Forrest Gander


from Deeds of Utmost Kindness (1994)

for Frank Stanford, Poet, 1948-1978

Land Surveyor

And came home with beggar ticks in his pubis
And the light syrup stink of urine in his jeans,
Godawful b.o., sat on the bed unlaced his redwings
And lay back on brown blood stains in the unmade
Sheets and the ferruginous odor of her period, saying
Holy holy holy, I do not feel kindly
To the copperhead in the copple-stones and the brown
Recluse making its nest in my underwear,
I hate poison sumac poison ivy poison huckleberry.
The ganglia of blackened liana
And the bowers of meshed kudzu trouble my step.
From spraddle-legged dumps, the fissure blooming between my cheeks,
I said the degenerate itching of my locust-leaf-wiped butthole
Only increaseth among company. I have pointed my sweatblind face
Through tents of webworms, I have lava-soaped striped leeches
From bruised ankles, I have brushed the hair
Of outrageous arachnids and their eggsacks burst and crawled
Every slake and chine of my sopranic skin.
Placed my unwitting palm on dead things nailed to fenceposts,
Imagined bodies and parts of bodies in the footsucking weedlots,
Startled at the crack of limbs in wheezing copses,
And I have grown strange.
But thou oh moon backsliding coolly from blue slips of cloud
Over bare semi-dark autumn fields where the stars smoke dimly for anyone,
Restoreth my peace.

Photo: Sixth Birthday in the Levee Camps

Two white children out of nine.
Squirrel-headed at one short end
Of the long fold-up table, Frank; his chubby
Stepsister at the other. Shadow
Inside what looks to be a revival tent;
A warm light made by pollen,
Dirt, and dust indrafts through an open flap
Across the dirt floor.
The children are wearing cone hats, they smile,
Half of them craning for the camera
Bug-eyed, glad-assed to be here, camp kids,
Dam builders’ kids, gone with the flash
Into derelict cities, slender oblivions,
Suicide. For Frank’s
Adoptive father, the contractor,
Darker fathers shovel dirt daubers,
Unswamp cottonmouths, grave-
Make next to the St. Francis
Banking her wiles and curved spine in ridges of muscle, levees
Looming through the perpetual dawns in the nap of Mississippi, 1955.

Patterns of Unsettlement

Couldn’t sleep in the heat and went outside
But the moon was ochre-ringed like an asshole,
And I passed silently in the company of black four-footed shapes,
Liquid fugitives from an alienist’s parable,
Toward the city’s disturbed light
And came up short where men were welding
Industrial stacks above the highway.
Tanzanite blue sparks run-through with orange
Poured down across the building’s roof
And laved the uncanny specters with their torches.
I breathed the faintly burnt air
Drifting from forest fires uncontrolled in Kentucky.

The Provinces of Saturn

The blue paper I ordered by catalogue
From Barcelona. Do my words get crookeder?
So they do. All I have eaten
Since Saturday is Wild Turkey
Which imparts an omnigenous sympathy,
Makes me blind as William Tell.
Listening to opera.
The soul is a kind of sound: Maria Menenghini
Callas, ava dolce e serena che regnavi …
In gioia pura. After Dame
Joan Sutherland first heard Callas sing
Envy so whelmed her
She felt constantly nauseous
And feared she might be pregnant.
I won’t change the sheets, or sweep
Your longsome hairs from the pillow: remembrance
Of things past, perdu,
Lost. Where are you. There
Are wide ice fronds at the bedroom windows,
A different paleontology for each.
I am unmanned without you
In this inconsonant dark.

A Table Laid With Horrors

flour and sandals, a fine-toothed comb and sourballs, this fish
hook and silt in my pockets. I take fibula and sternum, your
false pregnancy, a slip knot. Filtertips and soup du jour.
What I leave –
all things visible, light of the body, total number of my days
are fields notes and sheep’s eyes, Fahrenheit
of sexual love, foreplay then your spotting, frost heave
and sugar beets,
the foster moon, twilights soughing. I let my face to the
screw worm,
my flesh to slugs. There is a river the streams whereof….
Fair copy to second readers; to the fire ants my sputum.
I tender fire
opal to the slop jar. Fill my feather pillow with skunk cabbage.
Forgive me
unfinished manuscripts, the burnt skillet, the burthen of my passing.
I bequeath fellatios to scarlet tanagers, fanfaronade
to my silent partner; in the flood plain, signs of the cross.
To my funeral bring spikenard. Place four scabs
on the first saltlick. A fait accompli in standard time.
The fire plug
among sego lilies. I only want this
footstool and my sign manual,
fascinating sideburns. I take fingernails sprouting;
from our kitchen floor
the sole prints. The front page plus my shaving kit. I leave
like a felon
with a sparring partner, famished and slakeless.
Like four horsemen
and their snake oil. Farewells in a saxophone. A flicker, a sputter,
faggots for Savonarola. Final stopgap. My coming in my going out.
Fresh heart and salt.

Final Testament

Lick the dust from your feet and come to me.
My hand is not shortened. See
This stinking fish? Your fish.
Close up your eyes child much loved
And familiar of cruelty.
I, who will not arbitrate, have purposed it.
Didn’t you put on my voice?
Then slake yourself on this trembling,
My breath in your nostrils.
And who are you to be afraid? I said,
Lie down so I can walk over you
And you have laid your body like the ground.
Behold, it is I. Dark but lovely.
Like cedars blown flush on the cliff.
Look at me and be broken in pieces.
While the land goes on full of horses.

Repeating Dream

Early blue evening, bats whicker
Through thin isosceles
Streetlamp light. In one impulse,
Both solutions and signs:
She looks up.

A block away the ice cream van
Curbs, ding-a-ling.
A world familiar
By consensus shifts
On a hairline crack.

The dead man parks in the driveway.
She looks from the threshold
While behind her a television
Animates a wall, the opacity
In which she lives. She considers

How he has driven himself home
From the cemetery, hunched over,
His face immobile
Against the wheel.
How limited the possibilities

Of our reaction
To the inert past, the hardened mud,
The day’s demonstration of pure phenomena.

Frozen at the screendoor, she stares
At the figure who sits grotesquely
Still in the parked car.

And nothing more remembered of this dream,
As if to say, Here
Is the world. You
Do not even know
How violently you are involved.

© 1994 Forrest Gander

This poem originally appeared in book form in Deeds Of Utmost Kindness (Wesleyan University Press / University Press of New England, 1994). Reprinted by permission of the author.