Jeremy Bass of Fairfield, Connecticut for A Letter; Runes for the Heart; Second Snow
James Crews of Lincoln, Nebraska for Love; For Those Weary of Prayer; Airing Out My Father’s Cabin: Hickman, Kentucky
Jenny George of Santa Fe, New Mexico for The Stone Has No World; Threshold Gods; The Miniature Bed
Brittany Perham of San Francisco, California for Silverware, Lamps, the Paintings in the Hallway; The Secret; Definitions for my Brother
Christine Poreba of Tallahassee, Florida for Rough Knowledge; Even in Clear Air; Inside the Blue
Josh Booton of Portland, Oregon for from The Union of Geometry and Ash; An Old Story; Paper Cranes
Traci Brimhall of Kalamazoo, Michigan for How to Write a Love Poem; Revelation
Michelle Y. Burke of Cincinnati, Ohio for Market Day; After Summer
Kai Carlson-Wee of San Francisco, California for Sunshine Liquidators; Fly Fishing; Holes in the Mountain
Jeannine Hall Gailey of Redmond, Washington for A Morning of Sunflowers (for Fukushima)
Brieghan Gardner of Nottingham, New Hampshire for Why I want to Come Back as a Bee; Why I want to Come Back as a Bat; Why I’m Still Here
Emily Rosko of Charleston, South Carolina for Fern; One March, Newly Turned; Il Pincio
Eleanor Stanford of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania for Smoothleaf Elm; Dawn Redwood; Harvest: Midsummer
Douglas Basford of Buffalo, New York for Rolling Pin; Post-Op; Buckle
Holly Virginia Clark of San Francisco, California for Always; Visiting Verdun; Gratitude
Katy Didden of St. Louis, Missouri for On Love: A Debate with Three Finns; On Trying to Save my Niece from Grieving; The Sycamore on Balance
Maia Evrona of Framingham, Massachusetts for Over Jerusalem Clouds Come Rolling
Jules Gibbs of Syracuse, New York for Even the Corpse Wants to be Beautiful; Buck in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Amy Greacen of Lafayette, California for Nelumbo nucifera (Lotus); Phoenix Dactylifera (Date Palm); Adenostoma fasuculatum (Chamise)
Brenna W. Lemieux of Carbondale, Illinois for We Were Waiting; Someone Else’s Pain; Mrs. Eder’s Sunday School Class
Rebecca Lindenberg of Salt Lake City, Utah for Improvisation (1); from Sense of Direction: 147 Preston Avenue; Marblehead
John Newsham of Bradford, West Yorkshire, England for Redemption; Moment; Her Artwork, Aged 3
Rachel Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina for Ode To My Grandmother in the Week That She Stopped Eating; Susan Barnard Gardner, b. 1828; In Byzantium
Joshua Rivkin of Los Angeles, California for Elegy
Will Schutt of Nashville, Tennessee for Westerly; “The Rough, the Smooth, the Bright, the Drear”; Faraway Countries
Ali Shapiro of Ann Arbor, Michigan for Fall; Pop Song
Matthew Thorburn of Riverdale, New York for The Names; This Morning on the 1 Train
Rhett Iseman Trull of Greensboro, North Carolina for Music-box; The Theater Empties Us into the Street
Mark Wagenaar of Denton, Texas for View of Biscayne Bay with Baby Grand; Acupuncture; Portrait of a Laryngologist
Lauren K. Alleyne of Dubuque, Iowa for Portals; Contentment; After Greece
Brian Brodeur of Cincinnati, Ohio for After Rukeyser; Turtles Hatching; The Boy Without Arms
James Everett of Oxford, Mississippi for Poem to a Spider; Believing in Ghosts; Lauren
Maria Hummel of San Francisco, California for Calling Home; Ultrasound; Recovery
Henry Kearney, IV of Robersonville, North Carolina for The Continuous Simple; From a City Balcony; A Postcard to the First Wife
Deidre Lockwood of Seattle, Washington for The Cumquat Tender; Point Judith; Discovery
Éireann Lorsung of Beeston, Nottingham, England for Honey; Wrappers; Consequences of travel
Ariana Nadia Nash of San Francisco, California for The Night of Traveling Stars; The Night of Impressionism; The Night I Want to Call You at 2.00am
Christian Teresi of Arlington, Virginia for An Alternate Version of Goya’s The Dog; About the Buddha in the Special Education Classroom; On the Meeting of Ruth Stone and Sylvia Plath
Chelsea Wagenaar of Denton, Texas for The Phrenologist Chooses a Wife; Matins; Adagio Morendo
Emma Bartholomew of Amsterdam, Netherlands for They Say; Theodor-Eyes; Let the Day Pass
Michael Boccardo of High Point, North Carolina for Another Love Poem Disguised as an Orange
Mario Chard of Campbell, California for Signs and Crossings; Gallop; Yawn, Risk
Kimi Cunningham Grant of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania for Dissonance; Prayer for a Boy at One; The Hardiness of Things
Julie Dunlop of Alburquerque, New Mexico for Chelonioidea; Out of the Blue; Seasong
Scott Gallaway of Bowling Green, Ohio for The Lost 40; Floating; The Bottom Line
Miriam Bird Greenberg of Berkeley, California for Lover’s Cipher; Someone Such as This; Killing
Tina Hammerton of Tempe, Arizona for The Last Graveyard
Andrea D.E. Levin of Marlborough, New Hampshire for A Water Legend; Old Woman Dying in a Shaker Cradle; In Search of Vernal Pools
Angie Mazakis of Bensenville, Illinois for Where Home is For Now
David Mohan of Lucan, Co. Dublin, Rep. of Ireland for Cinderella; Film About Love; Medicine Chest
Matthew Nienow of Port Townsend, Washington for Cutting Grass In the Orchard; Portrait of a Speeding Car; Exuberance
Prudence Peiffer of Brooklyn, New York for On Flag Day; Passing; Inheritance
Jeny Randall of Malta, New York for Walking at Dusk; Amazed; Flying Cross Country
L.J. Sysko of Wilmington, Delaware for From What Thistles Risen; Brandywine Sonnet
Sara Talpos of Ann Arbor, Michigan for After Chernobyl; The World Complete; Mercies of This World
Marcus Wicker of Ann Arbor, Michigan for O, the Maggots!; Interrupting Aubade Ending in Epiphany; Provincetown in Spring
The day shimmers before you, a banquet,
stirs your hunger. To swallow
the yellow disc of sun, the whole
rainbow of blue, the white points of sailboats
and houses, the silver veined stones
and purpling thyme, the pink bodies
and the brown bodies slick and glinting
in their beds of sand, the rioting birds
throating their delirious songs,
the cotton hush, the lurking moon,
the steep ascents and slow-climbing cars,
the chickens squawking in the monastery yard,
the soft-eared donkey, mischievous cats,
and half-naked children, the loaded tavern tables,
the honeyed air, the mad eruptions of glee
and the sweet indescribable grace of it—
you rise for this.
 “Good Morning” in Greek
Close your eyes in Serifos, and you fall
into the river of sighs. Night slips you
a token for safe passage—a red bud,
a seashell carrying the sound of the sea.
When the vessel arrives, a raft of wishes,
a puffing steamboat heart, an olive branch
braided with white ribbons, do not hesitate
to board. Do not ask where you are going,
or how you will get back to your firm bed
and your soft breathing body, islands away
now. Give your token to the river. Enter.
 “Good Night” in Greek
 A Greek Island located in the Western Cyclades
You see your first falling star, and flounder. You have no wishes
on this island, nothing to implore of the heavens. You do not even
want to ask for the night to go on, though the dark is dizzy with
the smell of salt and wine, braids of laughter, the moon.
Somehow you know ending is a part of the gift. Your heart is a
lake on a windless day, holds its depth in stillness. Your mind is
abundant with birdsong, blankets of light, softly growing things.
Even your lion body has abandoned its strut and roar; it is tame
as a housecat. It purrs and wants to lie in the sun. A puff of wind:
Pos? How? Serifos answers: yes, it is possible to be without
desire and remain so sweetly human.
You were there. You entered and became
a part of it: you lived a whole lifetime in its gut.
The mountains and the winds knew your name;
the sea blooded your heart with new purpose.
You stood atop history in the houses of old gods,
awed by the scale and splendor of their ruin.
You walked through history as it carried placards
and called for justice in the full voice of human ache.
You split open with an unbearable love of it.
When your life called you back, you returned
like one resurrected, wrenched from a pure light
into the odd dimness of being. You walked
the ordinary paths your days spread before you,
slowly reassumed your former shape. Again
and again memory reaches for that irrecollectable light—
You were there. Remember? You were there.
Until last year it had still been an antique.
I’d yanked off the yellowed paper tag dangling
by a stiffening thread—we’d been angling
for the basics, never mind what counts as chic,
when you bought it for me. You love my quiche,
caramelized-shallot, asparagus. While others sample
from wilted salad and tubs of half-drowned salmon
in the refectory, we’re always out of reach
in the sculpture garden, picnicking at a time
of year when the fountain is neither fountain
nor ice-skating rink. We puzzle out the signs
of change, the sun a chill self-pantomime,
noting but somehow not minding we’d forgotten
wood takes in oil, pressing gold into our lines.
What is past is past—it is the present and the
future that concern us.
Passing by, I thoughtlessly gave your shoulder
a tender squeeze, my thumb—accursed, opposable—
blunted right through your microfiber chasuble-
blanket to where your suture will still smolder,
raised, caked, and strip-shut, as the air turns colder.
You winced aloud. Though I thought it possible
I’d touched fire-damp with an inadmissible
flame, you forgave, turned back to it, feeling older,
unaccomplished. Let’s never forget this “procedure”
(a word I was finding inapt for that miracle
as I glicéed today over the rain-plastered flesh
of white oak leaves washclothed from a spherical
twig crown) has given us new life to bead our
bracelets with your loom’s spirited nylon mesh.
Two tarnished brass lamps hung from fifteen-foot
chains pinned just below the eaves, feather breeze
enough to set them in slow motion. Taking these,
ornate for this old dockworker neighborhood,
as plumb lines, try to calculate what could’ve
kept the façade’s brick-bulge flat, and sick will seize
your gut. Rob didn’t bat an eye, quipped, “She’s
got curves, ’s all!” Loves his baby, and his brood
of muttish browns yelping for their poor mother
who can’t make the stairs anymore. What was
that internist so thoroughly out of place
thinking when he made a bid for the other
half of the rowhouse? Dog-stench, the etceteras
of neighborly “generosity” would’ve chased
off homesteaders a whole lot hardier than he.
If not flippers, new buyers came overearnest
to meetings sporting their fret-lingo: new furnace,
trash pick-up, neighborhood watch, property
values. Rob’s doc, caught up in a residency,
never showed his face much, and only furnished
his place with a crash-bed. Brueghel’s Kermess
might give you a sense of Rob, scattered teeth
in a Cheshire grin as he relished the deal
he’d gotten with a mason, by word of mouth,
sans belt or bracket to stabilize the buckle.
Mortar bath and erratic lines will make you reel,
trees leveled, a lamp snapped off. Doc split, no doubt
wrote off the loss. Only Rob could and did chuckle.
What can I say to you today, one year later?
Leaves cover the ground, as they did then
Like a thin divide between worlds.
Last night moths pressed to the windowpane:
Spirits of the departed clinging
To the thin divide between worlds.
Light, then dark: rainwater furrows fields
Between rivers overflowing their benedictions—
What to say to you today, mother?
That driving home last night, the roadside houses
Fat with light, each windowpane, each door
Made a brief gateway between worlds?
How when we toast now, each face at the table
Wears absences of yours, how each becomes
A mark of what we’d say to you, one year later?
I went to the windowpane to ask the moths to leave.
None of them moved, their wings like crushed sugar.
What can I say to you today? It becomes
The only thing, this thin divide between us.
The coffee bean and the cocoa bean,
the vanilla bean and the cane
for rum—the pepper vine
and the cinnamon bark, cinnamon root
like a balm of mint
smelling of lemon
when it’s cooked in the sun—
Red palms of the breadfruit tree,
stiff fronds of banana leaves—
the snug-shelled lychee
and nutmeg, slice of starfruit
that clung like a petal
to your cheek—
Where we walked: dust
in the streets, frail poverty of dust,
dried fish and their organs
hanging in the light
and the blood beneath them, dry blood
of our blood in the soil—
All runes for the heart, this space
where we lived, where when each
thing spoke, it spoke
with the sharp and bitter
smoke of love, a smoke acrid and sweet —
What we saw one night
drifting from torches on the beach:
each orange flame carrying
to the next like a row of words
waiting to be spoken—
both of us listening
one to the other
waiting to be heard.
Snow and cloud: this
Flecked on white.
Since the storm last night
I am the first one here; trees
A glass flame
Untouched by ash—only
My shadow falling.
I know philosophers have set
Treatises in books, built
Thin cathedrals to doubt.
And politicians on TV
Incant verses while
Simple speech grows
Tiny and clear, like a pool under ice
In the hollowed rock.
The path sloping upward for miles
Under white branches, I want
So much to believe in something
Now when only silence
Answers, the simple
Hard texture of things.
Far off, in the stillness,
Snow falls from branches
High above: dust
Making a second snow
That silvers the air.
A moment, then, back again the hummingbird
plunges, confusing one red shard
of flower pot for the salvia it once contained.
So should be our sins: to spend
ourselves out too perfectly and often,
to passion some rationale from the broken
paving stones which lead toward
evening, the crippled crab apple in the side yard.
Let me be the savant of your slightest
vacancy, one shoelace in a makeshift nest,
a vein of quartz rivered through
more common rock, the immigrant work crew
fashioning, groove for groove,
a brand new house where someone else will live.
Someone else will live with these
questions like a sleepy cat circling their feet. But we
prefer dogs, to be hound-bound and driven
into the loose last logic of tin
roofs rusted the color of earth, a parakeet
this far north, fruit so sweet
just one more day would see it ruined. But
tablecloths and backhoes and light.
But remember that night just after we met?
The moon snooping through the window wet
with rain, through the fogged-up glass,
looked like a cop’s flashlight, then was.
We were only talking, my hands in my pockets.
And still it felt like we’d been found out.
Like we’d been found, out wandering the deserts
west of here, what asserts
itself as savior is sometimes just more sand.
Other times, the far-off sound
of the interstate is ocean enough to soothe.
And in between are weeds, tires worn smooth
with use, the heft of half-lit days
laced with a casual loss that coins us, stays.
To do: recalibrate the compass east, learn
the shorthand of three-hundred acres burned
by wildfire and the flowers that flourish
afterward, pray to the god of silverfish
and boot heels, betray
my mindset, mend the back fence but not quite all the way.
But not quite all the way, no closer
than a kiddy pool brimming with rainwater
approaches the Pacific, its depth and hue,
can I come to knowing you.
I marvel too much the improvised garden
of your underwear drying on the backs of chairs, cotton
intuiting your contours
the way a scrub jay, improvising, reveals the air.
Once, this would have been enough:
to propagate unhaunted places, claim proof
in the lengthening evening shadows
that we are exiled mostly within ourselves. Even now,
these words seem understudy
to intimations less vagrant: cut grass, sirens, your body.
Cut grass sirens your body the way crickets ratchet
moonlight into each
sleeping thing. I can’t explain.
All these rote revivals just sparkle and wane.
But when, as we too seldom do, the fence rails
resume their former life as pines, cull
the forest from one warped board,
the late light lingers, clear, undivided,
and we harbor each other briefly home.
It’s not enough, I know. So quickly we dim
and continue on, map
the world by monuments only. What little there is to keep
we must keep close: love notes
yellowing in drawers, butterflies pinned beneath glass.
Butterflies pinned beneath glass. Young junkie,
in a little girl’s pink unicorn backpack,
hounding the corner bus stop for half-spent
cracking where roots run through. Two clocks
three minutes apart. We speak
most fluently in finger tips and tongues,
rum seductions from the heart’s velvet lounge.
But flesh is too physical to last. I want
demarcations more darkly inked, a storefront
to display our insecurities. I want you
always, as now, singing as you speed through
the backstreets home, the scenery
all inertia and blur, the whine of brakes in the driveway.
The whine of brakes in the driveway is an instrument
best played in pairs: you bent
to gather what the day requires
each of us to carry home, me holding the door
and the dogs back. Again we flare,
then atrophy into our former selves. Two beers,
the day dolled out in incidents, fruit
falling in the yard as the shoes off your feet.
I can’t say what is lost in all this relapse.
Each city, giant and shining, built on the collapse
of another just as bright. But tonight,
I watch a few fireflies reiterate
the whole history of passion,
flashing like beacons from the far edge of the ocean.
From the far edge of the ocean, you drift
into our room. Even these dreams are too swift
to outfit with flesh, to populate
past our farthest doubt. Anyway, it’s late.
What you mumble in your sleep I’ll take
for song, lyrics to the sand-sifted music
of passing cars, password
for those dim anterooms in which we usually reside.
If our lives are nearly forfeit,
tamed by shopping lists and time, don’t forget
even these half-hushed passions, the thinnest whisper,
must have left our lips as fervor,
as something mostly holy and built for flight, to persist
in these distances between us.
In the book I read before bed, a boy
on horseback tracks a wolf
three days through Arizona only to lose her
on the fourth and cross over
into Mexico by night. Years later,
he’ll wander the deserted dirt streets
of a half-deserted cantina town
looking under each small black stone
for the wolf, or the boy,
until he finds himself standing beneath
the bare branches of an acacia tree
in the middle of the old town square,
the bark gray and worm-warn as the coat
of an ancient wolf. It doesn’t mean anything.
An emblem of longing. A whimper
in the night that no one investigates.
But my wife is already up, already
in the other room with our son
in her arms, there somehow just as his crying
begins, whisper-singing a lullaby
I listen to through the monitor.
Who knows what his whimpers mean.
Maybe wolves stalk his dreams.
Maybe he is calling to them, straining
to crack the backdoor of midnight.
If she sways slightly like a tree, he is
the wind. No. Her singing is the wind
and he, an old man staring up into
the chaos of branches. Sleep, she whispers,
as he closes his eyes. As I close the book.
This folding, unfolding, what is found where
a man turns inward on himself, turns
the corner to find his city somehow strange,
cornered by some change in himself, or the city,
the thousand cities each city is, as he walks
rehearsing the day, shrugging his coat
up around his shoulders, the paper
white, therefore, the city sudden with snow.
The next fold is introspection. The next, a river
running spit-creased through the city
from east to west, from here to wherever he just
was. So easy, the ornamental wings. How slender
the slender neck that holds the head. He folds
his arms against his chest against the cold
and continues on, toward a far white room
where he folds paper cranes for his son
as snow sifts all night outside their window,
the flakes so slow, hovering almost, some brief
species of flight, other men trudging through
other nights, the same cold, snow gathering on snow.
Begin with blackbirds you shot for menacing
the finches. Begin with your suitcase full of maps.
Begin with the man who knocked on your door
and said the world was ending. He hung your sheets
on the line, gathered squash from the garden,
kissed you on the porch, but you wouldn’t let him
save you. Don’t begin with the black bear that came
down from the mountain to steal your goat.
Begin with the orange kite you fly each spring.
Begin with the cocoon that shakes in your hand
when you speak to it. Begin by telling someone
about the man who raped you and the woman who
helped hold you down. Begin with the deer you found
field dressed and hanging from the arbor gate,
mistletoe pinned to its cheek, a note tied around
its neck that read: To help you survive the winter.
I sing of the statue’s virgin breast,
the one I touched when no one was looking.
I sing of bats sleeping in caves, of gnats
troubling the scab over the lion’s eye,
of beetles crawling into the ear of the sphinx
who stopped riddling long before the flood.
After the rapture there is more waiting.
Blood runs from walls. I can’t find money
for the ransom. The man’s body I pull
from beneath the bed bears no wounds except
the medals pinned to his bare chest. I sing
of the children’s graveyard in a refugee camp,
and of a country with barracudas and lemon trees.
I am from the tribe named in the second chapter
of the book. I am on my knees asking
for permission to doubt again. I sing of brothers
who crucified crows to fence posts. Their mother
died anyway. I am brave the way any fool is brave.
I sing of a sheep and the wolf at its throat,
of a goat and its clanking bell, of blood cell
and bone spur and of time which conquers both.
I sing the truth. I sing to survive it.
“I lived in the first century of world wars.”
I lived in the second century of world wars.
I woke each day and dry-swallowed my pills
for hypertension and high cholesterol
and turned on my devices asleep on the desk
to check the nighttime progress of the wars.
It was like peering underneath a bandage
at a wound that would not heal. I waited
for myocardial dysfunction or septic shock
to put an end to them. But the wars
only changed names, addresses, currencies.
I thought about the periods between wars
when munitions are stockpiled in storehouses
and the civilian population can forget.
Then an unmanned drone missed its target
and blew up another crowded marketplace
and I braced myself to feel the repercussions
and felt no repercussions. I took issue
with the Democratic Party’s war-time positions
and voted Republican then I took issue
with the Republicans and voted Democrat.
I tied a yellow ribbon to a poplar tree.
I drove the long way home and sat in traffic
in front of Sunrise Assisted Living
and gazed into a window facing the street
at a figure in a cotton gown and thought:
Human beings live too long today.
I lived in the second century of these wars.
Justin, the nine-year-old who lives in our triple-decker,
asks if I want to see something wicked awesome
and leads me down the path toward Worcester Sand & Gravel.
Standing over the pit, he points at mayflies
swarming the clutch and says we should find some rocks
and smash the hatchlings to save them from the bugs.
Among track loaders and well drills idling,
they seem too close to earth, smudges of clay
suddenly animated, gleaming as they climb the mud incline.
Justin says there’s a pile of stones the construction workers left
when they filled the millpond to build the new high school.
I shake my head and make him cross his heart and hope to die.
An excavator dumps rocks into the circuit crusher
and the ground vibrates through my shoes.
The hatchlings’ bodies steam. Only a few have cleared
the crest of the nest, toppling down, scaling the steep
ditch walls, each thorny carapace teeming over
the other, their claws the size and shape of caraway seeds.
Grappling for a purchase in the sand, they scrabble
their separate paths out of the pit, their faces
blunt and striving, stippled with grit.
From the Metro station, he steps into the sun,
his sleeves cut off, his hands dangling
directly from his shoulders, stiff, unfinished.
His hair is parted, clean. His pristine sneakers
are double-knotted, his shirt tucked into his jeans.
Who helped him dress this morning?
He turns around and looks into the crowd.
I see her now, she’s there, the caregiver, a woman
following behind him to help him feed his change
into the SmarTrip card machine for bus fare—
his mother by the same soft slope of the nose, the same
spattering of freckles on her cheeks, the thoughtful
distance she keeps between them, giving him
room, but watching him and watching the others
pass him on the curbside as he stoops
to press the crosswalk button with his chin.
The sky is clear tonight. The plow horses
stand silent in the field, and the wife calls
to her husband to bring the truck around:
Tomorrow is market day, and the lettuces
must be packed in the cool night hours.
Their market prefers beautiful, high-priced
vegetables, so they swaddle their lettuces
in burlap and stack the crates carefully.
When the truck is loaded, the wife will follow
her husband up the stairs to the bedroom
they’d built to be a hayloft back when
there was going to be a house. At dawn, she’ll rise,
go downstairs and milk each goat she knows
by name. She’ll drive away, leaving behind
for his morning coffee a single jar of milk.
There was this Sicilian place.
You had to take the ferry
to get there. Or we did,
living in Brooklyn. The ferry
was free and crowded, but we
elbowed our way to the rail.
Commuters sat inside, drank
beer from the concession stand,
and read the daily news.
We’d gotten engaged,
but we’d call it off in a few months.
At the Sicilian place,
a woman sat beside us
and ordered every appetizer
on the menu. She told us her cat
was dying. Baby, Baby is dying.
Later that night, we argued
by the B61. The word marriage
hung in the air like an obscenity.
Nevertheless, I remember staring
into backlit windows,
imagining life unrolling
as smoothly as the stocking
over an actress’s perfect leg.
At home, I told our cat
she’d live forever. You said,
Don’t give her false hope,
then took your fatalism
to bed. That was the summer
your mother worsened.
Once, toward the end,
she told me to eat the dahlias
before leaving. Whenever
I’m served a salad with flowers—
nasturtiums or marigolds—
I think of that and how
I would have eaten the dahlias
if doing so would have given her
even a little pleasure.
I haven’t gone back
to that Sicilian place,
but I remember the watermelon.
It was drizzled with balsamic—
sweet and satisfying and served
with a soft, white cheese
and only in summer.
This poem has been withheld at the request of the author.
This poem has been withheld at the request of the author.
This poem has been withheld at the request of the author.
If my mouth does not always fit
over yours, know that it means to.
If the sweat-polished cradle
at the crook of my neck does not
receive you, if I deliver another loneliness
you cannot fill, know I know I ask
too much. Know, tonight, that I linger
in the doorway in my nightgown,
my breasts in a downy rousing,
while the damp, live work of spring
fetches up the iron smell of earth
along the road I look out on.
And the lamp backlighting my clean
silhouette is from my bedside
—the lamp is on for you—and know
that I am watching the road.
I am always—no, always when I can—
at the open door looking out on the road
till it curves, as long as I can see it,
watching for you. That you ever
come home when the lamp is off
—for days, for weeks—
and slip inside this bed
is a nameless grace I didn’t earn.
That I always—in time—turn on the lamp
is a grace I name you,
arriving at my doorstep.
The trees grew from trenches, shrapnel
lodged where it hit so hard
the ground could only bury it.
And, forgive me, I thought of you,
the unflinching pettiness of our daily machinations
alongside a hand grenade. I was sorry for us,
the rifles slung open, patinaed, empty, the bayonets,
the iron throats of cannons, how readily we display
our impotent weapons, mercy at arm’s length.
I climbed the stairs of the ossuary tower.
At the top, miles of green patchwork,
sycamores with their haloes of gray light,
and the full heft of the love I carry became
the hollow-boned wings of sparrows,
the rows of white crosses spreading before me
and the roses—bless their red sincerity—
like swollen lips opening to taste the storm.
In your kitchen, the magnetic
knife rack displayed its measure
of black-handled notes while your eyes
fell to the page I offered, rose to my face:
you could see I was trying,
that trying is a spade
in the soil, a bowed head
in the sanctuary, a giving
you recognized and returned,
which is maybe how love
sharpens in the throat.
If I can thank you, please,
for something—your satchel
worn against your shoulder
then mine, your book
and the quiet it lent, so quiet
I could hear the colors,
so thank you for the gray-green trees
in the cooling light, the thick paper
between my fingertips, and your eyes—
all teeth and tongue—
your eyes, the blue room
I pulled myself into, the rain
that brought back sight.
You must save up for it and collect and gather honey.
You can collect as much of it as you like,
keep it in trunks under the bed, in closets
or store it in stone jars as the pharaohs did,
placing gallon after gallon of priceless honey
next to the alabaster heads of sarcophagi
so when they woke wide-eyed and famished
in the afterlife they’d find something familiar
and sweet to eat. But nothing hoarded stays
hidden for long. Soon enough some looter
will shimmy into that secret room in you and—
ignoring the warnings—he will pry off the lid
of every sighing jar and scoop out the honey,
now crystallized, shining in his hands, still
delicious after all that time.
Surely you know that time of night
when fireflies, tired of their own sparks
fly right into the mouths of nets,
when cicadas begin to sense they are
nothing more than husks for the chorus
that fills them. Surely you have seen
a child slough his trunks and run naked
through the sprinkler, crying out with joy
as you call him to bed. Aren’t you always
calling the name of what you love most
back to you, holding the door wide open,
pleading, Please don’t make me ask again,
and asking again until he comes?
While opening one of the windows,
I found a pile of bones tucked
between the glass and screen, what
must have been a sparrow, I thought
and then saw him flying toward
the same light all those years ago,
landing on the ledge and deciding
at once to push his body through
the rip in the mesh just wide enough
for his body to fit, to get closer
to the heat of the woodstove where
my father huddled, banking the fire.
Did he not hear the cries, the wild
flapping as the sparrow tried and tried
to lift off again, I wondered, as I
wrapped the bones in a tissue
and slipped him beneath the leaves
of the compost, which steamed
with my soft stirrings, white smoke
like ghosts rising up in the dark air
to offer their condolences.
They taught me to speak with the middle third
of my lips, as if I’d sucked a lemon, or as if my mouth
were frozen slightly open. After a litany of “Good morning,”
“Nice to meet you,” and “Where is the sauna?”
I asked them how to say “I love you.” At this,
they murmured to each other. Then Satu,
the most outspoken of the three
who often said things that were slightly shocking,
said she didn’t know how to translate “love” exactly.
In English, she said, you use the word too lightly.
You say “I love you” to your mother, your friend,
and your lover, to a lover you only slightly more than like,
to a lover you hope will never leave you.
How do you ever know, she wondered, which love
your lover means? At first, I thought it was
a question of degree. I gauged “I love you”s
by the way my lover looked at me. The context
mattered; “love” was true, since love shifts intensity,
since any lover is both friend and mother sometimes.
But then she said the word for love
Finns rarely say; they speak it to one person only,
or at most to very few. My friends grew serious,
as if the vastness of the word had swallowed speech.
I asked if any of them had ever said it.
By their looks, I understood none of them knew
what the others would say, and that no Finn
would ever ask this question. But they answered me—
it was as if I’d asked when they lost their virginity,
and I knew somehow the word involved the body,
that the body was what made it irrevocable.
What would I have learned, what grief could I have spared
if I had faced that choice with the man I loved then?
I would have given him everything, said the word
to record it in the caverns of eternal being.
Knowing the word, I also would have known how to love totally.
And he, on the brink of a life with me,
would have whispered only some variant of “like,”
and the clarity of that “like” would have set us free.
But I live in the country of “love,” the valley, the desert, the fog,
where what is shapeshifts with what was or could be.
At the warping of snow and volcano, at the blurring
of city and sea, love leveled my fantasies.
I was stone, but I could see clearly.
Then I was sound, and love moved through me.
After my father
had recovered enough
to sit up in his bed,
my brother brought Clare in
to see him. He was losing
the tips of his fingers
on his right hand.
They were shriveled and black
above the knuckles—
the rough skin bent
at wild angles. As Clare
went to him, my father
(who could not lift
his arms) told her
he’d dipped his fingers
and I watched Clare
measure the lie with a look
I have seen my whole life
on my brother’s face.
And in how Clare
did not look away
from the wounds
on my father’s hand,
but still reached out to him,
holding his wrist,
I saw my brother—
the way he can’t help seeing
all our flaws,
the way he winces,
then for our weakness,
wills himself to love us again.
This poem will be posted when the author provides it.
Understand I want you dead
but your weaving feet
dart like a boxer’s on your web
and you streak
into the dark between
the window and the window-jamb
You sleep not so much
in a web as in a retreat
in a crack from which threads
in random order take over the window sill
like some bivouac of silk
for the wayfaring insect
The only music to your days
comes struggling from wings
when your web plays like a plucked string
but you have a rhythm to your way
of turning a moth between your legs
and gathering thread about its body and head
For the moth in constant search of light
this burial in white
is a second transformation
and for those of us who remain from birth to death
the same figure of flesh
to be enclosed is an unremembered feeling
Soon the winter will push you
inside to the other side of the window
and I will push a broom at you
gathering your industrious spread of web
as you hide in a shadow
but until then I will envy you
Once in the morning
the dew cast stars into your web
and you were the king of your own universe
Last night when I couldn’t sleep
the ticks of the rain were a thousand clocks
in this empty room where emptiness is not you
Did even the rain miss your body
to fall around
last night when the light was a burden
Because you are no longer
I called the shadows to dance with me
outside under the shelter of rain
Those rags of water we slip ourselves into
when our bodies are not enough
and waltzing through darkness we left darkness in our wake
there are no compromises of the heart;
yours wants and breaks my body down to doubt
and fault; the cadence of its desperate pleas,
while mutable, must never cease, except
once, when silence has no need for want:
I hope to never hear that quiet still.
My shoulders to your burden bear a yoke:
the pain is good; the rhythm that I march
you mark: it keeps a broken bone in motion;
I take your salted tears to salve a cut:
the pain is good; a man could learn this much,
to languish in the whisper of your pulse
and feel no weariness, your falling breath,
desire to never let this body rest.
After stringing memories in order enough for an evening,
I watch the clouds roll over Jerusalem in red-brown rows
and let the wind churn my mind until I am tipsy, going walking.
I return to rest on a mountain peak:
through the windows and the terrace door
so much light fills my room long before I finish sleeping.
Months go by when it rarely rains,
though some mornings I awake
with my face all drenched from crying.
Two hundred thousand sunflowers
drink the cesium from the grounds of the temple
where they burn lanterns made from the names of the dead.
This invisible snow, says the temple’s monk,
brings us a long winter. A village woman mourns
the loss of her blueberries.
In Chernobyl they grew amaranthus, field mustard,
sunflowers. But how to dispose
of poisoned flowers in spring?
We build lanterns. We plant seeds. We set things alight.
 The quote from the temple monk is from this news article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44206319/ns/technology_and_science-science/
To go out
into the bright fields
and orchards each morning,
keeping the hours
the sun instructs,
and float over gardens
undivided by property lines.
To meet each bloom
as hand meets glove but
briefly, just long enough
to test the fit
then move on, doing, thus,
the quiet work of the plants’
love for each other and gathering,
as I go, whatever sweetness
can be gathered from each
until it becomes
nearly all I can bear,
then make my way home
flower by flower, without counting.
To pass on the flash and rush of day
and wait in a quiet barn or cave
‘til the sun drops and the frogs call
and the trees turn to shade.
To dive from branch to branch
or eave to eave, my own body
a scrap of shadow, freed
from the thing that cast it.
To measure life in distances
between self and prey, self and danger,
self and shelter, sure of my place
in the night as of my own voice
ringing back from a thousand angles,
tracing shapes in the dark until sound
is touch, or close enough.
Because I can’t sleep.
Because I can’t wake up.
Because each sound repeats itself and,
doing so, becomes music. Because
there’s never a second without sound.
Because I can’t get enough
of the first light of morning,
can’t get enough of dusk, or the way
the white blooms on the dogwood
are the last thing to become invisible
(and they’re still there).
Because the birds deserve an audience
and the butterflies have arranged themselves
just so in the air. Because the stones
are listening. Because I love.
Because the rain comes when the earth calls
and the well keeps filling itself and the fields
are a cathedral and the woods are a school
and the ocean a museum, all without walls.
Because that’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Because I’m still wondering.
The stone has no world.
Not the grass of the field.
Not the river migrating deep
over its surface.
A stone does not know
the sun, or ever stand
under a roof of grief.
It wants nothing,
not even other stones.
At the riverbank, two horses
clamor down in the heat.
Their hooves clack like sticks.
They stop in the open,
sensing us, then
after a moment
begin drinking the river.
The stone inside me
opens its dead eye.
Through the crack
the whole world arises—
its beatings, its small
I saw a bat in a dream and then later that week
I saw a real bat, crawling on its elbows
across the porch like a goblin.
It was early evening. I want to ask about death.
But first I want to ask about flying.
The swimmers talk quietly, standing waist-deep in the dark lake.
It’s time to come in but they keep talking quietly.
Above them, early bats driving low over the water.
From here the voices are undifferentiated.
The dark is full of purring moths.
Think of it—to navigate by adjustment, by the beauty
of adjustment. All those shifts and echoes.
The bats veer and dive. Their eyes are tiny golden fruits.
They capture the moths in their teeth.
Summer is ending. The orchard is carved with the names of girls.
Wind fingers the leaves softly, like torn clothes.
Remember, desire was the first creature
that flew from the crevice
back when the earth and the sky were pinned together
like two rocks.
Now, I open the screen door and there it is—
a leather change purse
moving across the floorboards. It’s unsettling.
But in the dream you were large and you opened
the translucent hide of your body
and you folded me
in your birth arms. And held me for a while.
As a bat might hold a small, dying bat. As the lake
holds the night upside down in its mouth.
A miniature bed, and in it two tiny people
not sleeping, not able to sleep because
a small lie has flowered between them,
fragile as a new, white crocus.
The miniature bed holds them like a miniature boat
making its slow, true course to morning.
These tiny people, thoughts thrumming like mice,
are quiet as the lie blooms over them
in the night, fanning its moth petals,
becoming to them like a moon hovering
over their bed, a moon they might almost touch
with their miniature hands, if they weren’t certain
that one wrong gesture might break
the spindles of their small world, if their hearts
were not drops of trembling quicksilver,
if they were brave, if they could see
that small is no smaller than big, that thimbles
are deep as oceans for any god, they might even
touch each other then, opening the dark,
like a match the sun’s flaring.
His antlers a stubborn thought protruding
from his cranium, driving his biology
forward like a Midwestern state motto,
like the thing that makes us so
grotesquely us. We find the bones that surface
most frightening, impressive, a mechanical
sort of possibility rising to eight pale tips
that might be wired, lit, the elegant
structure of the more elegant super-
structure by which the crows spread
disaster, by which an evening hour
transfers from tooth to femur.
The want that lurks in these boroughs
is as quiet as snow, a cranial ache
that allows the fantasy to occur
in a feathered light, suburban aura
of the modern-day miracle, real or not,
a buck prancing naked as a man
down the middle of the road,
arms raised high overhead
bearing a chandelier of bones.
There’s something about my slowness
I’m trying to know, why I cease to divide
and begin, how clustered bones form no limbs,
piled into my own little slew.
Something more must live in the wake of the mind,
which is still something, still a mind, even
in the after, as something new gathers
in the body’s honeycomb, steeves in the hull
where protons unmake their pact. I want
a congregation of ants to sing a hymn, a holy beak
to dip in. A small lizard to eulogize the grume, pale
to my skin. At my finer edges, decay occurs
most rapidly — the hinge from which
I used to jaw, the sockets where I waved
goodbye. Now all my thoughts are groomed
in the tongue to die. I could describe
a blank and nameless need that comes next — smooth
as the nacre of the conch, inward with intent to riot,
an anatomy of swarms coiled around the center line —
clustered at the base of the spine.
Two girls walk by. One girl says to the other:
After one semester, know so much less than the crows.
What the crows know is how to be alone in the throat.
I toil, curl and crack against corrosives —furl
towards the place where I still shine. I shine
less. I miss all the sing and squawk, the talk
of talk. I could tell you how the wind swept in
and I was spilled, laid out, flat on my back—
tenacious burr, tuft of fur, a clot that clabbers.
I could tell you once these feathers were really something
in the sun, but you know it’s a march
even for the best of us, the tune
always goes: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum—
I’m bending, or trying to, if that helps, bad hips
and all, tight-folded, hands clasped fast
as if against the flight of hopes
so intimate they don’t escape the lips
but sublimate, a wistful vapor
twisting upward like the smoke from joss
sticks lit by ardent acolytes
of nothing in specific. Infinite loops
wear on. I’m bending – trying to – to the tropes
of prayer, and song, and putting pen to paper,
a speech of figures, a rhetorical lapse
that eddies at the edge of something, laps
sand, renders pyrites from the clay, inflates
the sense of things to music anyway.
So much is accident, but what is not
is meditation, surely, a still spot
the murky water roils around, that floats
dispassionately gathering its white
radiance up from the silt, and still perhaps
attached to it, but in a token way,
as it arises and elaborates
itself to a mandala that connotes
a cool invulnerability to loss
and to desire. If it helps, I am
trying not to try to bend, to just
bend. To surrender, as an act of will,
what will I have. To move and still be still.
Those hours were not in vain
So long as you retain
A lightness once they're lost;
Like one who, thinking, spends
His inmost dividends
To grow at any cost.
- Paul Valery, tr. James Merrill
It is, almost, as if
All time could be contained
Beneath these arching, stiff
Fronds, and the dates that rained
Onto the patio
Encapsulated – no,
Engendered – every thought
We’ve ever had, or will
Have. Almost. It’s a spill
Of sugar that will not
Find space to re-express
Itself in the concrete
It falls to. But the mess
It makes is still a sweet
One, sibilant translations
Of breeze to syncopations
Of dropped fruit, homonyms
And sustenance, if we
Are listening. What hymns
To sweetness! And how svelte,
How lithe these limbs are, trembling
With purpose, meaning to pelt
Us with their meaning, resembling
Both sun and parasol,
Rain and umbrella. All
Oases, in their various
Forms, are precarious
Systems. The fruits will fall,
Voluptuous, but warning
That scarcity must follow
Abundance; that adorning
Plenty itself is hollow
Hunger. Nothing can shield
Us from the double yield
That’s handed to us, fringe
And cruel spine, flesh and pit.
The dactyl, having writ –
A bounty we will cringe
From – keeps on writing. See?
An endless font, a frond-
That seals a lifelong bond.
The lowest thing you stoop
To might become a drupe
So sweet it makes the teeth
Ache. And the highest thing
You reach for, likewise, bring
You down. And underneath
Us, everything we’ve wasted
Is still there, waiting, vicious
With hopefulness, untasted
Renewal, dark, delicious
Sugars. Our needs are more
Than met. Excesses pour
Down, and we never see
Who bends to fit the tap;
Eternities of sap
Condensed to jaggery.
There is no wind. The chaparral has gone
To decadence. And the sun, at such a height,
Leaves the sky desiccated, bleached ash-white.
A concentrated brightness, an indrawn
Gathering of the light, as if the whole
World were enclosed within a camera
Obscura, an inverted replica
Universe cynosured through a pinhole.
Even the soil is aching from the heat;
A cracking bed of serpentine where few
Species contrive to grow, and those that do
Sustain themselves on nothing but complete
Famine and drought. More than sustain: they flout
The whole system, responding to the mean
Conditions with a kind of libertine
Excess, oiling themselves elaborately, without
A care for consequence. Inviting fire.
Anointing their dry leaves with aromatic
Resins just to inspire a dramatic
Response. Spontaneous combustion. Dire
Consequences, but they’ve thought of that
Too, developing at once two kinds of seed:
One sprouts in wet soil. One is only freed
When the achene is burned. This habitat
Requires certain adaptations. And
Rather than being meager in return
For meagerness, why not agree to burn?
Say there is nothing you cannot withstand.
There used to be a cord that connected
receiver to phone, a hard little ribbon
I could slip a finger through, correcting
our distances with touch. Our hows and beens
were held. They went into a line and came
out a line, and sometimes my right ear hurt,
though I don’t think the sensation was pain.
I was the good daughter who moved away, sure
I’d drift back soon. Mountains, fields, rusted
cities, the wires hung over us. Long, far, days,
decades, we faded into voices. I trusted
love too much. You didn’t stop me. It’s too late
to bring it back but I miss peeling
the cord from my finger after all that feeling.
When you were born, which you are not yet,
and grew up, which you have not done,
loved another, which you have not found,
and lasted long in life, which you may,
I gave you this: somewhere there is a tree
that grows its leaves on the inside.
Somewhere a forest that rustles and hushes
in no breeze. Where stones float
and rivers sink below them. Where wine
climbs the throat in white vines,
and the wind is not a whisper
or song or sigh, but the rising
of the ink inside your eyes.
And there, where nothing stays long,
death will be the pressure of a seed
into the earth, and the seed a boat.
When it’s time, step into it.
let it take you back to this dark
apse, the soft folds swaying.
I will be holding all around you.
My bald son drags the hose
around the yard,
murmuring to his villains about
vanquishing their grim cities.
They all wear masks,
but so does he. They slink
and fly. So does he.
He raises the nozzle;
a thin waterfall bends:
I can see it
and through it,
the latter less clearly,
can hear his retreating story
but not its end,
because everywhere the grass
is tipping its head back to drink
and he can’t stop winning.
It is snowing, lightly, now, in Kyoto.
Or it is not.
I have no way of knowing,
and I can’t imagine
the city is as we left it.
But in that land where they name
their mountains like men,
certain souls will always
be stacking stone cairns
around Ontake-san, the old volcano.
And we will have always
walked there, helped the few
of them we could by simply
piling one rock on another.
It was raining, there, on my birthday,
and I was speaking, easily,
a language I did not understand.
You see, sometimes there is no need
for talk of the intangible:
the past tense, the future tense.
With the barefoot pilgrims, we named the flowers
and faces; divided the berries
between “delicious” and “deadly”.
We shared only the simplest present,
the language of the world
you can point at,
the world you can touch.
We shared only the simplest present,
and it was enough.
The sunlight slanting down from over the rooftops
cuts long shadows on the sidewalk trees. In the breeze
their leaves twitch, turning in and out of the light.
Below, the passing cars are flecked with warmth
filtered through the half-illuminated trees. It gives
their cold machinery a joyful, almost tender look
before they move on. It is almost fall, but the leaves
have not begun to change. They will not for some time.
A pigeon, strangely brown and white, is tending
its nest in the hollow left where a poplar lost a limb.
My vast, secret plains refuse to be built upon:
inside me there is nothing but horizon.
Beloved, on the way to the grocery store, I got turned around
and ended up in Ohio. You remember how lost I was then,
how I bought eggs when the recipe called for chicken.
But the back roads of Ohio are beautiful, with roosters and hogs
different from the ones I knew at home, and hills in strange shapes.
None of this helped me with my grocery list.
But I did meet a Woman there, a kind Woman who may have had
a bit of Angel in her (you would have thought so), though it’s hard to be
sure about these things, even after three years of Marriage and ten of Divorce.
All of this led, of course, to the Three Plagues of Myself in Ohio:
Homelessness, Hunger, Heartbreak.
Later, to my relief, I discovered that even in Ohio there are grocery stores,
the meat-slicers in their delis sharp and greasy, their Beer cold.
Let us now sing the praises of Beer kept cold, and of demagnetized compasses.
That we are all still alive and sometimes smiling
is proof enough that God loves the misguided.
By the way, I have forgiven you. That is all I wanted to say.
The trees undress as gradually as parents
after a dinner party and everything outside
smells smoky: burnt-wick branches,
leaves drifted like spent flames—as if hundreds
of front lawns flared and snuffed to brace
themselves for winter. One night, a mother
and father return whispering, slip off
their shoes and tiptoe to kiss their daughters’
foreheads. Her earrings unclasp in her fingers,
a glass fills with tapwater at his touch.
Upstairs, he tugs her zipper—her dress curls
from her shoulders and sifts to the floor,
their bare limbs sway into each other.
In family legend, this is how the fire began:
castoff party clothes like leaves, arms and legs
like twigs, the house itself a furnace. The parents
woke to find their hair singed gray, their skin
dry and wrinkled, their daughters’ beds empty,
ash collected on the pillows. It happened so quickly,
said the father. Yes, said the mother,
And we didn’t even realize we were waiting for it.
You, who exult in fatigue, whom sweat salves,
whom motion girds like prayer, try to tell me
calmly that your new meniscus (transplanted
last summer, not yet healed) has torn, or turned,
or that scar tissue has crept between your ligaments—
you’re not sure—some driven-screw anguish
that flares when you move, gluts your knee
your voice climbs in coils that you catch
and unsnarl before they snap, as if tuning a loose-
dialed radio, twisting out each snore of static,
and all I can do is nod or shake my head, offer
the sturdy focus I once used in art class to smudge
graphite across a page, trying in vain to capture
the way shadows defined my unclasped hand.
Never mind that her fingers are so lithe
they bow backwards, that the bones below her skin
spoke like umbrella ribs, that the bible’s onion-skin
pages arch at her touch—James gazes at the crumbling
piano and Jeremy glues his eyes to the hall door,
tensed to shout when the tray of animal crackers
and juice arrives. Never mind that these passages line
her soul—I shall not want and yea, though I walk—
nor that she teared up yesterday planning this lesson,
remembering the first time she’d read the 23rd Psalm
and understood it, just after she’d lost her second
and the doctor began to speak of alternatives, that she’d
so looked forward to guiding her class through it.
Kim asks to use the bathroom, Hanna wants the window
open, and when Jeremy springs to the door and thumps
the food and pitcher on the table, what can she do
but let them eat? Grace, of course, after grace.
He watches while I talk
about being in love
with this fallen world – we sit
on the concrete steps,
the door-well a mess
of leaf-litter and tiny carcasses
of winged ants. I don’t say
how much I long
to stop contending
with the past –
how I long to throw myself
into the deep groove
of the present
like a needle in a moving record
and pick up the note of his life,
my life, this everyday bounty –
it’s okay. Around the corner
a clear river
courses through cold rocks
beneath a specimen we call
the Tree of Life.
A neighbor’s car idles, resonating
in our storm door. The clatter
of wings as two
the long exclamation marks
of their bodies
is a kind of tenderness
I had thought was gone from me
until I saw it again
in his steel-
blue eyes, sure in their questioning
movements across the pavement,
following my hands as I gesture
towards this or this, meaning
exactly what I say and more.
1. Head west from clutching seclusion towards
a memory of what it felt like to have a lover
sugar your coffee, wash your hair in the shower -
of gentleness you can do for yourself, which is why
they felt like luxuries.
2. Traverse the Virgin River Gorge. When you come
to a massive tree
whose base is a bench made of itself,
sit down. It’s a good idea to read that one
D.H. Lawrence poem, you know, O the green glimmer
of apples in the orchard, lamps in a wash of rain. Drink
a glass of purple wine – nothing with a name.
3. Call your friend with the flour-soft hair. Let him tell you
he regrets not having slept with you that day
you came home together covered in sand. Regret it
a little, yourself.
4. Put on tall shoes and a blue dress. Say something
about Heidegger and something about Michael
something in Italian but say it wrong. Then say,
that you’ve forgotten all of your Italian. Spill
in your lap. When the guy who was teaching you
how to play pool offers to drive you home, say Yes.
5. When the guy who was teaching you how to play pool
buys a swivel chair that’s your favorite shade of
so there’s something to sit on when you come to his
6. When he asks you to call his house (with that orange
and an avocado stove and wood paneling and
a bed that’s always a little sandy thanks to the dog,
and a swing by the river out back) shelter, say Yes.
not to be in love with you
I can’t remember what it was like
it must have been lousy.
You take off your black
motorcycle jacket, hang it
on the back of a chair. It’s cold
from our walk along the sea wall.
Your pockets jingle with shells.
While we were gone, you left
the stove on low—some things
you do make me so nervous.
You graze the surface of sauce
simmering in a pan, shiny fingertip
held out for me to lick, you say
what does it need? Maybe nothing,
maybe honey to unbitter the lime.
Later that night you’ll bury your face
in my belly and sob. I’m sorry,
though I don’t think you are
always talking to me, my love.
But now lobster steam billows
up the window, you gulp
purple wine, your pinky sticking out,
and the round olives are the green
all green things aspire to be.
The plum tree in the lobby of my hotel
is beautiful because cards flutter in it,
red and gold cards of the new year,
auspicious, and because it holds no plums.
Underneath thrust cumquat trees,
fertile and tight-lipped, green boughs darting skyward.
I tried to take a picture, but a picture
will not flutter.
Yet I’ve been snapping them
like a student of your art, Hong Kong. Textures
bum up to each other at the bar here,
slicks and erasures, cracks in the past.
Crunching my mechanical eye, a different
seeing than poetry—a seizing, a thrust.
How much courage to take—
that verb not an accident. Something is stolen.
While poetry rides alongside like a companion
on the subway, silent. Melting the scene
in unobtrusive, unsensed wavelengths
to reconstitute it, hammered bright
and mild, somewhere else.
I have been a poet for so long, a light
shadow, wink of flame, I am unspooled by the whisk
that demands my fellow humans developed and exposed.
We shirk this exposure—and long for it,
preen-wriggling inside—willing to be gotten,
right this time. But I have no backbone
for the capture. I have so far only one:
the slender cumquat tender
in her long rubber gloves, arranging the trees
for sale outside the hotel. I asked,
she smiled, I quailed, pointed, shot—
it hurt me to do this—but at the last moment
she saved me, shielding all but her eyes
behind a pot of startled tulips.
Mornings of rocks thrown at the sea.
The rib-ache reaches toward the ridge
of shoulder blade, burrows underneath
the collar bone, curls down the arm
hinge-honing, leaving only the heft
of denser stone, the damp of salt-gnawed palms—
men arrive with the tide, tilting
under poles and buckets, at careful distances
staking rod-holders in the dark sand;
they linger, guarded over rig-tying,
stitch hooks through thick clam bellies,
crouched before the prayer of the first cast
—grains that glisten against the lifelines
and cling, even plunged in the chill sea.
Once more we take the path down through the trees
to meet the Sound. Last winter’s storms have thrown
some maples down—like strings tuned by the wind
the tall ones stand against the water. This spring
the mountains have returned.
Through ferns and moss and mud we wind our way
without speaking, to clamber over driftwood, sandy dogs
and purple mussels. Last year here at high tide
a young grey whale tipped his hat. This spring
our bodies have returned.
I’ve come here with questions and found smooth
green stones, once spotted a raccoon
sampling shells at low tide. Our bodies
tuned by water stand against the wind.
Sun, discover us again.
First print the cloth with jasmine
drawn on this screen, white
flowers on a pale purple field.
We're going to the hives
tonight, we'll wrap
jars & comb in the cloths
we make. Bees
take pollen from acacia
bees less bitter and more astute
than their keepers.
We're going to bend wires
down around the bee-yard,
lift those hay-frame boxes.
with our bodies
full of something sweet
like honey, something radiant.
You will remember all the times we went to the Russian grocery store
and bought chocolates, because I saved (yes, these too)
the wrappers from the candies, printed with nesting dolls, alphabets
I didn’t understand. And I can show them to you,
having kept them in this notebook since my childhood, and you will remember
the days we spent in the fabric store next door
among the huge bolts of discount, mill-end fabric, the bins of buttons as tall
as I was, then. Every time I wanted more buttons, more
candies wrapped in foil or with pictures of ladies in fancy clothes.
You never said no. I saved them all up. They were beautiful. Worth keeping.
I thought we were rich.
We were just barely breaking even.
Our Lady of lost-luggage
rooms, the half-moon
tour of the station’s driveway
is your novena.
Our radios run out of battery
during the shipping news.
Above us airplanes broadcast
to each other, positions only they can see.
We are carrying strapping tape and nails,
photos, handles and hinges, some of us
have deserted with only our clothes.
Flannel. Rough velour of train
seat covers. If we could rise out
of our bodies we’d see the lines
we’ve made, our past selves like long
skins we’re always shedding,
the ones we love and have loved
bright intersections of skin and light.
Time has told me stories of growing orchids, and I have
asked her to sit next to me awhile. She has held my hand
while I told her stories of Japanese maples changing with
the seasons, twisting as love grows, and of tides pulling out
to reveal skies of starfish. And time has told me of the man
and his dog who sat buried in a vast moonlit field for years
and saw the roar of oceans in the rippling wheat. She
told me about this solitude, and about broken shells and
stars projecting themselves millions of years into the future,
how they’re her brothers and sisters. She has told me
about her family. Time has grown around me and let her
orchids die. I have asked time to sit beside me and be quiet
I see more clearly
at a distance now.
You are sharper in story—
your reasons for buying firewood,
of umbrellas, the steam
and clatter of your view
of the railway station.
Colors resolve as they blur
and your phrase, the moon
is thin tonight, clears
only at a distance of many days
I can’t see a body
in a bedroom anymore, can’t
put together the eyebrows
and jaw, the face and line
of the shoulder, the foot
and the chest. But the swamp
of green, step by step as I back away,
becomes a footbridge over water lilies.
I am thinking of the people I adore.
I am thinking of how their hearts
have fanned out in front of mine.
How few and far between they have been
like a belief in ocean between the Atlantic coast
and the Pacific, traveling by car.
How they can’t be described; how
sometimes you can be distracted,
you think—you, you’re a ball of flame
and then realize no, and anyway,
I’m not looking for the sun
but for the solitude of night.
How few you continue to adore.
How the ones you have loved, whether
taking their bodies or just their hands,
whether lips embrace lips, or minds
grip minds, maybe hearts blend—they become you.
They become your branches,
your salt and pepper shakers, your
precious metals, your water, manna of rebirth.
What do you wait for?
or the rising of the righteous from the dead?
God was made flesh
in a shed
with the smell of shit.
With the mud and the sweat
thick in the straw.
at the dust and the dirt of life.
The world and all upon it are imperfect,
I’m a fool and so are you.
Are we not made for one another?
Here it is,
with all the pain and agony of birth.
In the mud, the sweat, and the shit,
Here it is.
I want to
slow the world
to a fraction
of a moment.
She dragged the green felt-tip across the page;
five unrecognisable shapes,
two scribbled blue,
the rest left well alone.
This is for you
she proudly said,
I keep it folded
in the pocket of my coat
like a blessing
in a language
far from mine.
Like a morning walk
through windy hills in winter
without cause or destination,
just for the conviction
and the chaos.
The universe is expanding from the center,
which is any point you watch from.
In this way, things pull apart, gaps gap
between body and body, although
it appears that you are the constant.
My father moves out of our house.
He takes the coffee pot and the blender,
two clocks and the television set.
Every time we come home something else is gone:
silverware, lamps, the paintings in the hallway.
He leaves the photographs, which stay on the walls
like water stains. My brother and I
guess what will be missing next.
It’s a game. He thinks it will be the sofa,
I think the set of kitchen knives.
But it is my parents’ bed, the mattress
heaved onto the floor, the frame itself
dismantled. I sit at night with my brother.
He is looking through his telescope
for two planets, which he thinks will align
with the moon. The sky clouds
and reemerges, clouds again. He adjusts
the eyepiece, focuses and scans:
what do you know about space?
As the work of the world continues,
my father opens the door to the dark hallway.
While the house works to hold the secret
all night. The heater comes on. Voices hum.
My father opens the door to the dark hallway
gathering shadows of leaves on the wall.
At night the heater comes on. Voices hum
in the room where my brother and I sit,
gathering shadows of leaves on the wall.
Darkness leans down like a tree.
In the room where my brother and I sit,
my mother looks at her hands, tells a story.
Darkness leans down like a tree
pressing against the landscape. Rain.
My mother looks at her hands, tells the story:
the storm and pilgrims arrive in boats,
pressing against the landscape. Rain
on the glass in the windows, which endures through
the storm. And pilgrims arrive in boats
in my mind. A new history begins opening.
The glass in the windows, which endures through
my childhood, will hold and hold.
In my mind, a new history begins. Opening
from the dark, the bright day is a shock.
My childhood will hold and hold
while the house works to hold the secret
from the dark. The bright day is a shock
as the work of the world continues.
Lung X-Ray: heavy grays and blacks
are good, meaning: expanding tissue.
Whites: blockages, closures.
Terbutaline, a nurse says,
to open up the airways.
Infusion pumps switched on.
Doctor. His first breaking
whisper is the slip of the sheet
over your chest. Tubes coil
over your shoulder.
since there are no windows in the unit,
I don’t see it. This is true
also for morning. A curtain
spins on its rectangle all the way around the bed.
I think in numbers:
one-hundred-eighty, your heart rate—high.
Carbon dioxide—ninety— (remember the fall
you hiked up to the lake,
holding to the flat edge of rock— the wind
unnaturally heavy—looking down all that distance?)
is taking hold. It beds itself
down in the blood. To understand this,
it will help to imagine closet:
a row of dark suits in dry-cleaning bags.
Stand between them and close the door.
The photograph my father showed
my mother of our garden on the day
we planted it down in Florida
was an image, she said, only a real
gardener could enjoy, sensing
what the box of soil would become,
knowing the small envelopes poking
up from the earth marked places
where seeds were taking their first wide
breaths below. The way others of us know
a glass jar marked paprika contains
the burnt umber smell of grandmothers
cooking in a basement, or that around
a certain twist of road, a whole range
of blue ridges awaits. Yet the knowledge
never quite prepares us for the turn.
And as my father, my husband and I set
those seeds into their soil on the day
of planting, we might have been dropping
stars into the sky for how little we knew
of which might collapse, and which,
in that wide stretch of dark, would brighten.
The bales of hay are wet from last night’s rain
and the damp air that followed it
has shifted to brisk currents stirring sunlight.
We wanted to see the cows
asleep last night, so we walked through the wet dark,
eyes adjusting to silhouettes.
Twice you said you saw a shooting star
but twice I missed it. There are moments
in marriage you can not share, and moments you must—
the bed unmade, a curtain
falling off its hook, a rattle of breath
that startles even the snorer.
These sounds, once learned, become the soft sputters
of a lake, what bark might say
if it spoke. There’s a joy to not knowing whether the shape
on top of a faraway mountain is a column or a cloud.
My student, Yeon Do, asks why to be blue
means to be sad. Blue is happy,
he says, the sky is blue and beautiful!
He’s right—what other color can join us
to the stars, both define and lead
beyond our own horizon?
But isn’t some of this the sun’s work,
the color blue an illusion of light
scattering through dust?
Weren’t all of us once told that what
looks blue to me might be the color
that to you is red? That paradox
of the little world within us and the one
without. Today my husband cleaned
the inside of our yellow teapot
and it gleamed whiter than it had
since we’d received it. A blue jay landed
in the garden and I thought blue is surprise.
That way the blues, when they arrive,
can streak their way through us like rain
leaving wet lines down the trunk of a live oak,
down the bark unprotected by leaves.
The way the galaxies sneaked up on me
outside a bar last week, when we ignored
the glare of streetlights as we listened
to a visiting astronomer, and looked up through
a telescope at the rocky light of the moon,
at matter deep in the sky, at nebulae, where,
just above us, though quite far, stars
were being born. Once a student described
being nearsighted as having a short eye.
This is how we felt beneath the night sky,
a page written on both sides, a page
through which light can slip in a footnote, a sprinkling
in window boxes, a scattering of keys for the right
chord—fierce and full—the kind that never goes out.
In October, in Vermont,
your bones in clear relief against the old suit
already, you had nowhere to go
in the physical world. Your daughter’s lover outside
mapped the trees for sugaring. Cows lowed
over the hill. The sweet smell of dung
drifted in on pads of adolescent kittens
who curled near your feet by the stove. What world,
you might have asked, but no.
They tell me
they lay plate after plate before you
and each time, to each supplicant, you turned up your open face
and smiled at them, whoever they are—
your kin, everyone your child, alternately begging you to taste
and forcing bread against your teeth.
You remained empty. You said nothing,
until you said thank you, and turned back toward the window
which you had no need
to see beyond.
I lived in a small room, my gable facing out
toward the sea. My father lined the sill with scrimshaw
because a sailor never forgets the stories:
men baling the waves, men stoved by the beast—
A quarterboard hung from our hearth,
the planks of its ship refixed
as floors and cabinets. This is what it’s like
to live in the mouth of a whale.
My bedtime stories were the mariner’s instructions;
Father quizzing the girls on each shoal, on maps
of lightships numbered, named.
Tales of men burning mattresses in rigging:
this is what happens on a foggy night.
This is what happens when the tender sleeps.
Fires, fires raged on the sea,
and the whale’s teeth beckoned me
look out on it, to hunger—
already I knew nothing else would take me whole.
after Jack Gilbert
Cracking eggs in a red bowl, I looked down and saw Byzantium.
How strange to find it here, that golden yolk: Byzantium.
I had been reading your poems all day, practicing scales.
Pacing small rooms—when rose the turrets of Byzantium.
And what was below? Great domes? Stone-paved lanes?
Yes, and the miniscule marketplace of Byzantium.
I glimpsed women in kerchiefs swinging baskets of fruit
and heard the clattering hooves of the horses of Byzantium.
The ample breasts were tucked behind thick silks,
but in alleys, love-cries echoed through Byzantium.
The doors are all locked here; mailboxes stuffed with news.
On clogged streets the cars rumble home, not to Byzantium.
Around me is a suburb, splayed smooth as if flattened.
Look closer, you say? Even here might be Byzantium?
Jack, where will it end—with the heavy apples hocked there,
each enclosing a mystery? We could fall ever deeper into Byzantium.
I imagine you in an apple orchard.
Workers twist fruit from light,
white tail deer nightly graze, and
I’d make you sleep against trunks
until you promise to stay
alive through winter, stay after
blizzards, when trees go white
like late season dandelions. Stay
through spring into the summer
when men with fruit knives dust
the dust from their jeans, reenter
the orchard, recognizing limbs,
seeing how fruit has come back:
bright, whole, waiting. Stay
through summer into fall. Fall
into winter. Winter into spring.
What else do you want? What else
can I offer? A place at the table
where we last sat together –
your sipped a macchiato and read
my poems with an eye towards
what could be cut, what tightened,
what with time could be art.
Even as inside
as you are, you are
not yet inly enough.
I know you with your
folding in: the start of
the fern frond, snail-tight
curl, the whisk and horse-
tail which unrolls a quick-
uncoils its scrollwork
of fiddlehead, shepherd’s
crook which seeks
the ground, no seed or
flower to concentrate
on, even as in shade
and poor soil it thrives:
only you go the other
way: tighter knot, false
part of unfurling. Sink
to dirt a deeper bed
those roots, my love.
Three—and want has no definition
other than right now. This evening
brought us out, hunting for rabbit tracks
under the neighbors’ pines. Booted,
you stomped around the perimeter,
head down serious in look, some
inner weather curled under
your lower lip. You are a brilliant mess
of color: white cheeked, near freckle
and auburned. The grass is high
in first green growth, the turned dirt
divots the dog makes with her forepaws,
nose alert. She is small and so are you,
but that doesn’t explain why
you take a sudden start at her, foot
kicked squarely into her side.
You know it’s wrong. I can see
that. You know your after-cry
is fake, put-on as we time-out
the sentence, sternly set. I’m taken
by two things: that this reels out
of you, unspooling furiously
in a slideshow you feel yourself to be
playing in; and, that you size me up
to see how much I am aware and what
flooding-in part of me understands.
All day Assisi’s perfect white-pink sun-glint rocks spilled
down the mountain, forty-five kilometers from where
I stood balcony-side and removed above
the rented villa’s blue pool, terracotta roof. All day
and the wind was northerly rushing in in a frantic
sort of movement much like my heart up and down
from the chair disturbed by the Italian landlord
with his family, friends bikini-clad and uninvited,
lounging below. I was perched to pounce, by which
I mean, I am a not a good host. I do not join
the strangers, home but not at home, with any resemblance
of good day. I’m not invited anyway, do not
seem seen, though am, as I pace in and out, allowing
the door to slam and give noise to the annoyance
lodged in my brain more than anything close to sharing.
It’s a feeling I’d rather not admit, this I was here first,
an age-old sense of propriety, a false belief the eye
owns what it sees. Not unlike the villa’s mice-catching
orange cat which skulks along the rock wall needy
for hand-outs it doesn’t need. I willed go away, go
away. And then they did. All day for this, the advancing
sun’s gold-set light yellowing the hay-grasses
waist-deep when I walk up to them, something small at last.
Even up close it’s hard to tell
whether the white and blue
church tower is defunct or half-finished
or, like every third house
block after prim block, let for summer.
Only an odd patch of moss
flecks the siding, and thin ginger-colored
stains make a noncommittal
braid, like wicker or wings at rest.
From our third floor window
long scarves of water push
right up against the houses.
They seem to clip the gutter spouts.
If one were Elizabeth Bishop
one would probably hear a tidy music in them.
Tidy and resolved, the way
history says “Look West, Future-looker”
and kids worry a blue vein
of hope in their spiral notebooks.
At night after each boat has pulled in
behind the artificial bulwark
moonlight saddles a galvanized tub
of orange marigold and sedum,
and green and burgundy rosettes
creep upward like weird insect antennae
trucking the earth off to Westerly,
Rhode Island, where nirvana is a long time
coming. Or untidy, unresolved,
the way stupid hope won’t shut up
and my shoelaces make antsy on the deck
as moonlight shoves off the sedum,
and ginger-colored stains resemble
the warp and dash of a question mark.
I do not want happiness to resemble happiness
or poetry, poetry.
I want hunger to come back into fashion
and longing to fall out of fashion.
I want to submit the good parts of my father
and the good parts of my mother
as evidence of what they could be, sometimes,
despite the circumstances.
I want to be alive not lucky to be alive.
I want to be alive in the sun at noon with a cup of lemon
Via clarity and simplicity I want to arrive
at complication and surprise.
I do not want to carry around all this want
just to empty it out onto the street
and ask you what you think I should do with it
were we to cross paths. Each, I hope, would acknowledge
the other without erasing the other.
One could do worse
than throw on a coat
and walk past the house
held up by his name,
past signs for captain this & that
scuffed on each fence,
past summer people
preparing salmon coulibiac
with little to do but look
from the low end of town
at boats hovering
like faraway countries
in full disclosure.
As for the sea, a woman
once said the look of it
sent a shiver down her back.
Like waking up
in a room with no roof.
We were on the tail end
of a trip to Portugal.
I didn’t expect much to go on
that we would take with us
afterward or elsewhere.
One could do worse
than take nothing with him
but this light coat
and a little earth in his pocket.
October, and the blood
has rushed from the trees
but not yet from the leaves:
you stoop to choose
favorites, then pass
them back to me, to hold
and then discard, like
the trees did. These Rorschached reds
and yellows, these blazing
gifts—each says, This one.
from this vast ground covered
with bright dead tinder
there are careful
selections to be made,
does not cancel
beauty out. Later, you’ll emerge
from the gas station with a lotto ticket
and offer it to me
like a leaf,
of this world made crisp
by your attention,
and my fingers
will say: This one. Will learn
how to relish what’s
already over. The thinning
wind, the forest
in flames, your taste
of salt in my throat. If nothing
can be saved still give
me this: my brief
body, the leaves
as they’re leaving. The ticket
about to be scratched.
Eyes, let’s see, a simple
rhyme—my, mine. Yours
are like skies, like clouds
and light skeined together, the storm’s
fickle center—simpler. Not morning’s
yearning. Not violence,
violets. Tonight we take only
the direct flights, Boston
to Austin, my heart
at the Mini-Mart, dogs barking
in the parking lot. Oh
lover, you could be
anyone’s, but it’s my mouth
your mouth covers, and under
each layered gasp another
chorus for us to remember
forever without even trying. Oh my
one-true, my only-you, my
most-dear, there’s nothing
new here, nothing not
radio-ready, just this pop song
longing, just our blank-slate
faces, just our bodies
pressed together in all the
usual beautiful places.
The chemo leaves my mother
weak and docile, out
of sorts. Her head wrapped
in old scrap fabric, a garland
of tiny flowers.
But how young
she looks, the gray
erased, her eyes the pale green
of new leaves.
In dreams I return to Salvador. The roads
are washed out. I have to swim. Or
I am held at gunpoint
in front of the coconut stand.
Yet it is unmistakably
the same city where I once
lived. Where I walked
with a newborn in my arms,
first light spreading through the palms.
It is true, the dawn redwood,
believed to exist only as a fossil
was, in 1941, discovered living
in a rural Chinese province.
For myself, though, I do not believe
in miraculous returns.
In no region of this earth
will I again wake to soothe
an infant’s ferny cries, or find myself
flooded, suddenly, with milk.
This is my favorite time, before
mold claims the zucchini leaves,
before the chard turns tough and sullen
and the spinach bolts. I kneel
in front of the butter lettuce,
tender heads in which I take
inordinate pride. As though
it were my tending, and not
the turning of the earth
that brings them forth. As later,
when I am tearing the leaves
for salad, calling my sons
to wash their hands, I feel
for a moment the almost weightless
syllables I have plucked, it seems now,
from air, and chosen
willfully to love.
We look at what could be your own dog drowning.
We came through room after room where there was only the divine
as best guessed. Jesus was never the same
from one canvas to the next. You believe one day our dog will die,
but Goya’s dog is a long time in the luxury of undying—
the perpetual mid-paddle, the forever abiding no motion.
How like guesswork belief can be.
Goya’s dog with all the handsome colors conjured
without bone, or fur, or pain. This is the liminal tour
of a limited world you choose to place your pathos into.
We look at the picture and see your dog barking louder
than necessary, or his begging devotion, though there is none
of those things. We see a lunatic tide
though there is none. We look, and we look again,
just as some look at those other paintings and see
an idea of heaven even though they look to me like drowning.
Here the dog is drowning in the dark edges of the day.
Here he is drowning in love. And here, to be fair, he is drowning
in someone’s mongrel gaze. Here drowning, come of darkness,
lay down water dear clever Spaniard—sit and makes us
swimmers floating in the joy of anything even if it’s sorrow.
The Buddha spoke of rebirth as an opportunity
to reach enlightenment. Of the six realms a person can be born,
there’s none that match the exact statistics of Lucas.
To be born with the combination of afflictions confirmed
in his twisted limbs is as unlikely as being born to royalty.
Speak with Lucas. His reaction to a negative,
what does Fairfax County say? So ask, About what Lucas?
There’s no answer as if he cannot be bothered to say.
A fifteen-year-old with the mind of a four-year-old,
and the copycat ease of a colloquial tongue. Lucas bellows,
What a woman, with such confidence to the speech pathologist
for an instant he leads her all smiles and dancing, but he returns
to the muscular dystrophy that leaves him gnarled,
glared at, and dead before thirty. Held so close to this terrain
of impossibilities, Lucas calls Alissa chicken legs, a name
his brothers bestowed upon him at home. Say it’s not nice
to call people names and he slips a smile, hits the mark, assert,
I don’t know about that. The Buddha said being human
offered the best chance for enlightenment. For whose benefit
is our cascade of sounds, and gluttonous sight, and taking
grip, the jaunt of feet propelling the effort along, and it is all
effort mostly wasted, but see Lucas do so much with so little.
Ruth found Walter and did what she could
to shush the knot and rope, the truth of gravity
around his neck, but there aren’t enough
idiomatic expressions to converse flawlessly with the dead.
There was enough love to let some meaning slide.
There was the earlier invitation—dinner in a London restaurant.
Conversation masked envy and ego when Walter’s
a month from a wretched suicide, and Ted starts counting
March storms to where the days then divide by the posture
of chemicals in the brain, or the water heater inevitably
at the lazy end of inspection, and do the math—four years
from disrepair—but the dinner never happened.
The night before Ruth had too much wine with dinner,
or not enough dinner with wine. And this is the hangover
(all these years later), this is what really has survived;
it was difficult for Ruth to leave her bed and get the girls
into their nightgowns, if only so they knew her belly laughter,
almost that of a witch, each cackle a melody. It is enough
to know Ruth’s efforts—though Walter never sounded back—
speak more of the fifty years since than any bullshit
about Sylvia’s self-destruction being a source for creative energy.
What good are prizes awarded to the dead? Who cares
about the Lazarus of Ruth’s work, having been “discovered”
for the sixth time at eight-five? It can be a long time
from flower to fruit that doesn’t fall to the ground unnoticed.
Who cares how many times you can die and come back again?
Sylvia’s words break their necks in the offering. Ruth had
long since repaired what could be, still caring and cared for
by her daughters, still in the classroom, the last one
with sound from her mouth if she so wished, her voice
the perfume from day-old apples—both sweet and strong
and a long time coming. I was one student in the second row.
Ruth was alive—not the never-ending failure of ink on paper—
hair like the sun on a smokestack, and smiling.
These poems will be posted when the author provides them.
When I let myself in, my brother is singing, up
in his room where he thinks he’s alone. I tune my ear, as if
to a safe unlocking, as if now might be revealed
secrets known only to the pinball wizard, jack
sprung from a box, and carousel ponies the moment the ride
switches on. All summer, he’s hidden
his voice, no matter how I begged for
just one song. Is his refusal vengeance
for that hide-and-seek, long ago,
when I let the neighbor girls convince me
to abdicate my role as It, though Jim alone remained to find
and would remain, tucked behind the holly,
as its leaves performed their cruelty on his skin
and the sun dropped toward the spiny curtain
of the trees and his sister was not coming, was not even
in the basement watching MTV, trying to be like the older
I wish he’d remember instead how we found each other
other times, when storms would out the lights
or the algae eater we loved—strange against the glass—
went belly up in the greening tank; or how, when he was
and wanted it opened and closed, opened and closed, I’d
bring my music-box down from the high shelf,
though I feared he might break it.
More likely, he remembers his first solo, his
Winthrop who’d barely speak until that wagon with its
promised trumpet was on its way, his opening night, night I
from the theater, disappeared again, might have been
thinking suicide for all he knew, couldn’t explain
those dark halls inside me lit by music. Is he, too,
unable to separate the two events, the two of us?
Or does he think of me at all anymore? And
which is worse? A month from now,
he’ll make his one exception—or so he thinks—to this
summer’s silence, at Tony’s, the beach’s
lone Italian fine dining, where he’ll stop busing tables, turn
to surprise us: his happy birthday to you to our mother,
laying down every spaghetti-twisted fork, pulling even
the cooks from the kitchen. He’s that good.
I’ve wondered if he fears the presence of an audience
dilutes, somehow, the instrument. But
walking in on him tonight, I understand:
he’s Orpheus, dangerous power to move a stone, to make
and unmake, incite the already unhinged
to further madness, inspire the gods
to call Eurydice out of the dark. I wish
I could tell him it’s not his fault his song
becomes mine when I hear it.
The roof is lifting off the scaffold of this house.
Knives in their drawers have gone percussive.
My brother’s song is sky at dusk unfolding its stars, galoshes
troubling a puddle back to rain. It’s the old
strange tremble in my chest when, to prove it wasn’t
the quick- kind, I stepped out onto the sand to learn it was.
I dare not stir, not even to slip the keys
to the counter. I am next to enter
the coliseum: we who are about to die, next
to be fired from the cannon, next soul
for whom the gate with its pearls like teeth
has opened. The boat tacks now toward
our new country. Words drop from our tongues
like tickets, spent. One day scholars writing A History of
will sink their heads to their desks, stumped
by the lost word brother. Hold on. He
slows it down, wraps each note in a softness, opposite
of mussels in their shells. I remember myself, farther back.
Unlike the flimsy ballerina in the music-box, turning
over and over over the years to her one song, I’ve been
by many, all part of the same: cheap kazoo prize
from the Guess Your Age booth, tobacco-clouded
codger every autumn bringing our piano
into tune, Mama humming at the end
of a set of lullabies she rocked me nightly to
while my brother slept inside her waiting to be born.
The dark leans close. My hand in my pocket makes
a fist. Night, I pray,
to the audience of stars, Night, hide me. My own ghost
has returned, whispering again
her could-have-beens, her almost-was and wasn’t-I-
once up there under the lights
or just before, as the piano opened the evening, awaiting
my cue in the wings…
I try to find the right song, scroll through my private
rolodex of show-tunes—“Old Man River,”
“On My Own,” some of my old favorite songs from way back
to drown her out, that girl I was, wishing
every night the same wish on the same false star. I hear her
in the water mornings
when I twist on the shower’s applause; hear her twittering
any music she can find: winter
wrens extra mad for suet, horns blaring at the crossroads,
soft plink of the knife
cutting to the plate through the meat. And tonight,
rustling with the playbill
in my jacket, tapping the wet sidewalk with my boots,
it’s all her. She won’t let me
alone and my loneliness deepens. Sweetens. I am
that girl I was,
singing to myself. Tonight the role of the dreamer
will be played by the wind, my
understudy, ringing the porch chimes as I go past, taking
a thousand final bows through the leaves.
What fascinated me most was the arc
along the top of her head, the Immortality
space—perfectly parallel with the earlobes—
because it was slightly raised, more convex
than any I’d felt before. It indicates
a striving, a yearning toward the other world,
reached by prayer, by dream, the pause
between words, a ragged breath, the revelation
of need. I nearly believed she’d been
to that world and back already. Do petals
still fall, I wanted to ask, are there
enough teacups? Her eyes, ethereal
orbs of light, never wavered, scarcely
aware of my roving hands. I passed
over Firmness, over Self-Esteem; I paused
at Hope, where a pulsing feathered
my fingertips. I placed my palms against
Secretiveness, felt the full swell—
remarkable, a phantom ripeness.
You, I said, you, wanting to ghost the vault
inside her. She did not startle when
I bent my lips to hers.
This morning’s matins are dream-based, fear-infused,
a first groggy plea not to still be waiting tables,
not to have my teeth break off and spew out of my mouth,
not to be coiled and bound on a precipice, awaiting
the promised superhero. He’s probably been detained—
perhaps stumbling heat-ravaged through the furnace
of lower Texas, or on a South American vacation,
unable to turn his eyes from the glaciers of Patagonia,
cerulean and windswept, terrible. The city of ice
reminds him of another, a city of glass towers
they’d called it, which he’d swooped in to rescue
from gangs and mafias, only to find all the ornithologists
wandering the streets stunned, mute, gathering
the stilled bodies of white-throated sparrows
from the sidewalks. Their shattered anatomies.
A whistle trapped in each throat, the world
that much quieter.
Cold coffee this abandoned morning,
straggling rain, thumbed out sun. Vagrant tongue,
I’ve followed you here, your far-fetched horizons,
your tall tales. Too often you return empty.
O Lord, there are even elegies for the guilted sidewalks,
small laments that throb to be heard, so what
is your reply? Word made feather. Made glacier.
Made flesh—that your eyes are fixed here,
your ears lashed and ragged with the tatters of prayers.
The bullet sings in its long peripheral arc toward you,
over the glyphic movements of ants in the desert dust,
under the fumbling swabs of cloud.
Heat miraging in the distance, tall, like blue glaciers.
Baby breathing in the crib upstairs,
your wife’s hands in a sink full of water and soap.
Tomorrow they will print your name in the paper.
The arpeggio nears you, descending its invisible keys.
A fine sheen of hair powders her throat,
which you could sometimes see when the light was soft enough.
How strange to think of it now.
And yet how lovely in its occasional grace, all
but hidden, even after the singing has ended.
Only ankle deep,
yet the water cools twenty-six bones in each foot,
a litany recited by the sea
in two-note murmurings,
calcaneus, talus, a list that stretches back
to the first step & the first word,
lateral cuneiform, medial cuneiform,
back to ships packed with barley,
holds full of roped-off amphoras,
olive oil to their throats,
ships trailing words in their wakes,
conversations & curses in Greek, Persian, Akkadian, Sumerian…
the sea on the horizon, as it is here,
except for a small speck
the size of a tinderbox,
dark lunula of a hand held out at arm’s length—
someone’s plunked down a baby grand
in the middle of the bay,
& the last song played on it?
Some cantata, still trembling in the joints, half-hollowed
by the silence
that followed the storm two nights ago,
a note for each sea & one
for the body of the Hunter Gracchus,
forever drifting port to port,
face to the stars
that once guided him…
Sometimes any little piece of eternity,
whatever we can beg or borrow,
is enough, or has to be—
star drift & bone shard,
deep pulse & deep prayer,
the body’s Thirteen Ghost Points,
some nothing that remains
after something’s created out of it.
Little eternities. The endlessly circling,
Hunter & raven.
Twelve sets of ribs & a prayer on your lips,
a fading cantata of smuggler’s wakes
as if someone had just left the piano
to tell you that there is no way to remember
because no one ever returns to tell you how,
that this song was just another vessel
urged on by its emptiness.
There’s a chart on the wall from the Ming Dynasty,
the Expression of Fourteen Meridians, a man haloed
by Chinese characters, as if wearing a yoke
of honeysuckle vines that trail after him,
like the thermal plume that follows each of us—
the skin’s 91.4 degrees constantly radiating
into its surroundings, beginning at the ankles
& swirling up, in a constant upward motion,
so that each location contributes chemical traces,
a signature we each leave petaled on the air.
There is no landscape, then, that remains untouched
by us. And no one that has not been limned
by the wakes of our ancestors, recitations of arches
& hollow places. Otzi the Iceman, frozen 5,000 years,
emerged from the ice with fifteen groups of tattoos—
some at acupuncture points— the ink intact through
all of recorded history. Body of rivers, body of stars:
du shu, the ‘great numbers’ that correspond to each
other in the universe, the twelve channels
& the twelve rivers through the Central Kingdom,
needle points within slopes & hollows with the traceries
of heaven-signs, other points more like a dream
of stars than stars, the scapula like a dream of wings.
Maybe it’s possible, then, to measure your solitude
to the last snowflake, to gauge mercy or longing
by the number of lumens, the way your name was once
said for the first time in the morning to no one
but the first light & the tanager’s wake, by someone
who becomes lost in the thought of your thirteen
ghost points, Ghost Palace, Ghost Faith, Ghost Heart.
Celestial Oriole & Celestial Spring. Cloud Door,
the depression below your clavicle. Camphorwood Gate,
below the free end of the eleventh floating rib.
Each needle a point of light, the constellations fixed
for a few moments on your skin. One more pierces
your skin, sliding past oil & dirt & tinges of poisons,
chlorine, fluoride, lead: if a history, then one of your life,
through the spills & traces of past days, through melanin,
a pigment that radiates heat when struck by light.
If a cartography, then one of desire: sunlight darkens you, then disappears: the wakes of those who have gone on ahead vanish from sight even faster: it’s in this evening
veil, & in the body’s dark waters, that you wait
for someone to call you back. To recite you, City of Canals, City of Longing, each of our Sky Window Points.
To find you between the points. To darken you.
The larynx is an ark drifting through
one’s solitude, an ark with one of everything:
pins, coins, a locket that clasped
a picture of a woman’s husband
who was gone when she returned.
On the cervical x-ray of the upper chest
& throat, the larynx is an afterdusk landscape
above the whitewashed latticework of ribs—
the object becomes the radiolucent moon
of the body, a relic of one’s desire.
I’ve been asked why I do it. The word
itself, larynx—from the Greek larunx—
as old as civilization itself, as the hollow organ
that gave us our first word. Or the old stories
that point toward metamorphosis,
like the man who swallowed fire & awoke
to a peach tree in bloom beside him.
All language is the revelation of our need:
to be nearest voice is to be nearest prayer.
It’s a kind of prayer, an intimacy, a recovery
of the missing, that has one swallowing
the dearest items, & calling it an accident.
I’ve become a counsel of sorts. A man gestures
at the x-ray, a pictograph of his story, trying to explain
the ring in his throat. I want to say it will be touched
somehow by the hidden gravities beneath it,
the pulsing dream clouds of the lungs,
the shuddering heart. Every word you utter
will ghost around her ring, will become a vow.