Cate Peebles

 

 

from James

 

1

Born 5:55 p.m.
October 5th, 1899
Bald as he'd be on his deathbed

The first act of James is to believe he is James

 

*


James, whose son was James
Whose son is James whose

Son is James who has no son
Yet; born losing hair, bald

Moon men—my fathers
Their sons who were born

And born and born and
Born who will be born

Next were born with
snow on their minds

 

 

2

James points to a photograph of his own James with one shaky finger from where he stands on the landing. James sets the paper rectangle with its blackhaired smiling silvertone boy on the oiled oak railing. James points to his eyes. James points to James. James points to my face. James smiles because he lost all his words in a thunderstorm.

 

*

 

After earth had covered this generation in snow
The icicle spirits who evaporate everywhere
        
Wearing mist-made pants and dresses
Abundant chiseled apples and coal
In their subzero hearts

They covered the plains, waiting
Next came the paper men
Next came the warlords, the railroads

Next, the demi-gods with ore and honey hearts
Happy to build you a bridge to sail from

After these generations sprung late summer heat
Electricity in fire's belly

Then came James
Then came James
And all his Jameses

But what do we know of James?

 

 

3

Okinawa, 1966: James, Director of Engineers, though he prefers to think of himself as an electrician, a light man. James will rewire your home in one sleepless night. One blindfolded afternoon he rides with US Marines to a leper colony for croquet, Anglo-rules, with the colonists; his sweaty wet eyes dart as he watches how fast they move.  His eyebrows, black crescent moons, the decomposing men in white, agile as electrodes on a wire—unexpected bolts jolt a fingertip

 

*

 

James sleeps poorly from adolescence on, which leads to wandering his dark house all night, looking for broken switches, opening all the doors to examine dim rooms, to watch the sleeping forms, the empty furniture, the inexplicable luminous oval that has no nameable source, glowing on the wooden door to the empty bedroom where he was born

 

 

4

To say snow is not to be snow
To have snow on the brain

Is a glutinous cold wave
Attached to some far off thing

Given a cell to float in
James names electrons

After tropical birds and
Whistles out the window

His tableful of broken lamps
An unwired city: blind windows.

What bird is that on the sill—
What do you call it again? It

Calls its call to other 
Birds of its kind the ones

That know their own call
A cry like a Y sometimes

A pellucid why cut from
Circulation. You're James

A shrill I I I I—
His brain fails to reassemble

After July's stroke—positive
And negative electrons on a pinhead

He's erased the code for cushion,
For egg, for cellophane            This

Wire wraps here behind the socket
Illuminates a lemon painted

Into wallpaper and wets his tongue

 

 

5

James' son James
runs away from home
to get away from James,
away from Minnesota,
away from the freeze—
 to flee

his own cellsplitting son
spinning in the womb.
1952, James leaves
Minnesota, moves east
across the Midwest
 to New York

and hides at the Automat
slicing deli meat
in Hell’s Kitchen. James,
trailed by James
who wouldn't let his son
 escape his own

unborn son. James
looked for James
for 5 months.
James could speak
then but he did so rarely.
 James was known for his closed

mouth. His son James
was balding; James'
head a half moon carried
back west by his father
to witness the birth
of his son. James

arrives at night, his son a bastard
until ink-smeared dawn—
day's signature drawn along
the line marked father
James and James
side by side
in the lime green
room by the hospital bed