Happy UFO Day
I just received an e-mail from the Academy of American Poets, indicating that July 2 is (or rather, was) "UFO Day," commemorating the anniversary of the Roswell Incident on July 2, 1947. Here's a link to the Academy announcement:
In honor of the day, here is my only flying saucer poem. It's from my first collection, Holding Down the Earth (Skybooks, 1995). I wrote this book before getting my MFA. I think it's obvious that I had a lot to learn, but I still like the poem.
We cover the distance from Leland to Crystal Lake
in little more than an hour, stopping once for coffee
at a weather-beaten party store. I've decided
I like driving quickly through falling snow,
but do not tell you this. It reminds me of those movies
in which the starship cruises at light speed, the stars
blowing past the windows of the capsule,
passengers safe inside,
nothing ever striking anything. On the radio,
a man says the Hubble telescope
has just photographed the farthest known galaxy,
some 15 billion light years away. Our entire universe,
he says, continues to drift, and might only be
several billion years older
than the light we are seeing now.
I am trying to arrive at a preference for coastlines,
making a game of it, pronouncing this one a tie
with the cliffs of Oregon. Perhaps Lake Michigan winning
on the grounds of the familiar. I am deciding
whether to drive all night, take you far
from this coast, stop before dawn
and press my ear to the earth, listening
for the sound of solid ground. But what,
the caller asks, of the Roswell Incident?
It was just after the war,
he says, and perhaps they'd come to save us
from the nightmare of Hiroshima. A light year here,
a light year there. The difficulty of finding our way
through time and space, even to a place
as vast as New Mexico. There are photographs.
The rancher, electric in the flash,
pointing toward the dark of the arroyo,
and a day shot of the bunkhouse
over which the saucer flamed. Some say
there were bodies, with translucent skin and almond eyes,
and hieroglyphs on the metal fragments
gathered by the soldiers.
It will take us years to understand
what has happenened before our eyes.
It was November and we were in Oregon,
walking the deserted beach, the ocean not at all pacific.
The tide was coming in or going out,
I forget which, but something was happening:
the waves rolled and rolled away and the ocean disappeared
in a roiling mist. I was drawing Tillamook Head
in oil pastels, the peninsula stretching, like a long, dark anvil,
in the distance below Seaside. You walked away,
and when I called you did not hear,
or perhaps, you pretended not to hear.
Between us, one hundred yards of tidal pools,
and a flock of sanderlings,
gray as limestone, picking their way
through the shards of razor clams.
As I watched, I thought of the word "salvage,"
not simply the word, but the process,
gathering what is left of the wreckage.
On the radio again, this same man, nearly hysterical,
says the goverment builds flying saucers
at a secret base in Nevada. These fly above radar
and below, at extraordinary speeds,
we seldom see them, they are undetectable.
He tells us they are everywhere. He is trying
to describe the distance from this place
to the nearest civilization,
a small town named after the wife of Jacob,
the Jew who first wandered into the land of Canaan.
"There are twenty miles between Dreamland and Rachel,"
he finally says. The only way in
is to cross the desert at night,
a dangerous passage through snakes and alkali,
a journey for which there are no maps,
no landmarks, and no guarantees. Ahead of us,
two taillights curve away, equidistant,
like tiny red comets.
I am trying to find a thread of music
between the static and these voices.
The car is silent, but for the turning dial,
and the low hum of the tires, making the same sound
they would make on any long drive,
whether these were the first miles, or the last.