Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trying for Fire

Morse Code (Philadelphia, PA. M.A. Reilly, 2010)

    Tim SeiblesTrying for Fire

             By Tim Seibles

      Right now, even if a muscular woman wanted
      to teach me the power of her skin
      I'd probably just stand here with my hands
      jammed in my pockets. Tonight
      I'm feeling weak as water, watching the wind
      bandage the moon. That's how it is tonight:
      sky like tar, thin gauzy clouds,
      a couple lame stars. A car rips by —
      the driver's cigarette pinwheels past
      the dog I saw hit this afternoon.
      One second he was trotting along
      with his wet nose tasting the air,
      next thing I know he's off the curb,
      a car swerves and, bam, it's over. For an instant,
      he didn't seem to understand he was dying —
      he lifted his head as if he might still reach
      the dark-green trash bags half-open
      on the other side of the street.

      I wish someone could tell me
      how to live in the city. My friends
      just shake their heads and shrug. I
      can't go to church — I'm embarrassed by things
      preachers say we should believe.
      I would talk to my wife, but she's worried
      about the house. Whenever she listens
      she hears the shingles giving in
      to the rain. If I read the paper
      I start believing some stranger
      has got my name in his pocket —
      on a matchbook next to his knife.

      When I was twelve I'd take out the trash —
      the garage would open like some ogre's cave
      while just above my head the Monday Night Movie
      stepped out of the television, and my parents
      leaned back in their chairs. I can still hear
      my father's voice coming through the floor,
      "Boy, make sure you don't make a mess down there."
      I remember the red-brick caterpillar of row houses
      on Belfield Avenue and, not much higher than the rooftops,
      the moon, soft and pale as a nun's thigh.

      I had a plan back then--my feet were made
      for football: each toe had the heart
      of a different animal, so I ran
      ten ways at once. I knew I'd play pro,
      and live with my best friend, and
      when Vanessa let us pull up her sweater
      those deep-brown balloony mounds made me believe
      in a world where eventually you could touch
      whatever you didn't understand.

      If I was afraid of anything it was
      my bedroom when my parents made me
      turn out the light: that knocking noise
      that kept coming from the walls,
      the shadow shapes by the bookshelf,
      the feeling that something was always there
      just waiting for me to close my eyes.
      But only sleep would get me, and I'd
      wake up running for my bike, my life
      jingling like a little bell on the breeze.
      I understood so little that I
      understood it all, and I still know
      what it meant to be one of the boys
      who had never kissed a girl.

      I never did play pro football.
      I never got to do my mad-horse,
      mountain goat, happy-wolf dance
      for the blaring fans in the Astro Dome.
      I never snagged a one-hander over the middle
      against Green Bay and stole my snaky way
      down the sideline for the game-breaking six.

      And now, the city is crouched like a mugger
      behind me — right outside, in the alley behind my door,
      a man stabbed this guy for his wallet, and sometimes
      I see this four-year-old with his face all bruised,
      his father holding his hand like a vise. When I
      turn on the radio the music is just like the news.
      So, what should I do — close my eyes and hope
      whatever's out there will just let me sleep?
      I won't sleep tonight. I'll stay near my TV
      and watch the police get everybody.

      Across the street a woman is letting
      her phone ring. I see her in the kitchen
      stirring something on the stove. Farther off
      a small dog chips the quiet with his bark.
      Above me the moon looks like a nickel
      in a murky little creek. This
      is the same moon that saw me twelve,
      without a single bill to pay, zinging
      soup can tops into the dark — I called them
      flying saucers. This is the same
      white light that touched dinosaurs, that
      found the first people trying for fire.

      It must have been very good, that moment
      when wood smoke turned to flickering, when
      they believed night was broken
      once and for all — I wonder what almost-words
      were spoken. I wonder how long
      before that first flame went out.

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