Go back one moment,
to the first line of this poem.
Go back two moments,
past the first line of this poem.
Five moments, breathing in
the smell of smoke, somewhere a fire,
your finger clasped in a book. A breeze
turned like a voice beside you,
about to read this poem,
or write it.
Go back one hour.
You had your head in your hands,
or a child’s fragile head was in your hands,
his tears pooling in your palm. Or else
you were happy, smiling at scraps
of overheard conversation, a bar joke,
a horse and a Rabbi, anything.
Go back one day.
It was raining, mud-grey all around you,
or it was hot, the sun a stone bearing down
on your neck with each blurred step,
sweat in your shoes, salt in your shirt,
or it was different.
Go back one year.
You were walking through cracked leaves
in a gutter, listening to their knucklebone rattle,
or you were standing behind a girl
in the supermarket, watching the crane
of her neck slip smooth like water
as she thumbed a magazine,
or you were other places.
Go back five. You were sitting
on the poured stairs, coiling a strand
of hair back around two fingers as you do
when you want to write, trying to remember
the first time you saw crows and knew their names,
or you were standing behind a door, watching your wife
pour water on the baby in a white bathroom sink,
or you were other things.
Go back to the first time you saw crows
and knew them by their burnt metal colors.
Go back to the first dream of falling,
jerking awake to some truth suddenly
clear for a cold long breath. Go back
to the first dream in which you saw outside
yourself, first dream of music
where it shouldn’t be, in the street,
in your chest, your slapped skin
and singing joints, first dream
of wolves, first dream of fire, first
dream screaming, first dream
in which you realized anyone could fit
into anyone else’s body.
Go back to the first time you heard crows,
and knew them by their scratched glass voices.
Go back to the first girl you ever loved,
first boy you ever loved.
Go back to the first time you felt naked,
first cigarette, the hot half-breath
of it, first car crash and house-burning,
first bad haircut, first good haircut,
first dirty word or thought, and how
great it was to say or think, first black eye
or broken bone, first time you tasted your own
blood, first time you saw your own blood,
the first time you knew that all animals die.
Go back until you find
the first thing, the first thought, the first bright
plume and flash that became a part of you..
First thing: chasing grasshoppers
through tall brown grass, a dust-filled wind
on all sides of you. They clutch the dry stalks,
swaying in sunlight and waiting for you to touch
the green paper of their wings
before they fly.
First thing: you are held against
the pale moon of a breast, shadows spilling
out behind the curve. A huge finger
dots the tip of your nose
with a poke.
Go back to the brink.
Go back into that last brief firelight
that flung shapes on cave walls.
Your cheeks waver. Kneel, slither
across the broken floor. Find a place
where the blackness hems, breaks,
the cracked edge of a life you never lived.
Go back until half of your body is light,
and half of your body is dark.
Go back until all of you is dark.
(First Published in The Coachella Review, Spring 2012)