Uncoded

the river swells in her bed, an ocean
trapped in an earthy body. the rains

haven’t stopped all summer; violence
ripples in her skin. on the right shoulder

of the bridge, an ambulance
idles flashing. 20 feet ahead, the water

rescue team is parked, bright red against
gray concrete. men

lean into the rail, searching,
their whole minds in their eyes,

scanning movement for movement,
pushing the churn of fear

down behind only: see.
there is a faith in this, whatever

they believe at home on a Sunday.
a blind looking, in hope.

one gets a message
on the radio at his hip.

they climb back in their trucks.
there is nothing

but current below, wild ever-dance
of waters downstream. a sadness

in the way the ambulance pulls
away, its lights extinguished.

 

one day when we were more or less strangers

it’s amazing what bodies can accomplish
in the dark, you said, we both
reading into the dawn, our heads
shooting up
like jackrabbits, red eyes
wary in the halflight. we try
to pass it off, just another
comment on the stars,
not on the arms
& thighs & skin of us,
how the clocks of us
feel the pull of tides
in their salty shadows.
we, gentler without the overhead.
we, in awe of how the sun grows
each day like we weren’t even watching.
we, quiet in the roar of the universe.

 

Breathing, Frontiers (Nara–Kyoto, 2009)

prayers in rough wood

One morning late in the summer of her death, I leave the swanky Kyoto hotel with only two things: a sense of desperate adventure and a bus map I have no way to make sense of. It is mid-morning, full sun. I step into the street & catch the wrong bus. Lost, I find another traveler with a better head for direction and a to-see list the same as mine. Together, we make the rounds of temples with names like stones dropped in still ponds, take pictures each of the other. Kiyomizu-dera and its golden waters. Moss & graves at Honen-in, echoes in the hillside. Eikando. Nanzenji. I touch my right hand to the cherry-lined path of Tetsugaku-no-michi, green now, no blossoms, wonder how many wiser heads have held thoughts here. Ears trained to stream’s murmur over street traffic. The day clouds as the sun sinks, and then at long last Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion that was never silver, umbrellaless under matching skies as rain begins to fall.

I hang a prayer
in wood by a heron’s pool
but do not forget.