Pam Sutton

Finches Like Candles

How far I have travelled beyond the Western circumference of heaven
how far from home. I remember
an island turning in the South China Sea like the sundial of paradise.
Razor cliffs stripped waves into ribbons of watery birds.
Junks with ribbed sails shuffled around the Star Ferry.
Below deck, a funeral party dressed in white
gathered around a wood coffin—fist of white flowers—salt air.


Every Asian morning begins as an island.
Whirring cicadas compete with the drone of a metal fan—
Fifties leftover. I think of my father—my age—
strafing MiGs over the Yalu River.
How many times must I drown
the pale bones of water birds?
Will sleeping grass fold to my touch always?


Today they are burning fields for the second planting.
Conical hats snail along terraced hills
through smoke and harvest water.
I compare the sprawl of my fingers
to a spider laced within leaves. About even.


One television,
raised high on cinder blocks,
informs the whole village.
Everyone sits around, watching.


I wander around alleys, turn a corner—
severed ox head, plop, on the ground,
not ashamed of anything.
Look up— a row of cages swaying:
finches like candles
burn with songs of the butcher's blood.


How many times must I drown the pale bones?
How many times must I drown
the clay tiles of rooftops glazing
in the broken hourglass of the sun?

High Industrial Windows

There was nothing innocent
about the Wauconda Grade School Cafeteria
where choices seemed so small.
Milk was 3 cents a carton; a nickel for chocolate.
I can still smell the baloney
sandwich on white bread,
and still hear the question—
"Did I want to trade?"
What I thought of were not sandwiches

but sisters—one older, one younger—
and like a lifeguard on a beach
crowded with drowning sisters, I could save only one.
From what? It wasn't clear.
It wasn't known.
I only knew he had come home.
I only knew that when he kissed goodnight
his eyes closed tightly like a shark's
rolling back into its head before biting.

A wet snow coated the high industrial windows
as a janitor mopped up a spill.
Dull yellow tiles lined the walls like teeth.
And while the other children traded lunches,
I was swimming toward one sister feverishly;
I was letting the other one go.

Topology of Stars

It could be I have more love for the dead than the living
and cannot differentiate.
Ennobling events have oddly debased me
and this debasement feels the corner of each leaf
indenting the sky;
feels the pressure of an ant memorizing a vein on my hand;
traces the topology of stars.
It could be I am practicing to be dead and alive at the same time.

I fall asleep to television: lions exhale mist in a Namibian desert.
Sand and exhalation ... Mirage of wet sun drenching a scene so
primitive, so Edenic, I could almost ...
Just knowing the carmine bee-eater is wheeling
through the smoke of a grassfire is enough ...

It could be that the Englishman I loved in the Netherlands was the
beginning of this story. He carried me on his shoulders through the
Jewish Cemetery, Ouderkirk on Amstel. Pools of water eroding the
sculpted gravestones were more beautiful to me than his skin.
Could not differentiate.
Still cannot.

It could be that a flowering tree shivering with hummingbirds
was the dearest surprise and joy I have known.
Even now, a steel-cut bird perches on my finger every night
in my dreams. When I draw it to my eyes, it darts away.
Even now, a fluorescence like a consciousness hovers there.
Even now, the time-stepping iterations cannot possibly be calculated.
It doesn't matter how many dirty cold mornings I sprint to bus number
42—dawn vibrates like bees pollinating light.
And the light falls on my abandoned garden.

I cannot count the afternoons I spent in that garden nor measure
the anti-clockwise movements of my heart.
And now I trace the topology of stars.
And now I calculate the scattering of light—each grain of cosmic dust—
mapping the distance of atmosphereless solar system bodies,
such as the moon.

Water and Tall Windows

“The enchanted one insists and shapes God with delicate geometry.” —from “Baruch Spinoza” by Borges

Tonight the crushing sadness of stars
leaves fingerprints all over me.

The first sonogram was an exclamation point;
the second—a planet burrowing light within me.
No third.

I hate psychology—
its failure to heal anything.
I hate history—
its failure to change anything.

Our love is a stolen photograph:
seen once, never forgotten.
One night you held me against a tree:
trees & angels ... trees & angels ... trumpets of water ...
words in the river ...

When you looked down
I recognized a face I loved
before I was born.

Tonight I'm back in my beloved city
of water and tall windows.
I'm back on Jodenbreestraat—
a few canals from the Portuguese Synagogue.
In 1670 the hardwood columns were imported from Brazil.

In 1670 Jews were safe in Holland;
trees were safe in the Amazon.

Spinoza was grinding lenses.
He was taking the first sonogram of God.

I believe in addresses and intersections of time—
in the marriage of humility and passion.

You don't understand how far
I have travelled and how
there is no way back

from Prinsengracht, Herengracht, Kaisersgracht, Singel,
where leaves float like shoes abandoned by angels.

Tonight fog rises from canals like dust from shaved glass.
I am arguing with Spinoza again.
More than God, I believe in photographs of God;
more than photographs, lenses.
Shape one for me.

Tonight the stars' bruised fingers press me
deeper into the Earth.

Little Neutral One

Too often clouds
at 20 thousand feet
resemble 3D MRI scans of the injured brain—
and how lovely, really, the cinquefoil minarets
ascended and toppled, again and again,
in the landscape of cerebrovascular trauma—

like these clouds, this evening
skirting the wingtips of this plane—
archipelago of clear words that speak only in dreams—
apparitions from the kingdom of love
from which I am an exile. Neutrinos

pass above, below, and through us.
The Earth hums, little neutral one.
I remember an island in Lake Vermillion, Minnesota,
that could be reached only by canoe—hovering
like a box-kite in a March wind—
my small hands clasping the slippery gunnels—
stones floating like clouds immutable—
fish weaving nests in the sand—
hatchlings darting—the fog,
the currents, you—
the Earth hums.
And physicists finally admit
what poets could have told them—

the Earth hums—it winnows—
it shivers a song
little neutral one,
above, below, and through us—
mirage of wet pines appearing, disappearing.

“Cumulonimbus” means an accumulation of crowns—
each larger than the last—and our child
is the best accomplishment of love I know,
still, life
without you has been suspended—lost—
at 20 thousand feet on an inland sea.
Someday they'll invent a way
to bring you here. The only way now
is to take hold of our daughter's small hands.

Someday they'll map the brain drowning
in the heart's blood.
It would look like these clouds
from this plane. It would be