Adam’s Advice, Paul Nelson

Judith Nelson, Wrap Passage, 2001, 30X36



tired of being a man. -Neruda


The fog-battened pasture
closes in behind. No sheep. No beef.
The rickety horse, dead and buried
in the far corner. The backhoe
swaggering away.

That season, that life …mowed to idea,
I stop by the open gate, knees queasy, tempted
to lean on the Antique Gravenstein
birds planted forty years ago.

I told the children not to climb it,
that it wouldn’t hold. Now it’s strong,
children grown.

The sun burns off the mist. The bay turns blue
and the dog cocks his leg; his gold stream
splashes the sleek bark.
The fruit is lush, vinaceous, fragile,
ready to pick …next week.
Before frost.

Yesterday, on the way to town,
a fox kit, cream-colored vixen,
lay so comfortably roadside, swollen,
curled in sun, flies like black sparks.
On the way home someone had removed it.
Today, Carbon looks back, over his rolling
mastiff shoulder, as if he were Orpheus.

I named this dog after reading Primo Levi,
The Periodic Table.
I just follow along, never having been to Hades,
life inconspicuous, my contentious bones
bent on making it back to the airy, battered kitchen
where I survey the Hoosier cabinet, the rummage sale
glasses, stacked Fiesta ware, white enameled,
six plate El-O-Range with nickel plated water tank,
dog-worn braided rug, my well glued rocker,
the milk pitcher full of battered wooden spoons,
spatulas, tongs like old friends’ scapulas,
clavicles, ribs.

Kneading dough on the floured maple table,
she shifts her weight, her outline against the window
still lean, dancer’s back, legs, hair
gray to her waist, butt still firm.
Tiring again with possibility, I mutter,
back in my throat,
Put everything that is behind, behind!
She turns one eye, a surf polished chert
that has been staring at the moon.
“Been out again?” she asks.

I would rub her feet with the oil of Egyptian
cedarwood, gently, to keep her glowing,
and she knows it. I could make her moan.
She was out in her garden at dawn,
barefoot, taking on her own
humus colored patina.

I mean it, I whisper.
She closes her eyes for a moment,
breathes deeply, slowly,
worn hands still working.
I will not buy animals for the field next Spring.
I am near done with myself.

Somewhere in bulrushes the story thrives
by which I simply appeared,
no mother but dirt, clay, no mind or story,
mystery itself my father, birthing
my excuse and certitudes, so easily compromised,
calmed by the teleology of pickled herring,
a little epistemological chevre,
Pinot Noir from Willamette,
real as love or rectal cancer.
Like Lucretius, I was never
in contention, or contrition. It’s really her tale,
the whole damned thing, one child designed to die,
the other exiled. My brother bald from chemo.

O, I do remember the rib, shining like a scimitar moon,
the first smile she sent my way. Like my scythe
glinting in the barn’s moonlit gloom.
She evolved as from a Gauguin: grape tinted skin, Tahitian
hair, grace to make one dizzy, born in New Jersey.

I don’t know how long I was alone
before she appeared. I could not know what solo was.
I was an animal, without time, or somehow knowing
that thought could make me despair, with joy,
affected by gulls hovering, trompe l’oeil,
screaming over torn clouds of silver brit,
shreds of jelly fish, smashed surf clam.
Animals, all of them, know ecstasy.
It was she began to question why
things were perfect. I wondered at her flesh.
Then the boys grew human, like heartburn.

I love now with some dispassion all the flowers:
hibiscus, catalayas, iris, buttercups, blonds, brunettes,
redheads and neon, other dehiscence like mountain
skirmish, drones, terrorist children, tulips and roses that give endemic
meaning to the word hybrid and jihad.
Everything is coming together. All the time. Black holes.
The fatal attraction of one’s gravity.

Global now, neither of us can be said to be sui generis. Not anymore,
not in the fret about consilience or singularity, Evening News,
compromised by need of odd pleasures.

Occasionally I lose it, lovingly heave dung at loved ones,
or fall on my carping knees, drunk with self pity in northern
Tanzania, weeping into footprints glazed in copper ash
three and a half million years ago. The Book says
I was not born of woman. I, too, am a demi-god.

If I just hadn’t been mythed so, solo as Dirty Harry, Rooster Cogburn,
Willy Loman, Hamlet or Ulysses, fugitive and vagabond as Shane or Jesus
always riding off alone …where
the rest is silence while Eve morphed and Innana
(from Finland) bugged me: Why are you alone so much?
What is that magazine? Why aren’t you out,
finding me a daughter?

Some Persephone? Hesperides?
Was I Lot the Outraged? Ham?
More incest? Which is what happened anyway.
The rib stuff true enough: we were brother and sister
in a nice tidal pool. We did not know
what contentment was. She simply touched me,
did not conceive by Word or rumor, as God did me.
The snake was a snake and the apple an apple.
The Command was nothing we recognized.
We had not failed before.

And then there came quiet Norea, grand-daughter,
with her shepherd dog Zyzygy, as Jehova
would have it, married to my son, her exiled half-brother Cain,
in Nod, his daughter by Eve, in that day free to do
as she pleased, or needed. All so amino.
Cells dividing. Metaphor, the whole story,
including me …and therefore Science.

Something old at work in Thebes as well
(the riddle a piece of cake), all that sub-cerebral stuff about mothers
and sons, and deviations in Bethlehem,
a god Gabriel said would “come upon Mary,” another shower of gold,
well after Tel Armana, where brothers were sisters. Akenaten’s
breasts and hips, father of crippled Tut,
also married to his sister, “Anke.”
And Rome! Oh, Caligula! The Popes. The Medici poisons, paracide,
fratricide. Faranelli. I have a headache …

…just heard of a man in Vermont who has children
by three daughters, as he said, to keep them
from being “lesbo.” One escaped, married a doctor,
finished her PhD, had four more kids. Dad complained
about her, bragging of course, to the Department of Human Services,
for not letting him near her children.

Looking around the kitchen, the artifacts, the
oil lamps hanging on the wall, the singed wicks,
what has it all come down to? Poetry, leakage.
Happens with age.

Abel, my favorite, a solo by nature, born old,
settled, lived with animals on stony hillsides,
as Whitman imagined he could.
Look what it got the boy. Stoned
by one stone from the field he was expected to cultivate.
Nobody knew him because God so loved him.
There have been others.

In town, I walk Carbon in the outfield,
after the Legion game, scuffling wrappers and cups, pissing and
thinking how the woods and beasts
that used to be here were food, clothing, shelter,
warmth …and something like affection …or tough love?
No angel, I was born wet, no feathers, leathery
and dumb,

my mind a movie in a theater: matinees,
and all night long a place for derelict thoughts
and prostitutes, figures of speech, to rest.
I should go quiet now, but these can’t be my last words.
Not by a long shot, though soon.

Had Milton met Darwin, Lucifer, from the git-go,
would have been a pterodactyl. The animals
were already here; I saw their tracks, two-toed, three,
in National Geographic. They were innocent as wash lines
in coal country, tepid blooded and never bored
with thundering on vast savannahs, crashing through
rain forests, hunting for warmer mammals,
then lurching away to shade, meat in their teeth,
torn and gulped while I watched a gray-muzzled giraffe
(said that name ex nihilo) its head dreaming in leaves,
high, bright green, succulent, sweetly toxic as books
that promise the invention of law and confusion.

Didn’t McVeigh win, a Lucifer who folded
explosive wings around women and children,
his greatest love and fear? Like a priest
who adores them but needs to be crucified
to get his father’s attention. He couldn’t have
found enough stones, so bought ammonium nitrate
at a feed store, and fuel oil, made us know evil
and repeat it by lethal injection. He won, twice.
Am I responsible for his birth, too?
For these odd-balls bent on murder and suicide?
A nation forested with AK 47’s?

I was just following orders to “wax and multiply.”
The giraffe never browsed that tree.

Anyway …Lilith, Judith, Delilah, Penelope,
Diana, Laura, Stella, Michelle Ma Belle and Jane,
heroines of my movies, Adam’s fading here,
rosacea to translucent, lava cooling to glass,
screen going blank, sprocketed film
with burn-outs, projector smoking.

But, whatever the phase of the moon
or tide of Stein’s “destructive element”
you feel you’ve had to bathe in and remember
the taste of, I can’t fool you with confessions,
yet trust that things are perfect, perfectly
helpless …so all is well, even awful
around the kitchen table, spattered
with egg and jam, slit wrists and laughter,
amniosis and indehiscence.

The dough that she kneads, rolls out,
punches and forms, like a child,
rises under its damp shroud, breathes and
gets dusted with flour of forgetfulness,

while most of her fantastic offspring
will find their ways into and out
of the infamous dark woods, or off a frozen lake
in time, and out of the parched Nefud,
dusty farm or dirty, aromatic city, on their atavistic
trek toward enigma.

They needn’t understand that there is nothing
essentially wrong, so they are ungrateful,
nothing behind them …maybe some purity
invented, some prophecy…
…passing our graves with a nod.

Paul Nelson

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