Screed

“You can’t write the clear biography
of the aches and pains inside your skull.”
– Jim Harrison

 

Tattoos are skin deep –
I want to scrimshaw love poems
onto your bones
and mine

Scratch the itch of Rumi
in endless spiral scrawl,
Persian, Arabic and Greek
knotting our ribs

The whale tooth you left in me
from when we made love –
you are fair game
in my hunt for ivory

Celtic curses for knuckles,
Beowulf’s sweord and scylda at hand,
and all of Macbeth
twitching in my thumbs

Spending years, decades,
a lifetime
illuminating manuscripts,
endless scores of this song

There is just one more thing
I wanted to tell you –
will you know it
by heart?

 

Day 16, 28 Days of Unreason

Broken Chinese

“I’ve spent a lifetime
trying to learn the language of the dead.”
– Jim Harrison

 

The daily astonishments still
of monkeys in the trees
and traffic that doesn’t move for hours
and the sky all wrong
and how I’m finally able to read some writing in the wild
most crucially “toilet”
or that actual, physical survival
can be reduced to knowing how to say
“double shot of whisky” and “Kung Pao Chicken”
because you can live on only that if you have to
and if the chicken is red and undercooked again
just skip it, and you pray the slugs of whisky
will sterilize the rest.

I always bring my parents with me
as I move through my days in China
laughing with them at the absurdity
of my big American frame pouring sweat on a hearted run
past the toy soldiers of the Red Guard and I’m pretty sure
they are all so skinny I could break them in two with my bare hands
someone please feed them
or at least make them do push-ups
or imagining that I’m fitting right in, yessir,
putting my bike into the river of thousands of riders
like launching a skiff and pushing off
then pulled along in the currents of bikes and cars and people
that course from one side of the city to the other.

And how over the phone I can’t tell my wife who is so far away
that I’m slowly going blind
and I’m sorry for her that she will have to get that news
reading it here
but back to my parents
how we’re just amazed together
every day about it all
as we look up at the sky-scratchers
and it is “Damn! Get a load of that will ya?”
because we’re still from the ranch in Colorado
we don’t know how to be from anywhere else
and it’s still their Great Depression somehow
and it’s still the Dust Bowl with the sky darkening
and my mother saying about the terror of it
thought it was the Apocalypse and brought her to Jesus
and the sky here so full of grit and smoke
the far end of the block
is not visible for a week the air tastes like jet fuel
it is the Apocalypse sure as shooting
and how the hell did we get

here?

 

 

Day 15, 28 Days of Unreason

Rapid-Fire

The hardest part is when the river
is too swift and goes underground for days
– Jim Harrison

 

Love me like a J-boat
all rubbery and tubular
whanging through the roil
and the walls and skys of water,
you are my Colorado rapids
running whitewater canyons

It’s been Class V crazy
but I love the thrill,
thrown overboard for you our
velocity pulls us under
and since
rescue is impossible

Will you marry me?

 

 

Day 14, 28 Days of Unreason

Flow Walls

“I took a nap and wept for no reason.”
– Jim Harrison

 

It was more like seeping than weeping,
water beaded on the walls of our dreams

Did we know the quiet of snow’s malice,
Spring’s melt too slow, too sure for imagination?

How it would rise like sleep,
darkness spread in lazy pools across the floor

A cellar that welcomed nightmare
from between the cold stones of its walls

What mother language of night did you know
to wake with a start and tell me “it’s time”

And I again to descend,
in the wake of the flood.

 

Day 13, 28 Days of Unreason

Sowing Teeth

“The mountains are so dominant
that some days the people refuse
to look at them as children
turn away from the fathers who beat them.”
– Jim Harrison

 

We paid the villagers a dollar each to carry our tents and food and water mile after mile along the Dragon’s Back.

The humidity and heat like a backhand across the face as we climbed to a remote mountain fortress on the Great Wall of China.

A dollar. Think about that. They were happy for it – old women and children were less expensive than donkeys. I’ve never felt monstrous before, a Great White Father.

I know the Mandarin for “Foreign Devil”, said with a smile when we paid them. Yáng guǐzi. 洋鬼子

We spent our night in the Dragon’s Teeth.

 

 

Day 12, 28 Days of Unreason