(for Michael Wilson (1985–) and Jacob Windsor (1975–1992)
Michael, heaven’s minion, pillar of light,
my child of iron will, golden enthusiasm,
and more iron will, it isn’t fair
the parts are always smaller, more cramped,
directions more complicated
than the picture on the box flirting
with you to open it, and finger
the miraculous magic rocks
that grow under water in minutes
exclamation point included—
the poisonous stuff that can burn holes
in hands, eyes, and face has to sit in
the shrivelled plastic tank for hours
and then be poured out, and poured in again,
that they lied on the box, it’s much harder
and more dangerous than it says (that today
I can’t or won’t risk him to these
possibilities waiting to pluck
each breath like an unsuspecting blossom—)
“—you mean it’s like acid,” he said,
and his eyes got wide and respectful,
boy scientist resigned to facts.
For now, he’d let his wish be a nautilus
curled in on itself, sleeping, furled into
the dewy, fleeting seed of what we dream.
When the downstairs phone jack
in our new apartment was dead,
the GTE man was all sparkles
as he worked, he was diamonds and rubies
against the iron grey sky pressing us
into the land. His arms and chest were
studded with jewels no one else could see:
all his unseen kindnesses decorated him
like treasure. He stood shining in the door
on my landing in this place so empty
of ocean, northern Idaho,
strange river of wheat, and tossed me
a Kirlian beam bright as a blood orange,
a deep flame red desire to see Elk River Falls.
The next Sunday I cried when the forest
sprung up around us I was so glad
to see these trees, have a picnic waiting
somewhere ahead of us. Michael scrunched up
his nose and said, “Mom, you’re weird,” but buried
a smile in his sweatshirt. I tickled him softly,
and he laughed bright bells and honey. Our tires popped
the gravel like corn when we were stopped.
“The Falls are closed,” said the ranger,
saddened and boy-like himself, blond like
Michael, Michael twenty years from now,
hands stuck on his belt like an extra pair.
They were searching the lower pool
for a teenager who slipped on the rocks.
They had been diving a long time,
long enough to send his mother home.
Michael’s questions and my answer would spiral
through sunlight and dust in our afternoon
crawling up gravel roads, and rest
with us in the shade of ancient cedars
where he poked open bright red mulch
with a stick, where all around us life was
falling away and beginning again.
He lay on his stomach, pushed
chips of cedar into the tiny rivulet of creek,
said it was sad the boy died. In this sanctuary
I reached back to where I had been,
saw things without my eyes again,
cities like scars sewn into the earth,
the stitches of fields, threads of smoke
dangling from fires. Beyond that the ocean,
sultry waves, like mermaids lapping at rocks,
blue lips parted to take everything
into gestation or potential, erase
what is separate. I felt the wet sand
under my feet back home, traces of black silt
fanning out under me and returning.
I was alive, I was alive, so for
an instant I didn’t care about death,
I could see myself leap up over the pattern
of waves and watch my body be taken back.
I would be pink, without desire, or longing,
looking back on the factory of Earth
at a carefree and wistful distance.
On that same ledge in my mind I saw
the boy Jacob whose name I didn’t yet
know, asking me what happened,
asking me to help him see.
A full moon was there under the lid
of noonday sun, trolling the sign of two fish,
one fighting upstream, one drifting down,
away from distinction and the nuisance of form,
their dance, for an instant, pulling open
the difference between my life and his death.
Sometimes my hands and fingers
fan out in dark air so much like water,
twist and display as if they were tail feathers.
I can’t stop them, and don’t want to.
They bring me something or someone
I can’t see who helps me weave
the new shape of my thoughts
with courage to live each minute.
The soft velvet saving old silver is theirs.
Once the lights passing through the car window
from the other side of the bay
fell away like glitter or sparks off diamonds,
emerging and receding back into a mountain
of black coal. It was very early morning,
the incipient time, no fog yet
to mask why everything is so vast and quiet
and beautiful, distilled to the dark
back of the land and its two familiars, black night
and black ocean. Even the stars
seemed to be ornaments, afterthoughts,
or perhaps accessories to this power
I drove over and through and toward.
Underneath the black water that
deep, cold pool was still. I could see
the colors of Jacob’s life fly out and seem solid,
plumes of green, red and violet from his body
hitting against the dark
like the northern lights bounce against the sky
as if it were solid and did not go on forever.
When anything out there moves toward
the pull of Earth, it wants to do something,
go faster than light, but it can’t
so it becomes the edge of what’s allowed,
a reminder of something that doesn’t know
how to slow down and still be itself,
which is what we are, too, light held in a body,
anxious, full of desire we don’t understand
to burst through this snarled tangle of elements
and time, shine, and disappear without regret.
Yet we are not the only shaking clay;
an earthquake can throttle groundwater
at a fault line into a froth of tiny, frantic bubbles
imploding themselves, cracking open
each molecule’s core to loot beams of light.
For a brief, eerie interval,
infinitesimal Earth is her unbounded
opposite, sky, insisting she was lit,
then forged from the fire of a star.
Did his body come open like a magic rock?
Did the Falls rush into him as he gave
his breathing to their watery tendrils,
passing through the exhilaration of
his last step, his willingness
to crest the top of his life?
Did he pour through the gap,
and there it was, nothing we can usually see,
holding him in fiery arms,
taking up the space that was his,
wrenching from the clumsiness
of his body a brilliant grace?
Jacob, we found your name in the paper.
I saw the funeral. I saw who loved you,
watched them lean above the ground opened up.
Your brother, your father, your mother, each friend.
They honor you. Your memory is the anvil
on which each future is forged separately,
made common by the black surface of
your absence shaping the rest of their days,
the ping of hammer against it a pain bending iron
that must be bent if all horses of human desire
are to gallop on without you. Let them ride.
Trust me when I say you’ve gone
from the density of one against the other.
Go to that brightness wrenched out of you
under water, climb its shimmering ladder,
don’t look back, don’t wait.