First it's hard to notice the small building's
boarded up, a smear of soot licking the corners,
and isn't it a waste, the cop says, the punks
who burned the bathroom dribbling away their days
on this spit of shore. Now the waste goes
inland, and this is a shell, a relic of spark
the body couldn't contain. An old story --
a band of men too young to sleep and never enough
room, money, sex. They don't know why
the back knots, a window breaks, something has to
burn. Then one turns cop himself, or fireman,
or fixes cars, and one's locked up for years; wasted.

But today's news is good: a woman's weak smile
through anaesthetic haze reflects the word --
benign. And the lump's gone. Now we can eat
again, complain about the snow, the nurses'
bad manners. She lives on. And all the way
home, winter darkens fast, a coda
underneath the news: the shortest day
sure as snow, as the day we'll sit in a closed room
while a doctor shakes his head and turns
away; or a phone rings and a night freezes.

We call it "progress." In a million years,
someone's digging the shoreline. Another shard of bone
falls from the silt, the pile grows, and one day, maybe
it fits: a man, a woman. The last charred bones
of a burned shelter. The city that stood on the shore.
So we believe the sun turns north, warms the snow
to water, and children splash in some new ocean.
Or they huddle in caves, turning over the bright amulet
their fathers have carried as long as anyone knows.
One gurgles, gapes at the scrawled picture he's just made
out: two faces, a third, a family. The charm that holds them
together. A man walking the icy shore, digging through the snow.


A lone figure's wading the air's gray soup
near the lake's edge, so dense we can barely
see, but we've been here long enough to know:
park beds awaiting their flowers, the harbor
its sails. Every morning the alarm
rings, the car starts. And then it doesn't.
Expensive, but we understand. It's so complicated
the wonder is it's worked this long.
Then the bar around the comer closes
the week you're out of town, though it's been there
longer than you, and there's a hole in the middle
of the block. Within days something's going up
to fill it -- another bar, a doctor's office --
the way "one piece six miles square"
on the lake's southwest shore grew
from another battle. So Fort Dearborn's gone
with the Sauganash, "the best hotel on the frontier,"
and Beaubien's violin. But there's an orchestra
where there was swamp.

They call the body an engine. It's a way of mapping
a prairie too wild to enter. We all love the frontier,
but across the street, in someone else's neighborhood.
We've got our hands full here with tourists
tramping the garden. We want to know who's moving
in on the block, what they plan for the house.
We peer over the fence: someone's making
a trail, cutting the waist high weeds. Axon to
dendrite, pistons fire, muscles contract
and there's a clearing. Exactly how is a guess--
a wave under the crust, an ancient collision,
but we see what's there:
the first iron bridge, and a hundred years later,
more planes than anywhere in the world.
It's the oil we burn on, the wheel it turns.
Once it was ice cream, a football, 'Puh-leeze!
just another ride!" Kiss. Touch. Money.
It mows down the prairie and we can't
stop it: a new shirt, a car, a house, a day.
And when Dad says no, it's the only thing
we want. "Puh-leeze! just one more. One.

There's a faith we drive through the fog: feed
the fire and the sap turns syrup. Turn the key,
the engine fires. Or we buy a book, a mechanic,
a doctor. But some days when the fog lifts, instead
of tulips, another storm blows in -- snow, cold
as December. There's a hole in the middle
of the house. Call it fever, accident. We throw the switch
and there's nothing. The body's not an engine
no matter how we fix it. It's a wonder
it works at all.


"Guercino' (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) used keen
observation of nature as a point of departure for dramatic or
fantastic images expressing nostalgia for an ideal world."

But the man and his family aren't looking back.
Their only luggage the small sack suspended
from the stick on his shoulder, they pause

in this avenue of trees to study the castle atop the hill,
It's close now, and they've been going a long time--
We can hardly imagine the small cottage, the land

they left. it's almost winter, but they've made it
in time. He touches his chest where the letter is
tucked, prays the uncle will take them in.

Of course, he's not -- & it's not a castle.
Just a squat outpost, the grounds hidden
by charcoaled fenceposts surrounding

the hilltop. Even the trees are bare
suggestions; not "keen observation" at all,
but a kind of fill in the blank

for the sake of design -- the backs of this
family in a landscape so spare and distant
none of us wants to visit. Except

we do. And then the garden restaurant
I can't afford, but sit in half an afternoon
under the filmy umbrella, the sun heating up

the fountain, surrounded by walls so thick
we can't even hear the traffic. Three centuries
he's stood there, the winter never coming,

the children never grown, a whole country
sealed inside the curved glass we carry
through these conversations, a way of breathing

around them as the sour air complicates
the bedroom. The idea is to pull it out,
walk in, arrange the perspective:

the glass of iced tea, the elms thick trunk
and graceful arch of branch against
the wisp of cloud moving over the wall ...

but it's all so far away the real children
have gone, and knowing it's there is so little
amid the foreign revolution.

The sun slips behind the wall as the last man
unfolds his newspaper, a woman leans over,
and they talk about the broken

farm, the history of repair waiting
everywhere as the waiters clear
the remains, and we take our eyes away.


-- after "Le Couple" by Nancy Spero

Across the street a TVs exploding,
the convention's mobbed, someone else wants

a divorce. How hard to leave this
dark, so simple theres no furniture at all:

two figures, dark blue,
outlines so sharp

they must be naked.
one sits astride the other

who seems to be reclining,
propped on an elbow.

The one on top is strong, muscles tense
as he rises from the bed,

left hand curled, but
free, caught on its way

up. The lack of hair,
the rounded muscles say men,

though their faces are hard to read --
a smudge of eye, mouth, furrow

worrying the one beneath, the other blank
with the business that calls him.

They've come up so
slowly, so far, the surface barely

broken -- only tracings lined over
the thick blue ground -- the dream still

so clear, the one lying can't understand
the others leaving, the day's sudden glare.

Now I'm looking past
him, not thinking; the only way

to keep him from falling, to get to
the street. It's raining,

and late, and if I look
back even once, the car stalls,

the throat gives up,
no one believes me.

from The New Tenant, Eye of the Comet Press.

Copyright © 1992 by Eye of the Comet Press.

Eye of the Comet Press
3709 N. Kenmore
Chicago, Ill 60613

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