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Maxine Chernoff +Zonal

Photo of a hand, shadowed by a hand.
Inside the eye of a fly, worlds and breaches

of security: How we’ve come to witness:
Quieter still, slow awakening of spring,
outside of history’s grasp or need to show.

What grows and what burns is design.
You will lose your way in liminal drifts:
Amid the signs and warnings,
indecipherable forms/systems disabled

in the reaching and the grasping.
Have you come to notice fog’s
conspiracy? Is there method
in your breathing? Time to grow
wings and set out for the obvious.

It is all introduction now: the notes,
and signs of comprehension.

Take Marx’s giant head at Highgate.
Unimpressed, the children were, too tired
from the trek. They focused on the morning

when the carriage horse had taken
the apple, green and welcoming,
from their hands: all circumference there.
In Westminster behind the velvet ropes

I told my son, who wanted explanation,
on our “wasted,” sunny day: “You’re right.
Lots of dead people.” How the press of
dappled leaves and early magnolia shedding
on the Serpentine became the story too:

Roll over, Oscar Wilde. Meet Gertrude Stein
And the Little Sparrow. Meet Jim Morrison and

Chopin too. Deeper and deeper our travels
Took us: there was Crete, whose indoor toilets
were the first preserved. The tourists

from the cruise had sea legs, as Knossos listed
right or left. The Mexican economist hated
America’s presumptions, he confessed at dinner,
before the ping pong ball disappeared into the Aegean.

I thought Ship of Fools, how doomed
our journeys, felt comfort in moss roses curled
around a railing where men worked sums.
The castle from the Crusades, rehabbed by Mussolini:
palimpsest of wrong ideas: and no plot to save us.

When worlds collide choose stillness, choose
green’s waning days, or footprints in the mud;

choose a planet such as ours, whose carbon holds
an engine of rebirth. For those awaiting signs, like
the recluse in his hut awaiting God, no more

wrong than the fisherman with his slack,
dark line awaiting silverfish on Oakland’s pier.
Under sea’s repose, a slowness and a speed.
The bleached-out coral knows a crime. When smallest

mouths are open, it’s nativity or war. The skirmish
never ends. Nothing restive but our minds awaiting
legibility. You too will stumble into simplifying by degree,
grow lazy with solutions on a breezy night when truth
gives way to forces of desire. Know this too is measuring.

We choose to live, choose love as beacon,
Choose names for fat, slick infants, mucousy

with birth, choose kindness for a few, invisibility
for the many whom we honor with our obliviousness.
How can you claim to have made a choice when

tendrils reach around your shoulders, and one creature
eats another, beyond sight of our eyes? “I have my preference,”
she told me on the phone, though days outnumber choices
in the end. And in the end you have no say, as breath

comes slow, then fast, then seizes in the bellows of
your lungs. He said he watched his father die at the rural
hospital, where oxygen was running low. In Wuhan
the sun rose and roosters crowed as ever. Strange
to die at daybreak. (He shut his father’s eyes.)

Time speeded up is comedy– and time slowed down
its opposite. To know the ending is right is a nod

to convenience. What can sympathy mean when children
die at sea and parents weep and shake their fists?
There is a border crisis, where borders don’t exist

any more than perfect love or painless birth.
The harms accumulate, until you gather
a lifetime of torn cloth. On the loom she knew
the truth, as black and white combined their powers.

The death of the artist, the death
of the critic, the death of the language. The last
speakers two sisters who wouldn’t speak to
one another. The tragi-comic gods own all the real
estate and in the end the blackness too.

Maxine Chernoff has published 17 books of poetry, most recently Under the Music: Collected Prose Poems.
She is a professor of Creative Writing at SFSU and former editor of New American Writing.
This issue was guest-edited by John Olson.
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