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Show me your equations,
swiftly-kissed numbers and signs
changing their clothes between brackets,
as if there were magic between a curved
wall and an empty space. Your verbs
detaching themselves from the shame
of their marked suffixes, adding colors
and hisses of snakes like bohemians
stuck between lines. In old times in old cities
in new bodies, there is in the middle
of Van Gogh's icy blue eyes, an explosion.
I will rewrite chemistry on your life-lines,
electric palm curling organically to accept
ninety-two small Greek names from which
my love and your love, or rather, the millions
of prisons making up my heart and your heart
decompose to compose a poem of stars
which never burn their atoms. Show me
your single shining face, lost among
temples of encyclopaedias. Every word
off your trembling lip is a god of the pantheon,
falling and falling again.
We return to this place:
sometimes with the pigeons,
sometimes with the wind.
Sometimes in the old man's cart
that trundles from a faraway village.
Sometimes with the child
with kohl-lined eyes in the prison
of his mother's arms.
This is the temple in which
the footprints erase themselves
with each prayer,
each drop of oil
offered to a goddess
with a large bosom
and small eyes.
We walk into it,
What interpretation can we give to the faint scent of incense?
What interpretation can we give to the changing of seasons,
the coming and going of pilgrims, the drinking of water
and the bowing on the floor?
To the blessings given and the sadnesses refused
by the goddess
with a large bosom
and small eyes.
Only the incense,
water, oil, feet,
Poem, accept the gift of my half-formed desire,
the cherry tomato I left on the cutting board
in the sun-lit kitchen, the stray golden thread
I pulled from my mother's embroidered dress,
the small wound on my thumb where it scraped
against the garden wall. This is where the bluebells
are; the honeysuckles; the pale-lipped lilies; the
drying geraniums; all subtle flowers. Out there,
I leave a round saucer of seeds for the birds,
but I have never seen them. I go back inside;
I make tea; I cut things for mother which she
might cook to make soup. Sometimes, I
try wearing something else than my skin.
No dresses fit, not my mother's, not mine.
My body is tender, fat, inexperienced.
refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon, 1982
“The first thing I saw were horses, dead horses behind around where that white building is…and I thought to myself, why would anyone kill a horse?” –Robert Fisk, journalist in Lebanon
When I can’t look any longer at the animal, shot down,
I close my eyes and draw it to its feet.
There was the broken teapot and two women, their clothes
torn open, and an infant.
A woman with half-singed hair runs through the camp,
a single snap, her breath like a sizzled wick,
her hair like harp strings the wind plucks.
The music makes my feet brick-heavy
as they scale the mound, thinking of all the steps
I’ve taken before and hate myself for wasting
as the dead horses stampede,
as the woman joins their dust-fused wake.
Then the hill sunk under my feet like a sigh.
How else do you say it—I stood on them,
what seemed a tarp-drawn embankment,
a hummock of corpses. Quicksand.
White building, throat necklaced
with clothesline, each scarf beats with a stolen pulse.
Too many to count.
The whole land nailed under that gallop.
When I looked up, the clouds muted the bulb of moonlight
or they wisped like scarves around the neck of a woman,
that perfume between light and darkness,
and I was still counting.
I counted the white-clothed canopies pinned to the mountainside,
as though they could drip down the stone-wall
like water and wash away.
That water jeweled with blood.
Your names like the sea’s broken glass.
I was counting when
you looked down on your animals
who leaned into your breath with wonder
at the wind stinging through their ribs,
was counting when you pulled the moon down into the sea, a pearl
on the tongue of an animal
too stupid to swallow your name and keep it there,
was counting from the cliffs every syllable
of light and water and leaf and bone,
braying your names like an incantation
against the loneliness of knowing you.
I listen for the wind yowling like a wounded dog, its burdened octave
nosing through the bullet-pocked palm trees.
I listen for the animal sealed in the basement. The grind of its teeth.
Survival. Hunger at the bottom of a well.
And when cold edges in from the splintered windows,
it’s my boots skimming the tile, my breath webbing the mirror.
A mouth of light
pointing like a compass needle.
I press my ear to the door, hear the grain’s slight heartbeat.
I hear tree roots spidering, their reaching, their thirst.
Hear footsteps lumber. I turn your name over like a stone in my mouth.
Why it boils over without apology. Why
lawns lining every home erupt
in the night, fevered by some unnamable sorrow.
Why the sky hides so often, a blister
I’ve fingered since childhood.
When it uses words like mercy
and regret, I lose myself in the backyard
the way a match loses its grip on the dark.
Here, between two pines, I might hear
what was once the gossip of sheets
my mother snapped against a line,
father’s shirts pinned shoulder
to shoulder, collars flared, buttons with nothing
to clutch. I think of the crickets who will later spark
the air with their duplicitous refrain,
how I will follow them, barefoot,
moss dusting my heels. And for what?
Tell me that if I look back now,
I won’t see how each grief solders us
to the next: a house clapped shut,
gagged, leaning into its hollowed bones.
Leaves, battered by wind, seized
between the tines of an abandoned rake.
Their ceaseless falling. How they wait
and wait to become tinder, then smoke,
then ash. How I cannot change it.
Even from birth, it is said that sky bonds
with a certain kind of child. For instance, this one:
his eyes like cellar doors sprung, each iris
a spiraling dervish. Bundled, his hair is the shade
of hysteria beneath a blanket’s scalloped hem—erratic, always escaping. Think ash. Think vellum, or wool
raveling its dense skeins down his collar, curls
that will drag shoulders broadened
by the eve of his thirteenth birthday.
Alone, he’ll cross lands flat as patchwork, drifting
east, the sun a spill of whiskey scorching his shadow
against the earth. Over the years he will begin
to forget his mother, father, the debris
of their smiles as they waved goodbye,
both arms buckled around the others’ waist.
He is left only to guess at the siblings
who may fill his place—a sister, all elbows
and scraped knees locked around the siren
of a rusted gate, or twins, brothers
dirt-streaked and thundering through thickets
of wisteria. In ritual, he still exists. Charms
strung at their throat, wrist.
For protection: clover bunched above windows,
the splintered lip of a vacant door. Nights,
one small voice reaches for the others,
a leaf wavering across the room, Will the sky ever return
him home? Can he find us on the map of his hand?
They fear the days blotted by clouds,
but know without a photograph this is all
they have of him. Swab of cheek, shadow thick.
Lips a rippled cumulus splitting the horizon.
They hold hands, knuckles steepled, and recite hymns
that tug at their throats like birds wrenching worms
free from an arid and unyielding
world. A world that trades prayers for magic,
logic for spells. They have yet to know
that nothing is holier than the body, the atlas
of its undoing: skin, breath, bone. All of it dust
blown into the pocket of a God they cannot touch.
Such care to construct with hair-thin screws
the American-red driving wheels,
three cabins cast all in chrome.
As if movement held a home
a house could not. As if such work
for the sake of leisure weren’t work at all,
and the tea-kettle call
of the hand-rubbed whistle a lament
more hours could not be spent so well.
And so twelve windows cut
from beveled glass, inviting passengers
to watch the world pass,
persuading me to press an eye and see
the shellac shining from each
set table, the napkins folded into flowers.
How many hours to paint
the landscape of a driftwood beach
and hang it straight
on its impossible nail? One could fail
a thousand times and feel
perfection in having finally done it.
As the conductor must,
his shoulders flecked with soot,
balancing his shovelful of coal forever
as he stares into the flames.
Even the tender box smolders like the dream
of a life left two towns back.
To watch it grapple along the track—
the whir of gears, of cogs packed
tight as feathers—is to be filled
with a sense of humungousness, the world
gone suddenly small. As if
the freight of the world were nothing
much at all. As if the tiny hand which urges
each car onward along the rails
were not my son’s but my father’s,
his fingers stilled and steady, the tremors
hammered back to true. But he is not a train,
only a man teetering to lift a train,
to turn it over in his hands then set it back
on its track and shuffle off somewhere.
If I stand there, as though waiting
for something that must surely come, I wait
as a man waits for a train.
I wait for the word Parkinson’s
to slip from my mind, a long black train
leaving its station, leaving me behind
in the living room of my father’s house,
with a handful of track to lay
and my son’s laughter as the engine
clears the final rail and rolls a little while on,
spurred by some slight ghost of motion
even after the tracks are gone.
How even night breeds light
with time, the eye’s dim
wattage dialed up, pitch black
sapped back to almost day.
Say a name, any name
enough, and watch that face
recede toward formlessness.
And so to call out so often
is now to call to nothing,
anything: a silver dollar
slipped inside a pocket, the lit
candle rehearsing its one
thought, a dead man’s arms
folded neatly as a love note.
It’s for you. It reads: the dead
dead long enough live
again. Trees or memories.
One life leavened, folded into
the next. Feather tucked
into feather, so that the air
might be held a moment again.
Up or in. A breath folded across
the tongue, sung or softly
spoken, a name, a note. It says:
A dark road goes on forever.
It says: If you are reading this
there must be light enough.
Sweet skill of the miniscule:
a month sketching eyelashes,
three years rehearsing the light
in late June on the skin of
a roughed-up half-rouged pear
in an earthen bowl. Picasso
perfecting his blues—azure,
midnight, Aegean, true—because
one or two would not do.
Because mood plays more
in the crook of the neckbones
than the silhouetted sea.
The shadow-work in Degas’
lurkers, the dancer’s toes
turned just so, just enough
to lever that left leg held forever
in arabesque. Angles for angels.
Such believable knees.
Those inflections of flesh,
chiaroscuro of scars, as yours,
the scar on your left knee nearly
exactly the shape of Paraguay,
of some undiscovered country
where you and I and a few
million strangers toil to conceive
one small good thing,
and call it love, and keep it ever
so small, so small we barely
believe it exists, so small
we can carry it with us always.
Each afternoon he took his pipe
and led his goats beyond the pasture
to a neighbor’s field behind his farm—
not exactly his but not exactly not.
As the goats clipped the tall grasses,
he sat in the chair he never failed
to bring. Sometimes he read, most often
not. The vetch climbed the goldenrod,
the dandelions turned from gold
to globe, and every day he went,
thinking to himself how good it was
to be almost but not entirely alone.
broke from my grip as I led
him from barn to arena. This had
never happened before. I stood
dumbfounded as he galumphed
across the meadow, saddled and bridled,
ducking his head to tear mouthfuls
of spring grass from the field.
The temptation of it all too much
for him. He stepped on his reins,
and I thought, either the reins will break
or he’ll slice his tongue. I watched
as the reins fell in two soft pieces.
I’d stayed out too late drinking
the night before, and I was unprepared
for the sudden rear and heave
of all that horse muscle. At the bar,
I’d been caught up in the gentle
attentiveness with which a friend
brought his ex-wife her ginger ale
and made sure she was happy, holding
the door as she left and asking
if she wanted him to walk her to her car.
At one point, she’d told me
she’d always regretted not going
to medical school. It was what her parents
had wanted, and perhaps the world needed
more doctors who cared about people.
The exes moved around each other
with the quiet assurance of those
who have shared close living quarters.
If I could have, I would have wished
that softness out into the world
like pollen that covers everything.
I’d stayed out later than I should have,
and now the horse was halfway
across the meadow to the hedgerow,
delighted to have the run
of the overgrown field, his bit
turning green from grassy froth,
the remains of his reins curled
like sunning snakes in the long grass.
I approached him slowly, looped half
a rein through his bridle, and led
his thousand pounds back to the barn.
He followed, a frayed strap
of leather between us coordinating
our movements, matching, momentarily,
his animal purpose to mine.
For a couple of years I volunteered
at the prosthetics center in the south wing
of St. Mary's Memorial. Every Thursday
I pushed the lab equipment up against
the walls, mopped the floor, moved it back.
I was basically a janitor, but they called
me a Lab Assistant, trying to make it
sound important. All the patients who
came in were missing something. Usually
it was an arm or a leg. A clean loss.
A stub that still moved. The kind of thing
you would think of. But other times
it wasn't. This one guy had skin
where his nostrils should be. A fire maybe.
This girl was missing three fingers and part
of her palm. Probably an accident
with a handgun, but she was so young.
I would mop the floor and try to guess
what had happened to everyone. Watch
as they practiced walking across the room
with silicone toes. Listen carefully
as they dropped spoons on the clean floor
from experimental hands.
The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough.
He lies on sodden cardboard behind bushes
in the churchyard. Wrapped in faded red. A sleeping bag
he found or traded for. Dark stains like clouds
before a downpour. The stone wall beside him rising,
always rising, the edges of stone going blunt
where the choirboy climbs. He opens his mouth,
but nothing goes in and nothing comes out.
Like the sideshow man who long ago lost
his right testicle to the crossbar of a Huffy.
He peddles the leftover pain. The stitches clipped
a week later by his father, the fiberglass bathtub
running with color, the puffy new scar,
the crooked look of the pitted half-sack.
He tells me you only need one nut, and I want
to believe him. I want to believe he can still
get it up. I want to believe he has daughters, sons,
a grandchild on the way, a wife at home
in a blue apron baking. But why this day-old bread
from the dumpster, this stash of hollow bottles
in the buckthorn, this wrinkled can of Pabst?
The Lord came down because God wasn’t enough.
Because the childless man draws the bathwater
and cries. Because the choirboy never sings
as he climbs. Because the bread has all molded
and the mouths are all open. Open to the clotting air.
Homeless, anything helps. Anything. Anything you can
spare. God bless you, God bless you, God bless. God,
Lord God, God God, good God, good Lord very good God.
I get everything I need for free.
These boots came from the factory
dumpster on the far side of town.
This hat was molding on the kitchen
floor in the foreclosed home
I picked through. This coat, this
backpack, this brand-name headlamp.
I got this cornmeal behind the grocery
store, this flat bread behind the bakery,
this french press in the alleyway
next to the coffee shop in uptown.
This bible in a bum camp,
this banjo in a trashcan, this headless
mannequin in a free-pile outside Honest
Ed's Antiques. The British call it
skipping. The Brazilians call it living,
call it vida. Vida fora de nada. Life
out of nothing. I bike past the butcher's
on Pike and find a bag full of pigs.
None of them whole. A few sets
of hooves, a half torso, two heads,
another head with no nose, a leg, a pile
of coiled tails slowly uncoiling
like white worms taken out of a hole.
Most of it going musty, the muscle
falling away from the fascia,
the skin drained of color and feeling
like withered pumpkin. But some
of it might be good. A pair of milky
gloves is clumped up and tangled
among the little hairless tails.
I dig them out. I blow to check
for holes. I begin sorting the pigs.
The mound is still fresh
where her husband’s body rests.
She lies next to it,
cold October dirt on her skirt,
as if she’s ready to sink into the earth
she hasn’t finished paying for yet.
For now, she just wants to take a short nap
with her husband,
mother, father, brother—
The gold has worn off their headstones,
She’ll repaint them all one day
when she wakes up.
We were born in the crease of a map.
You won’t find us, generations smudged
and broken from over folding.
Pointing out where you've been,
and where you'd like to go, you won't find us,
for fingers only run from bold to bold.
Impatiently unfolding, side of the road,
wind blowing, you won't find us,
we are not a place, for orienting selves.
We were born in the crease of a map,
crevice between once pointed mountains
now just hills, still eroding.
“Traditionally, the sons don’t carry the coffin,”
the funeral director instructs the family
in the proper emotional etiquette.
“The oldest son’s role is to support his mother.”
The widow adjusts a button on her husband’s overalls.
“They’d like to do it anyway.”
She doesn’t look up from the casket,
as the brothers place mementoes inside,
a root of wild ginseng, a single bullet shell, a feather.
They are experienced in this line of work.
Their solid bodies have found frequent employment
carrying men who have died too soon.
Their backs can handle this burden—
It is the weight of the living
that is so much harder to bear.
The body is an emergency machine. The body
is what happens once desire's
found succor to ride + dusty miles to cover +
a stream to drink from + after all that, desire
will have discovered what it needs to rescue + this
is how the body becomes, why the small ratio
between holes + fingers, height + hearing range.
I watched my wife cry as the plane shook + thought
of the plants we'd left unwatered
at home because the body's a forgetting machine
with hair, because the body too is a single
obsessive answer to the question what to do
with all this water? The plane
shook and shook like a fat man laughing, like
the green flap of fabric on my wife's winter coat
as we pushed our way, lakeside, to some party
or place I can no longer recall because the body
is deja vu. The body
is a watch the clock of the heart straps on
as accessory + the body is some
uncrunchable sum of desperate minutes. The plane
shook. My wife beside me was crying. Prayers
were dug for through veins because the body is
a relatively intuitive container for tricky path-
ways. The body is a vessel minutes pass through
like leaves cascading from letting-go autumn trees
through the empty lot at street's end
of the street I grew up on
+ when the plane touched down + the landing
gear held my wife's eyes said all all our bodies
felt because the body is a wind-up toy +
its only line I want more. The way the ground
suddenly looked after we'd wondered if we'd ever
get to gently press our stupid feet against
its neck again. The way the sacred is revealed
in the skimpy everyday, the smallest just-looking
glance, how the body is the opposite of an x
-marked spot, not the map but
the worn folds of the map, the shape the route
reatains between consultations.
we'll name her happenstance. or wait-and-see.
we'll name her storm-we'll-now-be-stuck-within
forever. at the lake
i tell the dog
go get the stick because
it's just a thing—
not fulfilling, not like the tomatoes
ellen waits for, in a deck chair, our kid
inside her kicking, me bringing her fruit
or vegetables. whichever. ask me if
i care, the name, a shape we give our tongues
so that we may call this of-us something.
the dog retrieves the stick, shakes off the lake,
i throw the stick again + off he goes,
sure of exactly what he's pursuing.
we'll name her everything we cannot say.
Tomato plants tipping over from their too-
much growth in August wind,
branch ends redly waving like irritated hands
on holiday trees, all this in rain forecasters
call derecho, wet pounding ground
like a locked-out lover, like picked-on kid
w/bully at his back, the shake + shiv of it, sky
gone tupperware, deep leftoverblue, if you
are of the midwest this was youth:
summer fun traded for trots downstairs, dad grabbing
the beat-up battery-powered radio
+ you hoping nobody'd notice the big flashlight
nearly dead from the hours
you spent pressing it against flesh
hoping yield, hoping vision, that enough
lumination would or could overwhelm the dark
you knew wasn't all that deep in
or down, urge to squash frogs while barefoot, urge
to set wet wrigling worms on dry sidewalk
+ watch their writhing till it faded
like firecracker smoke, then a wave
of hail finding galvanized trashcans you left out
because rocks + how the stopsign offers
its dull dings in exchange for
your pitches, we'd play Uno, Go Fish, neither parent
eyeing the cracked window or scolding me
for all I left to the mercy of elements: either wind hit
+ discomfitted landscape or trashcans
stayed put @ driveway's end because because,
because storm +past that who knows,
because what light we flash into dark
whispering succumb is or will never be
enough, because now the sky's gone pink with post
-storm wonder as I pick a path
through fallen fruit, everything wet + smelling sweet
Near Poynette, our waxwings fail.
Snow sets on winded kites, frozen lake
creaking, clinging waveless below us
to its boughs of concrete breakers,
its woven bits of sidewalk, its snowed-in sandbars.
On the bridge, our mute engineering gives us away;
our car tracing the cold, gray-breasted
kestrel of highway. We park in the vacant
lot; the sky scarce, its tumbling
throat threshed too lush, we are gathered
like unnested petrol in the clammy palms of the clouds,
the trembling glass of the shoreline’s mirror.
We follow the snowmobile tracks on to the ice,
out to a center spilt birch, flightless,
yet starling, we auger a hole in the water,
its dark eyelet healing slowly, slowly
clotting thin again with slushed gray.
We take the solitary hawks of our hearts out,
and chill them in the same water to survive.
There is the place in the trees where men stand
to kill deer; past the storm fence, past the snow
depreciating in banks near the Beltline.
Two doe there now, bowed at stalk,
scuff their snouts in the wrecklings of soy.
They ignore the proud husks of our houses,
the cars panting through the salted, winter core,
the new snow drifting like shredded documents.
Seven weeks without work
and still this gaunt light, this dawn wind
wraps our skinned roofs in white gauze.
Still the same kids walking, their jackets soaked,
zippers stuck, dripping progress in the snow.
Outside school, a last lope of them smoke
near the door; kids set hushed from the knife drawer,
not grown enough to grist, crumbs of gray
snow gathering in the seams of their jackets.
I sop the entrance rug with the boot-slush
of a world that is its own camouflage.
I track what’s left of our fields through the hall.
Seven weeks without work and still, thank god,
here is the part of each morning that knows
I am as much grain as these kids, as much dripping
pant-cuff beneath desk, that knows the fading warmth
of my quiet engine will join them
in fogging the windows of the classroom with life.
It is the glacial span of the disordinary places
we are born into that grind us to crawl
inside the cinder-glown covers of each other,
that make us create ever new concoctions
of bourbon. Are you corporeal enough
to reach out your hand to us tonight?
To tell us how many hours of darkness
you are made of, how many hours of light?
It’s ok. Take your time. Unbalance. Balance.
We all blink awake at the center
of the same frozen lake and must go forward.
The shoreline littered with remote outposts,
a distance of fires running before our deepest cables,
already fraying, crackling with the tangled signals
of far off, flirting, flare-eyed kids.
We all blink awake and drift on their red electricities;
their bonfires waving, but not wavering, like ours.
No matter how distant we grow, no matter how old,
no matter the surplus or deficit or dystopia we leave them,
the lights of our children burr to us, gleam us forward,
and, if we’re lucky, will never let go.
At first, standing in the
back yard with leaves
falling in all directions,
it seems the sky
is bluer today than usual,
the terrestrial world
composed of colored paper,
a symphony of paper falling,
shifting in the wind.
But the sky has not changed.
The whole universe
is a simple matter
of contrast: one thing
juxtaposed with another
changes both. The bluer the sky,
the brighter the trees burn,
and vice versa.
is just a small box
interrupting miles of woods
and the woods are a house without walls.
After a long winter of snow
drifting, a phantom hill
appears in the front yard.
It can’t be climbed; I
sink waist deep in it
trying. The dried leaves
on the beech trees
all tilt the same way
(yes, it matters—East)
though the air is still,
and the pines still lean.
This time of year,
the rest of the landscape
locked in ice, birds
become units of time.
And then one afternoon, walking
through the frozen woods, there’s
that moment devoid of birds.
Misreading the cover of a National Geographic,
I think there is an article on “How Planets Mate”.
The word, of course, is plants but the photograph
is of an unnamed planet,
swirled red and gold
on its shadowed surface,
backlit with the purple glow
of celestial mist. No wonder
my mind floods with explosions,
great meetings of heat and light
electric in the vast emptiness.
For surely it would be a violent
process, a cataclysmic kind of love
to bring forth the offspring pictured.
Standing in the grocery store, I am suddenly
overcome with lust, unable to remember
potatoes and artichokes, butter or light bulbs
or any of the things I thought
I needed when I left to come here,
unable to remember where I parked the car.
Across the middle of the cover, on the dark
part of the planet, is the title that actually goes
with the photo, the one I missed at first.
Are We Alone? it asks in bold letters.
I can’t decide on an answer.
He swallows the last spoonful
of prunes, their soft rapture
in his mouth. Then the jar
is washed under play of light,
then the boy’s mouth
is wiped with a cloth.
He squalls for a moment, then
stops. Everything is restored.
Chime of spoon in the sink.
The boy is lifted out of his seat,
legs swimming in the slow
element. He is a small seal.
The kitchen ebbs and flows,
sleek afternoon sunshine.
I want to end the poem here,
with the boy just now placed
in his crib, just now slipping
into the silvery minnows
of his dreams, a disorder of shine,
particles of motion flickering
beneath the surface.
I want to end it
before harm comes to him.
Harm will come. It’s the kind of knowledge
that ruptures and won’t
repair—an ocean that keeps
The day moves with the gradual logic
of drowning. Evening fills the house.
Oh, where are you? Where are you going?
The mother folds up the ocean
and shuts it in a cupboard.
It’s how all great dramas end:
everything is restored except safety.
An eggshell of ice on the pond
But by ten, it’s liquid black again
under a clear sun.
Small fish scissoring below the surface.
The cold comes like a breath
of smoke over the farms, then vanishes.
The next night, a little closer.
Mushrooms shrivel and leave their nightgowns
on the orchard floor.
I hope I’m alive when I die.
I’d like to hear the corridors
between the fruit trees
filling with falling snow.
Dawn drifts out of the blue earth.
A herd of deer move over the field, one shared dream
of grasses and wind.
The small stones of their hooves in the stony field.
I’ve exhausted my cruelty.
I’ve arrived at myself again.
The sun builds a slow house inside my house,
touching the stilled curtains, the bottoms of cups
left on the table.
Before the insects start to grind their million bodies,
before impulse scatters the deer into the trees,
there’s a rest.
The dawn and the day observe each other.
Already my brain is retrieving its alphabets.
Already light is filling the unmangled world.
Ohio, my love, it was a lie—my claim
that I’d never stood in a wheat field, never
held an ear of corn in my hand, slippery
kernels like buttons between eager fingers.
I’m sorry I said I saw only gray
bones of pavement under rust-licked faces.
Ohio, I hid my face from you when I left,
because in truth, I was born on a tilled plot
of my mother’s corn-fed sorrow, harvested
and suckled by yellow funnels of wind.
And in truth, there was a wheat field, sharp
with empty stalks, soft with fingers.
In truth, there were many.
I had put them all away, but lately
I’ve been combing through them at night.
I braid their brittle sheaths, finding more
and more of them empty.
Some crumble in my hands.
That’s how sorry I am.
Again, the old dream of Ohio—I am trying to forgive
myself for it: the sagging window in my little sister’s room,
glass heavy with the shadow of our grandfather’s hands,
gnarled and huge on her body, the pane’s reflection shifting
on her cheek, the flailing of the dogwood’s silent arms
transposed on her face, empty beneath its skin like a leather sack—
she’d left it already. She’d swum deeper than I knew.
On the phone, I tell her I never forgot her face full of frantic
branches, or my own, dumb at her bedroom door that day,
my useless shame. Or her voice, like a tongueless bell being hit
when she told me, years later, that she knew I was there—
that she had seen my reflection in the window. Some nights,
I dream the world falls through my fingers, leaving
only traces of meaning there like sap in the morning,
my empty hands stuck to one another, a useless prayer.
I dare to ask her about forgiveness, and she tells me
the time-hollowed dogwood outside our old house—the one
suspected long-dead—was carted away last week in chunks.
Among the refuse on the bed of the truck was one bloom,
still stuck to its crumpled branch, she says, a tiny shock
of white—doomed, but bright against the mass of ashen wood.
The cats blink at us all night, clocks
without numbers. Ohio’s violet morning
light tells them to listen for the soft clink
of pebbles in a dish. Your sleeping hands,
half-curled, form two fleshy boats that float
my body not to you, but to your body.
I’m leaving, and I know you think I’m greedy,
carting my body away like this—
newly sutured, shrinking into the animal
snarl and cinch of sickness, refusing
the bow of your big hands, your plans
left billowing in the lonely wind of not
being needed. Your sleeping hands ask me
what can be made of this new disease
without their offerings of cut hyacinth, clean
bed sheets? But the body speaks
another tongue entirely. I am only a wall of skin,
damming a river of blood, ready to be let run
and run. And what good is skin like mine, held
up to the violent glint of scalpels, needles—
tools made for helping lift so quickly the flesh
from the body like wax paper, crumpled
then into the sterile blue of some plastic dish.
They have carved all the need out of me.
Consider the cats, who were born indoors.
The tidy pellets of dry food and the corner
of a bed are all they know of need. But without it,
they will leave—elsewhere,
there are miles of breathable, useless green.
Released from hospital, I followed the road downhill
past ordinary shops, market traders with colouring books
and punnets of blood-red strawberries,
a Big Issue vendor trying to sell me his last,
Easter chicks and painted eggs arranged in windows
ghosted by faces that vanished and rose.
Where high street opened onto quay,
lobster pots were piled against an old stone wall,
further on boats were huddled, shifting flank to flank
and from a page of sea three fairy-tale swans
rose into the sky - wings spreading and closing
as tides surged then broke, littered the sand with shells.
Air was moving through my lungs again
after straining all night propped on useless pillows,
the sun breathed on everyday water
igniting swans’ reflections - flight feathered gold.
was the game we played, squeezing hands
during the Our Father
at 10:30 Mass. The winner: whoever hurt longest
in silence. Only the small muscles
of sisters. The brittle glow
of her hair, its morning smell of butter
and eggs. Glasses hooked around my ears, lenses
thick as Oreos. Learning compassion
must be begged for. But what we knew
of begging was singing
orphans in musicals. And all I knew of need
was the dollar Richard Barry gave me
to tell people I was his girlfriend,
folded in my pocket though the collection basket
had passed. All I grasped of her hands
at that age was their color: green-white,
sticky, bruised. Like squeezing a pear.
Her body bent over the pew, driven to sound
but kept quiet. Call it ruthless, or resistless.
Blame it on the edges of our playground,
where gentleness was just a lack
of something stronger. Or the way deliver us
sounded in Latin. I thought belief could
be touched, her pulse quickening in my hands.
I have not forgotten what it looked like.
Even now, the danger is forgetting how it matters—
matters he’s become a story you tell yourself,
or rather, retell,
which is to say, less the telling, and more, ever,
an ache in its direction: a story
he stands waiting to hear, and you want to tell it
without having any part in it, and he can smell it
on you, this shift from pheromones to a guilt
that daubed its thin perfume behind the ears.
Insufficient, the merely irresistible. His eyes—the distant towns and small cities
of your body, unlit; Let’s not Let’s not
a stammering extremely sure
you have no idea what it is you don’t want, the saltiness
of words of love and the instinct not to,
of what beats
and is beaten, which is to say, the heart, which says, as usual,
we have ourselves a problem. Slumped and buttoned, quiet
as sacks of meat. Don’t look at me
like that, all shadow-bitten, like one of those white dogs
a person can make of his hands.
There was a glass on the windowsill. I broke it.
A song you liked about a paddleboat, a baby boy.
I refused to sing it. I did not eat the eggs you made,
your brittle toast. I feared I wouldn’t like the taste
and so I chose not to act. I’m actively sorry.
I cannot hold you. There are cats on your mattress
to console you. When you woke up on the train
your backpack was gone again. It’s probably okay
to blame me. There is a storm cloud stirring
over Toledo for which I am likely accountable.
And also for the splinters in your fist, the bitchy fence
that bore my resemblance. There is a lamppost
leaning towards the ground, its light long gone.
A moth that has given up. The month
of June is polluted with the disappointment
of empty bottles, the spoiled hope of plump
tomatoes. It will be hard for you to ever feel
full again. It will be hard for you to forgive me.
Darling, I have made you an omelet.
I have taken out the trash for you.
I will not wake you. I will walk the dog
for you and for you, I will wait
in the car while you run into the store—
you’ll just be a minute— and ten minutes
later I still love you. I love your cold
hands up my shirt when you get home
from work and I love that you work
at the bagel shop. I love your bagels.
You smell like scallions and garlic
and your shoes are the shoes
of a humble man. Your brown dusty shoes
next to my brown dusty shoes
at the foot of our bed, the untied laugh
of shoes. We laugh in bed when the dog
licks our toes in the morning, and I laugh
when you speak into my bare chest
in a Darth Vader voice and tell me you love me.
You tell me you love me when we fight
about the thermostat or who spent more on groceries
and I fight a little less with you, I soften
and cry, and when I cry, you stop
your yelling. You stop smiling when I tell you
what to do or how to fold the towels, and I
am working on that. You are working on
chivalry and I appreciate your efforts. You open
my car door on the way to the Dollar Store and I feel like
a fucking princess. It takes very little
to please me, and I am pleased
that you have acknowledged my new red dress.
You also look very nice, a little wild, always
combing your hair against its natural part,
your flamboyant exclamation of hair.
I say, “Let’s touch base later about dinner”
and you say, “I’ll always touch
your base.” We drink beer in the park
and eat ice cream in the dark. Together,
we peel mangoes. Together, we get out of
the car to look at the fat orange
moon dipping itself into the dark fondue of trees,
the sky so vast, it silences us. Sometimes I worry
when we’re this quiet. “We’re in this together,”
I say, and you say, “How about we just be quiet
for a minute.” How about you just count
the stars, and I will connect the dots
Out on the fire
escape the rainwater
darts between the iron slats
then falls in larger form
upon the black
umbrellas that clot
through the runoff
their muddied bodies
to the curbs, to the streets
and curbs again.
The fuse is blown and so
no spark to enflame
us or need to let the ladder
down. It’s something of
a hush, but don’t call this
silence—for which chord
would you choose to choke
among the others?
The sirens desist.
Let this last light fall
away, it’s winter
whimper sad as some
all moan and tears.
In the moment of upsuck, quiet eye
of the storm that was your mouth
I thought every tender part of me
had broken. Replaced with
that even then
would not let me
set you down.
Westley. I speak your name here
so you will know me
in your first months:
shade of myself. Flickering
in and out of view.
I didn’t want a daughter, only
a son. I could never wish this on you.
A flurry of red hairs
pooled in the drain –
of my loveliness
a death knell.
It was not
the first time
my hair fell
free of me.
For years after
your grandmother died
I pulled it out.
When you were
four weeks old,
I cried in a salon.
Told the hairdresser:
cut it all off.
At 11:53 that horrible nurse
dumped you on my chest.
Westley, my firstborn boy,
I’d given birth
to a small stranger.
A stocky thing
with my eyes,
blue-tinged and mewling.
I could feel all the anger
go into me, could calmly
flay a man
for not supporting your head.
I was selfish. I wished you to look
of dark hair,
Or my mother, thin-
lipped and slim, blonde
tendrils of her
But the features you drew from me
were all my father:
elfin ears that stick out
at the tip, double-cowlick,
even the twice-jointed thumbs
that scared us at first.
My father, who never called:
you wore him like a curse.
Even your eyes
are really his
a mirror within a mirror
spiraling through history.
There were times I was primordial, barely
lifting us two from the slime, the muck,
tripping from couch to kitchen
and back. Trapped
suction tubes to my breasts.
Human, animal, extraterrestrial –
how does any life exist?
How have any mothers
Love is something you and I
have stumbled on, Westley.
A disease that needed time
to gestate. We just are.
Impossibly loud, skin
to skin – binary stars.
Down in the mud she hollows a grotto no bigger
than an ear, lays her eggs in the darkness and quivers
over them, incessantly circling her clutch
until my spade descends to scatter the nest.
I want to take her doting as a lesson, remember
the way her pincers repulse me even as she uses them
to carry her young, fastidiously cleaning each one of fungi
and the strangeness I had exposed them to.
In seven days, the nymphs will emerge translucent
and horrible, molting darker and larger with each instar,
devouring the food she regurgitates: my wisteria
and red lettuce, the dahlias I raise and stake each year.
And if I am generous, in the spirit of motherhood,
I will leave them all for the chickens.
Your father says you’ve all got a bit of the werewolf
in you, and continues shoveling. He drawls the word werewolf
until I swear I see it arc out from his lips – or else
the heat is playing tricks on me. Turning pumpkin seeds to wolf’s
teeth. Sweat curls the hairs on your neck as you rupture the earth
beside him, ignoring our conversation, the lone wolf
as always. I try to see the beast rippling beneath the skin
of this old man, but the wrong celestial body bears down on us. Wolves
need moonlight like these rows need water. Like your father needs to
disappear from the house. And before, I never thought werewolf
when he would irrigate at dusk, but now the image of his pelt
reflected in those flooded fields comes unbidden. The wolf
in him calling to coyotes in the distance. Flaring with
the temper you remember from childhood, when the wolf
could hardly be kept from the door. But your own temper comes only
as a snarl, and you turn away from me – docile as you ever were.
These poems will be posted when the author provides them.
When I put my violin away
and cover it with its velvet cloth,
I think of old Ludwig,
his hair sweeping into its cliché
I consider my fingers, tired
from all their articulating,
and put them to sleep in my pocket.
My violin in its long black case
waits at the corner of my room,
while Beethoven sleeps permanently
in some soft corner of Austria.
Though they’ll be cooking dinner soon,
awakening to hold a knife and slice lemons,
my fingers, calloused from pressing strings,
still take the shapes of sonatas.
How in the morning the sunlight steals brightness from my bagel
and bathes the kitchen table in the cool white of cream cheese.
And how the quietness and wintering of my breakfast in the attic room
with the windows overlooking the staggered rakes of the trees
edging my property.
And how the confusion of the birds nesting there
invites a questioning of winter and birds, the politeness of each other
to let the other one know its forwarding address until April.
And how the exact shade of my tea in its ceramic cup
is the color the ground has returned to
underneath the brilliant blank gramophone of snow.
And how morning seems the perfect time for list-making.
How the loose knit of my sleeves just touches
the beginnings of my fingers. How the roughness of beauty
and my own mind thinking thoughts
spreads onto the floor and into the cupboards.
I want the sound of my knife slicing through
to the hollow of seeds at the center,
juice running out all over the board. I want
to tell of the rind’s smooth fingernail holding the fruit.
Here I go again. Elevating melons. All I want
is to eat a melon. All of it
unless there’s someone who’ll share it with me.
That’s what I really want. Someone
to share a melon with. Someone to help me observe
the gradient in the slices, the thin green
chasing into the almost-white in the middle. No.
Someone to tell me it’s only a melon
and then, but it is the best melon.
Late at night, we bike through lower Manhattan,
weaving around parked cars, sirens coursing
through our bodies. I’m scared but don’t
show it. This is how we play. Here are the rules
and here is how to break them: bike faster
than you think you should. Keep the chain
oiled. Always allow for a better route. Wait
to cross the street, but on the other side is something
beautiful. A tree grows out of a decaying building,
leaves through the shattered pain. Our shadows
elongate on the bridge, mine nearly
touching yours. Your shadow doesn’t have teeth.
Pigeons navigate by the earth’s magnetic field,
their biological compass. And mine? Home
is the bicycle lock, its heavy chains,
the rain-soaked sneakers, fevered eyes,
the one-last-time gasp that pulls my body into yours
because we forget then that we ever needed to solve
this distance. The orange-eddied light
of a street lamp, the girl on your arm. These
are my constellations. Mocking
moons. One day, someone will pour water
on this city. The buildings will crumble,
each apartment, a life raft. Then we will slosh
towards each other holding our hearts above
our heads, searching for that beautiful
something in the wreckage.
She arrives in her ex-boyfriend’s sweatshirt carrying a backpack twice the size
of her torso.
How was the flight, I say.
The parents didn’t think I’d be able to travel alone, she says. But I’m great at airports—
like it’s the one true story of her life.
It’s so flat here, she says. She has never been west of Pennsylvania.
I was twelve when she was three. In Central Park, maples bending
with the weight of spring,
I tried to make her walk faster, putting my hand flat on her small back and pushing.
She fell down—
gravel stamped into her chin,
a scrape the shape of California.
When she was fifteen, we rode the train to the end of the line, hiked
the hills above the Hudson. When I put
my hand on her back, she said, Trust fall.
She swayed backwards into me. We both stayed upright.
We are driving now on 94-West. Winter makes everything the same color—
here a silo. There, frozen wheat. Ragged poplars.
She yelps when we pass a dead deer, its legs askew like bare branches. She has been a vegetarian since she was nine.
Even the roaches, emerging from city sewers every summer
She swept them away with a broom.
It might be my right to say, Love hard. You’re beautiful.
Don’t slam any door. Roll the windows down.
Late afternoon, the sky a deep, stubborn blue. Sunlight spilling onto the fields,
When you trust someone’s driving, you can sleep the whole ride,
Then she closes her eyes.
The way the skeletal house in Romance, Wisconsin (unincorporated)
slouches into itself, the beams sliding to meet the walls
to meet the floor, but it still stands. How I ran
past the lake yesterday, and maybe it was the way
the thick clouds broke open just above the horizon line
into a yellowing blue, or it was the ducks that straddled
the lake’s surface, all in a row. It wasn’t
that I was running, which I always did, long before
you started chasing me. Your mother once used the word zaftig
and I want to apply it to the clouds. At the farmer’s market
this morning a woman was wearing your school’s sweatshirt.
I can’t open my mouth wide enough to eat an apple,
so I keep slicing smaller pieces. The scab on my hand
looks like a heart. I have your stuffed arm, the Casio watch
on its wrist still keeps east coast time. The man
across from me on the bus coughs like he has something
lodged in his boots, and if the world righted itself,
you’d be home when I got there, roasting beets.
And did I mention that it’s fall now? Even the spiders
recognize the change. They’re all moving faster. Sunset
is an hour later here, even if later is relative,
and I’m learning to play the harmonica,
so there’s something to be said about inhaling
and exhaling, but always it’s the music that I remember.
A light on the ocean, a ship, the land
holding the margin of the water.
Soon, beaches are named, coastlines
gathered into soft maps to fold across the knees.
A whole winter passes, and another,
and out of darkness come more boats,
unloaded and stripped, left skeletal
in the inlets, while the sky opens
to a new set of stars. Houses are
set down, houses house. A colony.
Later this coming will be imagined
the same way as any other:
the Garden, let’s say, and Adam and Eve
are bright bodies on some shore
of green, as green as the one we dreamt
for the settlers because who can distinguish
branch from branch? In the end
here could be anywhere. A bird passing over
is so like the gray sky it is lost.
Still, we stay through another winter,
clothe ourselves, light our first fires.
House: Shape of a house’s roof and walls
You make the house from the air,
you make the house around the heart.
You build with your hands from the roof down,
the walls holding the lungs, the walls holding
the trachea, the bile in the stomach.
Outside I’ve fixed a universe,
flat and white as a tablecloth.
Maybe there is snow in the grass,
maybe there is snow in the trees.
Toilet: Also bathroom, lavatory, restroom, washroom
They won’t let you go.
Nurse brings a plastic urinal.
No, you sign.
Nurse draws the curtain, slippery hiss and stop.
Darkness: Hands shade the eyes from light
With eyes closed, breathing
is the divided sound the ocean makes.
The ocean is close and can’t be heard.
Music: Demonstrates the rhythm
de-de da. de-de da.
this is not a heart beat.
de-de da. de-de da.
infusion pumps sound
around the bed.
silence can be de-de da
achieved de-de da
by a button marked
de-de da with a red bell
we aren’t allowed de-de da
to touch. de-de da. de-de da.
sometimes Nurse doesn’t come at all.
Empty, Naked: Indicates a vacant space
Three days and everything is filled.
The ambulance bay, the highway.
There are so many entrances into the woods.
Today you might keep walking.
A deer will come to the dark patch beneath the apple tree
and bend her head to eat where the snow is less.
Scream: The hand seems to take a loud sound from the mouth and direct it outward
Candles, another good bottle
brought to the cleared table, swarm
of children darting in the backyard.
The bat had to be mad
to enter during the evening’s buggiest hours
to inch along the molding
and flatten in the curtain folds until—
dishes dried, kids tucked—it swooped
from the stairwell into one
of the boys’ rooms. Aimless chase,
and we cornered it down in the mudroom,
but then it disappeared
into the infinite nowhere of our clutter,
immortal just like that—toxic poop
and imperceptible fatal bite in every
deep cupboard, every stack of towels,
every tool bag. Three nights we stood shifts
in the darkening yard. I held the rake
for courage and beheld the stage,
the lit mudroom, waiting for a flutter,
a fleck of brown, a flicker of certainty
to confirm location, manner,
existence. All around, the loud lawn
like an unsettled audience—crickets
and cicadas, restless catcalls jeering
the old show. Watched or not, this crowd
gathers again and again. Night is a belly
of bugs and the free bats leave
their roosts in trees and chimneys,
signaling flight with ultrasonic clicks,
a neutral, hollow sound—
surprisingly un-mammalian—the sound
of thought, the sound that asks you
not to pull apart the pieces of night—
a snake’s rattle, but much slower,
the freewheel on a bicycle coasting downhill,
an invisible child dragging
a stick along a fence, the lullaby
I concocted for our infant son
those million nights of his waking—
the flag says thwap thwap thwap,
the fan says clickity clack, the lights go
blinkity blinkity blinkity blinkity blinkity
black—a song I never sang very gently,
but with a kind of conviction.
On Sundays, after the service, by the back door,
the pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran leaves out
for the birds what remains of the communion bread.
And our old hound loves to eat more than Earth
loves a sinner—watch him tongue his empty dish
around the front porch like a prayer. So when
he tows me tripping past polite conversation
on the green to the blessed spot, his trembling legs,
his quaking collar, the unhurried sun, the bread—
the fresh, crusty loaves, their holy grain—devoured
almost before it has been touched—where is the strength
to tighten the leash? We are beasts of appetite—
guiltless and famished, willing and sane—
and to want and to offer are almost the same.
Here the dull knives here the picnic dishes the vined teacups
the white sheets on the line that work the air of the cooler days
like sails like lost souls like wings that need more imagining
filling the yard huffing and brimming here the seventy-year-old
antlers the glass buoys the miniature cairns of white pebbles
yellowed paperbacks checkers frayed semaphore flags
the tightly furled nests in the eaves of barn swallows here
the swallow swooping whirling screeching frantic to return
to the four wet beaks here the tall grasses the path out
to the gravestone like a trick map like a prank like an incomplete
thought here the dip in the lawn where the groom found the bride
here the fever of remembering—here the work we do we love to do—
here the baby in my mother’s lap drifting through his dream
of the whine of an outboard here on the porch the sweet globe
of a plum here the tooth that pierces the peel like a door
burst open like a flood like an afterlife here the children
engulfing the house in a game of sardines each one tucked tighter
into the pooled dark of the closet until a single child is left
to enter the room calling out sensing in the hush that the rest
have found each other her hand lingering on the doorknob.
In your last living minute,
after sending a bullet
through your temple
to lodge below your shell-shaped ear—
you are five again,
chasing the Ohio river’s curve,
free from our mother’s clasping hand.
Two pennies, two pebbles,
and a spoon slap against your thigh.
Overwhelmed, pockets heavy,
you tip into the swelling
blue water. The sun dives
into the horizon. The end
of a long cloudless day.
Pleasure disappoints, possibility never.
The dog and I run smooth
as pistons, two cogs
in the fetch machine, one task
each: mine, to throw
the ball into the field; hers
to bring it back to me.
Or we’re scientists, and this
is our field work, testing
the fetch hypothesis: If retrieving increases
the energy of the retriever, perpetual
motion is possible…
Or we’re two sides of an endless argument:
me saying, Get rid of this ball!
her saying No, let’s keep it.
No--that that would mean
she wins when I quit,
arm aching, the ball
in my pocket—and this
is her least favorite moment.
Never mind the lure
of the silver bowl towered
with kibble. Dinner
doesn’t last, so neither
does hunger. So neither
does the pleasure.
So fetch is her answer
to the riddle of desire—
this game where I give her exactly what she wants
and she still never has to stop chasing it.
Sunday you ask for a map of my body:
Include tattoos, bruises, scars.
Oil drips into the bay, a tiny planet
ringed blue-purple, the brilliant star
before it vanishes. I find a new junkyard,
shattered teak and barnacled steel, a tangled heap
of rusty road signs, a rowboat overflowing
with bicycle wheels. Everything I see
I want to describe to you. Instead of things
there are words for things. And there’s no way
to know that you mean what I mean
when we look at the sky and say blue but
we keep talking anyway, telling ourselves
the story of ourselves, until night
washes out into morning and the sunrise is only
one mile from everyone. The ducklings beg
for bread at my transom and I give them
the whole loaf. It sinks like a stone. I give them
a stone. I know it is good to be full
but it is also good to be hungry, and I am,
for your skin, for your voice, for the mouth
it comes out of. Now that I miss you I’m
across the country. When I’m alone
nothing is relative. I’m learning
to talk with my hands, and they say the empty
shape of you, all the holds I found: your hipbone,
your shoulder blade, the arch of your foot
behind my head. But I can also say tree branch,
pilings, captain’s hat. I can also say
goodbye, goodnight. Don’t try to listen, just put
your hands on my hands, your thighs
on my thighs, your breath in my lungs. Your mouth
to my ear, but don’t whisper anything.
If you want something, ask
but not out loud. My skin. Every scar. The sound
of the water underneath me. It’s all we have, and if
it were enough it would never be worth it.
I’m tired of the way love turns us into animals.
I’m tired of roaring. I’m tired of you tearing
my flesh with your teeth, stalking me like prey
in the shower, lunging and growling; I’m tired
of pawing, and panting, and hunting
and wagging. Of course at first it was thrilling. The we
have no words for this. The we are just
our bodies. But look at my cortex. Look
at my opposable thumbs. I want out
of this stew, I want to use tools, I want to develop
agriculture and walk upright towards you through
this field of corn that we planted, on purpose, because
we were hungry, and human, and knew
exactly what we were doing.
I stood with my dad at the edge of the woods.
Can you see already that it is night?
The forest behind our house humming with moths
like an army yet to be summoned.
I can’t remember a single word we said,
or what constellation of big ideas I might have been
bent upon connecting, until one moment
when the conversation paused, or turned,
and our attention returned, like a breath
to the bulls-eye where we stood,
the last blab of pave, the final capillary
that dropped down from a tiny feeder road
called Pine Cone Circle and joined up eventually
with all the rig-swept interstates and big boxes
glittering somewhere in the night, each porchlit address.
Above us, a light in the second story window
where my mom must have been up late reading.
“This,” he said, and I knew at once
that he meant all of it, the black Honda Accord
parked a few feet away, as much as the starlight
filtering through the lace of poplars and pines
that fanned above the driveway; the vast and intricate array
of distant, throbbing cities no more or less
than the tiny, folded wings of my sister asleep,
“This”— he said it only once; a twin engine plane
was passing overhead, dragging its tail
a red blinking light among the pond of stars—
“is the event of God.” And, all at once,
I disappeared, and every noun became a verb
that fused into a single flame
burning absurdly bright and without cause,
with the now just uttered awe
and we were standing there, one bankless blaze
my dad in me, and I in him;
in the center, in the heart, in the muscle, in the meat:
Never, Never, Nothing, Now.
I stepped off the Greyhound into a light rain, streetlights
slurred, just shy of the border, a line of taxis at the curb,
waiting, right where my mother said they would be.
I had never gone anywhere alone in my life. And I guess
I thought I was supposed to bargain. “How much to ride
through the slow rain of my whole life?” Twelve dollars.
“How much to step inside a painting that has waited
since the day of my birth?” Twelve dollars.
Twenty-one, just out of college, the high school genius
with no job or prospects—afraid to talk to people—
If I looked half as lost as I felt, I was sure I’d be fleeced.
“How much to tell her that I have forgiven her?”
Twelve dollars. “That I have not, but I will.” Still twelve.
That was America, everything a fixed price. He didn’t say
“Empty your pockets, empty the pail of blueberries
you picked with her when you were five, empty the beaches
where she swam, sand by sand.” I like to imagine
I asked last, “How much to go to the International Motel?”
and he said ten. But, really, I just quibbled,
then checked with each cab in the queue. All said twelve.
and I got in. This was America. And that was me.
Bargaining for a taxi to go see my dying mother.
I dreamt I told my mom a secret
that had weighed my heart for years.
We were standing in the kitchen
of the last house before they split.
Bright kitchen. Tucked into the night’s
carbon like a jewel. She was leaning down
with an oven mitt to take out
her famous artichoke dip. It felt so good
to tell her, the room so warm, I wondered
why I had not told her earlier.
Waking, I remembered she was dead.
Submission withheld at request of author