So much I thought was only personal, like poetry,
like caring nothing for Caillebotte the man,
like arriving in Chicago by bus one gray morning
and having no place to go, going to the Art Institute
and the rain outside became nothing
next to the glorious gray of Paris, life-size.
The artist dead and all my life, I thought,
I've liked right things for wrong reasons.
My sojourn among meticulous dreams
continued. One summer I spent among smart children
taking lessons and abuse from the famous mathematician
who taught old words new: point, line, between.
And the long nights of teaching each other other words,
our fortunate failures. And the furious wind
blew down from time to time among us, hurricanes
which turned live oaks inside out like little minds,
mine, for instance, finding its fervent mode.
Remember that you, too, could live where men spit
while watching you and your mother pass.
That you want her for yourself alone.
Remember that those men are tall as God at such moments,
more mean. So walk among them, the afternoon cooling
within its limits, the mosquitoes taking
equally from black and white, true and false.
But there was a peninsula of time I lived on
when our family poverty left me
the couch to sleep on, the great clock
ticking terror through the night. Who can love
through his childhood insomnia? Only rain
could save me–those blessed gray
nights of noise, when sleep, like Ali Baba's
quartered brother, was sewn back together.