It wont leave me, that dead skunk, thirty-three miles
from Fort Collins. The serum ran out
of the medicine moon, and someone minutes ahead
struck the poor thing dumb. The stupid
and incessant blatting of sheep
disturb the tranquility of the range.
Black and white are the same, that zebra hide
of the heart. It keeps saying up is hurt, down
is dead, neutralize the nostrils so both breaths
are one. For a long time I loved a lie
I could not tell. We could produce impressive atavisms
by simple equations that mirror minor chords.
We could place Brahms back into the belly
of sea-lice ingesting a whale. Our ribs
sour down through prairie flower and now.
I loved the music of the poor things death,
even where the road bends, and surely shed love mine,
though with any luck its as far ahead as the taxidermy
of a gnat. I would just as soon pursue
the study of water cures and phrenology.
Only Ikkyu and you would write
about a dead skunk, John joked.
Its been a long drive from there
to here. I tried its blood-soaked side
with the finger Id reserved for my navel,
with the purposeful picking of possum lint
from my marsupial mouth. Some animals
dont seem to sleep at all,
even when dead. The mackerel
is an example of the human nightmare
of ceaseless swimming. The parrot fish
exudes a mucous blanket to protect itself,
as do yellow perch and mullet. Only Issa
and you, amigo, could possibly thrive
all light long inside the dumb things death.
Skin, they tell me, is rarely human
when glimpsed in the wild. Some part of me
longs for the marsupial pulsings
of the pouch, for a possum
night without the perfect weather
of the womb. For a long time I loved a lie
and a lie loved me. Moist imprint
from life to life, tonguing me back
time and again into the intimate dark
between her thighs. The black death
up the mountain and down makes me
noxious with underbelly-white. Skin,
I repeat, is rarely human.
Letter to Roger from Gunnison
The killing of Curly Bill, Roger. How the Earp brothers left Tombstone for here in a hurry. The Spanish Influenza. Gunnisons quarantine miraculously didnt allow a single death, even a prairie dog or grub. BB holes in the chest of a pet moth. Someone has surely been shooting drunkenly again at the moon. Theres an auction on eBay of an old glass negative of bluetick coonhounds Ive been following. Maybe Im lucky. Maybe Im not. Maybe the world that tracks us town to town will never end.
The vast expanse of pasture is as intoxicating as feeling ordinary. I swear Im not being facetious. Blending in is sometimes what we need. Did you come to Marxism through archery? By respecting the labor of your physician father? Our complex body parts are fully awake when a child dislodges the left wing of a fly, curious about balance? Animals need to politically survive. Kropotkin was a prince. His father, before him. The means of production, he says in The Conquest of Bread, should be guided by termites, impersonating a bull ant. Okay, it was me who said that. Sometimes theres death by family. Other times, a dust-covered palomino coal-steps through the brain. Last week, driving home from Laramie, I swear I felt the blatting of sheep seep through the cilia of my right ear, crawl all the way down from pastures of the Medicine Bow. Dont forget, my thorax leaked grief over a dead dog, that beagle hound I held and hold and will never let go.
The ribcage around the heart jiggles from time to time, small breaths that keep the fire swooshing. What was it like for Wyatt Earp to rekindle a romance with Josie Marcus? How many nights did his common-law wife, Mattie, weep? Why did Doc Holliday leave them, moving on to Pueblo, then Denver? I keep asking myself answers. Questioning you as if youre me. Some paramecia can reproduce asexually. According to the U. S. Census, Gunnison has a total of 3.2 square miles. All of it land, none of it water. Where do calipers go to measure the difference between flathead and cutthroat trout? How can our amoeba selves ever be fully seen without a microscope? How many scissors does it take just to become human, to rip apart our long-longing heart?
I keep answering myself with exceptions. Answering your poems. Your father would know, convinced you too should have become a doctor. Was it here, or Colorado Mountain College, where you taught summers? Im going to pin a moth to the dark velvet of my mouth and imagine it here. We have been friends thirty-five years. In ant-years, weve known each other longer than a chain of bee intestines that could reach the moon from anywhere in Arizona. You are a doctor, Roger, birthing poems, slapping their wailing ass, examining the sometimes-questionable breathing of friends in this line of poetry or that. Tombstone is a name bold enough to honor the longest and loneliest nap. Pagosa Springs, a cleansing rest, until we realize we are all indelibly human. 1918 took the lives of far too many gnats, delirious in the multiple rooms of weeping. Im thinking of 1882. Tombstone. The Earps intelligence to flee. To spur their ponies onward through mountain-blur and snow, across Monarch Pass and all its metamorphoses of wingèd weather. Imagine you with me here. In Gunnison. You and me together tracking the Earps into the blowing north. What word, whatever catch. Whatever it means to flee the dust, pursue the new.
(for Roger Mitchell)