Progress Report September 2010; Bomb; Bargain; Bricks; Bridge

Progress Report September 2010

My father’s lifted 25.8
African elephants, or rather
their equivalent, at the gym.
African elephants are larger
than Asian elephants and use
their tusks for digging
roots, for stripping bark
from baobab trees, for fighting
the competition come
mating season. This
is the second season
of autumn since my father
stopped lifting my mother,
in mock exhaustion, over
the threshold. There are two
types of elephants and two
sorts of my father: one
companioned by my mother, one
by her ghost. One went
to the gym to lift weights daily;
the other goes now in his place.
25.8 African elephants
isn’t bad for a man
at 82, in the category
of lifting, but what
the progress report omits
is the more difficult, the less
showy side of pumping iron:
the lowering of 25.8
African elephants, that awkward,
grunting feat which my father’s mathematical
brain—his head now bent
on subtraction—translates into
1588.3 repetitions of giving
my mother back to the earth.
Of course, September progress reports
mean to be uplifting, mean to make
Dad Atlas on the Serengeti.
But the old souls of 25.8 African elephants
sense his sense of a weight he can’t
put down, and the savannah from
which they’ve been banished. How
regal and imperiled the apparitions,
dragging their sad tusks
across the red dust of our suburbia.


English is hard
to explain. Why
is one b loud

and one quiet?
Why does one
house stand

and another crumble?
Why does one
mother falling

on the open
wound of her one
son howl,

while another
opening her one
mouth goes dumb?


We paid him next
to nothing—less than the little
he’d asked for—to lead us

at dusk from the pyramids
on camels into the desert.
Such slim wages

to take us, without
complaint, all that way—
so far, without a star.

We were in the middle
of nowhere, or at its edge.
Friends, he asked, from

out of that blackness,
what will you pay me
to take you back?


Beside the most
humble abode—

think one window,
think one flimsy door—

a stash of bricks
is neatly piled, the building

blocks for some addition,
which, in the mind

of the will-be builder,
figures as second bedroom

one year, as kitchen
the next. The solidity

of bricks shape-
shifts easily and will not

be upstaged by famine,
by locusts, by the run

of bad luck that suns
itself nearby. Sometimes

the pile will be guarded
by a thin dog or by chain link,

sometimes disguised
by the flapping of a tarp

cobalt as ocean, as the big
sky idea it is: a kind of spire

in training, patient
to be built, whispering

blueprints nightly, as lullaby,
as come hither, inside

the harshest winds
to its steadfast architect.


after Su Tung Po

Write to me, he said,
when you reach the final bridge.

But how could I know
which bridge was the last?

I was a girl and this my first river.
There was a moon to consider.

There were reeds and swells and boys
who rippled in from both shores.

At last I wrecked
the leaf that was my boat.

I wrote to him:
Come. I’ve had enough of bridges.