"Miranda’s best is breathtaking. Beyond the words, whatever is is light. A poet who can make us know, with this intensity, what we may do when words reach into silence, even the silences between the stars, has begun to tell us of the place for love. Certainly we can want no better."
—Michael Heffernan, Poetry
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Man, you got a bird where your brain
should be, he says, talking to me.
I say: Perhaps you’d like to explain
that figure of speech for the whole class.
He says: A bird, man, a bird—thass
one o’ them things with wings what flies
around. You, you jes sits on your ass,
but your brain it flies around, goes
flap an’ flap—like this. He shows
me then with his arms, doing flap-an’-flaps
between the aisles like a trained crow’s
bad imitation of a little black
boy flying. Then he flaps to the back
of the room and out the door, free:
free of the class, that doesn’t crack
a smile; free of the teacher, who sits
on his ass, a bird where his brain should be.
Some people would remember iron
railings, the color of buildings,
how a dog circled three times
before settling in—novelists,
certainly, or just good talkers.
Most of us take only the light
from a place, and translate even that
into the way our spirits shape
the light. We flash into knowledge,
which, if we ignore it, will not forgive us.
Objects can survive fine on their own,
but the feel for how this face, that
window, falls upon the momentary
way we hold ourselves could easily
get lost, and who would find it?
Such loss, if lived with, stiffens
into pain; it stands up, starched
and handsome, ready to please the neighbors.
We find ourselves forgetting dreams, whole
days, the last time we were honest;
we ask ourselves: say something
in childhood, and feel only the weight
of what that means brush against
our face like snow. “Like snow,”
we say, not even coming close.
I fell from one once. Judy Cole
used to put five of them, whole,
in her mouth. My brothers ran to tell
my mother: It’s Gary—he fell
from a tree but he isn’t dead
yet. As I write, there is one outside
my window. I have a weakness, still, for
women with large mouths. The doctor
put two fingers into my head,
tingly with novocaine, and said
to my mother: Look, you can see
where the skull is chipped. Sometimes we
made pipes, or necklaces. My mother
groaned and looked away. I could never
figure out what connection they had
Later, Judy Cole was named Miss
Seattle. Mostly, what I remember is
blood all around and me lying
there thinking: so this is dying.
Every one of them has two inside,
like testicles. I wasn’t afraid
really, just convinced. By the time I began
to think I loved her we had been
children too long for it to matter.
Sixteen stitches. I saw her once later,
when she was married. My mother
said: I don’t want to see you near
that tree again—understand? I still tend
to confuse dying and love. And
no one I’ve ever loved has died,
A kind of slant: the way a ball will glance
off the end of a bat when you swing for the fence
and miss—that is, if you could watch that once
up close and in slow motion; or the chance
meanings, not even remotely intended, that dance
at the edge of words, like sparks. Bats bounce
just so off the edges of the dark at a moment’s
notice, as swallows do off sunlight. Slants
like these have something to do with why angle
is one of my favorite words, whenever it chances
to be a verb; and with why the music I single
out tonight—eighteenth-century dances—
made me think just now of you untangling
blueberries, carefully, from their dense branches.
LISTENERS AT THE BREATHING PLACE
“The seal hunters sometimes call themselves
listeners at the breathing places.”
—From Eskimo Prints, by James Houston
The air says what it means, regardless of what
we want it to say. It holds our breath. Conundrums
tumble like seals. We listen. We catch one,
if we are lucky, the way a camera catches the gallop
of horses, their legs in positions we would never imagine.
Van Gogh knew. There is something to be said
for the word’s inadequacies, the swirls of light
and movement which will always escape, astound us.
Rain on water, a lover’s turning to go. Those places
breathe too, saying: “Be brave, believe in us.”
In the end, we will lay down our words and embrace
the air that shapes them here, just as, at the peak
of loving, a cry shakes the candle’s aureola in a room
too small for all this, and the body for now needs
to be held, to be held back, from that blinding other.
THE NEWS FROM MOONS
Jupiter has eleven, or nine—I don’t know
which, or whether they resemble ours
or even each other. A moon is a moon.
Perhaps. But, science aside, we shouldn’t
underestimate the mystique an eye
lends to any landscape, mistaken or not.
And the eye is connected somewhere—just as the ear,
caressed, has lines like a telegraph to the shuddering
loins, except the eye’s connection is less
predictable, more varied, and to a place
not charted on anatomical maps.
I have seen maps of the moon even—ours,
I mean—where every bump and indentation’s
labeled: Grimaldi, Landsberg, Rabbi Levi—
names no moon would think of giving its children.
What we call a thing should matter. A moon
would come, called by its true name, as when
the eye beckons from that place: Here, moon. . .
here, moon—though not in so many words. A moon
has as many names as the eye can give it, and knows
them all, and can’t be fooled. Moonogamy
is fine, but think if we had nine or eleven
moons flashing their bright news—like plankton
when you splash in the sea at night, or a good day
on Wall Street—such a cache of news each eye
would need a college education, and have
to specialize…. On second thought, I think
I’ll take our one the way it is, that
flat white stone in the sky. Skip it.
Spirit, your answers lie
lost somewhere—no, not lost,
misplaced—or placed, rather,
where they belong but where
we have yet to look, like notes
we find between pages of books
years later and half remember, half
The place we are not does not
exist, we think—and then, going,
find that the world thrives
without us: incredible.
Whole families on the klongs of
Bangkok, brushing their teeth
in the fetid water, flagging
down vegetable boats, existing,
Who knows what spiked image
you plan to drive into our
hearts today? What happy
things wait like familiar coats
on the backs of so many chairs?
It is as if, on our one day off,
we had called in sick, this choosing,
these lives that wait for us—here,
there. Yours, though we call them
Copyright 2020. Gary Miranda. All rights reserved.