New Skin on the Old Face

If I knew, I had forgotten
until something small shook me into doubt.
If I knew it once, it had been shuttered,
before the sun came up, by the sound
of the yellow school bus in the street,
or the diesel engine of the fireman
pulling himself heavily into the forest,
the black-gray shapes of neighbors
off to work, and then,
by steam rising in the pre-dawn cold
from the coal-fired power plant
on the north horizon,
by the lights going out in town
and the coffee shops opening up,
by phones ringing, and the winking glow
of computers on hard vinyl tabletops.

If I knew, I had forgotten
until the Steller’s Jay, chattering in the black pine
like a parent shaking me from sleep,
black-headed like the blueing sky,
and then, the river in the cold undying grass,
the rock, turning to speak out
and not into the earth, for me,
the gray-black shale
slowing long enough for me
and speaking loud enough,
in the reeds and wreath of cottonwoods,
how some important thing
was going on beneath.


It’s too hot to sleep.
I get up
and walk out into the living room
where suddenly I am astonished
by the beauty of everyday things:

how the rubber plant glows in the half-light,
how the dust and fur balled
in the crevice corner of the guest bathroom
is a cobweb of myrrh,

and how, unknown to me,
as though by a vengeful spell,
I have been living with jewels.

With feet bright as hammered gold,
the nails of my toes
thick as button pearls,
the skin on the back of my hand like vellum
where someone has written
praises to God in lampblack,
in broad calligraphic strokes.

Where eyelashes are gold wire
and the trees listen for my footfall.
They have gathered at the door.
The moon picks out
the furrows of their flesh.

We sit for a while, breathing together,
in a kind of majesty
until, with the new sun
again the dread of work,
irritation of things undone,
weight of unanswered mail,
the cold toast and the missed alarm,
I come to my senses.