Seventeen years ago yesterday my wife gave birth to our second child, a girl whom we named Piper, since we figured that "Pinky," which is what we had been calling her up till that point, was not suitable for her birth certificate. Here she is being carefully greeted by her 5-year-old brother Nicholas.
Twenty-two years before that, I had gotten the notion of basing a poem on the entries for a certain date in my five-year-diary (my first diary), which I had started in high school and now had just graduated from, halfway though my college career. More or less by random, I picked February 10.
Only coincidence, to be sure, but who could have predicted what else might happen on that date so far in the future?
Patrick Kelley is not yet dead today.
Sometime in the near future
that viper, his kidney,
will pump venom into him.
He will make for the doctor,
not ready for his motorcycle:
fifty miles an hour
keels over into the blacktop.
Today Pat has coffee with me.
The horsey librarian whinnied
at students all day while I
tried to study. It is the basic,
raw elements that foul up the works.
Something simple enough to overlook,
some unyielding atmosphere.
The lab conditions are never satisfactory.
A missing ingredient, incorrect controls.
Stimulus and response are not possible.
Imperfect, always. I miss
the last chance to see a friend
before she spreads like airfern,
flows out of the room for Chicago.
The thin snow of days
drifts down from the solid grey
that stays behind where I can reach.
Everything is invisible;
what I think is there
is somewhere else, what I know is there
does not exist. The windless temperature
is too low to be cold, quavering
at a fingerprint fineness one can’t sense
unless he’s close. Light dims to white,
shadows become white, objects
fade to winter hares, the hours
blend in like weasels, lurk
with unbearable calmness
at each twist of the day.
I force myself to wait it out,
hibernate, even. The thaw will
trickle in from the south.
I find a hollow log and fur me in.
The poem was for
her, left two years ago
for the Stacker of Wheat, about
men who tamper with men
should sow their own seeds;
a hatred you transferred, mistaken
identity; you who found it
don’t flatter yourself.
It is no clearer than runes to you,
ignore whatever your plow turns up
in that field. Just push on, farmer.
“A journey is a way of learning
What we know but won’t believe.”
(The girl in whose bed I am sleeping
is sleeping with her boy friend.
I am not he.) Berkeley.
Every watery yellow morning
I’ve woken in a real place.
California is not just a movie:
the Santa Monica Pier, Ventura Highway,
the Goldfen Gate is red, eucalyptus
Back to back in groves
like musk oxen defending their young.
The wind is steady as electricity,
BART flows in with polarized eyes
and doorlike mandibles
from Charybdis’ cave.
Rain hovers birdlike at tree level,
dives, perches, the pattering
reeks of aviary.
I am not yet dead today.
I pass beneath me in a puddle.
Sometime in the near future
I will survive reckless driving
stoned over the Siskiyous,
heights, water, timing.
I will know it’s my time
When the writing stops.
Just push on; plant.
Here is Piper as she looks now, in a fabulous shot taken by Nicholas, now going on 22, an excellent photographer in his own right. Happy birthday, sweetie!