Several Stories, Single Bound
As if where we begin could be anything
but everything. Small? No, I remember
cotton and corn and milo, beans and sunflowers,
fields stretching across that skeleton of sky
taught and vast and rich with a midsummer
sheen that seemed to glow from both sides
of the horizon. Here, they grew their religion
big as their pumpkins. Hundred pound gods,
churches plump as prize steers, sermons
that could feed a multitude. And drive-ins.
Screens plastered like runways against the night,
blotting out stars, each flat canvas expanse
only making those that eked the edges
all the brighter. Bread belly, Bible basket, single
stories. It was here I first found love. Harvesting.
She was country, I was uncool, and December
came to unspool that year with meteor showers
and she and I beneath them, naked as July
in her parents' loft—half light, half lumber.
Only after did it seem small. So love elides . . .
No, love simply leads . . . away. The contagion,
though, was the same. Now everything (Pa's
values, Ma's meddling, even the soft ermine
of Lana's legs, what brought me to the horns
of my dilemma) grew suspect. It wasn't right.
Of course we can't blame dancer for the dance,
but suddenly farm and family, all the hedges
I'd grown up growing behind, seemed too green, L.
L. Bean, simple, slight. My need, new sight, called first for haze.
This was just lost, not star-crossed. It takes more than corn to amaze.
Just what do we leave lying when we leap?
What remains prone, undaunted, vaunted, asleep?
Each building, what we vault, is made from stories,
tales that stretch down as deep as they may rise.
The tale I left Lana for was deep indeed, perhaps
different, perhaps not. Lori Lemaris,
second set of double Ls, second layer
of life's love's hells, was a mermaid, mostly,
as lean and lovely as the life she led. Half
flipper, half honey, she drew me down to crest
like kraken over berm, under isotherm into all
those hollows I didn't know before, the absence
we must hold to scaffold presence on. And being
only half here, heir to only one part air,
she taught what it means to breathe, breathe deep,
how the lungs call out for what they can't keep
the way waves reclaimed her city, whole histories,
her, the way Ekman spiral and Coriolis
force conspire to create current, the lapse
and the reprise that lie beneath each tug, each urge
for more than what we have. Her only prayer
was always for ever less, for nothing costly,
an ocean vent, a patch of blue. But not to have,
this costs too. Letting go desire, what's repressed,
scaling down to nothing but the next sea wall,
the next handful of krill. . . . Some part of us resents
not having anything to leave. Me? I started seeing,
yes, but saw below the sea she wasn't there.
Jor-El, Lara first, then Lana, Lori, even dear damned Lex. . . . I found ways
of leaping what I couldn't be—law, love, loss. All Ls I left for praise.
If love is built on stories, then lovers must be
condemned to build again. What we leave
behind? All those cables and portals and panes?
Shadows, whole suburbs of souls, metropols
of abandon. Spires like twisted, frozen fire,
fetters, lonely letters. Ls, double Ls, like stripped
flowers or twin towers. My own home town? Two
sets of two. So why, particularly, L? Any letter,
say I, would do, but L, an ell is an extension
set at right angles to a building, a wing, annex.
An el? A train. I can jump one, outrun the other.
No, the other, the else, is precisely whom I can't.
Lang, Lemaris, Luthor, none were the last. Lois
Lane, though, another double, another vast
catacomb of glass, lush life to leap, story
to keep alive only in leaving. . . . She, I believed,
would last, long past that narrative demesne
of tales too worth getting lost in, the shoals
of souls' sea-change, the bed of dead desire.
But she drank, whimpered like the whipped
in her sleep, carried scars from sources few
reporters would reveal. Some days were better,
didn't need to save her, avoid evil invention.
But no power can protect the one who panics,
stays yet flies, makes the simple sins of lovers'
lives into need, invents reason to seize, to sell it slant,
rationalize, be one at home, elsewhere, otherwise.
Need spins stories to lies, less. But even void has mass.
All truths are the same. With mass comes gravity, sad beauty, that bizarro craze
to bring back down what lifts us up. Each planet turns, unearthed urns, cracked glaze.
Of all the cities, lives, loves I've left for good,
only one still stands beyond the power of man
for ruin. The stories we construct eventually
crumble; this is given. But after the inevitable
fall, after the wind and smoke have cleared, after
the smell of the dead has left us in its wake,
after doomsday, after hero, long after ground
zero, after you and I have failed to reconvene
any semblance of what passes for civilized,
there will always be one city, one nation not fraught
with predation or pity, one island that still lies
outside imagination. I call her paradise.
Here, at last I've entered, found my final fortress keep,
a tower, bower, citadel, a love I dare not leap.
She is not architrave raised to praise maidenhood,
not bullet turret for some patriarchal plan.
Not portico or pavilion, garrison or galley,
mere addition. Not fault's vault, nor rule's vestibule,
no structure supported lightly. No amber chamber,
no battlement to storm, and during storming, take.
Never arch or abutment only, bas relief or round.
She is more than ziggurat, bachelor flat, temple, scene.
She is, as is her island, a reservoir of real realized,
sight unparalyzed, all the wonder I have sought.
Some say her allure is a long lasso, longer thighs,
perhaps risk, the statuesque, the power to paralyze
with looks. Regardless, she is goddess, girdle of the deep.
Her arms are my island. Her shackles, where I sleep.
Stories bound by leaps, loss embossed by lies. All we've built, our model guilt, bottled by a phrase.
Love, that city in a bottle (in all candor, us), is else, is pulse, our American dream. Our Amazon daze.
Bryan D. Dietrich's poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, The Nation, The Harvard Review, The Yale Review, Shenandoah, and many other journals. Winner of The Paris Review Poetry Prize and a "Discovery"/The Nation Award, Bryan has published two books of poems, Krypton Nights and Universal Monsters.
copyright © 2008, Bryan D. Dietrich
—Annabel on the Eighteenth Floor
C. L. BRUSSEL
JASON ERIK LUNDBERG
—Rhapsody in Transverse Vibration
—The Red Door
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
—Several Stories, Single Bound
BRYAN D. DIETRICH
MICHAEL NEAL MORRIS