Why does the sea burn? Why do the hills cry?
My grandfather opens a fresh box
of English Ovals, lights up, and lets the smoke
drift like clouds from his lips.
Where did my father go in my 5th autumn?
In the blind night of Detroit
on the front porch, grandfather points up
at a constellation shaped like a cock and balls.
A tiny man, at 131 outgrew his shirts.
I then beheld a closet of stolen suits,
a hive of elevator shoes, crisp hankies,
new bills in the cupboard, old in the wash.
I held the spotted hands that passed over
the breasts of airline stewardesses,
that moved in the fields like a wind
stirring the long hairs of grain.
Where is the ocean? the flying fish?
the God who speaks from a cloud?
He carries a card table out under the moon
and plays gin rummy and cheats.
He took me up in his arms
when I couldn’t walk and carried me
into the grove where the bees sang
and the stream paused forever.
He laughs in the movies, cries in the streets,
the judges in their gowns are monkeys,
the lawyers mice, a cop is a fat hand.
He holds up a strawberry and bites it.
He sings a song of freestone peaches
all in a box,
in the street he sings out Idaho potatoes
California, California oranges.
He sings the months in prison,
sings salt pouring down the sunlight,
shovelling all night in the stove factory
he sings the oven breathing fire.
Where did he go when his autumn came?
He sat before the steering wheel
of the black Packard, he turned the key,
pressed the starter, and he went.
The maples blazed golden and red
a moment and then were still,
the long streets were still and the snow
swirled where I lay down to rest.