Dumb Show

Somewhere in all this motion resides a thing,
a perfect moment of clarity solid as a nail
but only you can see it. I can't -

at the moment of seeing, a spider
crosses my plate and spoils
the perfect sunburst of egg yoke

and my appetite. Is this
universal signing? Your eyes glaze over,
your fingers thrum, and

unless you've coined a word, it's not love,
not a gesture of binding and forgiveness.
How many legs do spiders have?

As many as the veins of an oak leaf,
an imperfect modesty to be sure, and no coy smile.
You have teeth, Love, you have tendrils.

The day has done waxing, the waters
move as waters will, filling gaps, soaking
and spoiling paper and ink. Are we surprised

by the quiet of the last hours of daylight?
The neighbors have gathered their toys.
The girls are even now locking their bikes.

I look up "gloaming" in your dictionary,
- I wanted to say "lexicon"
but someone has torn out pages

to roll cigarettes. Now I will never learn to say
"kiss me" in your touching language.

The Twins

I went to sleep in darkness.
I woke up in darkness.
There was a breath of wind last night,
the first in two weeks, from the south
and soggy with the sea.
It set the cage swinging
and roused me.

I remember the sound of a penny whistle
and the sun setting behind a tight group of black trees.
A figure leans carelessly beneath them
watching me cat's cradle
with my shoelace. I cannot
for any money remember who taught me
but I can see her eyes
with their folds.

He talks to me
when he sees I am awake.
When he catches me looking out across the plain
he takes his long shepherd's crook
and pokes the cage -
not hard,
not jarring,
like the wind:
enough to turn me away from the sun.

His dog rooted out truffles.
He roasted them with red sweet peppers over a twig fire
and fed me two.

It rained.
First the air grew too thick to swallow.
Then the rumbling came down out of the hills to the west.
Then the rain fell,
releasing a woody musk from the bamboo.
Diluted sap ran from the branch of the oak,
down the chain
to leave sticky patches
like spilled ginger beer
on my forehead.
The man under the tree got wetter than me.

The woman came after the third watch.
The sentries were writing letters home describing the silence
when she slipped by
carrying luxuries like licorice
so rare out here on the plain.
I knew it was a woman by her whisper,
by her scent of flour and vinegar,
by the glint of gold where I guessed her nose must be.
She was gone before the sun rose
and he turned my cage.

We saw the first fire this afternoon.
A little flash of color against the flat dun of the prairie.
The man saw it
and nervously hiked up his trousers.
"The scouts are burning their garbage," he said.
Did he believe himself? Did I?
Somewhere it must be written down
what will be believed. The rich and powerful
preserve such things
so that their memories can't be questioned.

But if I finish here,
I'll find that book. I'll hold it
across both palms and let it fall
open where it will.
I'll breath deeply
and know my future with all its wrinkles.
I'll know what Maggie said
that night as she stood in the doorway,
taste the cardamom she chewed
to sweeten her breath,
her earwax on the tip of my tongue.
I'll hear the rattle of old windowglass
as the night local headed south toward the front
carrying young, sleepy conscripts and a band
of spectators with camping gear and mouth harps.

I ask the man sitting below me,
does he know how to build a birchbark canoe?
I can figure out most of it, but
how do you bend the ribs?
He offers me a roast acorn
and turns my cage.

The first was a lark.
It was a boon, we both thought.
There was one shallot left of all the food she'd brought.
Then three grackles fell onto my cage
from the overhanging branch
where they had been bickering
since yesterday morning.
They were not as tasty as the lark-
too much blood, and the bitter black skin
made me queasy, though I did eat.
Birds are falling all around us now,
bouncing off my bars,
piling at my comrade's feet: crows, mostly,
and a hawk with a vole still twitching in its beak.
I see the stars only at intervals,
though I can't identify them.
My fastidious comrade
has clipped his nails
in anticipation of digging.
He wants to do mine. I toss
my long golden hair, just so, like a young girl.
I feel giddy,
and if I close my eyes to slits
the stars bleed into lines.

I wake smelling peppermint. I lick a film
of pollen from my front teeth. I smiled in my sleep
as he is smiling, lying at the foot of the oak,
his head resting on an ant hill, his protruding tongue
stiff, thick and black with ants.
The morning wind has risen again, swirling feathers
and butterflies in and out of my bars,
in and out of my mouth,
into my hair. And, it appears,
I have the gift of prophecy.
I know so much:
I will be sick again;
the sun will set in splendid color;
the night will be the longest of the year;
there will be no more fires on the plain,
but the drifting smoke will catch in my throat
and the puddle under my cage will catch
the full moon's reflection.

I won't see it.
Already there's a hissing of sprinklers in the distance.
Our red car has pulled up
in front of my mother's yellow house
and the twins have trundled out,
each carrying a silk orchid and
a moon-shaped slice of cassava.
The melon juice has stained their identical
sky-blue pinafores identically, in the shape
of an Islamic crescent. The jays bicker in the pines.
The twins smile, just come from the dentist.
Their teeth, so white,
blind me.

The Apple Woman

Call me Hieronymo. Call me
with blood still singing in my ears.
I will throw what is most handy
where you were - quick on your feet,

like Fred Astaire.
Call me Ophelia,

Queen of the Hesperides,
the voice behind the fence
muttering maledictions and threats
against trespassers from the appley garden.
And sometimes shouting, to be understood.
Call me

and I will call back, an obscene echo
with its own story:
one stinking afternoon in August
I bit into a tomato and found a quarter. The pearl also

begins as an irritant.
I bicycled to town. The rest must remain
secret, its connection to tomatoes and spare change
sealed in my head until such time
as the Sultan demands a tale for my life.

He can bite me.
"Precious:" a comic book.
"Wine:" the algorithm of poetry.

No ear to the knothole can winnow wisdom from raving.
Anyway, I don't know peace. All I know is apples.
And isn't that easy? A, B, C

John Silence

Copyright © John Silence
May 1996

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Copyright © 1996 A Small Garlic Press. All rights reserved.
Created 1996/5/4. Updated last on 2000/7/17.