Casters
(The Nightingale)

I.

When they pressure-washed the pigeon nests the finches came out to sing
You can hear dominance invert in melody
I’ve been thinking about how birds screech to assert healthy strength
A dignified prowess until their mortality vertebrates
And makes drywall bones crumble to dust
You watch our planes fracture in opaque omission
The more complex the birdsong, the softer linen curtains fade to ghost
Eyes blurred to stratus and violets burn the sun

A performance begins –
Witnessed by you through a vortex of perennials that we planted in stone
As a premonition of lilies turned compost
I learned that birds sing to attract mates, to rein power
Pitches altar to sirens when they call out for danger
The migrations metastasize every winter, and please not now
I can’t tell this music apart from the elegies
Afraid the violin can’t cry any louder
The extension cord they brought won’t reach your window
So the strings stretch and splice before the instrument is set down
In deafening silence we danced
Like sordid marionettes, we danced
And acorn eyes applaud along to sullen chords

That day I hung a wasp trap on a branch
And watched insects eat their trap and die
Watched thoraxes snap like synapses
Asters can’t pollinate the bees circling your food as you grey
We were an audience of clenched fists – hummingbirds perched on spines
Wings muted by the heartbeat of a doumbek
Phantom sitars strum along ligaments
We are all no longer here
We are all no longer
Wine pours out like blood and we sit with nightingales as the music plays
I watch your alias wither into mist into
Dandelion kisses blown from rolling casters
It gets late and the sky drowns to cerulean
Bees fall with their stingers left on
Until birds forget melodies at dawn

II.

In my dreams I often sit with you in a broken Acura engine sputtering battery fading power ceasing all around us and the election never ends and the SUV’s fulcrums break to seismic faults while we watch Fox News on torn upholstery and outside the windshield appaloosas run towards their death some in ebullience some in defeat a mirage of elected officials are refracted rotten refuge I ask if I should turn the key and you say we can’t leave this house because casters stop spinning at the driveway like shopping carts so the next day I celebrate alone in the Castro confetti paints the streets smash the piñata head of a forgone leader in dispirited elation “Fuck T**mp” they cheer everyone is happy everyone is drunk everyone is back to quiet systemic racism and normal white supremacy back to ignored foreign affairs war criminals bombing cities not too far away from where you were born

III.

One late night I returned to San Francisco and my apartment was filled with mud.
Gnarled roots grew through the furniture like veins growing out skin.
All the windows were open, the ceiling gone, and brown water poured through the rooms with a suicidal drive to be earthbound.
I dragged my feet through sludge blanketing paisley rugs to find respite.
Thought it was quicksand, yet I could wade in this filth forever without drowning.
That morning the gardener told me he can’t find wood for the planter box, said he drove everywhere and meanwhile the perennials lost posture.
We convinced ourselves that if we kept buying fresh flowers eventually some would be planted.
By who, we didn’t know, and the stone was too deep to be excavated.
We needed more time.
Tried chipping away with shovels till our backs ached, the friction of our coats against the caustic winter.
You could hear the phone left off the hook.
The dial tone was an unspoken pact we dared not listen to.
A thousand miles away an election halted.
Committed as we were to our shared blind garden, the gardener came back silently one night and gathered his tools and never came back.
The azaleas faded in their soil but we had to go to work in the morning.

IV.

And so we stand as question marks as stalagmites politely fall on grieving spines.

V.

Louisa writes me a poem:
I can place silk around my curves
Gather tinctures to bear this reality
Soften my skin and bring luster to my hair
Maybe procure a cushion to rest upon
What gentle traps I place my limbs within
Instead I chew my tendons and tissues free
Almost everyone I know has decided to die
I hope whoever eats me, chokes

In Jewish law, all personal pleasures should be denied during a 30-day period of mourning. This includes bathing for comfort – washing the body with hot water for an indulgent amount of time. So too do Jews refrain from oils, shampoos, body wash, face lotions, perfumes, hair creams, mouthwash, skin tonics, nail polish, make up, deodorant, clipping nails, shaving. It is all part of the general pattern of forsaking personal appearance and grooming, giving away power against the sins of society, and ultimately, permitting your body to its earthly expressions. Some might call it disheveled. Naturally, the mourner must enter a state of complete withdrawal, nearly a recluse, avoiding human interaction as nails and beard grow with abandonment. The permission of hygiene and grooming is allowed only when others begin to comment on their unkempt appearance, then a spiritual power is restored and mourners can arise from the shadows.

VI.

With little time left I archived a soundscape of the yard
A vocalized map of the echoes that surround us
The Bosavi people of Papua New Guinea pray to birds during funerals
Gone reverberations, they call it
The voices of ancestry is alive in birdsong
Absence turns presence in chorus
I planted the ladder in dirt and recorded noise heard from cellophane skies
Listened to wings sweeping static screams of our past
The muffled calluses from generations of scalding Earl Grey
Centuries of unibrowed women & Haft-sin
Grass blooming in rivers every Nowruz
Birds crying lineages of wishes made in sabzeh knots
I tried to document all the wishes you’ve left Suddenly the sky was black with crows orbiting boom mics
The choreography was deafening –
An agoraphobic wind poisoned the audio
I deleted the archive and said I forgot to hit record

VII.

A vacancy grows inside you. It lingers hungrily, in need of nourishment, and you feed it scraps of remedial pleasure, like a starved albatross finding trash in vacant thickets. You indulge in tinctures and tonics that were forbidden for a month. Read Internet tantrums as the world yearns for a fascist to concede, for power to rescale. The first downpour of the year comes and you run through mud with revived limbs. Ride your bike until tires lose tread, legs drain strength, the chain, mangled deliberately – just to have something to fix. Eventually you begin to chart destinations and the pedaling feels less aimless. Meadows, post office, little free libraries, that coffee shop you keep cancelling shifts from. You replace your cell phone with wind chimes and listen to the sky. Listen to the birds, predators turned prey. Silently you sprawl through deciduous forests blooming out of urban streets. You surrender your ability to walk behind gentrifiers at their leisurely pace, nowhere to go, and strip honey bears off windows with a grin. Ferries resume traveling across the Bay yet the pandemic never ends. You look at the sun differently, from polar points on an axis, with a newfound admiration of Galileo’s geometry that you never quite grasped in school. You make a phone call. An old lady recognized as now alone answers without saying a word. You could feel the power in her voice abandoned, though not buried, and you set your car in motion – wheels spinning like casters – and drive down to see her.

VIII.