If not for the ship’s hull liquoring
light, the day’s bent edge, the arc
of a traitorous thought, if not for thresh
and thrash in my blood like a thousand bells, then
anise and white silk would lay us down,
then we would lick the scene
as a tomcat preens its belly, static-struck and pure
attention bent to slipknot
the way a greenbottle fly
alights on a grain of rice. How to bind up, meddle, knit
bone and potsherd to their scab of noon? How else
to quench and stutter down (icy cloud-spur,
splint of rain) the carcasses we spatchcock,
swaddle, eat? In the sunburned plaza women sell their wares:
votive papers, coffins, and red thread. Children
shout from crevices and grease from many fingers
smuts the wall. As it is written
none may know the hour. For a long time
there is only waking up: the little
heap of salt, the broken pot. Then a tinny
warble in the throat. Cooking oil tendrils up
as incense in the temple sucks its coal. How to carry. Heave
and heave. How to stitch the breath.
Where wallets and torn flip-flops clot the beach
as each day’s crushed trucks wash in on the tide.
Shoeleather burns on the trash-heap
and another acrid smell
of diesel fuel and rubber, sour fruit—
sinks among the banyan trees and monks
whose saffron chant can’t enter us
your body dense with suffering and lymph
as mine is, and we do not read
the script in which some solace may be writ.
The market offers up its carts of roasted fish, stalls
of lemon and lychee, splintered bowl
and tongue. Here all the steps we take are loops
threading us to traffic, tuk-tuk, sky—
whatever licks or steadies us, horizon’s silver rail
leading us backward, sticks of joss
lit in the levening stench, in the evening haze.
“Grief Street” is from Undertow (Persea Books, 2007).