Dear God, dear mother, I am writing
from a dead room in my life, an old garage,
Manoa, falling in flats of madness
like the rain you never see,
the girls I named for horses, cows,
are husks I dropped to find some
back way back.
I open like a map your death
to get away from here.
I spread its arteries across
my lap the darkness tightens to a drum.
Something of God is here,
a piece of old male like a smell.
And sand, dust, grit: Him. Him.
What you threw out, what is a swept bouquet.
Alone it always would be this, you said,
the wind a braid the frog’s voice
carries in its belly on the pond,
for hair, the plain, the needed, parting comb.
Teach me, I drum, my fingers quick, teach me
to live alone.
Teach me that rain will come
and come and that the smell, my hide,
is everywhere the stalk, the lie, the animal
that I complain.
Nell Altizer was a poet and Emerita Professor of English at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Born in 1936 in Charleston, West Virginia, she was educated at St. Louis University, Emory University, and the University of California, Berkeley, and died in 2015 in Port Townsend, Washington. Most notable of her many publications were the influential Heath Handbook of English Composition and the Heath Workbook of Composition; a volume of poetry, The Man Who Died En Route, which won the Juniper Prize from the University of Massachusetts Press; and a sonnet sequence set in Ireland, Thin Place.
—Poem from The Man Who Died En Route, University of Massachusetts Press, 1989