The raft drifts.
You wanted us maybe
To stay in that half-baked
Democracy you were trying to cook
Up for us, constantly re-couped
Perhaps? Now the bodies turn,
In the tide’s wash, beloved.
Now those of us
Not drowned are also
I have a lot of idiotic thoughts.
I imagine torturing the torturers—
Which means I’ve never been there,
So we never met, we couldn’t have met.
I imagine I hear the white
Salt closing all the avenues
Of thinking off. And my head
Ticks like a bomb, like a clock.
The raft keeps slipping
Over the waters, the would-be
Citizens keep slipping off.
("There being no necessary connection
Between the significance
Of an event and how it plays on the tube.")
The ocean goes on slurping
at that trucked-in
Sand, shifting it, washing it, putting it back
In circulation, and on the Drive a drunk coed—
Wafted by in the back of a pickup—lifts
Her shirt and shows her tits to the tourists,
On a dare from the guy she half falls against
When the truck gets caught in traffic.
Queen of the parade of passing bodies
For a moment, her shirt
Over her face, that anxious keening laughter
Floating off and out.
Holidays torn into confetti-like
Scraps. Blown up and raining down
On us. Mouths open, eyes shut
For that mercy. Interlude,
Hands cupped. And love
Evaporates. We’re losing our customs.
What I did on my break.
The raft slides toward the inevitable
Turning back point on the boundary
Between conscious and unconscious.
The nationalities out-dated. The analysis. The
Also imagined-drying out. Of course I stink.
The simple fervent wishes that got us into
This mess. And your recipes, your promises.
Whoever arrives intact
In the “new world” has to start there
A “new” life. Replacing each dead
Family member, beloved: collecting again
The full set. An “unconscious” pact made over
The feast of air and salt, I meant
Despair and hope. To zip the plastic
Names up over the lost and start fresh.
The abraded faces returning
You want us to go back,
Fine, we’ll go back.
Her hair, brown.
Her speciality, damage.
Her specialty, becoming
Something else. Her hair, falling
Leaves, leaf rot, and then soil.
Her specialty, telling us
What we were trying to say
“All along.” Her hair,
Reading—her eyes also
The jewelry sold by now.
Her hair, a phone call.
Is anyone home.
Gusts of cold wind
Shifting the leaves a little:
The leaves already married
To the ground. Her hair
The same color, sorrow;
Her sleep, long. I don’t need
To tell you. The ground
Keeping her not so far
From the road. Her long
Hair, a transition.
She should have been
She should have been
Home. Her shoulders
And belly and throat
Beginning not to be
A secret any longer.
Whatever it was she was
Her specialty, regret.
The skin the definition
Of the bones. You know.
Her specialty, calculated
By all this activity, the birds
Are still. Was she meant
To be found? The hands
Holding nothing now.
Something has gotten at
Whatever was exposed. Her eyes,
Terror—and her mouth, hope.
We would prefer not to
Feel anything: to watch
As if from far away while
They try to make sense of it.
With one repeated phrase
They are taping the woods off:
“Do not cross.” The trees
Are suddenly evidence.
Their specialty, containment.
We prefer to think of ourselves
As not restricted. Not like that.
Long arms flung out, holding
The “rocks and stones and trees.”
Her hair and her eyes and her mouth
All a part of the ground.
Her specialty, being silent
“As the grave.”
Our specialty, looking into it.
—Laura Mullen is the author of The Surface, which was chosen for the National Poetry Series by C.K. Williams and published in 1991. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Agni, notus, Pataphysics, The Colorado Review and Antaeus, among other places. She was awarded Ironwood’s Stanford Prize in 1983, and has been the recipient of Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the MacDowell Colony. She is currently on the graduate faculty at Colorado State University.