I have good days and bad days

On the bad days the beleaguered moon,
the full hunter’s moon, splinters in the sky;
footstep pieces rain into the atmosphere.
I am swimming in the Great Lakes
among the decomposing bodies of pigs,
flip-flops, and plastic wallets.
Our neighbor has caught fire
walking to the mailbox
and flakes of his kindling skin
drift up the hill like paper.
The black pine off the deck aches
for the touch of finches and flickers —
its twin is already gone
heartwood broken, heartwood broken,
and the streambed of the ephemeral stream
has given up trying to remember
the feel of water.
The tv plays its only scene:
the thin-boned dad rocking on the curb,
his eyes like socket wrenches, saying
we lost everything.

On the good days it is like
this late November snow / so still
you can hear across Well Gulch
the rustle of that unselfconscious thrush
regular as the earth contracting in the sun.
He has fallen asleep now,
tired in his abundance.

I wear my old wool hat to get the mail.
Melinda, the post girl, is still down the block,
trembling in her cappuccino-colored Jeep,
clapping her hands for blood,
and so I wait,
boots squeaking in the drift
below the cottonwood.

Getting the test back and discovering I am .5% black

Not enough to make a difference, perhaps —
and if it did, what would the difference be?
I am the near-beer of the black community,
which is to say, barely there.
An online book peddler hasn’t heard the news.
They send offers for heirloom editions
titled Your African-American Heritage.
It’s a proud history, they tell the black me

though, according to family rumors
my African-American heritage is the possibility
a paternal great-great-great grandfather
once owned slaves in Guadeloupe:
he is far enough gone to distance from,
close enough to make it real.

In some seller’s database, then, in this wide
uncomfortable place where Plymouth Rock
has landed on me, I’ve been co-opted.

When we hung around
the Oakland Dyno-Burger
they didn’t seem to care
I was the only white guy for a mile
in every direction / it was all
warm smiles, bro hugs, fist bumps
like I was a mascot, a leucistic bird
from the hood, wrong-wayed, at sea.
As if it didn’t make a difference
and if it did, what would the difference be?

More than we’d think, or care to think
between our blood and our experience:
we bleed red, yes, but I bleed less.
More than I want, perhaps, but less.

Siwash Rock

Barely out as far as the length of an oar
a dwarf fir floats on its grey rock,
ridged and worried by the weather.
A plaque set into the granite tells us this:
that Qu’as the Transformer turned Skalsh into a rock
for his unselfishness.

I don’t know much about the first people,
and what I know about the sea I know
because it stung my eyes.
My feet know stone a lot better than me.
But selfishness I know.

We think of the names of places:
places boiled in black tar,
cracked and splintered well before Christ,
smoothed by the pleasant green, pine green,
pale grass, pale as Peace River honey.
Names laid on the topsoil,
laid on the cracked and splintered rock,
worried, rubbed away in places like bone.

A fish hawk hung his head next to mine
in a dream, and the mouldering chinook
of his breath whispered the names of places.
They begin where the discontinuous
polar front begins — in the west,
in the setting day, past Malaspina Strait,
Powell River, past the shores of Alert Bay,
where they took some blankets
from the Kwakwaka’wakw there.

What will you give me?
say the black winds of Moresby,
slapped against that livid rock,
cracking splinters of red cedar,
shivering lodgepoles,
howling the sweet, salt
three minute death by water.

What will you give me?
say the winds of Port Alberni,
slapping the sides of the residential school,
so it shakes with memory,
shaking the abusing priests,
the abusing kindness.

I think of the names of places:
Peerless Lake, where the kids
drank methyl hydrate, The Pas, Manitoba,
Davis Inlet’s freezing shack,
and the sibyl hanging in a bottle at Cumae.

The ravens on the seawall sort their shells /
the walk is littered with mussels
broken by their beaks.
They shuttle back from the base of Siwash Rock,
and the wheeling gulls, cawing, calling
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock
what rock for me?

Rock Eats

I place the yellow warbler on the big rock
at the head of the path
where it hugs the hillside down into the gulch.

She had hit the south window,
and unlike the thrush last summer
which righted itself, sat up, and later flew off,
she had died.
Holding a wild bird,
warm as an oat cake in a your hands,
ties you to the living wild,
but the odd sweet smell of death,
of these small deaths,
comes from somewhere else.

And so, obeying an ancient voice,
I place her on the big rock
knowing she will be gone in the morning —
like the bones of the wood rat
that lay on the path for weeks
until I put them on the rock.

Everything eats:
even the sun will eat the earth in time,
but what does a rock eat
if not still, unmoving things?

Is it the coyotes and the cats
and the scavenger birds at night,
the interns and understudies of decay?
Or instead,
while we’re sleeping,
the great mass of the earth itself
tidying up, absorbing itself,
too old for teeth.