|Brenda Hillman [Napa Valley Writers Conference]|
from Brenda Hillman's Bright Existence:
The thought that you could even save the light,
that you could stop it from having to be
everywhere at once.
You stood in the ice cream shop
and from the street, in a group
of silly glass trumpets
and broke into millions of itself, shattered
from the pressure of being mute who knows how long.
There also, leaning against the counter
the child who saw nothing
but the bins of sweet color
separately rimmed with silver.
Behind you, thoughtfully placed by the owners, a photo
of an avalanche, its violence
locked in blue spears . . . The ice moved cruelly, one way only,
and behind the avalanche, and behind
the posts that held it,
the cars went back and forth like mediators.
You who do not exist:
you stared along the edges of the freezer:
frost glistened and clustered.
Suddenly it looked as if one act could be completed,
mounting over and over, even under terrible pressure.
Perhaps the tiny crystals would last forever.
Once it seemed the function of poetry
was to redeem our lives.
But it was not. It was to become
indistinguishable from them.
When I can't write, I go in and play with the rat.
Come on darling.
I open the cage and pick him up under the arms,
loving him so much, though I am his jailer —
the little head strains forward,
the body hangs down until the budlike penis
emerges from the tender belly.
Come on, I say to him,
I'm taking a break;
I'm going to stop trying to find myself in poems.
Probably I'll be having no more children
so when I look in his eyes, which are always clear and wet
like salmon roe
I say my son, all day, my son
and let him do all kinds of things:
put his whole head in my mouth,
eat crumbs in the bed,
shit in the laundry basket . . .
This is the bourgeois view of rats, that they are pleasure;
I have the rats of the poor in my attic —
hard for me to love them —
and the rats of the poor in my dreams,
in the barns of childhood,
eating the hot, closed milky ears of corn
till they are shot over and over,
until their magic skulls light up with flame . . .
Come on darling.
I hold the rat close, too close;
let him dig the pink commas of his claws
into my neck, lie for hours on my inadequate breast —
and then he starts this purring or clicking
such as must occur
at the center of the universe,
the sound acacias make when they split
their seeds on a hot day,
a tiny snap as what is dark and curved
twists into openness —