapping on the wrong feet.
Someone put a dustmop on his head.
I’m a man! he howled I am a man!
& we laughed even louder then.

Deaf-Mute

Not the fluttering of tongues ,
but hands, the dance of fingertips, 
the solemn greeting bowed from thumb

to palm, the sudden fist curled up,
or knuckles’ loose affiliation, 
ready to talk sense.

Your hands, my love,
those dear white animals, so versatile,
so shy & worthy of trust, it’s they

who bear me the song your mouth 
has never heard of,
gathered in the moon-hushed night,

in secret, smuggled at great risk
from the treasury in loving you
I vowed to guard,

& so I turn back those gifts,
that girlhood in fallen leaves,
the clean pang of sweaters,

even this sudden sense of someone 
on his way to meet you, pockets 
stained sweet & dark with languages

Beekeeper

From where I tend the busy hives I gaze
on foothills lolling, fat with haze where cities
dream & fever, swollen tongues of smoke

where Yankee mills, asquat in foetid creeks,
churn thick our native currents, slick the local
plash of speech till only highlanders

& whiskey men still drink the silver run
come terse & cold through living rock, through sleeves
of moss, to burble at these feet & fresh

this throat, my head sunned-through with pain
of ridges, waters, dialects, the land 
I walk old family land the whole way up

till sky leaps down on me, the rocks about
to sing, the bees parabolas of fire,
the stands ablaze but unconsumed, & far

from men’s activities the sweet sap deeps,
the pale combs glisten with their dusky cargoes
just as long ago, before the war,

before they bent & broke us down to scratch
our bread from iron clay & red as blood,  
but not much longer, since I solved the riddle

NSA men study on all night
in secret high-tech labs out west somewhere,
they’d hunt me if they knew I broke fate’s code, 

laid open space-time’s layered hive to gaze 
through shells of pain, the sun deep in my skull
a screaming door through which I dare to step  

& Shiloh Church lies smoking, shattered trees
& dusklight, saying Listen, boys.  I know
how we can win this war, I know a way

to manufacture all the bullets you
will need, real bullets, boys, now tell me where
to find the General, ‘cause the moon stays with me

all night in the valley of the spiders,
boys, the valley where I see your bodies
torn & soaked, & unavenged, Ah! General, 

how it throbs like far artillery 
behind my eyes, I’m ugly, Sir, I know,
but come to help, since hist’ry says you lost,

yet there’s whole other hist’ries, other fates
we’re free to chose, now ain’t that right? trust me!
for what I take in hand I bring to pass:

I’ll give you bullets buzzing round their heads
& striking without mercy, swarming down
to draw a dark, sweet nectar from their flesh––