The City of Underachievers
in the landlocked town of Norilsk, trucks
are taking loads of nickel from the mine
to the refinery on unthawed roads at dawn –
but in the morning sky some lights can still be seen:
Red Mars, the Marvelous; Blue Venus, Visionary,
Vainglorious; Pale Neptune, Cold as Nepenthe;
Storm-bedizened Saturn, Taciturn, its disks
of amethyst and jasper, Saturnine.
Far from the arctic city of Norilsk
in the permafrost zone: The angry
green-yellow apple kvetches; the lovelorn
apricot turns to the sun and then away;
the over-wrought walnut feels accosted,
falls to the black earth and pretends to sleep;
Rain scatters on the obtuse tulips bulbs.
But the holly is cynical and touchy.
There, that lone acanthus is first among
the mediocrities: a dullard.
The showy lily is tragic, and slatternly.
The heliotrope thinks he is special,
a philosopher or an astronaut.
The celandine is small. The anemone
is in his own world, and all day dreams
about the sea. Look at the Brazil nut –
brooding, sick of soul. The quince
is just neurotic. The violet is frigid.
But the thistle feels exalted –
Far from the arctic city of Norilsk
the birds of April: some in the crooked tree
by the firehouse; some in the orchard;
others scattered in the sky above the silos,
others in barns or under bridges.
Are the birds sad? When asked
they might respond, ‘We are rather
ambivalent, truth be told.’ But they
have little else to say.
Will the Earth repudiate its sad
and diffident children?
The Octagon Houses
On our visit we stayed at the octagon house –
and were sleepless in view of the eight-sided land.
Uncombed grass webbed the sides of the angled veranda.
And on one side of the eight-sided land
the incandescent lanterns of the doll shops flickered on.
And we stretched out to sleep in the blue rosemåling
houses of Uvdal, and the melon-colored houses
of Forget-Me-Not, under the cool, peninsular hills
beyond the spruces and glass-covered A-frames.
And we were stressed out and wakeful on Zoloft
and Asendin in the atomic houses of Pripyat,
and insomniac in the blue-stanchioned shadows
of Shasta Dam – and through the blackberry vines
that covered the round cement window,
grew dizzy watching distant water
falling silently over the spillway.
Some heaven-shining-august child
seemed to be petting a deer
that was grazing yellow grass
beyond the hydroelectric building.
And we were somnambulists at sunset in Anchorage
where German tourists had gathered around
a gargantuan piece of jade, saying nothing,
while it revolved there before them, cold
as a fire-clock steeped in withering rebukes.
And we dozed in the bean-pod houses in the fields
under the mushroom umbrellas of Poisonville.
Our nerves were stretched out on the grass
like sea-kelp or sea-nerves that have washed up
and been strung out to dry in the high sea-grass.
And we came to a boil in the tea kettle houses,
became bird people living off the grid, became
rebels, bearcats, masters of inadvertency.
Will you then lay spent on the cool
mushroom bed when you are down again
by the mill-track and the fernery?
Will you contemplate the stupid grapefruit,
the tedious eggplant, the intellectual thorn?
And will you wake up fresh and confused
in a place you have been borne to for asylum
like a chick just hatched from a fire-colored egg?
And will you see the star-ships
drifting over rain-colored mountains?
The copper-streaked leaves
that shine in the pattering rain?
A Yellow Vase in its Environs
We live in our own experience,
like this yellow vase, standing
in its cool green environs,
almost reptilian as the sea;
and the sea was a blue vase broken,
then put back together piece by piece
and set beside the sea. No use is too
alien for the ceramic birds of April
and the painted branches warming in the sun.
None too relevant to your own life as you
see it, tapering toward an entrance gate
of wakeful living. And if, on the tabletop
beside the vase, an apple core goes brown
amid some bent cigarette butts in a shell
of abalone put there as an ashtray,
its iridescence smudged and blackened;
and the gears of trucks are grinding
on Avenue Melodica as they head into the sky –
these ‘mere things’ are World Things, yet
private as a sea dialogue. O what name
or title suits your greatness,
The Land of Mighty Insects
The cat remembers the secret you shared
with her on a night that seems to have passed
a century or a century and a half ago.
Long past midnight, insomniac, and the private
and celebratory pod reserved for your party
at neon-green Korea Town. This
was a cobalt cat curled on an overstuffed chair
overspread with a fringed gold counterpane.
Time passes. And one day, when you strike up
a park bench acquaintance with some stranger,
and the city is glittering behind him,
glittering and splintering with glass and flares,
the idea just on the tongue was the same secret,
and you long for a lover to go with the secret.
The stranger stands tall as an ultimatum.
And you are as one who has spent her entire life
living high in the branches of a tree, surviving
off its fruit while giant insects rage below.
Image © Marcia O’Connor