By W. S. Di Piero
Only in Things
Some days, who can stare at swathes of sky,
leafage and bad-complected whale-gray streets,
tailpipes and smokestacks orating sepia exhaust,
or the smaller enthusiasms of pistil and mailbox key,
and not weep for the world’s darks on lights, lights on darks,
how its half-tones stay unchanged in their changings,
or how turning wheels and wind-trash and revolving doors
weave us into wakefulness or dump us into distraction?
This constant stream of qualia we feel in our stomachs.
The big-leafed plant lifts its wings to greet the planet’s chemistry,
the sun arrives on rooftops like a gentle stranger, rain rushes us
love to love, stop to stop, these veins of leaf, hand,
storm and stream, as if in pursuit of us and what we become.
That Night at Baldini’s
As if no sky hung outside, no nature there,
only here inside the viewing room: putrid fresh
mums and lilies, wreath-bunting in loving memory, ceiling
a puttied celestial blue no sky ever was.
It felt as if it had already happened, the entry and descent.
The older brother’s bleached face, maquette finger bones
dressed with pearl rosaries, the hushed receiving line
conjoining his big silence, speech’s juices drained,
laid out in the box’s jewelry-tray bedding, in that other life,
called life, that our waiting breaths believe waits for us, too.
From among the wishers, the whisperers and consorts who inhaled with me
those wet humus smells around under Baldini’s parlour sky
wherein nature nothing-ed lay, the younger brother advances
and fleshes out the scene, reaching toward the plump raised lid:
to go down there with him, not let him go alone—who of us knows
how alone, how that will be, what tincture, taste, sniff lives on
beyond the senses, what delusion we imagine so fine?—
so first elbow, shoulder, knee, foot, talking to himself,
(un-weeping, fortified by love) he climbs into the box, to go down,
brother on brother, down to all the others, whoever they are,
the bumbles of the dead as if inside walls or a stage-trap underfoot,
down through the trick-bottomed Houdini device
to foundation rebar and joists, tree roots, silicates and spores
and spongy membranes, dirt’s intestines, to all the others
gone before, amassed in channels like nebular gangs
of dark matter that holds our bodies together right now,
their bellings and keens, calling for us or telling us to stay away.
He went that way until others pulled him back:
You have to let him go! No, you don’t, not until you go find out
for yourself, ask away the years, the longings. And now
you’re finally with that sad brother who spoke so little, who lived
in shade until he became shade of his flesh shamed
by alien human likeness in this box, the lacquered big-mouth box,
down stainless corridors to pooled chambered dark below,
like a nothing air one falls into, weightless, stillborn, slowed, unbound,
where neither of you now has anything to say to us.
The Shoe Box
A high school mash note’s stammering lust.
Father and me, shirts and ties, snapshot glare,
and somehow graphed into that air
a young man’s foolscap poem when a just,
loose joinery of words was all that mattered.
But then in last night’s dream, she (mother, wife,
mash note’s love?) tells me a box holding secret life
has been shipped, enclosing sounds I haven’t heard:
a wind-harp’s warp, words yarding across staves,
flutey sounds ribboned to sad, screechy tunes.
And things: a wishbone, ring, whatever I crave,
the heart-hollows, the cannot-do-withouts, the whens
and whos, the frayed veils between death and here . . .
I packed this box myself. I packed it full of fear.
W. S. Di Piero’s last book, Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems, came out from Knopf in 2007. His book of essays, City Dog, will be published next year by Northwestern University Press.