How can there be a book that maps these continents
         of clouds that drift
apart, reshape their puzzle pieces, and coalesce into new

         geographies of air
within one windblown hour? No one can map the sky's
         Open the atlas,

and you will see only color photographs of clouds, their
   Latin names,
         genus, species, features,
and then the place, day, month and year, even the hour

         and minute at which
some cloud fanatic, some paparazzo covering the cirrocumuli
   and other
         high society, snapped

their unposed pictures: "Scattered Cumulus Along a
   Squall Line,"
         a cirrus's coiffeur
in serious disarray, the mother clouds, dust devils, halo

         phenomena, coronas,
glories, nacreous and noctilucent clouds, virga, fallstreaks
   of rain
         that evaporate before

they touch the ground, all these special effects alongside
         ordinary hazy days
through which the sun's bright shadow cuts, altostratus

Underneath each plate are the photographer's initials and
   last name, and always
         what direction

he was facing. Isn't there an unintended poignancy in
   almost every
         caption? "A.J. Aalders,
Bussum, Netherlands, first of October, 1935, oh-six-

         fifty-seven hours,
towards the southeast: Stratus in Ragged Shreds." In his
         clouds blow like smoke

from heavy artillery fire above the outline of a few wind
         yew trees and someone's
roof with two chimneys. The risen sun is barely visible,
   the smudged

         period of a child's
first fountain pen in a copybook left out in the rain. The
   clouds are
         words that have bled

across the unlined page. Innocent of history, the
         caption reads,
"Disturbances were crossing Western Europe from east

         to west that day."
And what direction am I facing, sunning on my back deck,
   doing nothing
         but writing this one poem

and watching all summer long the clouds form
         and reform,
how a cumulus's beehive hairdo comes undone, airy acrobat

         to the prevailing wind's
least whim? Most mornings it's a chaotic sky, clouds at
   many levels,
         low broken combers of cumulus,

the rippled dunes of altocumulus undulatus, highflying
         cirrus vertebratus,
a fish skeleton picked clean by the northwest wind. Aren't
   we too

         a bare spine with ribs
of ice crystals and water vapor mixed, condensed around
         of dust? Don't we too

shine in the west? I am facing my fourth decade and the
   first year
         of our third millennium, pileup
of late afternoon's cumulonimbus coming at us out of the
   south, spikes

         of lightning driven
home from heaven to earth, God's Instamatic flash,
         where eternity opens

for one five-hundredth of a second, then darkness, the
   stammering thunder's
         aftermath. "That's the preacher
preaching, and he's not happy with us," says my Southern

         neighbor. But why
does almost no one look up at the clouds except when bad
         rips the sky in half?