Letter to Andrew from Livingston
Who could knock at the tender of this heart, open as a sheep skull in the buffalo grass outside Livingston? Perhaps I loved a wasp, and we got married prematurely. Perhaps we bore a brattleboro of bees. Of bones, you and I rejected or denied the brittle ones of Wallace Stevens for the porous projections of Vallejo. Green and actual avocado was one way to name the throat.
Years of letters. We finally met in Austin, which seemed the third and fourth paragraphs of a dense treaty. I recalled blankets, whiskey, pounds of flour and sugar, and a promise to walk our poems vigorously each day near a western river to incorporate the habits of muskrats and the beaver young.
Born in Missoula, of a military father and a patient mother, you moved both east and west, searching for a middle. There is a portrait of a theremin in the Charles Russell Museum in Great Falls that resembles a recalcitrant appaloosa you promised to break in time for the summer rodeo in Livingston. It was not as if we were both dead by music or metaphor—at least at the same time. The roof shingles of this railroad town contain the perspiration of Calamity Jane, when she left overseeing her whorehouse that night to handle the cards, discovering a man’s thinning mustache was cheating.
Back from Durango, the traders wore buckskin that contained an imperceptible weeping, cringing at the fringe. Perhaps we loved a Montana town for its rough and tumble, for its railroad voice carried out of sight, east and west into the thick thick thickening night.
(for Andrew Joron)
Letter to Josh from Beaver Meadows
As if the world here happened forever.
A pilot fish’s function is to make itself available to the osprey.
Not just puppies but human children explore the world by putting things in their mouth. Birds, being warm-blooded, add insulation and active incubation to their primary nest sites. I had a dream, Josh, that you were the nothingness Wallace Stevens permitted. When we met, I thought your name sounded like Ranier Maria Rilke.
Beaver Meadows, not twenty miles up from Livermore. The top of a mountain. 8,500 feet. End of a gravel climb. Everything here happens at once. I have the urge to get down on all fours and sniff possum droppings as one way to predict turbulent weather. Lightning this high is extraordinarily dangerous. A man with three names. Electric.
I said it over and again on my hike, as a mantra. Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Joshua Marie Wilkinson. Your grandmother’s gravel voice. Cords of your throat. As if sloshing cowboy coffee with her at dawn among pines. How tender you took her. Name. Named. Naming makes us whole. It reminds me of the first circumstance of the tongue. The first appearance of freshwater shrimp in the mountains of Borneo.
We can appreciate qualities of the alpha fish but without any taxonomic principles. Dominance occurs. Social rank is pursued through the consumption of mosquitoes on the fly. Change our names. You would be George Marie Kalamaras and me, Dostoevsky’s Donkey Ride.
The rock debris of the moraine this high undulates with moonfish that may have migrated from Vladivostok. Something fluid in the moorhen’s throat. The pollex of porifera may appear invisible in the digestive tract of a pony-fish preserved in a rock face for hundreds of thousands of years.
Beaver Meadows, Josh. Cheat grass among the thawing buffalo snows. The electrical feel of eels: arrowtooth eel; cut-throat; electric eel; false moray; long-tailed eel. Rice eel. Shrimp eel. Witch eel. Reef.
They move. We move. It moves.
Hundreds of thousands of years.
The permeability we just might permit.
All enter the throat.
(for Joshua Marie Wilkinson)
Letter to Noah from Castle Rock
Nikolai Gogol’s overcoat. A prayer for protection, Noah. Mantric words to be well. How Ivan Ivanovich quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich. I must confess. I do not understand something so outrageous as refreshed insults at the town post. A bee impersonating a wasp. A wasp impersonating the placidity of a luna moth—just to be included in Robin Blaser’s The Moth Poem.
You have never lied to me except, on occasion. In your poems. That time you fed me gingersnaps during my reading at your Denver home—just to keep me from reciting the poem with the seventeen urine stains to the crowd of onlookers.
It is written inside the body of each earthworm that an edaphic urge epitomizes great large luck. Soilings we never know. There are egg-eating snakes that have not extended very far into the world from the whip-snap of their original reptile brain. Castle Rock is named for a butte poised south of you by—what?—twenty-five to thirty miles? If I asked you to bring me a hypodermic needle of Mao Feng tea, would you leave your toothpick sculpture for an afternoon and rush down here with a liquid fix? Would you say my name while changing the diaper of your newborn, reciting away the night soil of the world?
What is the consciousness of a place named by fortification? Mined for rhyolite? Do its children grow with lungs partially clothed? With hair cropped short? Their parents’ arms crossed, say, when someone asks the extent of pubic scent? I have released so much ectoplasm into the carpet-moths here at the Best Western I no longer trust rain-weather of sheep ranches and wool.
I see you have let your hair grow a little longer. That you now sport a beard. Have birthed a daughter, Georgia, who resembles my name. You have confused the brushing of teeth with smallpox passed blanket to blanket. Confused measles, mumps, and metonymy with the malaria of a malevolent discharge of black water. With the generosity of snakes in Castle Rock. They rattle but never strike. Bake on the banks of Plum Creek, the South Platte, sending 3:00 p.m. thought-waves like heat preserved in stones three hours north in the cool Livermore night. Let him pass, the snakes implore their brethren. Let his family pass. Any time of day or night. Grant his dogs safe journey—unharmed—without quarrel, with or without overcoat, bees, or refreshing invocations.
We have never lied, Noah, especially in our poems. Measles, mumps, metonymy. Insults at the town post. A luna moth impersonating the cool lunar night. This poem, a prayer for protection. A safe-haven. A well. Mantric bees surrounding us with perfect seed-sound health. The overcoat of Nikolai Gogol.
(for Noah Eli Gordon)
GEORGE KALAMARAS, the Poet Laureate of Indiana, has published six books of poetry and seven chapbooks, most recently The Mining Camps of the Mouth (New Michigan Press/DIAGRAM chapbook contest, 2012) and Kingdom of Throat-Stuck Luck (Elixir Press Poetry Prize, 2011). He is Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he has taught since 1990.