From Even Further West
When the telephone first came to our upcountry farm in Kula,
there was only one wire. The numbers were a digit different,
but it was the same line. When anybody’s rang, ours rang
in the kitchen, and so rang the receivers in every other house.
No matter what somebody said, anybody could be listening,
and everybody knew it, so nobody ever said anything important
or personal on the phone. Phones were public like a restroom
or a library is public. If the words were private, they were taken
outside or penned. Nobody ever called anybody for no reason,
and conversations were short. Before the telephone, we lived
alone where we couldn’t even see the neighbors’ lights at night,
but the wires shrunk the world. No longer was there anywhere
you knew anybody you couldn’t call anymore. So we called.
Whenever we picked up the phone, there were voices in the line.
A Boat of Bones
I’m on the beach, building a boat of bones, the long ones
from legs and arms, stripped of meat, slick and shiny,
as white as the sand where I kneel. I lash the bones
with sun-bleached twine, yellow rope, and a black cord
braided from torn strands of seaweed abandoned by tides.
I wish I was alone, but the poet squats beneath a palm,
his precious pages on his knee, scribbling literature
and telling me how to build a boat of bones. I don’t listen
as he mumbles through blistered lips words I’m thankful
not to hear. Yesterday, he said, “One builds a boat as he
builds a poem, stave by stave.” That means nothing to me.
I’m building a boat of bones, but I’m not caulking gaps,
for there is no caulk but damp sand, and this boat is built
to sink, not to sail. I’m hungry, he’s hungry, and he’s sick,
and we’re both sick of fish. His eyes are sunk in his skull,
and seared red flesh burns through tears in his sleeves.
I’m building a boat of bones as I scan the horizon, stranded
with a babbler in rags who scratches verse in dim lines
on moldy pages, writing poetry with seawater and a stick.
“That boat is not worthy of the sea,” he says, and he means
the boat will never float. Surf nearly drowns his voice,
but not quite. I’m building a boat of bones, and the last
I lash to the stern will be the poet’s bones. Then, I’ll drag
the boat through dunes, set the keel on the sea, thrust the bow
forward on a foam of broken waves. The boat will become
its own anchor and sink like one. I’m building a boat
of bones for the long voyage into the depths between me
and where I wish I was. The last of the boat I see will be
the poet’s bones, flickering white, blue, gone, as the boat
sounds the fathoms I alone escaped. I’m building a boat
of bones, and when that craft sinks, the poet will be gone.
I’ll sit silent on the sand and watch the empty sea for sails.
Five Planets at Once
“Come on outside,” he said. “Tonight,
you can see five planets at once.”
He was grinning, with the sort of secret a brother keeps.
“There’s no moon. They should be easy to see.”
In the field, eye-deep in the night, he pointed into the dark.
“The big white one up there is Jupiter. Some people can see
three or four moons without a telescope.
That butter-colored one is Saturn.”
“There’s Mars. It’s a little faint, but if you look hard,
you can see the red color.
The brilliant one right over the mountain is Venus.”
Then, he was silent. We stared together at a sky glowing
with the other worlds ringing our sun.
Wind and small animals rustled in the grass.
“Hey,” I said, “I thought you said we could see five planets.”
“Well, look. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Venus is only four.”
I could hear the smile in his voice. I thought for a moment,
but not long enough. “So what’s the other one?”
He chuckled, and said, “Earth.”