The gate slams behind you. To get
from the parking lot into the prison
you walk the dog run, a half-mile
of concrete enclosed in a parenthesis
of fences past a snatch of cop-killer
rap radio, shirtless convicts in sweat pants
playing basketball or jonesing
on the dorm porch. Some stare at you;
to others, you do not exist, you
in your tropical print dress and
Jackie-O shades. You are guilty
of freedom; civilization is a thin
veneer here, rubbed in by uniforms,
towers, guns. Sometimes the longing
to be free gets snagged on razor wire,
like a scrap of white T-shirt. You walk
silent and staring straight ahead
to the end of the dog run, where
you flash your ID and check out
your alarm, which you will hit
if thereâ€™s trouble. Inside, the PA systemâ€™s
omniscient prison narrator
announces who will do what and when
but you are hearing miseryâ€™s persistent whisper
turn into a low collective moan, a rumble
that comes from the belly of the earth,
the sound a mother would make
if she were the earth.
In the dream, Iâ€™m showing someone the grave where
My father is buried. There, under the willow tree.
I turn to look at the person Iâ€™m talking to. It is my father.
Which father is my father? The live one standing next to me
or the dead one, buried beneath the willow tree?
They are both my father, of course. What I mean isâ€”
which time is real? The time when he was alive?
Or the time when heâ€™s dead? No, thatâ€™s not right.
They are both real time. But which time is the now?
Am I standing with my living father, dreaming of
a time after he dies? Or am I looking at my fatherâ€™s grave,
dreaming of a time when he was alive? I canâ€™t decide.
I donâ€™t know which time is now or if the times
could somehow co-exist. You know, itâ€™s because
Iâ€™m dreaming. What are you still doing here?
he asks me. I think heâ€™s asking why Iâ€™m still living
in my small desert town. I canâ€™t leaveâ€”I love my family
too much, I say. They are not far awayâ€”a few miles,
a few hours, a half-a-day away. You need to get your work
out into the world he replies. A few weeks later,
driving home, I stop at the red sign midway between
the cemetery and my house. Iâ€™m not thinking about
the dream. Probably, Iâ€™m fooling with the radio. I decide this later,
because my neck is not broken. Because I do not brace
for the impact. I never see it coming. Cranked-up tow truck
doing 60 rear-ends my car, catapulting it across
the intersection. On the other side, I hit a Joshua tree and
a telephone pole and then the pale yellow Pontiac
bursts into flame, a cactus blossom. I donâ€™t remember any of this.
My clock stops. I lose the crash time, the driver who hit me
pulling me out time, the cops searching the desert
for the body of my son time, the ambulance ride time.
In the hospital, after a few hours, I get time back. Once I can
say my name, what day it is, they send me home,
where I am awakened every hour, asked the same questions,
beginning with Who are you?
By morning, I realize that when
my father said here, he meant earth.
You want to know if the cops found my sonâ€™s body.
But maybe he wasnâ€™t with me in the car.
Maybe I couldnâ€™t remember if he was with me or not.
Maybe Iâ€™m standing next to him now, asking him what
he is still doing here, urging him to get his work done.
Breaking the Plate
My father says I canâ€™t wait to break your plate & with a snap of
his wrist tosses imaginary china behind his shoulder. We laugh,
knowing he could break every goddamn plate in the house &
the cups & glasses too. He could melt the forks & spoons
& knives into a lake of silver lava & still there would be
a plate for us. He could lose his glasses, forget family
recipes, marry us off & move to Alaska, grow old &
die & still there would be the meal & the ritual of
the meal & him saying Iâ€™m the meal ticket here.
He could die & come back in a dream & in the
dream I take my place at the table, pale moon
of my plate before me as he prepares a meal,
insisting that I eat more, more, serving up
stories of the world, how it is & how it
could be, when every meal heâ€™s had a
hand in flashes before me, art on
the canvass of the plate & the
plate will never break.
No one leaves here
hungry he says.