Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.
Excerpt: The Shape Of The Journey
Form is the woods: the beast, a bobcat padding through red sumac, the pheasant in brake or goldenrod that he stalks — both rise to the flush, the brieflow flutter and catch in air; and trees, rich green, the moving of boughs and the separate leaf, yield to conclusions they do not care about or watch — the dead, frayed bird, the beautiful plumage, the spoor of feathers and slight, pink bones.
SKETCH FOR A JOB-APPLICATION BLANK
My left eye is blind and jogs like a milky sparrow in its socket; my nose is large and never flares in anger, the front teeth, bucked, but not in lechery — I sucked my thumb until the age of twelve. O my youth was happy and I was never lonely though my friends called me "pig eye" and the teachers thought me loony.
(When I bruised, my psyche kept intact: I fell from horses, and once a cow but never pigs — a neighbor lost a hand to a sow.)
But I had some fears: the salesman of eyes, his case was full of fishy baubles, against black velvet, jeweled gore, the great cocked hoof of a Belgian mare, a nest of milk snakes by the water trough, electric fences, my uncle's hounds, the pump arm of an oil well, the chop and whir of a combine in the sun.
From my ancestors, the Swedes, I suppose I inherit the love of rainy woods, kegs of herring and neat whiskey — I remember long nights of pinochle, the bulge of Redman in my grandpa's cheek;
the rug smelled of manure and kerosene. They laughed loudly and didn't speak for days.
(But on the other side, from the German Mennonites, their rag-smoke prayers and porky daughters I got intolerance, and aimless diligence.)
In '51 during a revival I was saved: I prayed on a cold register for hours and woke up lame. I was baptized by immersion in the tank at Williamston — the rusty water stung my eyes. I left oft the old things of the flesh but not for long — one night beside a pond she dried my feet with her yellow hair.
O actual event dead quotient cross become green
I still love Jubal but pity Hagar.
(Now self is the first sacrament who loves not the misery and taint of the present tense is lost. I strain for a lunar arrogance.
Light macerates the lamp infects
warmth, more warmth, I cry.)
He is young. The father is dead. Outside, a cold November night, the mourners' cars are parked upon the lawn; beneath the porch light three brothers talk to three sons and shiver without knowing it. His mind's all black thickets and blood; he knows flesh slips quietly oft the bone, he knows no last looks, that among the profusion of flowers the lid is closed to hide what no one could bear — that metal rends the flesh, he knows beneath the white-pointed creatures, stars, that in the distant talk of brothers, the father is dead.
Hear this touch: grass parts for the snake, in furrows soil curves around itself, a rock topples into a lake, roused organs, fur against cloth, arms unfold, at the edge of a clearing fire selects new wood.
A SEQUENCE OF WOMEN
I've known her too long: we devour as two mirrors, opposed, swallow each other a thousand times at midpoints, lost in the black center of the other.
She sits on the bed, breasts slack, watching a curl of dust float through a ray of sun, drift down to a corner. So brief this meeting with a strange child — Do I want to be remembered? Only as a mare might know the body of her rider, the pressure of legs unlike any other.
The girl who was once my mistress is dead now, I learn, in childbirth. I thought that long ago women ceased dying this way.
To set records straight, our enmity relaxes, I wrote a verse for her — to dole her by pieces, ring finger and lock of hair.
But I'm a poor Midas to turn her golden, to make a Helen, grand whore, of this graceless girl; the sparrow that died was only a sparrow:
Though in the dark, she doesn't sleep. On cushions, embraced by silk, no lover comes to her. In the first light when birds stir she does not stir or sing. Oh eyes can't focus to this dark.
On this back road the land has the juice taken out of it:
stump fences surround nothing worth their tearing down
by a deserted filling station a Veedol sign, the rusted hulk
of a Frazer, "live bait" on battered tin.
A barn with half a tobacco ad owns the greenness of a manure pile
a half-moon on a privy door a rope swinging from an elm. A
collapsed henhouse, a pump with the handle up
the orchard with wild tangled branches.
* * *
In the far corner of the pasture, in the shadow of the woodlot a herd of twenty deer: three bucks
are showing off — they jump in turn across the fence, flanks arch and twist to get higher in the twilight as the last light filters through the woods.
RETURNING AT NIGHT
Returning at night
there's a catalpa moth in the barberry
on the table the flowers left alone turned black
in the root cellar the potato sprouts creeping through the door glisten white and tubular in the third phase of the moon.
FAIR/BOY CHRISTIAN TAKES A BREAK
This other speaks of bones, blood-wet and limber, the rock in bodies. He takes me to the slaughterhouse, where lying sprawled, as a giant coil of rope, the bowels of cattle. At the county fair we pay an extra quarter to see the hermaphrodite. We watch the secret air tube blow up the skirts of the farm girls, tanned to the knees then strangely white. We eat spareribs and pickled eggs, the horses tear the ground to pull a load of stone; in a burning tent we see Fantasia do her Love Dance with the Spaniard — they glisten with sweat, their limbs knot together while below them farm boys twitter like birds. Then the breasts of a huge Negress rotate to a march in opposing directions, and everyone stamps and cheers, the udders shine in blurring speed. Out of the tent we pass produce stalls, some hung with ribbons, squash and potatoes stacked in pyramids. A buck-toothed girl cuts her honorable-mention cake; when she leans to get me water from a milk pail her breasts are chaste. Through the evening I sit in the car (the other is gone) while my father watches the harness race, the 4-H talent show. I think of St. Paul's Epistles and pray the removal of what my troubled eyes have seen.
The mirror tastes him breath clouds hands pressed against glass
in yellow morning light a jay flutters in unaccustomed silence from bush to limb of elm
a cow at breakfast pauses her jaws lax in momentary stillness
far off a milk truck rattles on the section road
light low mist floats over the buckwheat through the orchard
the neighbor's dogs bark then four roosters announce day.
Great-uncle Wilhelm, Mennonite, patriarch, eater of blood sausage, leeks, headcheese, salt pork, you are led into church by that wisp you plundered for nine children. Your brain has sugared now, your white beard is limp, you talk of acres of corn where there is only snow. Your sister, a witch, old as a stump, says you are punished now for the unspeakable sin that barred you from the table for seven years. They feed you cake to hasten your death. Your land is divided. Curse them but don't die.