Murder

1.

Language must suffice.

Years ago,
               under a sweet June sky
stung with stars and swept back by black leaves
barely rustling,

a beautiful woman nearly killed me.

Listen,
she said,
and turned
her lovely face to the stars, the wild sky....


2.

No.

No: years ago,

                     under a sweet, June sky
strung with stars and swept back by black leaves
barely rustling,

under this sky
broad, bright, all rung around

with rustling elders—or intoxicating willows,
or oaks, I forget—
                           under this sky,

a beautiful woman killed me, nearly.

I say beautiful. You had to see her.

Listen,
she said,

and turned a lovely shell of her ear
to the swirl of stars
and the moon
                  smudged as a wingtip in one tree, not far.


3.

Yes: she scraped my back bloody against a rough trunk.
Yes: she flung back her lovely face
and her hair, holding me down,

and the tree shook slowly, as in a mild, persistent laugh
or wind,

            and the moon high in that black tree
swung to and fro ...

there were millions of stars
up where she stared past us,
and one moon, I think.


4.

Excuse me.

My friend, who loves poetry truly, says too much
nature taints my work.

Yes. Yes. Yes.
Too many birds, stars—
                                 too much rain,
                                 too much grass—
so many wild, bowing limbs
howling or groaning into the natural night ...

and he might be right. Even here.

That is, if tree were a tree.
That is, if star or moon or even beautiful woman
craning the shell of her ear
were what they were.

They are, I think, not.

No: and a poem about nature contains anything but.


5.

When they descended to us, they were a cloud of stars
sweeping lightly. They sang to us urgently
about our lives,

they touched us
with a hundred thousand hair-soft, small legs—

and held down by such hungers, we let them cover us,
this beautiful woman, this me,

who couldn’t move,
who were stung—do you hear?—
who were stung again, were covered that quickly, crying
to each other
                     to fly away!


6.
          ... I just can’t erase
the exquisite, weeping language
of the wasps, nor her face in starlight
and so tranquil under that false, papery, bobbing
          moon
just minutes before,
saying listen,

listen,

nor then the weight
of her whole natural body
                                       pinning down mine
until we both cried out for fear, and pain,
and still couldn’t move.


7.

Language must suffice.
First, it doesn’t. Then, of course,

it does. Listen, listen.

What do you hear? This nearly killed me.
I’ll never know
why she didn’t just whisper Here they come, warn Move!
cry They’ll kill us!
Yes: I will save you ...
Yes: I love you too much to watch you suffer!
But it’s all I recall, or now need.

And, anyway, I loved her, she was so beautiful.
And that is what I have had to say
before it’s too late,
                               before they have killed me,
before they have killed you, too,

or before we have all become something else entirely,

which is to say
before we are
only language.
David Baker, “Murder” from After the Reunion. Copyright © 1994 by David Baker. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Arkansas Press, www.uapress.com.
Source: After the Reunion (University of Arkansas Press, 1994)
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