Steve Gehrke

Out into the Day
–Marfa, TX, 2009

Crystal Dialogue 10 by Lava Ghayas

It’s Sunday, when the muses rest, the language
backed up in me like passages of ink, though I sense
something fretting in my consciousness, some inner
darkening, like a pigment laid beneath my other thoughts,
the swine flu on the news these days, five dead in Texas,
as I’m writing this, and me choosing the most secluded
tables in the restaurants, listening for coughs rising
through the acoustics of the grocery store, or peaking
at strangers walking past my window, like Darwin
who’d placed mirrors around his house as a trap
for any stranger who might be smuggling diseases
in his lungs. Three years since my mind started decoding
every tick and sensation as a threat, the spasms
in my back, the slick of whiteness on my tongue,
my body like a single passage translated
into a hundred different alphabets, morphing itself
into whatever disease I subconsciously desired,
no blood-work, no ultra-sound, no urine test or EKG
able to explain the shadows growing like through
my brain, the doctors like critics gathered at a text,
each one failing to understand my body’s nuances
and traps, so that I found myself circling
the hospital’s parking lot one day, waiting
for the clots I was sure were forming to rise
like embers and settle in my lungs, the whole
scene like something Woody Allen might have done,
a piece of neurotic comedy, until the camera pans
behind me to see my daughter strapped
into her car-seat in the back. All day, I’ve been trying
to write a poem about these months, but something
in me keeps burning a hole in the text, a need
for privacy, I suppose, or a failure in the language,
no way to recreate those neural pathways in the brain,
the tide inside each nucleus drawn through the moonlight
of my fear, so that I’d wake up drenched in the oils
of anxiety, then begin twitching through my days,
neck-spasms and fingers pressing at a node, those
arthritic hours on the internet searching for something
I couldn’t name, my hypochondria just another phylum
in the imagination’s kingdom, though still I worked
one afternoon to caulk the window’s shut, because I’d felt
all day as if fumes were gathering in my lungs. Whatever
other thoughts I had those days—about teaching
or my family—were lost inside of me, like handfuls
of confetti tossed into a blizzard. How lost
I was to myself, how lost I am even now inside
the memory of that time, trying to release
the homunculus of some superior mislaid version
of myself from its musty confinement in the past,
like those men Darwin founded in our bones,
and the apes inside of them, the whole crumbling
estate scummed together in our blood, no design,
no purpose, no good or evil, nothing but blind,
pitiless indifference pounding through our veins,
our bodies harnessed to the plows of history,
or so it felt when I woke up this morning with that
backwards tugging in my chest, and started wondering
if I was sick again. I understood that the only thing
to do was to start to knot together the laces
of those days, to find some pattern in it all,
so I got up and started writing  this, until I felt
that inner darkening again, and then I walked
around opening all the shades, then all the windows
in the house, and finally, because there is no
other cure, I opened the door and hauled this
stupefied, crumbed-together body out into the day.


About the writer:
Steve Gehrke has published three books of poetry, most recently Michelangelo’s Seizure, which was selected for the National Poetry Series. His awards include an NEA, a Pushcart, and a Lannan Literary Redidency. He teaches at the University of Nevada-Reno.

Image: Crystal Dialogue 10 by Lava Ghayas. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 60 inches. By 2020. By permission.