Two Poems

Poetry / Richard Jackson

Spooky Action at a Distance: an Elegy

Franz Wright 1953–2015

That woman, olive army jacket loose over her Salvation Army
skirt, has coaxed her shopping cart towards whatever life
the morning might bring. A few blackbirds are still trying
to deny the dawn. A dragonfly stops mid-air to imagine
a life beyond this one, then darts away as if to forget it.
Isn’t that bee trying to sip from the soda can a bit pretentious?
The woman’s dreams are bottomless. How does the woodpecker
know where to strike next? How does one distant atom know
what the other is doing? How does the wind that has come
such a long way know which windows to rattle? The stars have
already dissolved. Our dreams are locked under eyelids.
The distant mountains appear like hedges. The pale moon is
humbled. Birds celebrate the fact of air. Franz would know that
God sits around the fire under the overpass with the other migrant
workers. Their souls are made of blood. Anything that’s anything
seems out of reach. If only he could supply their papers. If only
the day delivered on its promises. Eternity’s mirror reflects us all.
It doesn’t matter that the skywriter’s message is already tattered.
A truck jackknifes. A train totters off the tracks. The woman knows
more than we do about pilgrimage. The workers know which
prayers are real and which aren’t. The long narrow streaks of cloud
stretch towards the horizon as if some giant hand had reached
up from the earth and scratched the sky trying to get out.

The Secrets of Imagination

I imagined you said the cicadas, afraid we would overhear
their secrets, stop as we approach. I imagined you said
they are planning, as Plato thought, our future. I was, sorry,
prying, like those doctors in 1822 who examined the insides
of Alexis St Martin through the bullet wound in his stomach
that healed with a permanent opening. We are such mysteries
to ourselves. Tonight a few orphaned stars announce themselves
again. A straggling cloud loses its way behind the trees.
How often our own dreams struggle against gravity. I imagined
the man who’ll clean the park in the morning collecting scraps
of paper out of which he invents the story of his life. He too
looks through the world we know to the world we don’t know.
I imagined the five dimensional world the scientists say cloaks ours
so that we can never really measure what we see. This morning
I surprised two raccoons who turned and disappeared back
towards the mulch pile. A moment later the mother dashed out
from hiding in the bushes when I passed out of range. The air
seemed to hold, and then dissolve, her presence. But tonight
the moon seems reluctant to reveal anything. The usual dusk
light is dismissive. A streetlight flickers. A vapor trail breaks up
on the first stars. I imagine the cicadas say one thing to us,
another to themselves. I can’t imagine how many worlds
lie between what we don’t say and what we do. I don’t know
what happens to all those memories we hold. I imagine they linger
in the places we have been. Where the raccoons disappeared
soldiers fled a battle on the ridge a hundred and fifty years ago
leaving behind not only buttons and buckles for metal detectors
but their spirits that haunt the woods. Or their dreams are fossils.
Now a trellis of sounds hovers over us again. In Sansepolcro
the eyes in Pierro della Francesca’s Resurrection of Christ tracked
us wherever we stood in the gallery. It was as if we were urged
to invent another life than what we knew. From where we stand now
our own lives watch us from the shadows that perch among the trees.
Whatever they say is said in the language of flickering leaves.
Tomorrow the raccoons will know to keep together. It was just
a failure of imagination. The cicadas know everything we failed to love
tells us what we need to love. It is the secret we all share beyond words.
Or this: we carry inside us a hidden life that we hold only to share,
like the dove the man trying to cross the border in Texas kept
in his pocket, saying, when captured, it was for luck, and from love.

Richard Jackson has published over twenty books including thirteen books of poems, most recently Traversings (with Robert Vivian) from Anchor and Plume and Retrievals (C&R Press, Maxine Kumin Award winner). He has received Guggenheim, NEA, NEH, and two Witter-Bynner fellowships and is the winner of five Pushcart Prizes. He has been teaching at the Iowa Summer Festival, The Prague Summer Workshops, and regularly at UT-Chattanooga (since 1976), where he founded and directs the Meacham Writers’ Conference.