Bryan D. Dietrich

Five Million Years to Earth

When Worlds Collide

  Five Million Years to Earth

. . . and there is faintly coming in Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space.

—James Dickey

   JHVH, the Tetragrammaton, inchoate, ineffable,
   the unspeakable name. In English, it becomes Jehovah,
   Yahweh, or often, simply, Lord. Imagine the power
   of such absence, how we yield to it, trembling, as if before
   the abyss, itch to scratch each lack with the unintelligible
   vowel hatch of prayer. With any distance, this is how we are,
   riding leviathan down the fathoms to our next best
   understanding. That first homely hominid, lost at the lip
   of some volcano, trapped between ice and the fire she feels,
   the bloody crown of birth come upon her, inopportune,
   necessary, calling her to cave. Every emptiness. What matter
   is mostly made of.
                                           In families we name it love, lapse, perhaps
   gap, grant it generations. As a child, all I knew was Mother's
   parents didn't live together anymore. These days, Paw Paw's
   just a vague memory of cleft and crag, face like a tractor
   seat, more hole than heavy metal, but then. . .  I remember
   touching those cracks, running my fingers along what was left
   of his life, counting the cigarette stains on his fingers.
   He taught me to whistle, smoke, how divorce wasn't part
   of the Baptist vocabulary. They lived a whole hundred
   yards from one another. He, in his trailer, leaving only once
   a week for crackers, soup, beer. She, prisoner of proximity,
   in the house where they'd raised seven kids. He had his visions. She,
   her quilts. And when he finally stopped coming out, when they had to pry
   him from those sheets he'd become a part of, when the diabetes
   he'd fed took an arm, a leg, claimed the whole turquoise taint
   of him, his children gathered on Maw Maw's porch to watch him slip
   away. Mother went to pieces.
                                                                  There is nothing quite so terror-ridden
   as the blank spaces between. Gods, continents, people, the deep
   satisfaction of letters on a page. All our dark spark then,
   every inkling, each kiln-clay fire of lucidity must be born
   in transit, between one unvaulted void and the next. In the middle,
   though, the dark matters. Even in binary systems where stars
   spin their stories into primordial mass, where one gaseous ghoul
   sups eternal on the other—pink plasma columns locking the two
   in vain, vampiric vacuum dance—the way they embrace
   around that nothingness they share indicates, well, the end
   product. Progeny. Planets. Hope for what new knowing may come
   across such gulfs.
                                         My father's folks suffered much the same. Grandma
   died with the birth of my youngest aunt. So Grandpa and his hired hands,
   Elvis, Ocie, their children, his, all moved in together. There was talk,
   of course, when Elvis died, when they stayed together even then.
   But they never split. When the children, my dad among them,
   had long gone, still they found a house together in the city.
   He held off in the top floor, she, in a bedroom near the basement.
   And while the town died, as Grandpa began to remember
   everything that had never happened—swimming the Rio Grande,
   losing a leg in the field, sleeping with twelve curious cousins
   all at once—as he forgot even Ocie, me, my father, curling
   up into a ball they'd have to break his legs to get him out of,
   close the coffin, he and his helpmeet refused to give ground.
   All his life Grandpa denied that cellar. Each time tornadoes came,
   he'd wander out into the lawn, watch them touch the land, recall
   how he and Grandma stared them down.
                                                                                        The destruction of the temple,
   rending the curtain, bank foreclosure, your first lost lust. . . All things,
   even words, contain their dour doppelgänger. Black, once
   blanc. Awful, full of awe. To reveal, replacement of the veil.
   And yet still we remain, colored as if by collaboration.
   In Patagonia the people believe they're haunted, hunted
   by a sect of male witches. The Brujerķa, the Committee,
   Council of the Cave. They seek only sadism, saturnalia,
   claim corruption a catechism. Members must scourge themselves
   clean of baptism by forty days in a waterfall, kill
   a best friend, exhume a Christian corpse and skin its breast, wear
   the flesh each evening. A human waistcoat fresh with grease
   and phosphorescence.
                                                   In my father's house, there are no mansions,
   only rooms. One for him, one for my mother, one for us.
   It's strange, coming here again, as if to some sort of redemption.
   They divorced when I was ten. And between then and now, between
   three other husbands, two marriages, a girlfriend or four,
   they've managed to return to this, unmarried, unhappy, quiet
   but for the times the family reconvenes. And lying here
   with her, knowing she too may leave, witness to that desire
   I cannot help but envy, understanding the yaw she needs
   to fill with further learning, I struggle with what comfort
   even infants know, confronted with the strangeness of a face,
   what our forebears must have prayed for in the Moon, what Schiaparelli
   and Lowell molded out of Mars. Connections, canals, imagined
   civilization. I linger on the lines between. Ionized
   gas, Doppler-dazzled byways, connect the some hundred billion
   galaxies we see. It is this, remnant of our ancestors' sea
   years, a finger-fretted webwork I lace with mine that weds me
   to her own as we lie here, grasping, dark.
                                                                                        The Brujerķa
   make children into monsters, disarticulate their limbs, stuff whole
   left arms into oblivion, an incision in the chest. Then, inch
   by inch they tourniquet the toddler's head till it turns back
   upon itself, its gaze gracious with this gift, an uncorrupted view
   now down the spine. They call it the Invunche, immobile,
   immaculate, empty. Guardian of our entry to the cave.

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      When Worlds Collide

      I met her bolting vodka.
      She was a lesbian.
      We began by talking Wicca
      and ended with Quaran.

      I wouldn't remember the party,
      whose house, whose porch, whose pot,
      but she. . . . Now there was someone
      best left not forgot.

      Oh where does love descend from?
      Does the Goddess really care?
      Can a lesbian love a poet?
      Do poets have a prayer?

      She wore a hat of curtains,
      a motley, wild chapeau,
      and as we talked of scholarship,
      abortion, Bush, Rimbaud,

      her eyes beneath the drooping bill
      began, like stars, to breathe,
      cut loose from vast gas columns
      in a stellar nursery.

      Oh whom do we descend from?
      Do bonobos do this dance?
      When a tapir falls for an aardvark,
      do they learn to share their ants?

      I hadn't come to find this life,
      nor she to alter hers.
      Two Pecos-ridden twisters,
      two pairs of magic spurs.

      We spoke of what her goals were,
      the anthropology
      of Inuit and !Kung and Thai,
      of dancing Balinese.

      Does what we do in the daytime
      mean squat when the bedsprings bend?
      Does sex play even a role at all
      in finding one's ampersand?

      I told her I was just a year
      from having the Ph.D.
      She told me I could go fuck myself.
      We both laughed mightily.

      She was poor and she was stuck
      in this one-horse college town;
      no graduate programs to speak of,
      no job, no cap, no gown.

      Mere mortals, we are chattel
      to space-time as it bends.
      We let it ride, our hoary hides,
      till Einstein's dice descend.

      Her brain had been so famished
      these last two years for learning.
      But now she felt the gerbil had died,
      the wheel still madly turning.

      She told me where she worked part-time,
      a card shop on the Square.
      She told me three more times that night
      as if it were a dare.

      Oh where does love descend from?
      Does the Goddess really care?
      Can a lesbian love a poet?
      Do poets have a prayer?

      That night as I drove my Rabbit home
      (some time 'round three o'clock),
      I didn't yet know the rain had slowed,
      the Ark had found its rock.

      I wondered how she saw me,
      shorthaired, overweight.
      But when at last I tracked her down
      she asked me for a date.

      Do gender or predisposition
      mean squat when the arrows fly?
      Does Cupid wear a blindfold?
      Can he put out his own eye?

      The music was a polka band.
      They played a hurdy-gurdy.
      Our lovers sparked on the courthouse lawn,
      no fears of getting dirty.

      All of that came later:
      sex, sweat, marriage vows.
      Two cats, two dogs, two open minds,
      two dildos to arouse.

      This is where love descends from.
      The Goddess, yes, she cares.
      Lesbians fall for poets.
      Poets don't have a prayer.

      Two by two we boarded we,
      trading thees for thous,
      trading roles, reversing poles,
      magnetic, whirling Taos.

      Two running brooks, two thousand books,
      two penchants to carouse,
      two set of reins, two Thomas Paines,
      two little Chairman Maos.

      Mere mortals rarely ponder
      how random quarks collide.
      Curses, vodka, baseball cards
      can, like the Lord, provide.

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Bryan D. Dietrich has won the Paris Review Poetry Prize, the "Discovery"/The Nation Award, a Writers at Work Fellowship, the Isotope Editor's Prize, and the Eve of St. Agnes Prize. Bryan has been a finalist for the Yale Younger Poets Series, the Walt Whitman Award, and has been nominated for both the Pushcart and the Pulitzer. His poetry has appeared in the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review, Yale Review, Shenandoah, The Nation, Chelsea, Open City, Weird Tales, Asimov's and many other journals. His first book, Krypton Nights, was published in 2002. His second, Universal Monsters, will be out from Word Press next year. Bryan lives in Wichita, Kansas with his wife, Gina Greenway, and their son, Nick. Professor of English at Newman University, he remains conflicted about choosing a tenure-track job over a chance to be an extra in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, but is comforted by the fact that the first person to die in Aliens was named Dietrich.

content Copyright © 2007, Bryan Dietrich—All Rights Reserved