Tantalization of the Right of Way

I am trying and fiercely to hold Oedipus
And aitchbone in the same sentence, thinking
Of the former with a burr up his butt,
Perhaps a burr from the Galium aparine,
AKA cleavers or clivers, goosegrass or
stickywilly, catchweed or coachweed,
Or robin-run-the-hedge, but more likely
A burr from the burdock, whose roots
Are eaten by larvae of the ghost moth
And the Gothic, the lime-speck pug and
The scalloped hazel, a burr that attached
Itself to George de Mestral’s dog’s fur
The day Velcro’s hooks and loops were
Invented, and the burr that Tolstoy wrote
Made him want to write—“it asserts life
To the end (это утверждать, жизнь до
Конца).” Temper has its time, self-composure
In the compost heap, the time it takes Giorgio
To build a mucchia of cut weeds for his mother,
Tilde, for her rabbits, Giorgio’s father dead
Five years, from no one’s hand, not struck
Down at some dusty, burr-infested crossroads,
By someone to whom you hadn’t granted
The right of way, someone who once silently
Tried to allay the fears of Laius, revenge for
The swollen foot, fate’s joke on Jocasta, and
At the end of the day, as usual, we blame
The shepherd who saved O’s life. We’ll return
For a moment to a fear of needles and other
Pointed things, and the water words flowing
Through the colander, and if after the wedding
We unload the shotguns, and then we’re back
To pulling strangers off chariots and killing them,
Or swinging a donkey’s jawbone, as did Samson,
Soon to be as blind as O, O the rage, the rage
Of the righteous and the rage of the wrong,
Or innocent chance, like Patty Pravo at 12 eating
Gelato with Ezra Pound at 75, in Venice, the latter
Blinded by homonyms and abulia, rehearsing habits,
Thumbing through atlases. All’s bad that ends
That way. Never go out of the house again,
Especially to the barbershop, never pluck out
Your eyes, never cut up your son and boil him
And serve him to the unsuspecting. You might
Found the House of Atreus and find one day
That Aeschylus has written down every damnation,
Before he too, as we all do, gets a turtle dropped
On his head near Agrigento. No rest for the weird
Sisters. Let us burn fate between our fingers,
Chop the spago into pieces so that David Wallace
Hasn’t hanged himself, September 12, 2008, but has
Only wanted to, wanted to pick the apricots, wanted
To turn the page of a book, bookmarked and marked
Up, wanted to die of laughter, of solecisms,
The practice of happiness, the translation of what
All we believe in to be true, whatever bone we break,
Whatever faith we break, whatever burr we brush
Off of us, holding us to this place we still call earth.


• • •

From Being Sullen That Day in Solon, Iowa

And feeling unwise to unlawful
And full of pining, and the pinballs
Unplugged when the young stripper

Comes on, the bar’s blue standing-
Room-only light on the awkward
Energetic dance, from the high heel

To the low down, from cryptic
Disclosure to the unbuttoning
Of whom we might have meant

To become, to now, watching what
Just happened to Michelangelo
Merisi's face in the reflected light

On a soldier’s helmet. The arrow
The Hun shot at sant’Orsola split
Her breastbone, cracked through

Her back, and slid into Merisi
Somewhere near his heart,
The Accidental Martyrdom

Of a Man Called Caravaggio, soon
To happen on some deserted beach
Near Porto Ercole, the mal aria

Of the Maremma. And then Shelley,
Sated in seawater, small tumbling
Body, washing up on the rocks

Of Lerici, two centuries later by
The clock, a last lungful of poem. 
Shelley at 28 wasn’t Shelley,

And Merisi at 39 wasn’t Merisi
And then Keats at 26 wasn’t Keats,
In quarantine in the Bay of Naples

Without a quire to fill, martyrs to
Beauty, those who lost the combination
To the safe return, the urgency

Of trees in April and their leafing. 
Solon the Just, Greek lawgiver,
Slips into Solon, the center of

The universe for a day, long after
Keats coughs up the blood of a poem,
Merisi abandons three canvases

In the sand, Shelley is carried
To shore by dolphins, and someone
Removes something that covers

Something else, from exposure to
Explosion, from here I was, right
Here, standing here, breathing here,

Exactly here, from first breath to last
Breath, from calm sea to consumption,
From what we simply assume

From our lives, my stupid stupid
Life thrown on the heap of other
Stupid stupid lives, the house shaken

Down, the empty tender, dark water
Funerals in an unexpected squall. 
Down the hall the men’s room

Reeks of men, the man kind, Roman
Shoes sink in sand, Keats on
Horseback in Rome, Shelley at

The Port of Venus, marveling at
The truth of it all, and the music’s
Louder when I exit and get in

The blank bubble of my Volkswagen
Bug, and if I could only then have
Spoken the language of bells, and

Stepped in front of Orsola, or steadied
Shelley’s keel, or filled Merisi’s empty
Flask, or taken Keats’s dictation,

Swum and sung at the same time,
Stroke of genius, stroke of stroke,
The boat slip and the shells that have

Always washed up on shore, having
Once protected something living,
Having once been themselves alive.


• • •

We Thought Again of Francisco de Zurbarán’s Hands

We thought again of Francisco de Zurbarán’s hands
And if what they held had half the weight

Of beauty and half the heft of truth, his
Beautifully dressed martyrs, ready to wear

Their death, which will continue to remain
Unfashionable, neither belonging to any

Coterie, nor cossetted, nor having nothing
Like the pomegranate’s shellacked shell,

And if we’ve turned away in time from
Samuel Beckett’s last breath, the evanesce

On the fogged up windshield, or the wind
Itself, the winding sheet rewound around

Us again and again, hitting the replay
Of Gabriel Urbain Fauré’s Requiem as we

Sail by sarcophagi half-submerged in the Ionian
Sea, or a misheard lyric from Kurt Cobain,

Or the Novocain we once refused, but what stays
For now, now being now, might be a Still Life

With Oranges, Lemons, and a Rose, 1633, or
Dish of Quince (Plato de Membrillos), sable bristles

And paint, canvas flaxed or hemped into
The brilliance of San Sarapion’s robes filling

That which is falling, the ferrule and the aglet,
And Zbigniew Herbert in the 1940s, feeder of lice

In Lwów, against typhus that took millions, this
Uncut quill, taken not lightly from the strongest wing.