Jennifer Kwon Dobbs

Elegy for Daniel

After the bullet discharges through the tunnel of his mouth,
after it shatters
the Oklahoma evening, rips through ragweed & across many rivers,
my apartment in Pittsburgh,
the metal clips my arm, slams into a plaster wall,
& the silence is his
body slackening & the black fact of the gun underwater.
I compress my wound, as his ghost kneels beside his body,
the bathtub, &
as his ghost draws the shower curtain back,
I look away. No, I don’t want to know his secrets, why
surer hands will tag, bag as evidence.
He is a poet. He makes the difficult question of speaking
a matter of remembering
how he shouted the poems he loved.
His workshop outbursts were “pure country.” Yes, rumors circulated,
how vets suffer
medication, what he saw as a S.E.A.L., how weird,
& no one could stand
the belabored way he read aloud,
& I said all the above & more, & to his face
when no one was around, when he finally caught on,
I asked him, ‘Why are you quieter? I’ve noticed, & it scares me.’
Even now I’m busy with details, the dirty work of gathering.
Here’s rosemary & some pansies, that’s for thoughts
rambled to me one Fall afternoon, Cathedral of Learning,
how Komunyakaa showed him a way to anchor a moment
between stillness & approach
turning tenderly toward tall grass or a woman’s wet hair to braid,
or how it could lock arms with an enemy,
lose to an overwhelming grasp or listen to the dying
echo of paradise birds singing
so much gibberish, as if a whole life could be reduced to one image
dangling from a fist & engraved with a number,
as if a poem wants only to be identified upon delivery,
which was why Daniel read Blake,
Calvino, & Crane for fire & crystal, why he shut himself up
with Bishop, why Stern’s huge breath,
why Oppen, Tu Fu & Paz. Lewis & Vollmer mattered
for their generosities, lines layered like the earth
in his face,
the reds & browns of his voice deepening to what he pursued,
half-formed in haze
& burrowing underneath to avoid tripwire, & Daniel yelling as he
plunged after its gray, disappearing shape.
I listen to his ghost pace the hallway as if barefoot across dirt,
fronds like unfurled scrolls, rustle.
Root scent & rainfall stains his cheeks with welcome, risk.
He has walked far to finish this conversation between us.
He brushes against the wood, taps the doorknob trying to explain
the jagged web of cracks in my wall,
hot metal at the center like a labyrinth chamber
or the slick tip of a widow
hunched over & spinning a bundle or the pure ore from a journey
toward sublimation, a soul’s treasure,
or the soul, itself, lodged in a network & inconsolable
because wings never guaranteed perfect pitch.
Daniel, the scar on my arm fades as I read your poems again,
& the maps you drew
time spackles over for a move out west.
The twenty that someone taped to my office desk for flowers
remains unspent,
a bookmarker for a Ramses biography.
I tried. I couldn’t find your permanent address.
Daniel, the news today proclaims disaster, code orange to survive
for tomorrow’s headline
that you were right could, at any moment, slip under a thicket,
emerge skittish beside a pile of leaves,
its long gray nose & black eyes focused on your movements.
How you wrote it down, my friend, held it
in the starless night
& gave it pink fingers with which to scratch back.

Jennifer Kwon Dobbs
“Elegy for Daniel” is from Paper Pavilion (White Pine Press 2007).