I lived in the hills that year. The Aegean lay below
and the brown and rusted mountains rose up behind.
The air so clear you saw three, four, five dimensions
of everythinga shrike in its long drop from the sky,
a lone cypress, the hut on the next hill, all as distinct
as pop-up figures in a children’s book.
The undulations of the silver green olive leaves
caused the grove to look ambulant, as though it were
moving up the mountain like a herd.
Sometimes a man would come trudging down the hill
in his cloth cap, baggy pants, the enduring rifle
slung over his shoulder, barrel sticking up
like a narrow wing.
Shepherds in their large cloaks and hoods stood in
the middle of the grazing sheep, their transistor radios
pressed to their ears. Black nights, I could hear
the bekçis’ whistle carrying thinly through the hills
as they signaled one another all is well.
I was twenty-three and sick and far from home.
Hepatitis, dysentery, and who-knows-what.
My body thin, and thinner. The skin a curious
sallow yellow. My long hair fell out in swatches
on my pillow, so I covered my head with scarves.
What little I ate ran through my body.
I wore diapers and rinsed them in the tub.
I felt drunk all the time. Once, weaving and
staggering, trying to make it from the stove
to the chair, I had a laughing fit. I sat
on the floor and laughed until I fell asleep
against the wall.
Dozing and drifting, at times the thought would come
that I might die there in the hills outside of Izmir.
I was oddly unconcerned, though dying struck me as
ill-advised. (How would they get my body home?
What about my things?)
All fall, nerveless and listless, I would lie out on
the balcony watching the large tortoises shambling
down from the hill. I saw the early mists roll around
the tops of the mountains. I could see British ships
in the harbor dwarfing the gaily colored two-eyed
fishing boats. I could make out the palms glittering
along the quay. I drank chai and ate pine nuts and tried
to eat the lumpy, horny-skinned yogurt Gonca sent up.
And I watched my body disappearing from me.
Winter came. I could not keep warm. My periods
stopped. My breasts melted back into my chest.
I said aloud to no one, “Soon I will be back in the womb.”
One morning, shivering, I threw off the blankets and
looked down at my perfectly articulated ribs, my
hips thrusting up from my flesh like axes,
the knobs of my knees, my pubis jutting up and hairless,
and I wept for myself.
Months after months of dreaming, drifting, then spring.
The yogurt and the fresh peanut butter Gonca had fed me
all winter helped my hair grow back.
Flickers of energy. One day the almond trees glowed pink
with flowers. The next day I saw two fawns. And the next
I put Gonca’s metal bowls in a filet and started slowly down
the steep path to her place. I stopped to poke at a baby snake
and smiled at the return of curiosity.
Then, halfway down the hill, I stumbled. To keep upright
I needed to take huge stepsand because of the steepnessfaster,
longer steps, and soon I was running downhill simply to keep
upright, running, pots and bowls clanging like a runaway
trolley, baby hair winging, so weightless, so light, so bodiless,
running, not running, flying down the hill without strength
or will to stop myself. Laughing and flying and feeling
my body borne along by its lightness, flying and clanging,
clanging and laughing, flying but in long lopes touching down,
returning to the pull of the earth,
clanging and laughing.
A WORD FROM THE UNIVERSE
October storm moving in,
blowing from the northeast
winds whipping the clouds to shreds,
the sun above a maroon horizon going down hard,
turning the beach road sycamores a blood red.
The small stilted houses on Russian Beach
flare as though burning from within.
Big gray waves shouldering in
pound the beach where the gulls
sit in groups, still as planted rocks
but for the neck feathers fluttering.
And me on the shore lashed by the wind,
straddle-legged, trying to stay upright,
spray and sand flaying my face.
My great happiness in my nothingness.
You, on your way to school, your books flung
in the bushes, stand as you have stood every morning
for a weekthough in different placeson the tracks
running from Providence through Pawtucket to Worcester,
waiting for the P&W, sensing its coming before you can
see it, the ties under your sneakers beginning so slightly
to shudder, the steel rails’ vibrations coming in little
shock waves, the weeds between the ties turning to their
long trembling. The sun glazes three sides of bits of
black coal to silver, and you watch as the 7:35 a mile away
explodes around the bend, headlight shining brighter than
the morning, whistle blasting the sleep from the homes
on each wrong side of the tracks, the engineer seeing again
the apparition he’s been seeing for a weeka too-thin boy,
arms by his side, chin up, a wraith with palomino hair.
The engineer leans way out, waving one arm and pulling
on the screaming whistle, and the engineer himself screaming,
a half mile, a quarter, a fifth, until you and he can now
see one another’s eyes, the engineer still trying to brake,
the wheels screeching, the couplings crashing, sparks,
steam, and the massive black hog moaning with effort,
and you still standing there waiting, relaxed looking
but fright and ecstasy washing around in your guts.
The fender comes into focus, the great headlight
beaming down, the heavy groan of the brakes, the red-faced
engineer screaming unheard, swearing, praying, his words
swallowed by the wheels. And two seconds before your death
you step off into the sloping gravel and grasses and roll away
from the sucking wall of wind, feeling the ground trembling
like a girl under your body, the cool of it, the linger of
the train’s whistle like a thin violin note coming from a far hill,
fading. Then that long silence after the train passes, where
you lie in the grass beside the tracks feeling the rush
ebb from your body as the grasses calm, and your breath calms,
and a small white butterfly flies in quavery loops
over the jimson weed.
In October, I took his ashes to the Sound.
I carried him jetty to jetty three miles to
Pleasure Beach where the deserted houses were,
where sands buried the front steps
and small boats lay down on their sides.
The only life around was the occasional odd rabbit or gull.
He had loved this little ghost town.
While he was dying, he would come here
and spend the day wandering.
He had called it “the vestibule to eternity’s ballroom.”
Then he’d grin.
I carried him this grey day down the single street
past the empty houses and cabins, their frayed curtains
drifting out of broken windows on a breeze,
lawn mowers and hammocks rusting on the lawns.
A child’s swing creaked in the wind and
from somewhere the faint tinkling of wind chimes.
Otherwise, all silence, all peace.
I carried him to where the road crumbled off into weed.
I carried him through the fields of beard grass and sedge
to where two huge radio towers rose up from scrub pines
to straddle the narrow peninsula in the harbor.
The towers’ red lights blinked softly in the fog.
It began to rain, but it was an October rain and warm.
I carried him across from the inlet side to the open Sound.
The rain was steady now,
the grey waves grinding in.
I was searching for a special place to leave him.
I tramped through hummocks of beach grass
and clumps of rusting beach plum. I examined
the cave under a crumbling basement. I looked
under the two granite benches on the bluff
and sat on one and looked out at the sea.
The rain came harder, and I was weeping,
it was so beautifulthe white feathered waves,
the rain, the wide and silvered skyand
it was so lonely.
I turned from the wind
and took him home.
He sat in the van watching the boats,
watching the egrets, watching the sky.
A black fly crept around the rim
of his plastic mug, ventured down the inside,
was caught in the beer foam, slid in.
“Shit,” the man said calmly. An observation.
He watched the fly battle the bubbles.
Eventually the foam subsided and the fly
swam in clear gold beer.
“Shit,” he said again. He watched it struggle
until finally it expired, flattened, floated
motionless on the gold.
The man was still.
After some time, he poked his finger in the beer
until the fly adhered. He brought it up on his
forefinger and laid it delicately on the dashboard.
He rummaged in the glove compartment for
packets of salt, opened them with his teeth,
poured the salt in a mound on the dead fly.
Then he sat back and watched the boats,
the egrets and the sky.
Two, three minutes passed. The man leaned forward,
gently he blew the salt away.
The fly, uncovered, staggered up, washed its face
with its two front legs, and flew shakily out the
window. “Shit,” the man said.
He turned the radio low, sat back.
He finished his beer.
Jim and Buddy, 1992
Early summer, night, the walk
across the flatlands pleasant,
wading through the tall grass,
our poles knocking our thighs
and an easing wind carrying
the smell of water from Lake Lillinonah.
We come to the cove, set our lanterns
on old tree roots by the shore,
thread cornmeal balls on hooks
(and eat somethe sweet boiled
honey dough good with beer),
and cast out into the black lake.
Not much talk, an easy hour
casting, sipping, listening to the lake’s
silence. Some early gnats, no moon
or carp yet.
Then Buddy says softly, urgently, “Look!”
At first I see some sparkings,
small red glints,
the way lantern light will catch
lake ripples and spark them back.
Then I see. Eyes. They glint
and disappear and glint again, three
pairs of eyes, ten, twenty, more come
swaying, zig-zagging on the water.
“Snakes,” Buddy whispers, and throws
a rock. I throw a rock. The snakes whip
and swirl, and the water swirls with them.
“Too many,” I say. “Not right,” says Buddy.
“This must be some special night,” he says.
We go on throwing rocks at the
silent churning in the water
until the night is taken up with snakes,
the lake is full of eyes, and boiling.
When the snakes, ribbons of yellow gleaming
on their thin, brown backs, begin writhing
up on shore, Buddy swears, “Goddamn!”
We grab our lanterns, poles and filleting knives,
leave the cornmeal balls for them,
stumble through the damp eel grass
feeling snakes seeping into our boots,
worming up beneath our pant legs,
dropping around our necks,
coiling in our armpits, slipping their tongues
in our earsvague, foul, remembered forms
we learned to fear long before
we learned to walk like men.
A white moon rocks out of a black crack
in the sky and we run hunched under its cold light
through the grass and hush of trees
all the way to the long winding road where
a half mile away a semi is growling from 4th to 3rd,
the cab all lit up with white and yellow lights
gay and comforting like town,
like church, like 7-Eleven.
We stand on the road’s edge and watch it come on,
loving the truck and the truck’s gold lights and
whatever the truck is hauling
and the lone truck driver
and the solid asphalt road.
to the top of the page