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for R.G.

As if sliding down the green, scuffed face
      of the wave, a seaplane falls
and turns together, keeping the waters of
the ear flat: a dead calm. But when the window’s
      frowning strip of shoreline,
the battalions of tropical-drinks umbrellas
guarding the sandcastles and saltboxes
      of the rich,
when these flip upside down, and the pale
clouded sky floats below the ocean,
      then we jolt awake—
But this is not her dream, not water or land.
      Tell me again, what illness do I think I have?
The ropes of blood coil through her neck,
      they twist as it twists,
as the head looks for parents and young men,
for nurses, strangers, year upon year attending
      until the pulpy blood
knots up at last, and the warrens of
the brain dry and crackle, a town of names
      she saunters one long night:
streets without signs lead to a girlhood park,
to songs under stars, and lipstick,
      old houses forever
unbuilding themselves—but within the blue
jungle scaffolding, a gallery of faces
      stares back at her,
portraits she can’t place . . . and then the town
flattens and crumbles behind her, it grows
      to dry scrabbled pasture
under a dishplate moon, hanging there
in the tints of the sky, yet like a stopped
      clock, right twice a day:
      Now ma’am, can you remember the name of
      the President who was shot in the ‘60s?
And if the names had sunk beneath the sea,
      rolling hump and hollow,
leopard spotted foam—surgeons would haul up
the big sharks and club them silly, knife off a fin,
      then drop them
bleeding onto the docks of Alcatraz,
warning the inmates: “See that?
      No inside fin,
they’ll  swim round this Rock forever. . . .”
The convicts build the prison, then move inside,
      their block minds
ignite a thousand homes by dawn,
then melt in the butter sun of
      breakfast porridge. . . .
But this is not the Philosopher’s circle prison,
no lidless Eye radiates from the center,
and watchful: the neutered grounds
here at the Residence for Life
      are groomed
like the campus of Depression State U:
past the dwarfish berms and drumlins
      a mazy cobalt
walkway slithers to the storage lake,
with its hooded fount of aqua vitae sudsing
      the green larvae,
its dry Gazebo Isle no one shuffles to . . .
One night, the distraught Residence cook
      shoots himself dead:
everyone mourns, but only the young staff
seek counseling, their threshold of death
      not yet raised
to that of teetering Mr. On-His-Toes,
of Ms. Wheelchair-With-Political-Bumper-Stickers,
      or elegant
Mrs. Whisper, polite confused survivors of
wiped-out families, trolley cars, jobs learned
      and lost, a cosmos
squeezed beneath the blood boulder—
      Why can’t I remember my problem?
They do not scream. They who once
      made things happen
now watch things happen to them:
they hand their middle chapters to
      their children,
and quietly appraise the spindle of
a leafless sapling outside, staked
      to three larger
poles of wood: all of them under arrest.
And you must calm yourself. In the acrid hold
      of their boat,
whose strangely knotted sail whips the wind
round on each side, anchorless boat
      that hugs the dock,
and keeps the dock from drifting to sea,
you can hear the first, reeling chapters,
      of pierside painters
crowding a rustic barrel-and-shanty scene
so clichéd the locals called it “Port Motif
      Number One”—:
the washy dab and smear of the medical test,
      Can you tell me what day this is?

      —You mean now?
The brush like an oar rinses off its paints;
      a filmy rainbow
upon the waters, coils and ribbons
you trace in your own sweet time.

David Gewanter, "Mobius" from War Bird. Copyright © 2009 by David Gewanter.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
Source: War Bird (The University of Chicago Press, 2009)

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