One Turn Around the Sun by Tim Seibles

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

Early day, early summer, liquid sunlight
soaking the city and crape myrtle trees bring back
their pink and purple blooms: how can it happen
again, again—Earth spins and dawn unwraps
the night world as if to say show me a story
and the eyes blink

and hearts turn over—something like engines, maybe
like clocks—and not only in beds but in branches—
the chickadees, the quick squirrels, the katydids
and underground, the ants: the million-million hum
that one note that makes the grassroots giggle—
and what about this chronic itch, this brimming
sky that asks everything to come on:

the emerald moss, the millipedes, the old
oaks holding their ground—even shade glides
like a cool animal, while people smolder
secretly     as if self were a sort of fever,
our heads rising as if we might sail:  Monday,

then Monday—a month of days,
a month like a cricket     in your hand
then gone. I can’t understand
Time    how it makes us and makes us
disappear. I keep turning back
to memory—my life, 56 years spent:
my job, a dead parrot on my shoulder,
bills flocking like flies to the corpse:

what can anybody do? Time
running like ants all over the afternoon   
and where are they going with so many legs—
as if it made sense to live in a frenzy,
as if their legs had a life of their own
and the little things were getting carried away,
their pepper-speck eyes reading one version

of what daylight brings: Trouble and his
magic hat     what the night almost hides—
the homeless brotha, his missing teeth
a trail of crumbs to the Starbucks
parking lot, “Back in the day, I played guitar,”
he grins—some glint of good music
glossing his face. My shades
muffle the glare: me with my
paper money / him with his
hand open

like the door to a house
already burning     or waiting to burn, ready
to burn for both of us—the dollar bills, a book
of matches—and I see what passes for kindness
may not be kind but some kind of clumsy apology
for the monster that mouths them that got
shall get,
The Moloch that eats every woman,

every man: some bitten in the womb, some later,
some so gently they don’t even feel themselves
slip-slide into the throat    and we all try
to dance to this—the prevailing sound
mistaken for music: the humpty-hump
krunked-up bumping hiphop could be the cry
of a country going under for the third

time: everybody put your hands in the air
and wave’em like you jus’ don’t care—

cells and phones, twitters—tweets, charged
and re-charged, telling     telling each other
what?  as the big teeth close around us. 

When I was a boy, I would get up early
and go outside—summer coming on
like the smell of cinnamon toast—a little dude
shod in sneaks, primed in shorts, my voice
sweet as a sparrow’s! I remember the red ants
on first patrol with their no-nonsense faces
giving me the once-over, strolling up my shins
with a bold nonchalance; I could hear them
muttering all they had to do before dusk—

something like discontent twitching a few
antennae: Why am I out here with six legs and
no pants?  I could live for a year on three strawberries—
fuck the colony!
Even then, my mind threw itself
toward what nobody said: my new brain
filling like a blister, the ruckus inside me,
a carnival come to town.

Early summer, Saturday    free time
soaks the city     and this slow-walking woman—
the rich potion of well-made hips, the accent
of such motion slightly muted beneath
her black shorts and, of course, I hear my blood
getting dressed:  first swerve of self
towards a better orbit—heat lightning

on the heart’s coast—the sexual chance,
the Great Maybe: and what about the brave
shock of first touch, the sumptuous crush
of a kiss, the groove communion—thigh
studying thigh / so much of this displaced
by jobs, by septic religion, ghost-dick capitalism,
television—the anytime friend, bright star

with make-believe light, the come-hither
and scold of this colony called America.
I look at facebook:  the hopeful eyes
peeping from the cyber window, the need
to be seen, known; I look

at people in bars,
beer and nachos, cooked beef appearing
then gone—young men, young women,
the unconscious ooze of such
beauty     and flies
landing quietly, planning a future:

war, wars like hit songs     the torn skin
of the daily scrum—cars restless at red lights,
millipede pedestrians,  kill zones, the big buildings:
boxes full of work to be done, bosses / drones—
bizzy, the word repeated

until it becomes a city itself—everyone
zigging to the zag: blue collars rub
the sore machines, executives graph the goods,
call the shoppers who catch the scent
with their long snouts. 

I see the brown faces,
the hard masks trying not to look
surprised    by the undeclared seige,
the Mainstream deftly sicking its dogs,
sending the guns, locking the doors—
night flaring her cloak, the moon
bitten, never whole again: I think
about children     how they

smile when we smile, how we
agree not to say what
we know, not to know
what we know     about growing up:
the calendars gone bad, weeks
dashed to chalk, children
squeezed, their big heads
scored in the vice, gnawed
to the cob

like the rest of us—and all
that’s left of me now is my want
for that woman who walks a bass line
so slow even her shadow wants to holler.
She doesn’t know how sincerely
I would praise the caramel-chocolate
sea-salt of her secret body, how well
I would forget the churches and mosques,
the synagogues, the come-along schools.

Give me the pagan cathedral
of a woman’s cunt, the dawn
of her mouth meshed with mine,
the good Goddess giddy in her eyes,
the blood in harmony—what time,
what drink so smooth,
what justice better
than the justice lovers do?

Once, once and once upon a time,
they tell me I was born, but
I can’t remember the muscular push,
the hands, the clanging light.
According to my mother, it was August
and I cried loud     and loud.
Wish I knew where they were,
that class of 1955, the nursery choir
that had me burbling a solo—hour
after hour, all of us blind, our little lungs
changing the air: I look back,

I look back at myself looking back,
but the fact is, one morning I was found
on Earth and strangers learned me their ways—
this noise they call speech     and how to act:
right now, I am behaving myself—
check out the baby goat gumming
my brow, the normal shirt, pants zipped,
the mischievous eel penned down—I keep
trying to behave: Act like you have some sense,
my father says / Easier said than done, I say. 

It’s all I can do to keep from pissing on tree trunks and storefronts,
marking my turf like a two-legged tomcat, scratching this life
as if I belong:  I spend alotta time being polite, but 
some people should have the shit slapped out of’em—
and not only presidents and priests, born-agains
and racist pricks but everyday people 

like me      who dress up for the status quo, buy
The Beast a burger, then get a half-hearted dry-hump
and a Frenchless kiss in return—fingering
receipts, checking my watch     when I should soak my heart
in kerosene, strike my head like a match! How many
seasons have I nixed for my job? How much craving
tazed in my trousers, while all summer

America becomes The Land of Tiny Shorts:

such visibility!—oh me, oh my—
as if I had never before, as if every photon
had flown to teach me light: the swarm swarming
even now: what can I do?—my life, my life!
eats my life—already 56 years gone

and some of my friends
gone to ground or gone gah-gah
for God     which is worse: 
the voluntary blindness—
to chew the same verses
over and over
with the grim donkey—
as if the Earth was not
a hummingbird, as if staying
awake wasn’t scripture enough.

Woke up in my wrecked apartment—
a stack of bills, piles of books, fucked up floors,
stuffed-up nose—couldn’t talk
myself out of bed: my coffled heart,
my face stained and washed again—
again until I look like a man trying
to look like a man, but I’m here— here,
this minute     finding myself
snared in the threads.  Have you
ever seen that? A bug moving, then
the sticky tug of what had been
invisible: the mean realization—the sudden

uh-oh knowing exactly what’s what: 
Death    its bizzy legs    closing in
to tie you up. When I was a boy I threw ants
into webs and watched / didn’t know
it was a preview of my life: believing,
believing what I saw,  what I’d been
told to see     and everywhere

the slaughter houses wearing
their golden arches, the soldiers
declared necessary, the mantra, pay more
and save
—the matrix, the tortured
script     disguised as fun, disguised
as your career, disguised as a “brand
new car,” as credit, as marriage,
as the nuclear family, as Christmas,
as a day off, so you can catch up—
the outcome already unmistakable: this
is why the mad go mad, why
the riots and revolutions come back:

this story, this tall tale of brighter
whites and bigger blacks, them prisons
for profit, that football fantasy, this
corporate democracy, these iPhone
cronies— us bizzy monkeys, we
monkeys in chains, all them monkeys
on TV—this story is not

our story: to live for that green, to be
“all about dollar bills” is to be chummed
and gaffed—is to wake up with a barcode
for a face, to know dawn    as a soldier
sent by the clocks—a prod, a shove,
a hangman petting the scaffold.

Dawn     I knew it once: 

peach light, new sky, liquid summer swimming
the breeze the way Her mouth brushes your ear.
Dawn’s kiss on the thigh of my soul! My eyes—
two loons, twin musketeers, ten orgasms,
twice kings—revoking the governments and their
armies, rescinding the weekdays and the legions
dying for coffee, dying inch by inch
in the quicksand, in the getting to work.

Suppose, just once, you saw a middle-aged maniac
skating telephone wires like a squirrel, or one
glad woman jumping balconies and boulevards
as if time were a trampoline—think how gladly
you would lose your mind: look
what the Takers have taken and the monsters

they have made, the tame zombie-playmates
they have made of us: smiling, bobbing
for the job, trotting along, when we might be trolls
under their bridges—billy goats butting their
smug asses—when we might re-write the world!

What is that restlessness? What is this rage?
Proof that the rose still burns in your blood—
root and branch, thorn and bloom, proof
that your brain is a bucking horse, that
your soul remembers and bites the leash; I want
such teeth in my mouth. Why can’t we
have a world worthy of the wheeling sun? 
The Earth is a house that flies! 

Fuck all the powers that be.

I remember my parents—my mother
trilling her soprano, my serious father
and his black fists, how they kept on
despite the heavy sleet strafing
their lives: they should be famous
for getting dressed    the morning after
Martin Luther King was killed: I was thirteen,
puberty coming on like a seizure—

I went to the kitchen. My cereal sat there, sugar
snowing on the brown flakes, my mother tilting
the spoon, my father with his Cherokee eyes, cup
rising to his lips, getting ready for the day, getting
ready     no matter what, doing the had to be done. 
I can’t recall what they said, but they were calm—

my brother stabbed his eggs. There would be
riots at Germantown High—and my parents went
to work surrounded by white people who measured
their words /
                          I sit here with these pencils meaning
to make some sign, some song, something
like the love I’ve been given. I feel the pulse
pecking my wrists, but I don’t know:

I don’t know:

Early sunlight, broken summer, buttery day
the dawn brims over—crape myrtles and cars,
the city birds call to each other, all the people
simmering 98.6 degrees, this blood
shuffled with history, the DNA

whispering persist! persist!  Every heart
a political prisoner, every one of us force-fed
some version of what the daytime brings, 
what the midnight hides. Already Death
sketches my face, my beard drawn gray. 

Century after century, Death opens
his scabby arms, while rise upon rise,
little kids rush the land, tasting the details,
meaning to take it all back, believing themselves
the first, the smartest, the true: back in the day,
I was a child and everything was a soft cookie!

But the members of the Klan were babies once
and the officers of the Third Reich too and the killers
called Janjaweed     and Dick Cheney and his puppet,
The Idiot, and Tojo and the Taliban,
and Assad and Mugabe and everyone
who swung a blade in Rwanda, and the
rapists running the rape camps—and the
chemists who chemmed napalm    
and the Khmer Rouge, and all the slave
masters with their bizzy cocks and every
gun-gaming cop and the man who shot
Mahatma Gandhi: every one     a child once,
coming from the rainforest warmth
of a woman’s womb, every one
taught the amnesia—like me: 
I was the goofy boy

pressed into knickers and knee socks—
my mother tucked a napkin under my chin,
made gingerbread with black strap molasses, 
read me, The Billy Goats Gruff, Little Black
Sambo, A Child’s Garden of Verses
—how I grew
beneath the sky of her voice, how ready to run:

           Catch a doggie by the toe
       If he hollars let him go—

I hid and chased, flew and fell—was wings
and no bird, my legs spinning as if they had
a life of their own.

I spend adulthood trying to blend in, trying
not to be the stranger who’s become strange—
trying not to be IT: that lost brotha
in the parking lot trying to sing,
smelling like moldy piss and dead dog   
with no lovers or friends, with no place
to sleep     though sleep has become harder

and harder to find / O friends! The sun comes back
again, again—only to find us strumming our
dim teeth, filling our pants, nuzzling Death’s
dusty neck, while the ants, the trillion-trillion
hum just beneath us: do you think
they think     we know something? I’ve held a few,
felt the ready bite of those tiny jaws. Imagine
your own self grabbed

by something ten-thousand times your size
and deciding to bite it! To be in the clutch
of a monster and still sink your whole life 
into one stupefying chomp meaning get off me
Isn’t that what courage is for?
to lay claim to your life, to roam beyond the grasp,
beyond the rule of whoever means to use you as fuel

for bad machinery. Break open your eyes!
the night—without being asked, with no vote
and no compromise— backs off for the sun. 
The days are more than we say they are: dawn
gives birth to them all, names none—
the minutes riot, time flames in every direction.

Let’s get out of this, this

stupor called a normal day, this dumb farm
called country / the heart starves
with the feast nearby and we swallow
the words of a story nobody wants to tell   
but why? Why be practical?—when The Hour
rips Her gown, kicks down your door

and wraps Her big legs around you—why pretend
you don’t know what I mean?
after thrashing a Tastykake Krimpet,
I saw an ant stealing a crumb way, way
bigger than possible—I was downtown:

Chevys flexed their engines, pedestrians pushed on—
sandals, high heels, sneaks, bizness kicks—some mouths
smoking, some spending talk through a small box,
trying for the ear of someone invisible, someone
who makes the daily knock hurt less. 

I believe it is hard to be human, to be these
new animals, hard to say yes to this singular
blood     and to the flying world that made us:
Who keeps conjuring the Distractions? Who?

What are the Words that gnaw on the soul?

Our heads smolder and blaze, slow light
gaining the streets—maybe now,

maybe now    it is time
to be born:

early day, open summer, a slight breeze
over the sleepers, our tired legs

on edge— we circle the sun
in so many ways: this Earth   

and all the other planets   
holding their own.                        

Photo of Tim Seibles by John Doucette

Tim Seibles, born in Philadelphia in 1955, is the author of several poetry collections including Hurdy-Gurdy, Hammerlock, and Buffalo Head Solos.  His first book, Body Moves, (1988) has just been re-released by Carnegie Mellon University Press as part of their Contemporary Classics series.  His latest, Fast Animal, was one of five poetry finalists for the 2012 National Book Award. 

Tim spent the spring semester of 2010 as poet-in-residence at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. A National Endowment for the Arts fellow, he has also enjoyed a seven-month writing fellowship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in Massachusetts.  His poetry is featured in several anthologies; among them are:  Rainbow Darkness; The Manthology; Autumn House Contemporary American Poetry; Black Nature; Evensong; Villanelles; and Sunken Garden Poetry. His poem “Allison Wolff” was included in Best American Poetry 2010 and, most recently, his poem “Sotto Voce: Othello, Unplugged” was selected for inclusion in Best American Poetry 2012.

Tim has been a workshop leader for Cave Canem, a writer’s retreat for African American poets, and for the Hurston/Wright Foundation, another organization dedicated to developing black writers. Tim is visiting faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in Writing Program sponsored by the University of Southern Maine.  He lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where he is a member of the English and MFA in writing faculty at Old Dominion University.