Two Poems from Diorama 1871
Diorama 1871 (a journey across the water is like eating
or like being eaten)
What isn’t tidal and filled with stories?
What isn’t horizontal and then vertical? The red carpet was long
because the king was dragging his entrails.
The journey was long
because we had to wind through
history’s entrails. The four oceans: over 70% of the earth
is taken up by these stomachs. If you let yourself
fall asleep on a boat, you will bob up and down
like a piece of meat on the end of a string.
The water licks its lips all night. If you are allowed
above deck, try this: lean over the gunwale
and lightly blow on the horizon’s flushed face.
Like a guardsman, the new day is not allowed
to react. Meanwhile, the night can throw itself against the hull
trying to get at you. Everything is seasoned,
covered in salt. Crow’s nest, prow,
captain’s wheel. Landfall, shipwreck,
conquest, surrender. Everything tastes the same.
Except the scum floating at the top.
Diorama 1871 (which is worse)
to forget the dead or to reanimate them,
handle and position their bodies?
False choice, I suppose.
A related problem:
What if the cabins are torches for the forest to see by?
What was it we found just last week, outside the sheriff’s office, left behind
either as taunts or as gifts?
Two squares of light pried apart from their windows,
a group of children without their behaviors.
I began to suspect the town wasn’t full of settler women at all
but rather carved ivory boxes, pure indifference
twisted to form their sticky clasps.
They’re like a stack of white, deckle edge envelopes filled
with an even whiter,
strangely glittering powder.
Or like a type of snow you don’t see falling
as it buries you. I began to suspect Gold River
was rolling over, beginning to spin, like giant reptiles do
when they feed in water. I began to suspect,
but, in the end, I remained unconvinced. I remained
agnostic. I remained very still
in my hiding place. Look at the edge
of this calico fabric:
torn not cut. The end of this rope? Bitten not clipped. Lord knows,
I love a good mystery, but which is worse,
to let the dead dissolve in the acid of time or to preserve them
like a bug in your heart? When it comes back up
to bask in the sun, Gold River will be lifted by a hook,
gutted, and submitted as evidence.
Meanwhile, women carved out of teeth scurry around town.
Meanwhile, the patterns they trace will someday be made
into beautiful quilts. My sketches become more useful
the more I’m willing to smudge them.
The sharpened women flash like needles and stitch up the seams
between the houses.
When I say they are taking the hill,
I mean the hill is gone.