I was wrong about oblivion then,
summer mornings we walked the logging roads
north of Laverne, the gypo trucks leaving miles of gravel dust
eddying around us. You were the Queen of Iron
and I, the servant Barcelona. The slash-pile
we tunneled through was the Whale’s Mouth,
our kingdom. Jake-brakes sounded the death-cries
of approaching armies as they screamed over the ridge
where we held our little breaths and each other,
passing the spell of invisibility between us.
Five years later, you brought your father’s
hunting knife to school and stabbed Danielle Carson
in the hip and I never saw you again.
I could say I left town for both of us, that I drove I-5 South
until I reached the aqueducts of California,
and for the first time felt illuminated before the sight
of water as it rushed beneath the massive turbines
spinning on the beige and dusty hills, powering a distant city
that would set me free. I could say
after your father covered the plastic bladder
of his waterbed with baby oil and wrestled you to it,
that in those days after your pregnancy I made plans
to drive a claw hammer into his skull. But I never left,
and when I moved it was only as far as the county line.
If my life has been a series of inadequacies, at least I know
by these great whirls of dust how beauty
and oblivion never ask permission of anyone.
In the book I read before bed, God lowers himself
through the dark and funnels his blueprints into the ear
of a woman who asked for nothing. Tomorrow night
she’ll lead armies, in a few more she’ll burn at the stake
and silver birds will rise from her mouth. This is the book
of the universe, where iron is the last element
of a star’s collapse and the moon retreats each moment
into oblivion. My blood fills with so much iron I’m pulled
to a place in the hard earth where the wind
grinds over the ridge bearing the wheels of tanker trucks
oiling the access roads, where deer ruin the last of the plums,
where the sloughs shrink back to their deepest channels,
and I can turn away from nothing.
Iron first appeared in Northwest Review, Winter 2006.
Poem, copyright © Michael McGriff, 2005
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse