Read an Excerpt
The Abundance of NothingPoems
By Bruce Weigl
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2012 Bruce Weigl
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePART I My Dimension
I love the guest house on Nguyen Du. I slept
inside the linen net, my windows open wide
to let the spirits in who come to visit
from the lake. I've seen them in a chorus,
their white shapes in the garden where the lotus blossom
has to be content to swirl in
just one place, the fishpond crowded, the quiet fountain
only barely there. I share my room
with geckos on the wall who chirp their discontent—
the lack of bugs, my modern pesticides—
and with a rat who visits when I shower;
he cleans himself beside me on the floor,
and soon, I wash like him, beyond the gaze
that knows there's room for both of us to live.
The End of My Career in Dance
What I have in my head is a wail of words that sometimes makes sense if I can
hold on to their wildness long enough
to tell you how the air around your face in the half-light Texas evening
shone. The only way around the truth is to lie. I am nothing
without you, should be more difficult to say,
or it must mean that there's some riff
in the flow of how things ought to be,
some disruption that needs mending with a kiss,
followed by a thousand more kisses,
and a light only eyes can share
across the distance named longing.
There were witnesses to this,
so you don't have to take my word alone.
There's love, and then there's nothing, and it took my breath away
like a hand around my throat, or like a pistol
pressed to my head, is how I remember it.
Late winter storm makes it all white again; late March and so cold I
can't get warm in my skin, and although I wanted to sing outside,
I pissed instead a circle into the snow because I could. I don't know
if this is a conundrum or not, but my brain is free of hardware
so the words come in a new order, like laps of waves to the needy shore, oh boy.
I married the wife of the sky, and I don't know if that means trouble or not,
but secrets course through her skin.
On the road inside her, her love wildly grows. No exits. That love.
My Checkered Past
A painted dog keeps coming to my head;
he's red and black, no bigger than your hand,
as if he's painted on a piece of wood.
I don't know who the dog in question is;
there are so many in my checkered past
including those that I betrayed sometimes
to death. I left one in an angry field with an angry man
I knew would want to kill the dog for nothing more
than nothing else to do.
He said he couldn't hunt; he might as well be dead.
I took the easy way because I wasn't brave. I turned away,
I could not watch his face. A painted dog keeps coming to my head.
Thank You for Thinking of You
I stood in the dirty snow, the slag soot-stained snow
around the steel mill neighborhood
in a too-thin jacket
shivering for my shabby sins.
Thank you, nurse, who let my heart bleed out
one lonely post-neurological night.
I could swim or I could drown,
depending on your illegitimate care.
Thank you Sgt. X, for leaving me
behind on the abandoned LZ,
where all night small arms fire
crackled in the trees along the river,
night of my downfall that won't go away.
Thank you teacher, coach,
who fondled my dick and my balls,
telling me I had to be checked.
Now are the lost days
I calculate with the digits of your cold hands.
Thank you for thinking of you.
I Almost Didn't See
The toad was trapped; the drain was overflowed
from flooded downspouts in a summer storm.
He was a young and handsome toad, still lean from tadpole days,
so I wanted to reach down
to lift him from the whirlpool he struggled to survive, but I wavered there.
I'd come outside to watch the storm roll in its black and roiled clouds,
the rain we needed, rare as peace.
He had to learn how not to die himself.
He didn't drown; I didn't reach to pull him out.
In the Rest of the World, the Worry Is Very Big
As if this is the world
you would make: nakedness,
grim motels drenched in night
rain, love in foreign places,
like where the soldiers
cry, and hold your hand down
Bernauer Strasse, by the small
lake on which you watched
the eclipse, holding the little
girl's hand, and shading her
eyes, all those suffering
years ago, the memory
of murder (themselves and
the others) hanging
in the air like a mist. Some of us
think we're not dead,
only chagrined, all propaganda reduced,
like everything else,
Some people make up
reasons to kill you
in your sleep, while you
face the door, wall at your
back (or like the day the
old man butchered
the coop full of pigeons
because they kept flying
back home). Anything murdered
makes a horrible cry.
I got my own personal Jacob's ladder,
buddy, reader, listener to this
sad song. I built a temple for the ghosts
because they just kept coming. When I try
to sing, I have a lark in my throat.
I like it when the words are little
daggers, flying through the air like frozen rain.
Beautiful weather here now,
if you're blind. Summer,
with that fall bite in the night air,
and through my window,
the tree frogs hum like a flood.
We don't like redundancies.
We think only other people repeat their stories.
I thought I saw a world.
I thought I saw someone's
boot on someone else's neck.
Elegy for the Dead, Whom I Love
The cemetery walls in disrepair,
some markers even toppled by the roving boys
who come at night to damage what they can,
as if to leave some wreckage in their wake.
And it's not right to do this to the dead;
not even stupid idleness should lead them here.
Yet they have come and gone; the day will soon
forget their names; the dead will bear it all
and won't complain, their headstones knocked away.
Self-Portrait After "Hotel Insomnia"
I wanted my little planet,
its heart eating the brick patio,
yet sparing the guests.
Next door was a peacock.
A few cities ago,
a crippled infant came to dine—
my blue baby.
Mostly though, it was brilliant:
each bosom with its spider of heavy jewelry,
bathing its ax in a tub
of cigarette lies and insignificant loss.
I could not ease my pain, even with the moving van.
At 5 A.M., the twist of bare bodies
everywhere, and the murderous nanny,
whose tunnel is in the ghetto,
longs to vote after a campaign of lies.
Once too, the "eek" of a toy, breaking.
So near it was, I surrendered
my body. I waited for the vision.
I've walked all day through corn stubble fields of snow
hunting rabbits, and killed more than a few,
and later cooked and ate them too
with my friend who killed many rabbits beside me.
I loved him. We wrestled like brothers
in the summer grass and slept together
in a sleepover bed. Now he's alive
inside his dream of an airplane
crashing into mountains, his friends dead and bloody
in the wreckage, and he safe at home
in the West Virginia of his guilt. I grieve
for the frozen bodies in the snow.
I grieve for my friend who believes
he should have been with them no matter what you say.
I grieve for the rabbits I blasted
painfully into death; like me,
they were only souls,
being something in the world, ever after.
The Caves at Bai Non Nuoc
The children want to take me to the caves;
they grab my hand and lead me in the dark.
The story in the village says two soldiers,
who were lost and without guns, had wandered
down the village road, perhaps to see
what light it could have been that shined ahead—
the temple where the students wrote their prayers.
The people's soldiers owned the night; they knew
that they had visitors: the word passed all
along the beach and village road. A boy
who's only four or five warns me to watch
my head. Inside the cave it's cool. He shines
his light and says, that's where they died. They tried
to hide inside the cave, he says, and laughs.
Someone had left him in the cold,
the black and white cat I found at the pound,
and the kind people took him in
once they had reported to work.
They put him in a cage with a blanket, some food and water,
where I found him,
and how could I have said no to Bill,
named to honor my uncle
who'd won a Silver Star
for glider landings in the dark, and who asked the nurse,
the last time I took him to the VA hospital, in Lorain, Ohio,
which is another kind of story, just days before he died,
"You don't work for that Kevorkian, do you?"
Bill lies across the table where I try to work. He stretches his long body
precisely out across the paper
so it's impossible to write a single word.
I didn't want to ever lose your face,
the way you found me in the darkened room,
my brain an open wound and me not sure
of anything. The gurney wheels brought me
here to you; the morphine freely came,
yet it was more the sweetness of your voice,
the way your hand felt on my brow, the way
you leaned the weight of you against the pull
of other duties waiting down the hall
that eased me back, the anesthesia gone.
Then I awoke, and you no longer there,
and what I wanted has the name of everything:
the brain relieved, the pretty scar, the room
whose dark I lavished in, and you in me.
My Life with Cats
Cats are easily inhabited by the dead.
If you call a new cat by the name
of a recently dead,
the dead will come back inside of that cat.
I've seen this happen in my own family.
I've seen cats curl around cancer
not yet diagnosed, night after night.
Cats will prolong the kill
like no other animal
Pastoral as Complaint
The robin is so quarrelsome. He barks
to no one in the trees; he fluffs his body
twice its size and rattles in the leaves.
He doesn't know or won't accept
the nest is empty now; the eggs are broken
on the ground. The storm was quick, we didn't
see it come; no sound above the hum
a summer morning makes when god is in
her place and we are free of tragedies
that pile up along the way. The robin
is so quarrelsome; he thinks his life
is gone just like the nest, but he is like
the rest of us, it's only now begun;
his life without her, only now begun.
My Mother, Fading
The skunks tear up the yard for grubs,
but I will not wait up;
they are too many, and what could you do?
Cold, but the sun out all day, and my mother
in her new forgetfulness
says over and over,
how lovely it is that it's cold,
but that the sun is out too.
In her eyes for the first time,
the terrified look the lost
almost imperceptibly assume,
mad beyond our maddening, irrelevant care.
I take her by her hand, to show her
where the skunks had fed for grubs
and tore my lawn to shreds; she laughs.
The light suffuses me, dearest ones,
you who expect me to live forever; the light
shoots straight through my body, although I can
grit my teeth now to almost any pain, and even
miss the pain when it's gone, as when the light is gone
at the boundary between things. That's all I want to say
about that now, because the howls and the cries of
all the people abandoned in the storm Katrina
are like the radical flaw of reason, like
the insufficiency of reason, as seen
in the bodies of people floating in the floodwaters
of the Mississippi. You can tie things together
if you like. You can say that one thing is connected
to the other, and so on, and so forth, on past our wildest
imaginings, so that you may believe that the world is
held together somehow, and that the shapes of things,
and the million dialogues, and the billion monologues
all add up to something discernible, sometimes something even holy.
Anyhow, it's a beautiful lie. It's a lie you can strap on
and live with for a long time, and imagine is your life.
Too young to know any god
damn thing about women I stood in the
alley with one Karen Mendez who
told me she was a nympho and who said she
had a rubber, neither of which I could
identify but I could tell from the
way her eyes lit up in the dark alley
and the way she moved her thirteen-year-old
body in the fractured light that came
to us there that something important
was about to happen then she reached her
long fingers under the legs of my shorts and
found me so my legs straightened out on their
own as if I were at attention then
she kissed my mouth so I couldn't breathe my
god and she pulled her own shorts off and tried
to climb up on top of me there in the
alley and I began to think that I'd
made a mistake and set myself up for
some trouble as the alley closed in on us
like night and she rubbed against me
in a rhythm I remembered from some other
time and place and I could hear voices from the
corner where my pals hung out whom I longed
for, and I could hear music from someone's
record player leak out into the night
sky and seem to settle there for a moment
and then disappear
For My Neighbors
The faux stone naked torsos in my neighbor's garden must signify something,
as this coffin I carry around on my back means something—
my bed, or my field to lay myself down in—you know. I love my neighbors,
even the ones I don't know, and so must imagine lives for; even those
who hide behind their curtains in the heavy odor of their secrets
that spread and tangle like vines until there is nothing left to see or to love.
We are all in this together, this lawn mowing and leaf raking until death,
this trash hauling and gutter cleaning metaphysics; it's what we have
in common, and I am grateful for the dogs walked past my house,
and for their shrill barking in the early morning cold, like today for example,
and even though you don't know my name, I am happy to be among you,
safe in our unspoken village, the walls of our courtesy
like broken glass–embedded stone.
Self-Portrait in the Third Person at Fifty-Eight
I knocked on the door of his forehead, but there was nobody home,
so I looked into his eyes and saw straight through to another time.
I shouted into his ear, but only whimpers came back, only cries,
because that's his nature, as it's the scorpion's
nature to sting the frog who lets it ride its back across the river
so they both drown. When he drowned, he later remembered it
as only a slightly uncomfortable moment or two of confusion,
because that's the way he's come to love the body's frail way,
the winding down to dust along the road, bui doi.
As the popular girl walks among us with the microphone,
most of our stories are about loss,
or include exquisitely precise
medical and pharmaceutical details,
as if the words could suture the wounds, or save us even one last breath.
I came to dance with the Puerto Rican women
of my class of 1967, and to remember a few pals lost in the war,
who had been so beautiful, you were happy just to look upon them,
and one more boy
lost to his own drunken wildness
under a moon who doesn't remember us.
It's not a going back we long for, but a staying still
for one incomparable moment, all the lost loves' faces
spinning in the mirrored ball.
The Country That We Love
Before the stand that sold peaches and sweet corn in the summer,
someone had stood up a mannequin,
dressed in a gold lamé bikini and red wig
with tiny American flags in each hand that undulated in the breeze,
and I thought, isn't this the country that we love,
isn't this perspective of clouds and despair deeper than usual,
vultures circling lazily in the distance, as if at the end of a long tunnel.
At the end of the day, it rains through some sunlight. Birds gather.
They gather and swarm and make their biometric shapes against a white sky.
Elegy for Anna N.
That mad urge to pull words up my throat and out of my mouth
can be no more than a passing fancy,
especially when it's so cold outside; even for the spirits
it's cold, but a body is floating inside of our heads
and her lovers won't put her into the ground,
or even set her on fire. Look what we made of her
are not the words of a song
although they sound that way, I know.
If you sing your life in a certain way,
it can sound like a song of the blue and opiate water.
The Way Dante Moved Virgil Through Hell
Please, your words fly past
so quickly I am dizzy, sick,
like when clouds
zoom past so quick,
like at the carnival, remember
the dying shopping mall,
horrific in the archive of somehow,
but it was not a strange gratuity of clowns,
and had more to do with
some roughnecks who ran the rides,
but I can't remember,
so don't walk me down that
alleyway between tents,
muddy from the recent rain;
(why have they let us
out so late, and alone?).
but I don't know if it's
in my head or not;
I don't know if it's
inside of time or not;
the Tilt-a-Whirl was not my last escape,
so into the rubber night I crept,
nothing in my mind but thoughts,
then later, behind the sodden, artsy
warehouse of random longing,
behind the invasion of
certain thoughts (like having soup
later, with the girl from Binh Luc)
that have the will to lift you up
right off your feet into contrails
above the stadium
where I found some words
whispered from blowing limbs of willow
trees far away, but also alive in night sky
right above our heads as we tried
to get over the strangeness
that lingered like a thing lingers
when there's been some
that sends you reeling
into thoughts of dying's
bright and faithful enterprise,
and even at the Sheetz
twenty-four-hour coffee bar,
my dying body fell in love with strangers.
Oh, the light off of that lake is so inviting
that I think of this as the end of my life,
as in the phrase
"the end of his life,"
and it could happen to you
that some cool air
blows through the window
extravagantly open to the
so you're delivered,
to another place. It
happens (to me) all the time.
Excerpted from The Abundance of Nothing by Bruce Weigl Copyright © 2012 by Bruce Weigl. Excerpted by permission of NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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