We all know stories of people who’ve turned into things
like trees, who woke up as an insect or a bear,
a river or a whole field of flowers.
And of course we’ve heard stories of people turned to ashes
and snow—snow falling, snow covering the ground
in deep drifts we could tunnel through, almost disappearing there.
One winter the snow was so deep in our town
we had to climb out our windows and up
to the surface, a vast expanse with just
the top branches of a few tall trees sticking through.
If we fell through the crust, we might tumble through the white
too deep to climb back out. There were birds in mid-flight there
and dogs standing still, as though the snow had caught them
in a flash. But when the snow melted, years later,
everything returned to normal, though the rivers
were swollen at first with animals and debris.
There were ponds in the woods for a few weeks; they became
fields of flowers when they vanished, full of buzzing bees
which taught us something else, something harder.
I was dozing in a hammock on a gorgeous afternoon,
dreaming I was doing what I was doing,
knowing I’d forget my dream when I woke,
and sensing I’d wake soon. Small birds kept landing
on my body, no larger than my thumb, yellow
and blue birds, black birds trimmed with rust.
They smelled like baby powder without the dust,
or jasmine at dusk. Each took something from me
as I dozed: first the buttons of my shirt, one after
the other; then the ring my wife had given me;
then the pens in my shirt pocket, and then the shirt itself—
they took the loose threads in their beaks and flew up
into the trees. And when they’d unraveled
my clothes they started to peck at me, so gently
I didn’t wake, and I didn’t wake when my wife came out
and found me, just a head without ears by then
and only half my body lying there, still asleep.
And she spent the rest of the afternoon searching
for all my parts up in the trees and putting me
back together while I slept, so I’d never notice.
Then she lay down beside me in that hammock, and slept.
until I woke and hugged her, blessed
my good luck, hardly knowing the least of it, and listened
to the birds, the hummingbirds buzzing through the afternoon,
searching, as always, for nectar.
Birds from all the Days You’ve Lived
The wind drew its long hair across the bedroom floor,
but the bedroom was outside now, as the houses were scattered
and the floors of the houses were splintered, and the windows
were out there in the field, where windows are nothing
but the wind, whose long hair had been dyed gray
by the rivers it had moved through. And so we could no longer
read in the dim light with a cup of tea.
And so we could no longer listen to music
in the morning at the dining room table, ignoring
the newspaper’s nothingness and sales-events, and we could
no longer talk to the gestures, we could only
imitate the faces. The wind’s hair was freshly washed;
but it wasn’t braided yet.
I was walking up the mountain
behind you who were talking about the stones you’d visited
up here and over there, back behind that clump of trees—
stones that held the birds that must have been flying
before there was anything like us, flying overhead
before the rules were made, singing and flying,
birds that were caught now. It was a field of boulders.
So we sat there through the afternoon, we dozed there, and when we woke—
the birds were everywhere; they had long strands of hair
in their beaks, there were so many birds I couldn’t move
without touching feathers, and when I moved
the birds flew up, causing darkness, and then
they settled down again. You were crying, pulling out your hair
and holding your arm out so the birds could take the strands
and fly off. They are not birds with names, you said,
when I started to thumb through our guide book; they are birds
from all the days you’ve lived, birds from so far back
inside you the days themselves have vanished. They still live there,
way back inside you, and when we clap our hands
they’ll fly back inside, though it will look like they’re flying up
into the sky. You clapped then and we sat
on those warm rocks, those rocks that held themselves more still
when we were sitting on them than they did as we walked away
up the mountain, where we camped beside a waterfall
that rushed past so loudly we had to gesture to be heard.
If a man takes a walk in the rain, barefoot
because he he’s had a dream of fallen leaves and healing,
and if the rain tastes like salt and stings his eyes
like salt. If the man understands what salty rain
will do. It is falling hard; if the man
asks the wind to blow the salty rain into the ocean
and tastes the rain turn fresh again. This man is full of holes
where other men wear skin.
The rain fell salty for a moment then turned fresh again.
The bay turned into a freshwater lake
for a single tide. My fingernails are burning
he tells his daughter as he brushes her long hair,
he tells his son by breathing, he tells
his wife when he touches her. But then she’s burning too,
burning with salt. The light is salty now, falling
salty even in the wilderness.
The wind is blowing salty too. The salty snow will fall, white
as always; salty rivers will flow
like our blood flows through our bodies, salty
rain falls everywhere, everywhere, into
the wounds we didn’t even know we’d suffered, and it stings
until we can’t sleep. And that’s not because it’s healing.