Consequences never enter your thinking | at the start. ~ Herbert Morris, from “River Road”

Australian Coast by kangotraveler FCC
Australian Coast by kangotraveler (FCC)

Two for Tuesday: Herbert Morris

Thinking of Darwin

Were it not for that photograph,
disaster in its final stages,
matchbox houses coming down,
rubble of streets, uprooted trees,
lives we somehow could not envision,
removed from us and not our own,
on distant coasts the fall of night,
we might never have thought of Darwin,
remembered what we had forgotten,
nothing but desert at our backs,
somewhere the light gone grey, gone green,
the very texture of the air
evoking strangeness in us, distance,
deepwater harbor on the rim
of an island whose aspirations,
despite itself, assume proportions
hemispheric, continental,
set adrift in uncharted waters
where a wind from the Timor Sea
smacks of Celebes, of Java,
celebrates archipelagoes
for which no names have been devised,
where rain runs green, and rocks dream gold,
where every morning, on our tongues,
we taste the raging of the dust
gathering at abandoned stations
and know, or come to know, the life,
the littoral on which we wait,
though not yet clearly its true name,
not precisely its purpose with us;
where, naked, night to night, inventing
names for our nakedness, we lie
suspended under the Equator
between the wastes of self and weather,
trying to learn ourselves, our names,
what to make of this emptiness,
this sense of absence which afflicts us,
forgetting what we must remember,
the great Australian coast spun out
beyond our scrutiny in shales,
corals, limestones, salt scrub, sand,
discovery at every turn
and, this far south, no turning back,
latitudes of impossible
dimensions bleaching the horizon,
mapping what will not quite stay mapped,
nothing but desert at our backs,
nothing but darkness to advance on,
night on the routes that enter strangeness
more dangerously, in the evening,
than we can bring ourselves to say,
darkness and an interior
for which, of course, there is no name
except, unmapped, unknown, ourselves.


Junkyard Still Life by radmegan fcc
Junkyard Still Life by radmegan (FCC)

These Are Lives

One could as well have chosen
that life of supermarket carts
junked in the backyard,
where you stand and wait
with your mechanic’s hands
and a bare chest
in summer, light
behind you jammed into the picture,
its code undecipherable
even by the camera,
so steep and dense its
dreaming smeared on the warped
boards of the toolshed, makeshift
cinder path, and what once must have been
grass of a lawn now given way
to automobile parts and that complication
of wreckage, brutal and casual
at once, whose talent it is to attach
itself to us in California
or to those lives in other places
we accede to.

Where evening finds us
I cannot name yet; these are lives
best seen, or dreamt, beneath that sun
of backyard chaos
and indeterminate nourishing power,
that sun of rusting crankshafts,
of beached headlights, where you wait
for what shall not be named yet in this poem,

where evening finds us,
should it find us,
on a second-hand mattress whose bent springs
jangle when the wind lies right,
those mechanic’s hands
to small avail
against the infinite
machine turning
the stars on over California,
the dark no doubt insisting moonlight
color chaos silver soon in backlots
where supermarket carts
and auto bodies
await, if we are gifted,
restoration at our hands
(and we are gifted),
we who, beneath that daylight etched
like anniversaries on the calendar
nailed to the toolshed wall,
wait for what has not disclosed its name,
neither in California
nor in this life of bleached,
unlikely places.


Music by Rachel Rabin, “Raise the Dead”