On Education, In America

My love     I wanted     to write you     about America
and me     out of my head     with longing     for you
your body     sipping tea     listening     to a tabla
and sitar     converse     as I did     with you
before     as we do     so rarely     now
in America     the kitten's playing tag     on the bedspread
striped     like a flag     they sentenced me     today
eight months     after the Eight Hundred sat in
three months     in jail     two years     probation
set bail     at a thousand     half what I make
in a year     when we graze Mars' skin     a first touch
like a lover     seeking     intimate bright foliage
dreamed jungles     we burn     like rainbow books
in far countries     there's music     I've never heard
I sing     to the kitten     Diego Ortiz
small carnivore     Renaissance composer     of changes
my love     in Spain     we speak     so seldom
tonight     I went to a poetry reading
alone     I felt so sad     it was postured
and cheap     like the judge's speech     this morning
in America     rule is by law     not by men
get your rights     your love     within law     in the system
but what     do you do     if the channels are clogged
with scale     the machinery     rusted from disuse
the throat     will not speak     the face is hidden
like a billboard     plastered with dead names     we hide behind
scared of love     like highway patrolmen     leather judges
geared     to keep the traces     of human
touching     tight and safe and straight
on concrete     to drag     the bodies of warmth
from the heart     of our center     of thought     our voice
the poem     the poets     the judge     nobody speaks
to me     in America     I speak     to the kitten
of changes     I write     each line     it costs blood
to care     for you     for the kitten     who might die
run away     far away     to love     to build
a poem     a chessgame     of tactical decisions
to fight     cheap names     to keep trying     to keep touching
those     it's for     to see     the changes
ahead     for you     for us     for them
for us     if you leave     yourself open     you say it
like it is     like a poem     you get hurt     for no one
will speak     for me     for us     for you
have to write     your own name down     be proud
of your complicity     in an act     of love
in America     it's still possible     to be     an American
like my father     to leave     the permanent subways
of fear     to leave     the concrete     rooms
he lived in     to come     to openness     late
to learn     the structure     of trees     of poems
of pruning     at night     in the flimsy kitchen
November     rain     through the holes in the roof
in the storm     the apricot     fell before pruning
in season     by season     we rebuilt that house
we learned     by rooms     sheetrock and wiring
insulation     ceramic and asphalt tiling
concrete     roofing     siding     shingling
joining     cabinetry     he taught me     and learned
to take     time out     to love     to fit
mahogany seams     to a sixty-fourth
to work     with words     precisely     working
at midnight     when he rose     from the typewriter     covered it
deadline     reached     another issue     edited
late nights     I learned     from him     and cocoa
real cocoa     we shared     the oatmeal mornings
I remember     wanting     to paint you     a picture
myself     transplanting ferns     into styrofoam
carriers     in torn jeans     looking     absurdly
absorbed     as you love me     titled     my father
the American     political     open     to changes
as we are     as we love     a dream     of America
speaking     with each other     free     like it is
in love     the political heart     the poem
I wrote     my heart     into that building     and jail
for love     of you     because I was open
to you     enough     to cry     when you came
to me     when six hundred cops were waiting
to rush     the car     of a cause     we began
understanding     that night     around the car
as we spoke     of abstractions     for the first time     real
of belief     of rights     of people     in structures
of being     alone     and some young existentialist
joining     our private and public hearts
to my chuckles     it may be true and I love you
my body     cries to you     like a lonely child
I was     with the sadness     of poems     without love
tonight     they speak     to no one     alone
and cheap     for no one     will risk     the blood
the love     it takes     to love     to be hurt
the longing     for openness     open and drastic
accepted     unnamed     we learned     to see it
like it is     to say yes     to say no     and mean it
tuned in     and something     illuminates     my sentence
the changes     the old irrelevancies     cannot
touch me     I call to you     in my sleep     alone
and cloak     my love     far away     in America.

                                                                                       19-25 July 1965