What Is to Be Done?
for S. Reddick, 1976
I’ll answer your question now, the one you
asked that evening we sat in your room,
the hot plate you never used, not even
for coffee, windows filmed with the dust
of voices that reached us years later.
The river was weeds. The sentinel towers
of the canneries and sawmills that crowded
its banks. The river glossed with pronouncements
of dread. The graveyard hours you stood on
the peach line, the polished corrugated
light, women and men in white aprons
roaming through warehouses, trailing the sun.
None of us knew the way out of suffering.
The windows of your room were always
left open, and blackberry vines protested
gravity with vaulted extravagance.
Who could escape the torrent of heat
that surged over our bodies and houses
like a dream? The afternoon
wind freed us from the necessity
of inventing ourselves, rendered us
down to a hush. In that we were lucky—
we had a backbeat for our poetry.
Our lovers’ kids slept openmouthed
on damp sheets while we wrote in small
notebooks, discovering the ruins of sky,
the moment of falling always in us.
The world was on fire, each of us