By Jared Beloff
Firstborn of the Dead
after Pablo Neruda’s “United Fruit Company”
The sky vanished like a scroll
rolling itself up, and every mountain
and island was removed from its place - Revelation, 6:14
When the sky vanished, it was
all foreseen on the earth, parceled out,
maps marked in oil: ExxonMobil, Gazprom
British Petroleum, pipelines carving latitude,
dominion over the earth.
Along shifting coastlines, flies helixed over ships
forging new routes, past islands of dying trees
submerged dunes, silt ruddy with blood and bleached coral
like treasure or a burial of tombs, homes sinking like rotten teeth
on the floodplain: a woman walks within boarded houses,
seven Xs across seven sealed doors,
the river’s flood thrashing beyond the levies.
Meanwhile, an eye of fire ruptured in the Gulf
a wall of flame replacing the sky in the West:
meanwhile, the Fruit Companies sprayed suntan lotion
on withered fruit, leaned on their worn bodies, first generations
picking cherries in the dark, children cutting melons in the dark,
their restless bodies rooted to the fields like windswept stalks—
and lo, they brought greatness and freedom and comfort
for the lowest prices packaged in plastic and cellophane,
their juices glimmering under the skin in the market’s fluorescent light.
The Ship of Theseus
The ship they held in harbor
became a relic, a memorial
for honor or battle, remembered
a man whose name trembles
at the tooth’s edge, trying to hold
a sound they could not keep:
Each rotten board a tree
each tree a root returning.
What is recognizable
is never certain: the way
a leaf breathes in light
or a wave will curl its undoing
back against the boards.
Each root a tendril tunneling
to find its proper ground.
Our taste buds change,
every seven years they shed
old favorites, find joy in new flavor:
tang of blood, sweat’s brine
raising new questions:
How do we forgive the time
taken to forget ourselves?
A forest burns across continents,
a glacier calves cities of ice
which only just remember
they were once the ocean.
How long do we have
before we forget what we
have replaced: each nail
and tooth, the splinter’s weeping?
Watching Time Lapse Videos with My Daughter
The world pirouettes on a screen
several suns leap over a shadowed city
cirrus clouds meet then scatter across stage,
a moon waggles in the wings. We don’t blink,
pupils widening like sinkholes.
At this speed we are tail light thin,
reduced to ribbons and flares along the freeway,
raw scars of flame, a curtain of smoke swelling
to cover the wind’s tapestry, pinions folded over loose threads,
replacing the sky.
Her curiosity breaks our momentum:
When will we die? In our hands a forest glows,
the heave of Queen Anne’s lace, a stand of sunflowers
stem their way through soil, stretch to their zenith,
turn their heads down as if to watch, as if to pray,
looking back over the earth they had left,
unable to remember the cause of their leaving.
Tomorrow is Never
after Kay Sage, 1955
There is no sky
only the haze we drape over ourselves.
We swell in our scaffolding, towers
reflecting each pleated thought.
There is no tide
only oil pluming across water.
we slick and dissipate, drifting
in the sun’s overzealous spin.
There is no earth
only soot and the animals retreating; a doe
lays back down into the press of summer straw
wary of the ark we never built.
Don’t look back
for the dappled green, the startled bloom
of spring, hooked as we are—
Tomorrow is never.
reset the gene that lies dormant,
let your hand retract, reach away.
crawl with withered legs, belly gripping
back over the mess of leaves,
and trailing bodies to what we once were:
remember this sound? the spinning world,
blood’s hammer and drum, the ocean’s wash,
a withdrawal in your ear—turn back,
feel the slither and fin, shaking, resurgent.
let it rise up, teeming, primordial:
your lips curling around the call
naming what’s undiscovered
I will not describe the grapes
which are not grapes
nor the fish whose chest is cut open
which is my father.
I will not play with color nor light,
nor the arrangement of objects
which are harsher, more clean
than the sky outside.
I will not draw upon shadows
nor trace each drooping petal
nor find meaning in a paring knife
which wobbles like a brush stroke.
Do not approach the window
that wrings itself in reflection
against empty wine bottles.
There is no view, only your looking.