The Perfect Birch


America, who speaks?
When the coiled lip
of the tin cup slakes
like a cottonmouth,
and the neck breaks,
this table’s for both.

Under gables that changed
to gibbets I’m hanged
with the Barabbas
of your breath.

From the cataract ibis
of a netherscarp
and moons of fargo
taking shape,

to the sacred cloth
of a war’s inducted
doused in death;

from tin tobacco
telescope armies
that march on rumours
and the moon’s monolith
campfires once acted;

or the many moons
in a helmet’s sleep —
Spain’s, perhaps,
as the axes leap

scalps of the cross;
and a breastplate rips
the rainbow moss) —

I’m forbidden entry
to the ultimate country.

A prairie flake speaks
the mind of peaks

and the bear
that the fevered
pine cabins fear
when veiled and avid
maples snowing amber
as beasts lumber
sing silently the fall;

and you, extreme eagle,
with gorges in your grail
of lustres,
and your wings steep maps
vastly worn

among vine clusters, fly
an America born
to avalanching air
and a scaling coach
in a pinnacle’s eye.

Flag and bugle
and spitfire birch,
and the rocket that waits
to gutter the sky:

America my breath,
as breathless as I:

cannon at the gates
of a captured church
uproot ambush
and a whippoorwill
by a shut paddle-wheel

and a moored watermill;
and attrition runs
fireballs of guns
for escaping hates
that hunt the harbours
of earth and limb,
where you hungered to be
the perfect birch
of a gleaming hymn.

Whose were the robbers
that set these free;
whose the thumb
that signalled them?

Creature into human,
breath trails a sash
of chases that summon
the watches of the lakes.
Cry barricade,
the language of the breed:

the halted lynx
of omen.

It reaps like a blade
what the rainladder thinks,
and the rainladder’s rungs
climb in; guns
munch mammoth moment,

each bite cavernous,
a galleyblack landfall,
and a hurdy-gurdy handle
grinds in a white house
a vacuum for a candle.

In ballroom time,
in the fireplace,

the hurdy-gurdy man
like a nursery rhyme

plays the first drawn
breath of America’s
magical release.

Put the powder in;
the cannon spring
deep into the marrow
of a birth’s tomorrow,

till a hurdy-gurdy drones
of lagoons of bones
with no place for July;
and all the straw wagons
drive on by —
and change into guns;

and we into legions
of absent ones;

into the staff
warcries can’t reach
when over the hogans
of a tributary cliff
their cataracts flow
to the wounded nave
of a Navajo
wielding heat:

an archbishop burns;
antiquities meet;
the mesa blows up

at the touch of a cup
about me; I breathe
into a gibbet torch
from a Spanish pew

crushed moccasins
and the crust of a march.

How will you live
without me; how
slake those cotton moons
coiled in a perfect birch?

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