Rodan's hands
Cover of 'That Light'

Poems from That Light

That Light

Everything is interesting
if you’re of a mind to see it
in that light. Claude Monet
probably understood this. The stoners
back in high school definitely
understood that everything is intoxicatingly
interesting if you’re of a mind
to see it in that light. My grandmother
in the emergency room
surrounded by doctors and nurses and children
and grandchildren, was of a mind to see
the pulse-oximeter on her left index finger
as the most interesting thing in the room,
more interesting than anything else in recent
memory, which was mostly gone
by then anyway. She cocked
her head like a bird or philosopher
contemplating a crumb
on God’s table under the light, that light,
and said to her children and her children’s children
and all of the strangers working together
to keep her from dying: “What
is the name of this thing? It’s so interesting.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before.”

The Perfection

On the way to bury you
a yellow BMW (a bee
among the mourners)

was weaving in and out of our little
lit line of grief
winding down route 22 to the cemetery.

It made me think of you—the restlessness,
the thoughtlessness—the way
he fell in line with us, then left us,

then the left lane slowed and he was back again.
I wondered if the sun drowned out the lights
that strung our private darkness faintly together.

Or maybe, seeing the lights,
he saw the darkness had the right of way
and swung into our midst to overtake us,

this acrobat among the yarmulkes,
now flying out in front, now closing ranks
behind the rabbi’s car.

I always thought you’d recognize yourself
eventually, a long time afterwards maybe,
the way you used to be when you couldn’t help it

or see it even, and seeing it finally,
and in someone else, it would feel a little like love,
only love a little too late.

Mostly it felt like perfection as we turned
that corner into the cemetery,
and out he shot, the bee, as from a jar,

as if he’d suffocate to death if death
contained him any longer,
a thin blue cloud of exhaust

hanging in the air behind him, like a veil.

Mozart in Your Armpit

A winter morning and Cosi
is frozen from being in the car all night,
so at first the music sounds like
an aria trying to sing its way out

of a snow bank. I eject the tape
and stick it in my armpit on
my aunt’s advice: “Keep it there
till the voices warm up—

Mozart in your armpit, he’d
have loved the thought of that,” she says
as we drive off to the hospital together
talking about Mozart and opera and phantom

pain. Her wheelchair, minus the leg rests,
is propped at a slightly bewildered angle
in the backseat of my Toyota.
“It’s all about sex,” she says

as I steer with one hand, trying
to reposition Mozart
still thawing, with the other.
Cosi’s all about doing it,

and thinking about doing it,
and thinking about doing it with somebody else.
Forget about learning Italian.
If you love the music already

the words won’t make you love it more.
Take it from me, I have no legs,
but don’t I still have the pain?”
I tell her, with all due respect for her legs

and her pain, I fail to see the connection
between learning Italian and having an amputation.
That’s when a painful silence swallows the car whole.
I dip my hand in my shirt, but the tape’s still cold.

“Not an amputation. Eight. Count ’em:
This little piggy, then his neighbor, then
the whole damn block, then up to the knee.
Then a year later, all over again

on the other side of the street.”
She slaps her left stump, then her right,
and it looks like a flam on a pair of bongos,
or a rim-shot after the punch line

of a bad joke in the Catskills.
“I’m talking about feeling.
You lack Italian. I lack legs.
You still feel pleasure. I pain.

Phantom pain they call it. Mozart
knew about phantom pain, how it
isn't what it feels like, how it
drags you down to hell with it in the end.

You think you’ve taken care of a thing,
severed it from yourself for good—
then there it is again, what can’t be,
and feeling more like itself than ever.

Listen, you don’t need the words to know
when the music has changed, when the pain
has turned to pleasure, the pleasure
to pain.

It’s all vowels anyway—one
long, dilating, Italian vowel
sliding into another: orgasm,
agony, orgasm, agony again.

You get my point now, nephew?
Good, now be a good boy
and put in the tape.
Give me Mozart while he’s hot.”