Too Much

I. Jubilate Lingua

Because this is about desire and the failure of desire, it has to begin
With two boys issuing their giggling commentary on the joy of anything burning,
Too much, under sycamores and the slate-hued winter sky.
Smoke palls and gathers over the boys poking a pile of leaves with branches
Under a canopy of branches, pulling a spark or flame to hold
Out, to scribble with that spark a phrase against the green canvas of the house behind them.

And the boys are you and I, and a car drives past pulling behind the slow hiss of its leaving
And leaves scatter behind it. And the rakes have given up,
And piles of leaves lie gathered and burning on the dirt beside the street and burning out
in a breath of smoke,

And so we’re caught together in the longing of boys, in their words repeated over and over,
too much,
About nothing, and—pointing at the houses, the trees, the wires, the crows along the wires,
the street—about everything.

These two words are all we ever say to each other,
Two words, too much, we have to say until meaning dissolves like smoke into the steel sky,
Say till we make a cult of autumn and youth and fire
And all the bounty of ash and dust settling and rising in the forming evening fog.

After you leave, I squat beside the fire and say it again and again into the dark
And to a leaf I pick up, burning to lace in my small hand, too much.
I blow it to ash and absence, taste in this gritty air the good cold dark.

II. Jubilate Lepus

Back out of all this now too much for us
Guns ablazin’ and glass asprayin’ onto
The splintered floor of this saloon, no more
A saloon than a converted stable with a thick plank
Balanced on two sawhorses in front of a mirror.

Calmly, the one who leans against the bar
Executes a slow turn, cocks a long,
Grey rabbit ear, readies himself to speak
While the whiskey holds the shape of the bottle
For one long perfectly regarded second
Over the brown shards of glass on the bar,
And fires the question you’ve been wanting
To ask all this time: “What’s up, Doc?”

But then you have to ask yourself,
“So, am I Yosemite Sam?
Or am I the hastily drawn bargirl,
Blonde and tiny-nosed, hiking up
Her petticoats to make her way upstairs
To her escape or someone else’s?”

Even in black and white, the answer isn’t clear.
The girl came west looking for a better life.
And that loud Yosemite must have once been young
Innocent Sam, silent and humbled by the beauty
Of Half-dome and Tuolumne or lost
Among the tufa around Lake Mono,
Before whatever ruinous hornswoggle
‘Swoggled him to unadulterated meanness.

What? You say you want to be the bunny? Bugs?
You don’t ever get to be the bunny, kid.
He’s just a blank voice filled with everything we want
To say but can’t. Out here, the bullets are real.
And glass cuts even the luckiest rabbit’s foot.

III. Jubilate Filthy Lucre

How much is too much for anything you want badly,
So badly, you would even work for cash in July heat,
Wash a cousin’s Chevelle and rub out streaks of wax
So his girl tonight will see the moon reflected in the hood
Before her eyes close and his hand presses her thigh?

But what if the coin you earn is just a ruse that lets you
Express what you desire, her thigh in the dark
And you somehow present in the lint
Left behind from the press of cloth on glass?

Then the milk-white Abba Zabba you could buy with it
Merely betokens enough sweetness to hide
The simple, youthful bitterness of your longing.
Another way to spend. You have to spend.

Or maybe you want it so badly that you’ll give your soul
Over to this currency, keep one silver quarter in your pocket,
Lose time feeling its shine in the dark, rubbing your thumb
Over its ridges hoping that, saving it, someday it will save you,
With its stern, historical face, date-stamped, faith-emblazoned,
So unlike your own, its lines wearing away in time.

IV. Panhandle Jubilate: San Francisco, 1982

The burnt taste of Thunderbird rains hot
down the throat even on this cool day
in Golden Gate Park, where you live today,

where you hold out the bottle to share
that little kick from heaven. After all,
you’ve just kicked my young ass playing

basketball, and, tall and athletic as I am,
I didn’t believe that you could make the sky
rain with sweet threes from the top of the key,

not you with the missing finger on your shooting
hand, not you with your old, pants-bound legs—
fake left, step back, but the fish sound

of the threadbare net keeps track of all your points
and I just wanted to watch, to say “Good game.”
Because today your game is beautiful.

Sometimes the world is too much with us;
sometimes not, and the sun burns the fog
to a dull haze, and today this game and this man

are enough, the only day that matters, sweat
steaming the warm, wet air. So I’ll say it again:
Good game, man. Thanks for the wine.

V. Jubilate Nostalgia

The foam of the lawn at twilight presses the heart
Into the distance blazing, too far from a small voice
Risen from the blankness of the o in the words
Mother or hope, and for this she can only seem
More beautiful, standing in the frame of the door
Calling a name that might be mine, but from this distance,
It might be anyone’s. So I sit there and watch
As no one comes home and the light goes out
And evening frays into the tangled threads of stars.

You don’t know a language for this,
So you can't call me back inside ever.

And later, on the porch across the street,
A cigarette accuses the face of the man behind it,
Briefly orange and visible and blank, tired
Of this house and this ever-pressing sky
And the paint on the Buick oxidizing
From red to blush to rust.
And he doesn’t care, because now is the only moment
He can let himself feel this tired.
Let the rust find its home under the dented fenders.
Let this smoke tangle with the fraying stars.
Let this bitterness find a name he can taste
And drink in a long, cold draught.
Let the woman inside wait a little longer
For him to finish vanishing in the dusk.
Let him forget everything he wants too much
To vanish with him beneath the grey cloak of the eaves.

And let me forget my own name—the name
Of the man in the chair, the name I assume
While I watch from across the street,
The name of any boy repeated like a prayer
At dusk when we’re least likely to listen.
Let that name find its silence aroused in the hiss
Of a sprinkler down the block, drowning
The simple music of a door-framed voice,
The voice we can’t hear, calling us home.

VI. Jubilate: Roofers, 9/12/2001

At 7:00 AM, Mike heaves a flat
Of shingles up and over, lays
A perfect line across, then pauses,
Coffee steaming from his cup.
“It was too much,” Mike says,
About the blast, the towers falling
Into clouds of silt and ash.
What else could he say?
“It was like a movie,
But no one saved them.”
The others nodded, pounded on.

Their working woke me up today
instead of news, and it was good.
Against decay, against disaster—
The voice of hammers,
The bite of nails into wood.

VII. Jubilate: Last Aubade

Because love is not enough and we fail it anyway,
There’s nothing to do but trace the perfect curve of your hip as you sleep beside me,
Nothing to hear but your breath and the cries of crows outside
Scrabbling over whatever crumbs the stars will leave in the twisting cypress branches.
And the panoply of stars distracts us from love’s magnitude anyway,
And we fail again to listen to the crows in their dark branches
Cawing at us to behold the one thing greater than all the darkness they contain.

There’s nothing to do but get up and walk out quietly so I don’t wake you,
So I don’t scare away the light from the Pleiades which guards the bowl of your room
From the sounds of a hinge squeaking, from a gate banging shut.
So I walk down the hill one last time, because, after tomorrow,
Love will no longer be enough to save us from each other.
However much we love, however much love’s light annihilates our doubts,
Their ruins fall out like silt to unmoat our fortressed hearts.


.     .     .     .     .     .

©M. L. Williams