N  a  p  a  l  m      H  e  a  l  t  h      S  p  a         R  e  p  o  r  t     2  0  0  4





from Let the Railsplitter Awake





West of the Colorado

there's a place I love.

There, all that lives

passes thru me—

what I've been, what I am, what sustains me.

There, the savage air

with its thousand hands

sculpted the high red rocks:

blind scarlet rose from the abyss—

transformed them to copper, strength, fire.

America, spread like a buffalo skin

in the clear & aery galloping night

above the star-spread heights,

I drink your cup of green dew.


Yes!  thru bitter Arizona, gnarled Wisconsin

with Milwaukee raised against wind & snow,

in the flaming marshes of West Palm,

near the pines of Tacoma,

in the dense steel smell of your forests

I wandered the earth, among

blue leaves, cascading stones,

hurricanes trembling with music,

rivers like monasteries full of prayers,

geese, apples, earth & water,

infinite silence of growing wheat.


There, deep in the stone, I could

stretch eyes, ears, hands to the air,

to hear

books, trains, snow, battles,

factories, tombs, gardens, footsteps,

the moon over the ship near Manhattan,

the song of the weaving machine,

the iron spoon eating the earth,

the drill that hammers like a condor—

all that cutting, pressing, running, stitching:

beings lashed to wheels of birth and death.


I love the farmer's little house.  New mothers sleep

in aromas like the tamarind's, like clothes

newly ironed.  Fires burn

in a thousand homes & onions hang & dry.

(When men sing near the river

their voices are rough, like riverbottom stones:

tobacco rose in its wide leaves

& like a fire spirit filled these houses).

Come deeper, into Missouri, see the cheese & flour,

the odorous planks, red as violins,

the man navigating thru the barley,

the newly mounted blue colt

who sniffs & smells bread & alfalfa:

church bells, poppies, blacksmith shops

& in the rustic ramshackle theaters

Love shows its mouth full of teeth

in the earthborn dream.

What we love is your peace, not your personae.

Your warrior face shows no brotherly love.

You are sisterly, spacious, North America—

you come from a humble cradle, like a washerwoman

near your rivers, in white. 

Growing in mystery,

your sweetness is honeyed peace.


We love your man, his hands red

with Oregon clay, your black boy

who brought you music

from the ivory coast:  we love

your city, substance,

light, machines, your Western

energy, the peaceful

honey from hive & town,

the giant boy on his tractor,

the oats you inherited

from Jefferson, the rumbling wheel

that measures your terrestrial ocean,

factory smoke, the thousandth

kiss of a new colony:

we love your worker's blood,

your popular hand, full of oil.


Under the prairie night, time

sleeps over the buffalo skin in a grave

silence—sleeping syllables, the song

of what I was before birth, what we all were.

Melville is a sea fir—his branches

curve into a keel, one arm

of timber & ship.  Whitman, numberless

as grain, Poet in his dark

mathematics, Dreiser, Wolfe,

fresh wounds of our own absence,

& more recently, Lockridge, all in the depths,

& how many others in darkness;

over these the same western dawn burns

& from them we make what we are.

Mighty infantry, blind captains

trembling in action, among leaves,

stopped by joy & grief

on the plains crossed by traffic—

how many unvisited dead in the flatlands:

tortured innocents, prophets published recently,

over the buffalo skin of the prairie.


From France & Okinawa, from the atolls

of Leyte (Norman Mailer has told this story),

from the furious air, from the waves,

almost all the boys have come back.

Almost all . . . the history of mud & sweat

was green & bitter; none heard

the song of the reefs well enough,

nor touched, except in death,

the earth, bright fragrant crown of the islands:

         blood & shit

hounded them, grease & rats—

the desolate, exhausted heart fought on.

But they've come back

                                   & you've received them

in the wide open lands

& those who've come back have closed up

like a corolla of numberless anonymous petals,

to be reborn & to forget. 



Translated by David Cope