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The Bombing of Hospitals


There was a time, in a world at once
more and less brutal than ours, when
they were far from the front: in a grove
of full-leaved oaks outside Fairfax,
or in a meadow of lowing cattle
and cawing crows in Normandy.
Calmly the nurses moved through
the wards carrying trays of shrapnel
stewed in blood. Letters came. Elsewhere,
babies were being born, taking first steps,
saying first words. Some of the letters
contained news from the front, far enough
away to have to be borne in the form
of language, not as light and noise,
and as the news of the latest battle
was read out loud, the war seemed
like a nightmare they had had in common,
and had woken from together, all at once.

There was time for flirtations to flare
between nurses and patients, a few affairs.
Smoking between amputations, the surgeons
laughed under the trees like butchers,
their bloody shirtsleeves rolled up, while
in the garden, convalescents hobbled
about on crutches, played croquet, fell
asleep in wheelchairs, apple blossoms
fallen into their hair. Their only fear
was that gangrene would set in,
that they would be the next to turn
quiet and toward the wall. They feared
flies and bedsores, bad news from home,
the appearance from the front of a friend,
gravely-wounded. But the hospital itself,
built of brick or wood, or just a few rows
of linen tents pitched in a field in a rush,
was understood to be protected,
not by any god, but by the presence
of the wounded themselves, who knew
no new harm would be done to them,
only the old harm find a firmer hold,
and pull them under.
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The Sandbox


I thought the sand had been brought in from the sea.
It was fine as gold dust, and always cool,
even in summer. We moved it with toys fashioned
in vague approximation of the real backhoes
and dump trucks that had quarried and carried it
from the limestone pit near Lena to the farm,
painted the same canary-yellow but beginning to rust
from the rain we left them out in. I didn’t know
then the central role Caterpillar Company has played
in making tanks and submarines for the US military,
nor could I know that even as I kneeled in a sandbox
in Illinois, up in Olympia, Washington there lived
a girl named Rachel Corrie who’d grow up to be
crushed by a bulldozer while defending the home
of a Palestinian pharmacist. I was just playing
in a sandbox. But in my mind I too was removing
mountaintops, dredging lakes, building dams while
the birds touched down like choppers and rose
veering through the air, and the cats dug, burying
their waste, and the dog, lying down to cool her body,
cleared a whole hillside with her tail. And after all
my damages had been wrought, I too abandoned
the land my father had framed with two-by-fours
like a settlement. Wind blew topsoil over the sand,
sowed seed in it, and the box began to resemble
those stretches of grassy beach you see when
you’re nearing the sea, and everyone you’re with
in the car grows quiet.
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Suddenly, Bees


Bees have been appearing in places strange
for bees to be. Yesterday I saw a shadow moving
across our cotton curtains and parted them to see
a swarm swarming one of the columnar evergreens
the family who used to live in this house, cleaved
now into apartments, must have planted for privacy.
And just today, coming down Montgomery
from North Beach, swerving a little on the sidewalk
because I was reading THE DARKENING TRAPEZE,
the posthumously published poems of Larry Levis,
I looked up from my book to look at what
everyone was looking at, another swarm, this time
in downtown San Francisco, like a funnel cloud
that doesn’t believe in itself enough to become
a tornado, agitated in the heightened light
of early evening in late March. Lyft and Uber
drivers stopped at lights, business bros on their phones
talking closings and mergers, a man in rags screaming,
security guards standing outside the Wells Fargo,
everyone stopped what they were doing to watch
these bees, which seemed to have less to do
with earth than with light, as if
the sun was their hive,
their honey safe, far
from where we are.
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1 This is the book of the generation of money. 2 JP Morgan begat Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs begat Wells Fargo, and Wells Fargo begat Honeywell International; 3 Honeywell International begat Boeing, and Boeing begat General Electric, and General Electric begat Dow Chemical; 4 Dow Chemical begat Monsanto, and Monsanto begat Caterpillar Company, and Caterpillar Company begat Chevron; 5 Chevron begat Coca-Cola, and Coca-Cola begat Lockheed Martin, and Lockheed Martin begat Nestle USA; 6 Nestle USA begat Phillip Morris, and Phillip Morris begat Pfizer, and Pfizer begat Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux; 7 Suez-Lyonnaise Des Eaux begat Wal-mart, and Wal-mart begat Kellogg, Brown and Root, and Kellog, Brown and Root begat Ford Motor Company; 8 Ford Motor Company begat DynCorp, and DynCorp begat ExxonMobil, and ExxonMobil begat Koch Industries; 9 Koch Industries begat Halliburton, and Halliburton begat DuPont, and DuPont begat Barrick Gold Corporation; 10 Barrick Gold Corporation begat Fannie Mae, and Fannie Mae begat Freddie Mack, and Freddie Mack begat Bear Stearns; 11 Bear Stearns begat Lehman Brothers, and Lehman Brothers begat Merrill Lynch, and Merrill Lynch begat Comcast; 12 Comcast begat Blackwater, and Blackwater begat Bank of America, and Bank of America begat the poor.
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Mowing Lawn


Growing up, I mowed lawn. Lord knows there was plenty of it
to mow. Two farmsteads, each with yards big as county parks,
as if the people who settled that place had wanted to keep
the fields back so they could sit on the porch without feeling
the crops creeping up close in the evening. It was impossible
to keep the grass down. By the time you reached the end
of the yard it had already grown back back where you began,
like a diaspora of cancer returning to the organ of its origin,
or a fire the crew thinks it put out, growing behind them.
And so we mowed perpetually, my brothers and I,
while dad did the fieldwork. Shirtless, in mesh athletic shorts
that rode halfway up my thigh, in shoes I played ball in,
I sat high in the Farm-all C tractor modified for mowing,
the deck swinging underneath on chains. Whole days,
no, whole years of my life were lost this way, keeping an eye
on the margin between the cut and uncut swaths, practicing
a futile perfection that, days later, would not matter
if it ever had, as when, deep in the privacy of a notebook,
you work over the same lines again and again, knowing
no one will ever read them. But at least the poem achieves
a form that feels final. Lying on my back in bed at night
after a day spent mowing, I could feel the grasses growing,
in that staggered, unkempt way blades of grass grow.
I knew the pride dad took in keeping the farmyards neat,
his frustration with farmers who didn’t seem to care for theirs,
literally. His compliment, whispered as an aside you had to catch
like a ball falling, was, “Yep, got this place mowed up pretty
good.” It was through mowing that I knew early the exhaustion
of tenancy, the way that keeping a place yours keeps you its,
so that you begin to wonder who or what is the possessor
and who or what is the possessed. My dad keeps a smaller yard
now that he keeps mowed up pretty good. His sons live in cities
where grass is given no quarter save for in the cemeteries
and those empty parks like patches of blindness where the poor
nod off on benches and empty swings sway on chains
and there is a budget to pay grown men to keep the grass down.
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The Wire


My father strung wire, miles of it,
off a singing spool mounted
on the bed of a red ATV.
The old barbwire my grandfather
strung decades before
stood by, the rotted posts
looking on incredulously, old men
watching a young man dig
a grave. In its claws still, the fur
of cattle thirty years dead.
The oaks that grew along it
were swallowing the wire
in a perpetual circus trick
performed for crows and sparrows.
The barbs were buried rings
deep like dud landmines.
The wire my father strung
was a single wire, electrified,
toothed with dew at dawn.
From a distance
it looked like nothing
was keeping the herd
from drifting across the highway,
fleshing out the cloud shadows.
To them the wire was not a wire
but a border where pain was
the toll for crossing.
We too knew not to touch it.
The only way to take part in
its power was to hold a blade
of grass to it and feel throbbing
through it the wire’s desire to be
channeled through flesh.
But every now and then,
ducking under it too hastily,
I heard a snap then felt it
pinch my spine
through the thin summer
t-shirts I wore.
Turning back, I would wonder
again at how the birds
could clutch it in their naked,
lightning-colored feet
as if it were a thin metal branch.
And somehow I knew the reason
they were able to was because
I stood grounded on earth
and they did not,
and to be on earth is a blessing
we pay for in pain.
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