for the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA
The artists of the city decided to build a glass boat. It had a glass keel, and a glass mast with glass sails. But what could they do with a glass boat? Out on the ocean it made the sailors nervous. They could see the clouds passing by through the glass sails, but they could not catch the wind. The water waved at their feet, but they could not feel it splashing. The deck was always smudged with footprints. When the current brought the contraption back to the city’s shore it was decided they would hang it in the museum. It looked much better, floating about the ceiling. But one day the sails caught the current passing through open windows, and the glass boat sailed to the floor. The engineers of the city gathered all the pieces together. They melted the glass and reformed the boat into a giant pyrex measuring cup. The cooks of the city began cracking eggs. One by one they splashed into the glass cup and tiny bits of shell went up and down on egg white waves.
Everything he touched lost its name. His mother lost hers just as he started his first cry, then the doctor who cut his umbilical cord, his father who held him, and so on. Dictionaries were no help so he taught himself to read without words. Each night his dreams were filled with nameless images. When he looked around he could see something always passing but never returning, so he followed it towards all the places he’d never been, whose names he knew. When he awoke he followed the sun, looping around with no direction and no end.
One leaf revolted against the rake, and the rest joined in. Piles mobilized, trees shook in sympathy, and bags of clippings spilled into the streets.
Now the leaves are on rampage. The streetlights turn from green to yellow to red, and the armies of autumn are unleashed, scraping the air as they storm down streets, into shops, into restaurants, and into food they refuse to pay for. In parking lots they parachute through open sunroofs, and then there are leaves driving cars down the street, swerving around trees, honking wildly, and colliding with each other. At an intersection a beige car crashes into a maroon car, and then more cars crumple around them, bursting into yellowish orange.
The smell of burning leaves fills the air. Then a strong wind blows and the pile drifts away.
Facts about Marsupialslisten to this poem
When a poem is born it’s so small that 40 of them could fit in a tablespoon. It’s pink, fur-less, and easy to crush or misplace.
For the first weeks the poet carries them in a tablespoon, day and night, like a continuous egg and spoon race to nowhere in particular. Every now and then the spoon tips and some tiny poems are lost.
When the time is right the poet moves the little things to a special pouch where they stay until they are ready to poke their heads out and consider their own direction.