Final Poem for the Body
(NEW ORLEANS, LA)
1. AT RECONCILIATION
There are two tragedies to life, Father.
The first: that we must be born.
We must be born to place with no
obligation to us. This earth
will just as soon fill a lake as it will
a city. If I know this theory of science,
it is because I know nothing else.
I have faith, you could say.
Father, not since that time years ago
have I felt so solid.
Not since that time I suspended
as a single cell have I loved every part of myself.
When mind and body was one. In a circle,
where there is no competition.
When mind didn’t tell body you are
a sickness: you exist to let others know
they are well. Deep inside my mother,
something moved to release me: I let out
the thunder-cry. That is the second tragedy:
we know we must be born.
2. A TIME IN AUGUST
Not the storm, its brutal wind, or flood—
but here comes the memory of it:
of the time water remembered
its place among the planet.
When it took back our streets, homes
and our gardens. When it said
these were first my properties, my drivable
ways. Then it happened: body
of the river refashioned, like a woman
escaping her stays. This woman is
a mother. Her son is afraid,
holding fierce the flower she gave him.
Mother says: Baby, this here flower, when it floats,
you float. He holds fierce the bear
she gave him. She says: Baby, this here bear . . .
Then it happened: his flower
wilted, his bear sleeping calmly on
(it never needing to know from the start
it wasn’t alive). The son’s eyes
like licked marbles. His body there.
Isn’t this how a memory comes, the way
her voice does: quick, yet with a drag to it?
Her voice filled with an intolerable light,
the pleading, the questions: Have you seen
him, please—. Have you seen my baby?
And the fact thereafter: though you have
no words, yes, you must answer.
3. A WORD AT THE EDGE
Yes, from here, from between the dark wood
and the river, I can see it: the sun’s cold decline.
I can see it: foreground turning black, as if
a silhouette. Background: the color of new blood.
Let a shadow rise, it would be my lover
until it turned to reveal the full length of itself:
muscled, equine, lowering its head for a drink
of water, maybe a tuft of grass.
Nevermind what crosses its neck, sign
that it’s been struck: long arrow pointing up
to the heavens, their bright zodiac.
Nevermind that it keeps on, undisturbed
by a kind of hit that comes once ever:
weapon pushing through the flesh as if
meant there. As naturally as my lover’s push
in me. But wasn’t my body crippled
by the outside affliction—? Wasn’t I taught
to call my body the affliction itself—?
Yes, Father, I see it: the shadow dissolving
as the sun dissolves, you hear nothing but it living.
The stars arriving like a treaty. Taurus.
Sagittarius with his bow. And deep inside me
something singing: love
and flaunt your arrow.
4. THE BOY PERSEPHONE
In the moment after you find a word,
you forget the word. After a poem,
how to write the poem. In the moment
after you have regarded your death,
you forget life’s wild possibilities—wading
the wetlands, innocent to the thought
of the dark god hissing near. That is the sound
of the gulf correcting shoreland, you tell yourself.
That is back when water was good, like a child
by his mother. But how many times
have you strayed from your mother?
In the moment after the strike, fang-into-the
-sweet-brown-flesh, you fall, your eyes
opened to something new: your body.
Like a single word finally at your lips, it is perfect.
It worries me to think that that what I supposed to be most stable—the water I drink and that bathes me, the air I breathe, the ground I walk and harvest—isn’t. It grieves me. It angers me to know that you and I, all of us, have had a hand in this. Call it eco-terrorism. Call it an (un)natural disaster. Call it as I know it: a body, sick and dying. Soon language won’t be enough, if it was ever enough. At the end of these poems, please pick up your weapon, go out and fight.
Rickey Laurentiis was born and raised on the Gulf Coast in New Orleans, Louisiana. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Indiana Review, jubilat, among other journals. A recipient of a Cave Canem fellowship, he has also had poems commissioned from the Studio Museum in Harlem. You can learn more about his current projects at http://rickeylaurentiis.wordpress.com/.