THREE POEMS BY NANCY EIMERS
3. A History of Navigation
from A History of Navigation
Sometimes in a squall
the pouring of storm oil on the water
doesn’t work. Then the wind goes whistling
over the forty- and fifty-foot crests
and the gloomy cook goes sloshing around in the ship’s galley
stacking pots and pans on the highest shelf.
we turn the volume up, then down, behind the words,
we weep, we make of sweet relief our peace
we scan the windows for superlatives: One of the most daring
pieces of expert seamanship
in the history of navigation!
To voyage over water, to make our way—
let’s lie in bed in the hour of shipwrecked laughs,
one awake and one asleep,
and steer past the first or last
jalopy backfiring in the alley.
Poor car, poor town,
roar down inside us and sleep.
Now it’s a way of remembering, dark by dark, the rows.
To think my way back to that rising full harvest moon
is to set in more winter firewood, for it will be cold.
To look at that moon is secretly to make a purchase
for no good reason, of old watch faces in bulk,
is to trace the trajectory of a mayfly on its slow crawl
across the splotched ephemeris of a tablecloth
from points everlasting to dead at the end of a day.
To look at the moon is to open up little bottles and boxes,
beach glass, blue jay feather, clearies, cat’s-eyes,
heart of a hummingbird, snowdrift, fingernails, rain,
until it breaks, it drips, it melts, it rots, it stinks of camphor,
it lies, it doesn’t tell.
At dusk, the moon is low in the south
and nearing the Teapot in the constellation Sagittarius
as we travel eastward against the stars.
Each night this week the moon will wax in cosmic reverie. Not yet.
A crow flying cleanly over the houses
has the hardness of trees, or is it the houses
drawing near like trees in the sooty light
that keeps the very thought of us alive?
Down a road outside town I remember silhouette trees
and every silhouette giving in.
The moon rose over dinosaurial waddling
of Canada geese between the cornstalk rows
as if the almanac had told it just what to do:
corn carried, let such as be poor and go glean.
In the New Year
In Baghdad, they fly up, little bright spots
to find and marry the bombs falling down,
and they are not the stars on childhood’s bedroom wall
that wake when it’s dark enough and shine on us,
and hoard the thought
of a million suns as the soul travels nightly
through constellations behind the stars,
each pinning a layer of dark in place.
and they are not van Gogh’s pinwheeling stars.
Sleep fizzles out above our heads,
flinging itself out of any night
we ever found the terror to go on looking at.
Has the thought of you already forgotten us?
Last week a CBS reporter and camera crew
abandoned their jeep and wandered into the Saudi desert,
beyond our knowledge, beyond their own—
that’s what you’ve come to, that’s where you are.
Not even to know there’s a war!
Yet, as friends do, I keep wanting to tell you
what you already know. I mean the empty
imagining. A kid flies one of those dark spots
over the city and lets it drop,
a diamond flicked out of a ring,
then rides on a bezel, emptied, back toward base;
he is looking down like a great darkness
hosting what another kid-pilot called ‘the greatest
Fourth of July bash ever!”
and thinking what he mustn’t ever think.
Stars burning on the ground,
millions of suns and their planets, smoking, spent . . . .
In Kalamazoo it is snowing eternally
like notes on the roll of a player piano,
the nobody playing what nobody always plays:
where are you? why aren’t you here?
In my mind I keep circling around
to find my footsteps waiting, pressed in snow.
In a recent movie a man is staring at Crows in a Wheatfield so intently
he walks in and out of the bright shafts of light.
Inside, sheaves of it are already heaped and bound.
But sooner or later he’s drawn irresistibly
to his body’s own impatience
waiting just outside the idea of art. Nothing stops
the tiny, flickering TV war I watch in a darkened room.
Each smack of light that pilots me back to myself
flicks my eyes shut just before the night
isn’t you anymore. It is everything else.
*all from No Moon, Purdue University Press, 1997.