Outside of town, on the trail leading toward someone's idea of heaven
there was a barren tree, all winter nothing but skinny trunk and needle branches
on the hairpin curve of a switchback up the hillside overlooking the canyon
and people who walk their dogs both day and night, who find in dogs the images
of companions, the comfort that no one else can afford, the absolute obedience
and love, that giving-up of life to the singular master, walked by this tree
and someone one October found a plastic angel, a kind of a child's toy
or the ornament off the top of a seasonal tree, a broken thing without the hope
of flight, frozen in production in the blessed pose of ridged objectivity
and stuck it, half thinking, half to get it off the trail, on a dangling branch
perhaps so whoever lost it might see it more easily, or perhaps because the tree
needed something there, something more than barren twigs and sere truck
and within a week or two there was another angel there, dangling from a string
on the end of a dead branch, no more alive than those others in November now
and then suddenly there was a shower of angels, all the angels on the single
head of a pin, the Medieval theologians arguing for more and more, a tree
born down by the weight of plastic, cellophane, paper and glass images
of religious discrepancies, the host of two dozen different thoughts on God's
helpers, the intermediaries of the world and the heavens, all of them as different
as the dogs that walked the trail with their masters, all now covered in snow
as the season was upon them, and so many, so angelic was this call to decorate
that the town took them down, decided that one angel was one thing, but a host
of religious images hanging on a government tree was somehow out of bounds,
a statement, a crossing of the line between church and the sovereignty of those
who walked the trail without any real belief, the survivors of the last catastrophe
of small boys, of political riches misplaced, of the hatred that some are capable of
fundamentally, and they, most in need of angelic wisdom, had to see only
that naked tree again, come the pivotal day of the season, a tree that bears
no resemblance to any other, too small and skinny, too weak in the minds of all
to support even a host of plastic angels, left to the dogs who now baptize its roots.
It is right here that the poem fails.
In its beginning, its effort to word out the rage
of the body decaying, the mind still sharp,
the life so long now it becomes its own
map, a battlefield history, a man scratching
on the world. The poem fails in saying
this is a poem at all. For now is not the time
for ill-fitted words, nor for the clever
puzzles of imagery. Everything said
are malapropos. Now is not the time
for lines and letters, for repetitions and
sing-song subtleties; not the time for a turn.
Semiotics fail when you bump into someone.
Words are the trappings of death, its disguise.
Silence then is best, and the living need
the world to swell up in silence. But silence
is also a poor witness, a poor relative.
It is always silence that comes next.
Now may not be the time for the poem
but it is the time for the poet's voice, time
it met the uncle's unbuilt world, that small
inscrutable house, the place that will anchor
the rush and fall of all future words.