“Oblivio Gate”

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth:
I sought him, but I found him not.
— Song of Solomon 3:1

I

If we are truly the sum
of our memories,
tonight you are not

my husband
but a young soldier in Korea,
whispering

across a mud trench in snow.
You warn me
about the unpredictable

motions of saw grass,
about tripwires and crickets
that seem to answer each other

across a field,
about the wind, how
it will always bend a reed

the way a catfish curls
a can pole.
You warn me

about the full moon
hung out
like a flare

descending
beneath a night-cloud’s
silver canopy,

about shadows,
about the way
one branch moving

without the others
means trouble—
it almost always means trouble.

II

Sometimes,
I’ll find you
sitting upright in bed

bereft as a boy
who has lost himself
among the fire-eaters

and drunken barkers
of the Midway.
Sometimes

I’ll find you twitching
like a hound in sleep,
and I pray

you are somewhere,
howling in the furious
fanglight of a moon.

Once, as I woke,
you were simply standing
naked beside the bed:

a shameless body
that glowed.
Your eyes were fixed

to a bare corner of room,
your head cocked,
tracking the low gnaw

of wood grubs
fattening
in the weight-bearing walls.

III

Movement like this
becomes a strange calligraphy,
subtle as the familiar

alphabet of branch shadow
swept from ceiling to wall
and back to ceiling.

The grayscale
of a fine ink opening
beneath a horsehair brush,

the Korean character
left drying
on the page.

Its message
becomes your insomnia,
your paper madness.

IV

The moon
is the rice-paper lantern
left burning in the garden

Long after the last house light
is put down.
Wind sweeps its circles

across the empty lawn
and back again.
All night

I search you
for signs of recognition—
Solomon? Solomon?

I float your name
out into the darkness:
a word, a flame,

A silver prayer kite rising,
rice paper,
balsa,

twine for the rigging,
remember this.
Remember.

V

You are startled and swear,
the goddamn house
is lousy with bugs!

Weevils,
termites,
the carpenter bee,

the suckers* just burrow and breed.
Yet somehow
you knew

about the slow
tangles and plaques,
about the snarled web

that blossoms
beneath the crown molding,
about the Louisiana weevils

gorging the sweet potato’s
orange meat.
You knew

about the perforated baseboards,
about the bees
that bore

like iridescent drill bits
through porch,
about the pelt

of black mold
alive as a wall rat
between jack studs.

You knew
about the dry rot
in the eaves

and about the palsied signature
of a worm
etched across the rotted sill.

You could hear
the steady gnash
of mandibles

buried in walls
like grunts in laced boots
marching through a frozen field,

like the quick
electric spill
of a stroke,

like wood dust,
and the strange sleep
that sifts down through stars

steady as snow
forgetting every path
we’ve ever walked.

VI

You smiled and said,
there are so many dreams
it’s hard to pick the right ones,

and I knew you were back,
for now,
in the infested body

of this house.
You cupped my face
and kissed me

there in our bed
like a husband, like a man
on his knees

gulping
after a thaw
of river water,

the mouth
unable to swallow anything
fast enough.

VII

The mind
will sometimes turn
on itself,

the way a stomach will
devour its own walls
in hunger.

Gradually,
you become
an exposed colony

of termites, writhing
in the split log of sleep,
and memory

is nothing more
than a star-pocked darkness
that sidles up

like a wife with a toothy smile
who daubs a damp cloth
at your forehead,

who calls to you
down half-lit corridors
and guides you back

to the familiar wicker chair,
the lampshade,
the pillow.

The Korean landscape
you hung above our bed
is electric with moonlight

and fever, and somewhere
in the pasture
just beyond reason, a line

of stout poplars
drills holes
through heavy snow:

a battalion of foot soldiers
assembles in the tree line,
bellies through nightwheat and frost.

* Changed from the original poem due to sensitive language.

© 2008 by Sean Nevin. Reprinted from Oblivio Gate with permission from Southern Illinois University Press.

Reflections