The Night Before Another Departure
after Kevin A González
Even before leaving you Pittsburgh
my eyes were filled with post-autumnal light
the way Pittsburgh it falls
slanted illuminating another window
another mural the daily enactment
of reinvention mirroring you Pittsburgh
how you have overtaken your past
blast furnaces steel mills chimneys
heavy boots soot your very own
Pittsburgh powder rooms without abandoning
any of it not so much a shed skin
as a layer beneath newer layers still stitched
by threads of rivers by steel bridges
pocketfuls of suburbs potholes road construction
stitched into the fabric of lives
like mine a stranger adopted
showing me Pittsburgh a new dress
a new evening gown like the Phipps Conservatory
ablaze in winter lights becoming Pittsburgh
a home I never knew I wanted
Monologue to a Friend
A conversation begins with a lie.
- Adrienne Rich
The way is not clear, the way is not sure,
the way is a stumbling, the way is a mist,
the way is a guess, the way is a risk,
the way has no signposts, the way is not clear,
the way has no maps, the way is unknown,
the way is a mystery, the way leads away,
leads on and elsewhere, leads towards and beyond,
the way absorbs you, the way is not clear.
No one can tell you the turnings to take, the ones to pass by,
no one can say where the way will lead,
no one can accompany you for more than a while,
no one can go with you where you must go.
The way has no signposts, the way is a question,
the way is not clear, it is the flame you burn in.
The rebuke always stings.
The unmerited rebuke that brooks
no answer flails the heart.
How do I answer what seeks no answer?
Here is the answer of my hands,
soft in their reminiscence though scraped
and torn, though bloodied sore.
These hands have been pawing at earth,
clawing, prizing out little offerings,
little nuggets to raise to the light,
to bring to you. These hands
are their own offerings, open,
an invitation to speak, to listen.
These hands are outstretched.
I stand accused, your grievance
abstract and unclear.
What if I say this: everything
is an attempt at honesty,
a scratching scrabbling
at the masks to discern the face,
a painstaking exhumation
of motive, of meaning,
to find, amongst it all,
the brittle bones of truth?
What sad foolishness
to keep speaking, explicating,
unearthing, when you cannot bear
to hear, do not wish to listen.
It was an old theme even for me:
Language cannot do everything —
but what else can I bring to you?
I try and fail and try again
with the rich poverty of language:
this is all I know.
I have no wish for weapons
or the tyranny of silence.
If my voice is to be drowned,
it will be drowned speaking still,
whether you have turned away or not,
whether the words falter and flail
against the walls of their cage.
If need be, I will speak long into
your silence, the anger you scald me with.
If you no longer hear me,
hear an echo, a ghost, a whisper,
hear a shadow, hear a memory.
Note: the two italicised lines and the epigraph are from ‘Cartographies of Silence’ by Adrienne Rich, originally published in ‘The Dream of a Common Language’ and republished in ‘Later Poems – Selected and New 1971-2012 W.W. Norton & Company 2013’. The form of part 1 of the poem emulates the form of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Final Notations’, originally published in ‘An Atlas of the Difficult World’ and republished in ‘Later Poems – Selected and New 1971-2012 W.W. Norton & Company 2013’.