Death does not choose you at random.
It approaches at your pace, rumbling
downhill or floating in the air,
debris or dandelion fluff,
concealed yet evident.
Listen: a small cloud bumps another,
merging into one larger being —
can you hear its ecstasies?
All the world’s souls, gathered.
An editor said never start a poem at a window,
so instead I’m looking at the door,
which is made of glass. We are to avoid rain,
too, but it streaks the pane in such delicious
patterns that I can’t help but pretend to be someone else
in a foreign city, perhaps Helsinki, sipping black coffee
with a mysterious woman younger than my daughter
(who also does not exist), whose interests
in me are purely literary, although she straightens
my collar with lingering, scented fingers. Garden
memories and birds must never populate our lines,
but corpses are fine, as are tube tops and bananas
and any combination thereof. I finish my coffee
and wander alone through cobblestone streets,
stepping over clichés when possible, kicking them
aside when my hip joint argues, or simply accepting
their useful limitations when nothing else works.
Unknown and lacking credentials, I shrug, go on
past the closed doors behind which unseen bodies
perform the most bizarre and sensual solo dances,
or not, and shadows cook sausages over fire
and the grease spattering onto the tiled counters
issues a fragrance that awakens neighborhood dogs
and maybe a dozing stall-keeper at the market
where cloudberries are sometimes found.
I know little of Finland, and less of myself,
and then there’s poetry, which remains a blank
frame, a frosted pane I’ll never truly unlatch.
* * *
My poem “Helsinki” was first published at Panoply. It was inspired in part by a Facebook thread on which editors commented on what caused them to instantly reject poems. One said beginning a poem at a window was cause for rejection. Hence the first line.
we preside, finding
comfort in failure. Or does
the subjugation of one’s flavor for another’s
define defeat? The bitter, the sour, the sweet
attract and repel
like lovers separated by distances
too subtle to see.
Filling space becomes the end.
What do you learn when you look through the glass?
Knowing my fate, I say fallen. I say earth.
Ah, simplicity! When I was a child my mother would occasionally serve rice balls in which a single mouth-puckering umeboshi rested at the center. These have long been a favorite, but I admit that umeboshi might be an acquired taste. Commonly called “pickled plums,” ume aren’t really plums but are more closely related to apricots. I cherish them.