I can’t tell it the way my father tells it. But in 1962, Sonny Liston met a man named Floyd Patterson in public and beat him until he couldn’t stand. My grandpa thought it might go the other way. The whole thing was caught on camera. The country was just learning, then, you don’t hit your neighbor or your wife. Sometimes you found yourself in an all-night diner holding a butter knife with your whole fist. On TV they were pulling barrels of chlorine from the Mississippi River, water brushing the steel contours, the public on the banks in government masks. The knife by bits got warm, and its weight and size sat flush in your palm like a bone you’d grown to fit your situation. Were you the one who picked it up? So you didn’t hit your wife or your neighbor. But you still watched Liston fight Patterson, and let your two sons and your daughter stay up late to see. It was okay to tell them which one you thought would beat the other. Three years later, the marines were in Vietnam. Anyway, like I said, my father tells it better.
Words for What Light Does
What do those dreams mean, where the wild is acres of juniper flats blasted in the dirt? Identical hills of tobacco flower and blue-tinted sage, sand crackling in the pines, and a compass needle spinning out in its cage like the heart of a mule deer. Stillness a weather and topography. Wind hollows out the scorched air like the skin of a gourd, rose tunnels cut in quartz. In the dream, I’m rummaging through words for what light does around the bodies of blown-back juniper trees — on jeweled backs of birds arranged like pieces at a Turkish chessboard — or herded by a crop duster over the hills. In the dream, the land is unnatural as an orchard, hostile as the air of the moon. Shines and shimmers, I think, gleams and glimmers, smoothing it out inside, trying my best, but not close. No, not very. And out of the sky’s marrow comes the sap in which the exact world is suffocated and preserved. That’s all there is, in the dream. Quiet ricochets like midges against a lamp. I never find the word the scavenger ants are carving tenderly from rock, passing down the line, their language an architecture. Light beheads the animals slinking in the wild nettles and brush.