Perfume of the Desert
the tops of riverside trees are winding fast in a hazy
humid late morning sky. I got here as soon as I could.
Now it's a matter of recovery, of absorbing silence.
I just discovered someone I used to have a crush on
is dating again. I know I don't stand a chance, not now,
probably never, so I don't imagine I'll even try. That steam
is fished out. But you can't help thinking. Roving rivers
of blind memory. In Arabic there's a word for the kind
of memory that comes over you sudden, a full bodied
kind of memory, and you relive a moment you'd forgotten,
or tried to. It's called the demanding memory. It demands
of you what self you are able to give. This morning is like
a sough in the thicket alongside a northern summer
gravel road. I can smell dirt dust in the air. I have no hope
of ever unraveling these ties that blind. People you like
seem to linger at the edges of your life, while people you
love seem either at the center of the radar scan, or completely
absent. An either/or of magnificent endurance. People
I don't like very much gather like a traffic jam where
one should never happen, small streets by a small lake in
a small town. Usually it's just about rubbernecking the latest
disaster, not because anything durable has happened.
We're all mayflies in the wind, after all. It's the end
of wisdom, at the end of life, that leaves you gasping,
a fish out of water, on the steps of a rickety wooden porch
somewhere no one knows who you are, I could die here,
and no one would know. That last thought before you do.
What we hate lingers so long because it's just pickled love
gone sour. Given an inkling of hopeful chance, we'd love it
again, and walk placid as wild turkeys towards doom.
A yearning for that shirt hike from desert to oblivion.
The slow motion violence of those cloudless trees
becomes this backdrop for self-flagellating melancholy.
How can I move forward when everyone wants to drag
me back down into the mud. Solace comes from ignoring
people and talking with redbirds. Even though it rained
hard these last few days, I sniff a tang of alkali dust
in air blown all the way from Nevada to Lake Michigan.
No wind strong enough to scrub it loose. Tang of dead cities,
eroded metals pooled in temporary lakes that lead to no ocean.
I've lost all ability to tell potential lovers what they do to me.
I'll settle for these crumbs from the sidelines. You lose the desire
to risk when rejection is inevitable. Small consolations of
higher forms of love, spiritual, intellectual, distant, worshipful,
the perfume of the desert, either tang or memory of tang, a cup
long drunk, long hungover, long regrets in echoes of a breeze
combing its fingers through hair of trees. Such hard work to resist
this sudden pathetic wail that comes over you with its
demanding memory. I haven't got much left to offer anyway.
The safest muse is the distant one, the muse you watch from afar,
the one that doesn't threaten immolation, moth wing to candle
bright as fusion, soaring in too close. I'll keep my distance,
lessons burned. Let's rename all these birds, give those green
tall stands which brush the wind a new name, a heartwood name.
In my distraction I ignore how solitude becomes a habit,
you have to work up the courage to say hello. People go
to church and nightclubs less for the worship than to meet
each other. If they took their shirts off to dance in church,
that's a religion I could follow. Sweat and wine flung
everywhere. I don't have any conclusions, I just watch
from the sidelines as usual. Once earlier in life I fell
into an abyss, not only of despair, so these latest rituals
of affiliation and desire seem pale to my roving jurist eye.
I'm told you're supposed to feel more alive when you're
near the flame of love, but my wings keep getting burned.
I plummet. I can't afford to fall back in worship with one
who never noticed the first time around. I have no fear
of immolation, I've been a phoenix here before. No,
what I fear is so much more red. When I get on the dance
floor it tends to summon darkness. Memories demanding
sharp as knives remind me how blunt instruments rise
from corner shadows whenever I let loose. Once again
I'm a wallflower at the dance, sore feet notwithstanding,
not because I fear the flame. I'm immunized by being burned.
Once again what I most fear lies in myself. That power
that smolders, deep within, that makes them all
turn pale and flee. A brooding volcano nothing can erode,
fire in the mountain's throat. It's when they realize
I'm not the moth, they're not the fire, that they retreat.
I've tried to civilize this inner mounting flame, to no avail.
I guess I'll always be in shadow, not in the spotlights.
I'll leave behind a stink of burning stone, dust
in the wind. I'll leave a mark along a trail, a maze
to master if you can. An ugly milkweed where there should
be cactus. Stand on the ridgeline, take in blue air
hazed with wind and distance, its scent of dry lake dust.
Bitter grit on tongue, nose full of rocks. Sweet memory
of cornflower. No, I won't try to follow you again. I'll live
alone and learn to like it. I'll never go back to that
village, not where the long boys gather in gloom
of dusk to preen their feathers and firedance. I'll let
my lungs be satisfied with gypsum, salt, and terror.
I'll salve your fear of wildness with such easy lies.
I'll make a bonfire with my heart, and dance alone
beneath such alien stars. My home's this heaven
haven where the sparks fly loose as wind in trees,
where none can hear me sing.