Saturday, October 08, 2005

With Indrawn Breath...


I am thankful for it all and love each thing,
beyond the weight of all these misspent
syllables, beyond the churning ubiquity
of this half-learned psalm, beyond better
worlds broken in the dreaming, beyond
rusty old kitchen knives used to splice
and cut the rope in the dusty and
modest home, at the center of the
untidy kitchen with chipped dishes
laid out for three at a table that only
ever sat one, and that in silence and
only the inconstant clicking of a
bent-tined fork upon the plate
and twilight gave way and cars
sagged homeward,

This kitchen where the man who
people didn't know well but liked
for his accessible smile and mild
tone of voice, this man who wanted
to be a playwright but could only
manage as much as working 37
hours per week as a postal clerk,
filled up with emptiness and
old television shows and a music
collection never updated from
vinyl records, this man who
faded like clever animals into
the nap of the day and fell into
the carpet in the waiting rooms of
dentists, so that even the bright eyed
hygienists had to squint to see that he
was there,

This man, standing at 9:45 on a Tuesday
with rope in his hands, never the victim
of the unwelcome attentions of his family,
who had let him free and wondered not at
all about him beyond that point, who
had no reason to screen his phone calls
for fear of a marketing call on the line,
because he wished and hoped for even
this abstract and soulless contact, this
chat with a representative from Electrolux
or Visa,

And indeed, he hoped for anything and
found those hopes defeated, rope in hand,
coiled, knotted in the way an old library
book had prescribed, that rusted paring
knife set at an angle just so on the countertop
of this rental house, considering what might
bear his weight, and where he might be
seen by a passer-by and found before the
bloating and stench had climbed up,
and that it was at least fall, the weather
cooling, the light of the sun now dialed
back from its summer zenith.


I am thankful for it all and love each thing,
not equality, for equality is myth,
equanimity to even small fates a gift
spoiled in the giving, spoiled in the
simple idea and foolishness of it, but
this rain on the pavement beyond the window,
this sound of a dying vehicle revved without
mercy or remorse down the lane,
this sound and sense of tires on the macadam,
for all those wanderers and penitents
behind the wheel on roads from
darkness to dimness, hands wet on the
wheel for what they have done before
and must soon do again, for the
way that woman behind the counter
at the gas station had bled out quick,
dark blood after the sound of the
gun had gone where dying sounds go
and left its muffled remnants behind,

The way the money, thirty-four dollars
and seven cents, had felt so utterly
corrupted in his hand, so small and
yet so vital that it could spring that
iron trap within him and make him
kill, and if she'd only have kept her
head and not yelled at him, yelled
like his mother had, and his older
sister, and all his ill-chosen lovers
over these gray years from juvenile
hall onward,

If only she had simply made this one
night go easy,

And perhaps those lights approaching
hard and fast are the lights of highway
patrol, of some sheriff out in this vast
promised land unkept and absent now
from the lexicon of all those who have
slouched and dragged into the city
to seek some frail measure of solace, but
it is, alas, just another speeding bullet
through the night, the side of the overlarge
truck gleaming only for a moment before
leaving the killer to his thoughts, his
sorrow, and that meager prize it could


I am thankful for it all and love each thing,
bringing every unwilling participant in
this joy to my breast despite their struggles,
for I have wrestled with demons these many
years, and the strength in my arm and my
hand is like Beowulf, he who, with grip
alone, tore the arm from the monster Grendel
and sent him, sagging and horrible, this
rejected spawn of the old gods, into the night
to seek his mother, and so I do grip all ye,
friend and foe and persons whose whereabouts
are unknown, and who are sought for
questioning on the matters of unsolved crime
and complaint by the good people of the
valley, those who plot daily against neighbor
and make cuckolds of each other on quiet
Thursdays, if given the opportunity.

For, if love cannot encompass such a group
as we, and if there is no healing to be had,
and if thankfulness can only be summoned
by those who have encountered good,

If fortune and the luck to meet people unbloodied
and unbowed, for which the flood waters of the
brown river have not reached upward and put
dirty fingerprints on their shirttails, then
what good can be ascribed to it, this thankfulness
we are given to feel, and told so often and so
loudly is right and pious?

No, no. It is the only claim to valor, this thanks,
these arms flung careless and wild about the shoulders
of all these shuffling legions in deep hearts of morning,
late again for work and bleary, with shirts stained with
coffee and ill-conceived chocolate from doughnuts
sworn off many times already this week.

I send out this madness of thanks and this depraved
luxury of love, in hopes that somehow, it can be a
poor man's multiplicative inverse to a world gone
thin on forgiveness, gone weak on caring, gone
hard and cold like gun barrels, even to ourselves.

I send out this unseen and unasked gesture,
hope too strong for these faint wishes, but
pushing this broken machine within my
soul for another go, pushing these strange
and untrustworthy buttons before me in
hopes of, for just a moment, summoning
a sort of euphony to myself and calling all
these scattered church choirs together for
one last hymn, one final supplication
to our far flung universalist beliefs
before they shut down the lights and
there is no stage, no audience, no
humming in the hall monitors left.


Stranger Ken said...

I can't do justice to this poem in a comment, Firehawk, because it's too long, too complex and too dense with meanings to simplify down to a few neat words. There are some very memorable lines and phrases that will stay with me, "better worlds broken in the dreaming", for example, when one might think that existing only in dream might make them safe. I also think that the note of desperation running through the entire piece is again reminiscent of Eliot, but also of Bob Dylan, not only in your running image of the desperate man, which reminds me of Hollis Brown, but in the consistent use of surreal nightmare imagery, too, the rusty knife sawing away at the rope, for instance. There are some lines which resonate with sound as well: "the inconstant clicking of a bent-tined fork upon a plate" and "a dying vehicle revved without mercy". This is a very rich meal, Firehawk. A real challenge to the imagination!

Mushster said...

In the words of today's youngins whose overuse of certain words ruins them, that was 'awesome'.

Swiftboat said...

This one is big and hard to get my small head around. It feels like “Death of a Salesman” in three acts. But perhaps that's not a good analogy. Delivering it in first person adds to the unnerving immediacy of the work. Each sentence and paragraph pulled me reluctantly forward. Reluctant since I've never been brave about certain things. But the writing could not be denied – I followed like a pig to slaughter.

Keep “pushing the strange and untrustworthy buttons.”


Firehawk said...


I'm honored to be mentioned in conjunction with such greats as Eliot and Dylan. I recently went to a reading of Ginsberg's "Howl" to commemorate the 30th anniversary of it's first public reading. That, in conjunction to hearing a lot of other really impressive poetry read, set this one in motion. I felt that it was time for me to try for something on a big scale. I'm gratified that you found it to be challenging and imagistic/dynamic. That's what I was shooting for.


Glad to be more than "moderately neato".


I think that the topics of dissillusionment and looming defeat may have similar tones to "Death of a Salesman", though that wasn't in mind as I wrote this one. I think that it was always my intention for this one to be almost "too much" for a single reading. I wanted there to be enough complexity that it required multiple passes to get it all. I'm happy that the images and intesity of the work pulled you through it despite the complexities, though.

Thanks, everybody, for coming over again and sharing your thoughts. Having an audience like you has brought poetry out of me when I could have easily been sitting aimlessly and thinking about the ham and cheese sandwich in the next room. Cheers.

Bill said...

Dylan is who came to mind as I read this... so full of imagery, sound and powerful phrases.

I'll be re-reading this many times, brain food for certain.

and I'll up mushster.. to "majorly fuckin' awesome"

Firehawk said...


Glad you liked it, and had such ringing praise for my work. I thought that it was time to "fire all of my guns at once".

I'm always thrilled to hear that someone wants to re-read a poem of mine. To me, that's a real compliment.

Thanks again for coming by.

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