The Bridge I Must Walk Across
Is this what it means to be lost?
Stuck inside my skin —
unable to shed it, unable to grow another —
I am between desolations:
between the man I have been
and the man I must become.
My life’s stories are in flames,
becoming black smoke, ascending.
Who will speak now the tales of the ancestors,
who will listen, who will hear?
Who will be guardian of their old ways,
who will tend to their burial grounds,
calm them in their restless prowling?
I am a vessel for what I carry, untranslatable,
legacies it has taken a lifetime to learn:
who will pour me out, who will drink me?
Who will read to me this new book
of the night sky, its panoply of trembling stars?
Who will decipher the strangeness all around,
who will gather all the broken shards?
How can I discard myself, all that I am?
I am becoming a stranger inside my skin,
my children becoming
the bridge I must walk across.
Still Reading From the Book of Love
There is no page number.
I’m at the part where at the end of each day
I bury my collections of grief -
tiny boned, skeletal —
along with dead parts of myself.
So many burial mounds only I can see.
The book is heavy in my arms
where once it was light.
Its pages are worn, tattered,
and still I read: here, the lovers’ quarrels,
here the betrayals, the abandonment,
here the sad litany of illusions
and here, the book of secrets inside the book,
the chapters that open only upon need,
the ones under lock and key.
The book is open, unfinished.
No one told me about the dark shadows,
how hungry they are, how they crowd around
those old moments of delight.
How can I read on? What kind of man
must I become to endure?
My bloodied heart is not done with yet,
as these pages are not done with:
I endure because I must.
I will not close the book.
I will never close the book.
Should I reach the end, I will begin again.
Instructions for Forbearance
When receiving anger,
accept that some gifts are fickle:
be reverent as a cup receiving water.
Do not spill a drop.
When feeling anger,
be not as a wind fanning a fire:
be as a flame
that douses itself.
When being a wind
fanning a fire, do not despair:
this is your nature.
Attempt to be a flame dousing itself.
When being a flame
unable to douse itself,
do not turn the flame outwards:
let it burn itself out.
After being a flame
that has burnt itself out,
look among the ashes
for shoots of tenderness.
When being a flame
once more, attempt to be
a flame dousing itself.
Remember the cup of water.
after Natasha Trethewey; for Orli
Like a crescent moon on the rise, my daughter —
so much in shadow, the rest so bright.
I pause at your bed as you sleep,
your tears and tribulations quiescent now.
So much in shadow, the rest so bright,
you go out into your world each day.
Your tears and tribulations quiescent now,
I watch you journey where I cannot follow.
You go out into your world each day,
into the life that is yours alone.
I watch you journey - I cannot follow —
knowing you will go so far beyond my reach.
There, in the life that is yours alone,
I pause at your bed. You sleep,
knowing you will go so far beyond my reach,
like a crescent moon on the rise - my daughter.
My daughter’s wails wake me,
wails smiting the air from inside a dream,
a submerged place from which she has
only half risen. I find her, as usual,
wedged in the top right-hand corner
of her crib, the corner closest to the door -
as if gravity has pulled her there,
toward the world outside —
and place my hand upon her
until that unknown fear recedes,
until her wails become heaving sobs,
until the sobs slowly subside
and her breath returns to the soft intake
and outtake of sleep.
Minutes later I hear her calling ‘Daddy, Daddy’,
her voice its usual imperative,
and find her standing in her crib, arms raised,
fully awake, ready for another day.
The empty glass on the windowsill at dawn,
full of air and possibility.
A shaft of light pouring in.
Under the City’s Skin
Slipping under the city’s skin
I found another city and then another,
each built on the same ground,
agitating the same air,
more cities than I could imagine,
a maze without end
as if formed by Escher’s pen,
places all to lose myself,
drift wispy as a ghost,
fall between the cracks,
marked by byzantine alleyways,
gritty pocked pavements,
cobblestone streets, dark corners
slippery slick and vanishing,
all leading further in,
like the teeming oil-skinned rats
in their twitching pursuits,
the furtive men in black greatcoats
scurrying towards the million doorways,
that for all they revealed
in their brief illuminations,
led only to the closed worlds,
the secret rooms,
the secret lives beyond.
The Hammer of Uncertainty
Oh, for the certainty of death and taxes
when all else is shifting sand.
A thousand moons you have seen
all over the world:
moon glow preceding moon
over the stony fingers of Cappadocia,
the moon rising brimful,
swollen, etching into view
the dark line of the Adelaide hills,
and again, in different phases
a silver halo, slivered, crescent,
washing the sky with light,
ascetic high on the mountain’s rim,
jaundiced yellow eye,
sickly sickle over the wheatfields,
and then, the moonless nights
littered with the applause of stars,
rabid dogs hunting in packs
on the beaches of Goa —
but look, this too is illusion:
the moon blinked, the heavens shifted
and now, can you hear it,
the tide’s roar is gathering,
the hammer of uncertainty,
is swinging on its heavy,
fateful downward arc.
The Three Moons of Tenoa
The first moon hangs in the sky
like an artist’s fancy, floodlit,
changing position, changing aspect,
showing off its mood and hue:
this moon craves attention, seeks to bathe
in light, wants your upturned face.
The second moon is shy,
demurs to the first and flees the sky,
lodges itself in the sparkle
of your lover’s eye - if you have
a lover, if she has an eye: this moon
is no moon to read by.
The third moon is a far-off sliver,
a crusty rind that deigns to show itself
only when so inclined:
this moon finds little favour with the sun,
wobbles in its orbit like a drunkard
in the night, avoiding lamp-posts or other light.
How grave the gravity of these three!
What perturbations, what unwitting havoc
they wreak upon Tenoa’s tides -
and yet, how unimaginable a world
with placid seas, and no capricious moons
to sing serenades by.