Mosaic

By Tim Seibles b. 1955 Tim Seibles

I’m a’kickin’ but not high,
and I’m a’flappin’ but I can’t fly.
          — Florence Church

A carpet of light, the
ocean alive < half a moon
muting the stars.

I tell myself
despair    is just

a bad attitude: Get up,
I say. Look — 
and the shimmer

spends its name
in my head.
_____


These days    midlife
holds the jagged edge:

my nephew in prison,
a prisoner > friends insane

with work or sick
of trying to be loved,

my parents handing over their lives
like evidence: my good mother,

her mind     a trail of crumbs
in a woods flocked with birds.

                    --/--

To raise a child    break it
like a wild horse — 
bend the will: get up,
get dressed.

I remember Emlen School
staring me down, my lunch box,
September:
the spiked fence freshly painted.

Then, the goodbye from my mother
who’d fought my hard hair,
lipstick like mist on my cheek.

                    --/--

That instant when eyes meet
and slide away — even love
blinks, looks off

like a stranger.

With: Who are you
with?

                    --/--

I suspect     everything.

Outside the air moves
a giant bird I cannot see.

Still laced in this
brown body: my aging heart — 
a-loom     a-loomdoom — 
still minds my thoughts,

but rolls his eyes.
_____


To see >< to be seen:  the life
of the visible.  Don’t be shy.

Glances pick my face.

Once, I was a sperm and an egg,
but they didn’t see me.

                    --/--

Too small to walk
alone: I held

my father’s index
finger. Philadelphia police

caped in their black
jackets — big badges     almost

hungry — looking at us.

                    --/--

In a mall: say a food court
on Saturday     or a stadium
just before the game.

There’s this drone, this
steady, muttering thrum

punctured by
packages — plastic this,
paper that — torn and torn.

“It’s hard not to be hungry.”

                    --/--

Time     for bed: my
mother reading The
Three Little Pigs, doing
all the voices. Remember
the pictures — those piggy
pants and shirts?

                    --/--

When you     see me,
what is that

image in the eye?
Solid ghosts, we are pictured
here — in the lit world.

Visible: we want to be seen: skin,
fancy legs     shoes and hats.

To want > to be seen and
wanted. Nice lips with a moist

sheen. Eyes, like mouths.
_____


What tortures, what tortures
me is     the question: what
are other people     thinking?

I keep watch — a vast horde
of Nikes has landed, running

sea     to shining sea.

                    --/--

In America skin was
where you belonged,     a who

you were     with, a reason

someone might: how — at the

parties     of hands unknown — 

astonishing deaths
could meet you.

                    --/--

In Joy’s arms, I believed
in perfect company, in the silk
of Her mouth — I believed:

my body off
the clock, my spine
all for touch.
_____


Six years old, I sang
like a chickadee. My father

slapped me for handing him
the scissors

wrong. What did I know?
What did I know?

                    --/--

Reckless eyeballs.

Three centuries track me,
their dumb dogs slobbering
on my scent: Myself runs

into my     other self: Over here!

my self whispers — Freedom


over here!

                    --/--

Suppose nobody knows
what’s
inside you.
But you, yourself,
find it pretty clear:

anxiety     adding up, leveling off,
doubling > some comfort in people
you think you
understand / frustration,

fatigue, a secret.
One worn constellation
marking the lusciousness of sex.

                    --/--

What’s your faith? Which skin
do you believe? The unseen

stays with us:
the air

rubbing your lungs
right now —

nations of germs
feuding over your hands.

                    --/--

Savory sweet salt of sweat in summer,
a taste of almonds, some buttery bread.

The loins, a house of  hunger, personal
but not personal: the way moonlight calls

for you and     not for you. What
I want >    I guess    < I want.

Fingernails grow. My
belly grumbles. My blood runs

up a long hill.
 _____


Among the brothaz, a certain
grip     in the eyes. A sense

of something
swallowed     not chewed — 

as if they’d been made
a story and were dying

to untell themselves:
profiles — prisons,

the sports inside The Sport.
Outside, the wolf

with a
huff     and a puff.

                    --/--

Culture: a kind of knife:
cuts one way     opens
your brain to a certain
breed of light     shaves
consciousness to its

purpose, its cross: the nail
thru your hand >< your
other hand holding
the hammer.

                    --/--

Once, I asked my father
if  he knew     everything.

I was hopeful, seven — 
a corn muffin
where my head shoulda been.

I saw him shave and after,
little dabs of  Kleenex on the nicks.

                    --/--

I only see
The Game     in pieces — 
the rules inside me
like bad wiring < like a shadow
government < like dark
matter in a sky
otherwise Mardi Grased
with stars. Rise up,
somebody     somebody.

                    --/--

(Insert your life here.)

                    --/--

Did you mean to be this way?
Did you mean to become
something you didn’t mean?

You didn’ become
something you     didn’
mean     did you?

                    --/--

Image follows image, quack follows
quack — a line of lonely ducks. What

is wrong     is well

organized: see all the schedules
with their Coors Lights and comfy socks.
 _____


How do I look? With whom >< am I with?

Better worlds build hives
inside us. Last words

trapped like wasps in our mouths.

                    --/--

So monogamy     never made
sense to me, nor most of what
was called growing up.

The whole
haunted house

of race and religion     of sex,
money, possession.

Am I rented or owned?
How many lives turned
on the spit? How many
hours ________
and ________?

                    --/--


I was nine, integrating Anna
Blakiston Day School: fourth grade,

mixing it up. Visible,

with my new face.
Whenever my mother
had to go see the teachers,

she’d say,
“Don’t send me into battle

with a butter knife.”

                    --/--

Connect this to that, this
to that: word     by word, a
sentence

scavenges the alleys
like a lost pet — fur matted,
leg cut: the hunger,

a sort of riddle > his noise
some sort of answer. 
_____


What skinny faith you have — 
and such big teeth: all

the better. I mean to step out
of  history     for just a minute,

to feel my blood float

above the say-so. Memory,
a jar of flies. Spin off the lid.

I forget what you know. What

did you ever know?

                    --/--

To speak: score the alphabet — 
make the shape of  what

cannot be seen. Tear it open

like a child with a new bag
of something / stand in the traffic

goading your throat until the song
sharpens in your mouth — 

the solo: one nick

chasing another.

                    --/--

I think I’m
starting to know
Everything < O, tongue!
O, summer! O, bold,
bare legs of women
upon which my soul beads
like sweat > O, rosemary rolls
and marmalade!
Hard-bodied beetles
with your six-legged sashay!
O,
funky beats and bitter
guitars < O, children
taller and taller no
matter
what!

O, moonlit sea! O, Hershey bars!
O, bizness besuited
pigeons of death: How     much
does   it   cost? O, moment
flung from the last-last
to the next-next.
 _____


One dandelion head gone to seed,
half-flung on the wind.

I’ve sold a lot of myself already:
already alotta my selves been sold.

I have this feeling

every day — something I know
that can’t

be words. This life

stuffs my eyes.

These people nearby — syllables

like pheasants flushed
from their mouths.

I’m back on my mother’s lap
waving my small arms.

Source: Poetry (March 2014).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2014
 Tim  Seibles

Biography

Poet Tim Seibles was born and raised in Philadelphia. He earned a BA at Southern Methodist University and an MFA at Vermont College of Norwich University.
 
Seibles approaches themes of racial tension, class conflict, and intimacy from several directions at once in poems with plainspoken yet fast-turning language. In a 2010 statement he shared in From the Fishouse, Seibles states, “I think poetry, if it’s going to be really . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Youth, Love, Desire, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Social Commentaries, Race & Ethnicity

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Epigraph, Free Verse

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