Assignment to myself: Just tell it, in 14 lines.
The concubine of the underworld is expecting. Up above
we hold our breath with shivery fascination. She might deliver
at any time, any place, and in multiples. The very instant she
pirouettes west, a state-of-the-art hazard team will rush to the
scene—stifled in moon suits, standing back from her sweaty thighs
they’ll watch aghast as the newborn slips from its poisonous caul
into our midst. Though the infant’s isolation will be scrupulous,
the medical team will be sweating bullets. Because we are
linked, like paper dolls in a flammable chain of contagion
and death, the virus, a monster of pure chemistry, provokes in me
a feeling almost tender. Unlike the drone, dispatched from
a U.S. Air Force base to take out a terrorist target in Afghanistan,
or the hooded assassin raising a hatchet over a bowed head,
Ebola welcomes everyone equally into her fast embrace.
Salesman in rearview mirror answers your questions
in slumped singsong. “Overdrive is automatic with
this transmission.” Cumulus clouds roll like whales
over the mountains. He might be driving your cabriolet,
reins slack, dozing behind the dray horses. He might
be the maestro conducting Mahler, waiting for you
in your stiff tux, to chime in with the cymbals.
He could be your stockbroker, talking you through
your hysterical order to sell everything. Or graduate student
in quantum physics waiting your table, tamping down
his impatience—What’s so bloody complicated?
He might be the sexy orderly bending over your bedpan.
Or one of your pallbearers, thinking of afterwards—whiskey
swilled from coffee mugs with diehards in the kitchen.
Swimming with Yeats
Swimsuit tugged up to hipbones, you check yourself out
in the dressing room mirror: breasts lifted in speckled hands,
skin like a prairie, body an attic cluttered with old clocks.
Plunge into aqueous swirl where sound is ascendent.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre . . . by lap 8 or 9
the beast is moving its slow thighs, while all about it reel . . .
Flip on your back and start the poem again. Another
century of stony sleep has nearly expired. “After you read
all them books," zen poet Philip Whalen wrote, “what do you
know that you didn’t know before?” Christ, what a mess,
windup humans hacking away at the earth and each other--
we haven’t learned to love. And what rough beast, its hour
come round at last . . .? In the savage wake of our rampage,
surely the earth's body will reconfigure.