English Lessons

The pebble of a word drops through
the smooth circumference of my student’s ear.
It falls, unbending
with a kind of murder in its fall
(ruthless as bulls and plumb bobs
and pigeon shot).

Between his pauses I listen for its splash,
so far below our twisted knot of speech
we almost couldn’t hear.

Minds are more like wells, I suppose,
than steel machines,
than the cowling of an F-16,
bouncing words like fractured light.
I’ve seen sixth grade girls
incinerate a thought,
sucking up the ash;
at other times ambivalent
a flower receiving a fly.

But above all, and either way,
receiving receiving.

Nothing worries like a word.
What have I done?
And why this word? Why then?

And what creeps up from that well:
the cannibal bird,
the crooked beak of heaven?


I speak the way I write,
but more slowly,
sorting and disposing of
five different ways
of saying something,
while my companion,
who really
only wanted a brief chat,
He grows hair in places where
there shouldn’t be any,
where before he was bald.

And meanwhile,
the tectonic plates
of the Colorado Plateau
dinosaur bones surface,
sea turtles and bristlecone pines
complete entire life cycles.

“How should I put this?” I say,
when a city or two has fallen
into the ocean swell.
My friend is sallow now,
his skin cool, unresponsive.

“It’s coming,” I assure him.
“Too late…too late for me,” he replies.
“Is there anything
you want me to pass along?”
I finally say.
But he is quiet,
eyes staring, mouth dry.