Apparently invisible to everyone but me
and swinging a plastic shopping bag
from Wong The Grocers,
a large, dark-skinned, curly-haired man
walked past me on a busy Lima avenue.
He was naked.
He was in no hurry.
No one turned, the pedestrian traffic
ignored him so completely
he may well have been an illusion.
The sun had come out late that day,
the whole morning shrouded in low cloud,
turning the sky a pale blue, and you bent
over me to look into my naked eyes. I trusted you
to love what you saw.
garbage can juice
smoky plastic blinds
piled up on the sidewalk
blood under an old trestle bridge
graffiti the only positive color
parking lots filled with mattresses
broken baby cribs
used condoms and baby shoes
someone raked into a pile
scattered bricks and plywood
in the weeded lots
dead animals decomposing
tossed salads of grime
collect on the sidewalk
an empty driveway leads up
to where the house would be
everything bulldozed to gravel
a spray-painted address on the sidewalk
weeds high as dogwood
fish guts and shoelaces
and beer cans and wine bottles
and deadly Night Train
pickle jars baby photos sadness
and angry mosquitoes
the air thick as moist towels
we grind slowly like snakes
around the corner
head into an alley
and open our Thermoses
Cabin in deep forest
home alone in upstairs flat.
Final fifteen minutes
older guy or younger
the ending won’t be pretty.
He arrives by car
by lift by open window
music heavy light
but always ominous.
The car gravels to the cabin door
the upstairs door is keyed silently
‘I can’t let you do that’
‘Robert will be home soon’
to the floor collapse
blood and . . . TV ad break.
Back into it.
Door broken open
smashed window fall
soft fade music
pan to forest
to New York sky line
to slow blackout
all’s well that . . .
Standing at base camp
in the dark of early night
watching this huge cockroach
not even donning
an oxygen tank
about to climb
to the summit
of Mount Everest
and off it goes.
Easily scaling the
rough trunk terrain
the breaks in the track
the sudden death –
to you or me
I gaze in awe
as it rests halfway
to the summit.
this Mount Everest cockroach.
A brief stop – for breath?
Do cockroaches breathe?
Off again fast
no rarefied air
will slow this critter
in the foliage
of the tree
and I am left
how would I cope
if I was this
Mount Everest cockroach?
Maybe in the next life.
Hot sun, cloudless sky.
As far the eye sees, flat empty plain.
The track threads its lonely way to
the shimmering horizon.
The merciless sun drums the mulga bush.
On one side of the endless track,
slowly crumbling into dust.
Roof long since caved in,
snapped and rotten timbers
for an occasional magpie
or galah to nest in.
Empty window frame socket rattles.
Small ripple wind harp sings
and courts the old almond tree
beside the window frame.
This tuneful little wind turns,
seeking a way out of the maze
of rubbled sandstone,
finds a small hole in the one complete wall,
tumbles down the path.
Out through the wicker gate it goes.
The wind is free, and whisks off
across the purple plain
as the crumbling ruin
returns to silent peace
I was dapping through the archives
21st century, olden days,
when I came across this cryptic note,
‘Seven thousand tigers left’.
But before my birth
they’d all been killed.
‘Stick to generic brands, son’,
so when the food tube came
I read the label, what a shock,
‘Some ingredients are natural. ‘
I throw it out, damn quick!
‘Artificial’s safe and norm,
natural is bad.
Just remember my advice, son,
always eat what’s in a can,
or zap it with your gamma gun’.
Uncle Bill says,
‘When the world’s zoos closed
the animals were minced.
Pets were eaten by their owners.
Animal lib is dead.
Three cheers for common sense’.
I would like to own a human pet
next year they pass a law
that will allow us chosen ones
to buy them from a store.
I can’t wait to get mine,
Dad’s already built the cage.
Cars now in the past.
Old roads are just for walking on.
Those that cannot walk
at road side dumps,
but have your permit ready.
Maybe you can tell me,
‘What’s a tiger?’
Sun sets. Cloud tips gold.
Silver exhaust jets
upward through the blue.
Sun’s rays fade.
silently dip their masts.
Water surface scuds a fond farewell.
Sea gulls almost now departed.
Mum’s framed image
propped up in the front seat,
takes a gentle general salute.
in place at berths,
as she’d remember them.
Sky softens with a fading pink.
silent falls, at the loss of this
always constant visitor.
Mum looks calmly over all.
The window down as she would wish.
Adieu, sweetie, fond farewell.
Your trick is done.
Your sleep has come.
The sea will claim you shortly.
Ashes to ashes
Darkness. Lights of a passing ship.
The rain drums across the windscreen.
The solemn mood is broken.
The chill settles.
Freeman’s Landing becomes another’s haven.
A car pulls up with different memories, resolutions.
Five children died one summer under this roof.
Some epidemic—we don’t know. Cholera,
Typhoid, scarlet fever, the ordinary
Hard measles. Their small tombstones
Up the road enclosed by wrought iron,
Names eroding from granite.
When the old rafters creak in winter storms
Or the narrow stairs cry out beneath our footsteps,
It might be the mother weeping.
She must have planted the lilacs and bridal wreath.
She must have milked cows in the stanchions,
Walked the woodlot with an axe.
These jigsawed acres she received
While her brother got the prosperous farm.
This, I surmise, from county records,
How she eked out a sparse living.
The evidence of an old house,
Corn crib, chicken coop and barn.
The stone marker where her bones rest
For my consideration. No relative,
No friend, just a woman
Who grieved within these walls,
A shadow trespassing in the mirror.
Her sleeves rolled up as she labored
In the summer kitchen, now my office
Where I write this poem with a
November storm brewing. Her
Skirts still sweep the oak floors.
The plums on the dying tree
Once filled her jars. I can’t imagine
How she went on living.
They say a soul beset by grief
All this so long ago—
More than a hundred years.
He caught a snook
on a line
in the cockpit bottom
but still alive.
He bashed it
with a winch handle.
Its blood splashed his socks,
the cockpit lockers.
There is salt water
in my eyes.
I ask “Who is this man
with the weapon?”
He tells me
it’s the kindest way.
Quicker than suffocating
through lack of water.
I don’t speak to him
Eat only toast.
Drink only coffee.
Refuse to eat
home is where
the psychologist asks
I tap my chest
the textbook answer
a hollow sound
an echo of furniture
stolen when I wasn’t looking
a problem of the heart
the cardiologist says
as I collapse upon the treadmill
the echocardiogram detects
but what about those
bumps in the night
such urgent knocks
only the ghost
sighs the wind
of someone who once loved here
It’s a beautiful late fall Sunday here in Augusta
and he’s driving balls off a tee in his back yard,
hits the water every time. But then, his yard
faces the city lake and there’s no fence
and it’s a small town but a big lake,
no way he can miss it. His swing
is not PGA caliber and he knows it, knows
this is Kansas and not the National in Georgia
and there’s no green jacket waiting for him
in the clubhouse, never will be, but that’s not
the point. The point is
to fill up this dammed creek
with dimpled Titleist Pro V1s
and maybe, if he’s lucky,
smack a smug-faced big-city interloper
on the jogging path in the teeth,
an amazing hole-in-one,
let’s see that on the replay, Jim.
Time ticks in pipes
that grow and dim
with hot water
rush, a slow dissolve
absorbed by blizzard’s
roar, windows white
cold hard panes,
world blurred into
tiny fragments, perfect
crystals when water
stops its flow,
falls from frigid
sky and plants
upon glass before
it slips away
into time’s flow.
In worn cardboard
boxes lie old
torn, corners bent,
years and months
littered in neat
stacks on estate
a stranger’s life
up for bid, squares
on grids filled in
and passed and
worth a dollar.
Down in Little Dixie, near a creek
that feeds into the Red River. Heard
from an old black man buying snuff
and worms in a store off 70 east
of Hugo. He’d bought a used Chevy
from my dad. “You bring a pole, some
worms,” he said. “Bream big
as a logger’s hand. ‘Cept one thing…”
Uh oh, always something. “What?”
“There’s a spit at the mouth of the
creek, where it feeds into the river.
Them bream, they bite best there….
‘Cept you got to bring a .22 pistol.”
I felt my skin crawl, knowing what
might come next. My biggest fear.
“There’s a hole, a little bunker.
Mud and wet sand. You can see
snake tracks. Found my cat, dead
there. Moccasin, or copperhead.”
I weighed that against the aroma
of fried crappie and bream,
cornbread and okra. You make
“Bring a .22 and kill that sonsabitch,”
he said, “Maybe catch him sunnin’
hisself. I never could.”
The poet comes onstage in the dark,
then the spotlight rings his pale face
in perfect order few hairs slicked
beady eyes taking dual aim
pursed lips like slot machine
for fine effect pince nez perched;
English accent devastates
terse intros elucidate
silences packed with awe
but do not doze nor dither
watch those swift in-between moments–
wink-wink at redhead with big bosoms
coat flapped open to reveal rows
of watches–or did we really see that?
as he flaps offstage
in bright red plastic shoes
ten times their proper size.
Jesus could not have walked out on this water
this water belongs to Mishipishu.
Jesus could not have flown up in to this sky
this sky belongs to Thunderbird.
You see settler, you see occupier, you see colonizer
This land was created in the one breath
of all the animals, all of creation made it.
You see settler, you see occupier, you see colonizer
This land was created by one breath
of all of creation
and one dead little muskrat with a little mud
in it’s paw.
the tall tornado siren
stands mute over an unkempt stretch of green belt
deer graze beneath
canopies of twisted cedar elm,
preferring the thinning stand of trees
to the exposed pasture
wary too, of clearings
I watch them
from within a screened porch sanctuary
as lightning illuminates the sky
the storm is yet miles west
but still the deer bolt,
into the open field
I share their impulse
as barrages of thunder
approach an abandoned line
The television speaks in tongues. He sits alone,
black suit, tie slightly loosened:
through the archway, carnival atmosphere
vibrates the dining room: bits of conversation float
You remember Robey, she’s the one …
table bows under stuffed ham, squash casserole,
fried oysters, spoonbread, inevitable gelatin mold
…love the recipe, do you know who…
his daughters fill plates, refill platters,
son is on his third, or maybe ninth, beer
… drive Fords, the whole fam-damily!
grown grandkids catching up and catching on
to each other’s lives –
… Montessori school, if we scrape together…
one, on the stairway landing,
teaches a young niece the chicken dance
…got thermal drawers under her skirt…
The heaping plate someone filled
rests unnoticed on one knee:
through the triple window, frozen drizzle –
more grey on grey
…didn’t like Reverend Combs, not a little bit!
he remembers her agitation first rain after burials,
“Don’t bury me in the rain, please” she implored
…doctor told her, but she didn’t want. . .
but he did: plans were made, services announced
in the paper, then, he woke to sleet
…whichever airport you fly into…
mourners stepped around frozen hummocks,
huddled, shivering, beneath umbrellas
…boots leak, my last three toes are blue…
rain hasn’t let up all day,
and chill is invasive
… likely out of a job by next month…
They’d have been married fifty-eight years
come Veteran’s Day.
Our diamond was gold and soft as rosin,
good for sliding,
yet for every run we made we nearly died.
For our diamond had a single flaw,
a fourth base no one ever touched,
but each had to pass on the way to glory.
I loved the sure, straight lines,
the sweet smell of my pitcher’s glove,
the sound of crickets written through the grass.
The rules we knew by heart,
but when you passed that fourth base,
you crossed yourself twice or you died.
A perfect line, invisible but there,
to St. Gerard’s fire escape, where
Mary Croix hanged herself in mystery.
That was fourth base.
Still I return here, late at night,
when moonlight wounds my heart to memory,
cross myself, forgive that metal skeleton,
then walk the bases, one by one,
those high and hopeful errands we once ran
that seemed to forever promise home.
Who are we when we walk
Amongst the bitterns?
Our rubber boots sloshing like horse hooves
In the reedy mud. Twirling perfumes, organic’s
Of Bulrush root and reed grass.
A bittern’s calling haunting
The shadows that we are
To them. In a bittern’s world,
Through sunlit veils of mist
We are as a passing cloud would be.
A skulled shadow moving near the water
Disturbing nothing more
But the sunlit crests of pond ripples; for that moment.
No fear as you
Push me out
Onto the dark ocean
Of my death.
My old boat
May be small,
But the dish of moon
Will be my lighthouse.
Before I drift
Out of sight
Past your forgiveness
Take this hammer
And yank the planks
From the dock
Of your heart.
Follow the HURRICANE EVACUATION ROUTE
north away from the Gulf Coast to Fort Worth
past new subdivisions metastasizing
beyond Houston on freshly-bulldozed earth
carved out of the woodlands with beautiful
new floorplans from the low 100s
past the giant statue of Sam Houston
forever standing guard beside the interstate
past the Texas Prison Museum
in Huntsville, ignoring the billboard
advertising the electric chair
past Woody’s Smokehouse in Centreville
where the pits are always smoking
through Buffalo, Corsicana and Waxahachie
do I pull from the shelf
in this hour
marking my friend’s
return to that light-drenched
inkling before everything
Which title, which
weight shall I
do we hold if not
Being no one, I cannot say.
The earth keeps spinning
even as I walk
to the mailbox,
anticipating new words.
He cannot read these lines.
I do not write them.
If all our voices were to meet in the atmosphere
what could the rain achieve?
When we give nothing we have nothing.
Is it enough to listen?
Wisps and heaps, ripples and sheets.
Accumulated, dispersed, fingers
grip, steps taken around the flames,
in caution, in delight,
imagining the greatest undoings.
jazz in the lou
in the Big Easy
Monk and Mingus and Basie
Roach and Tatum and Goodman
Ellington and Armstrong and Blakey
jazz beyond the sax
jazz beyond the keyboard
words and rhymes and syntax
vowels and consonants and spaces
on the leaves of literary journals
penned by Dave Oliphant
who is alive and well and somewhere in Chile
I come unarmored,
my eyes making love to Oklahoma stars
have slipped into the Texas sky.
Crossing the Red
beneath an early morning moon
a gypsy shadow.
It matters not
to that moon nor the ornamental stars
why I must ride to Texas.
But she wears my name
tattooed in blue above her beating heart
and draws me
like the damned into the flames.
Things must be in this order then:
Opinion, size, age, shape, color, noun.
And so on.
It is an easy enough thing to remember.
Sweet small young round brown bear.
The mnemonics of our lives.
Don’t say it another way.
You will be made to believe
that your stupidity unmeasures you.
Language is the leash that governs,
the belief in a flat Earth,
the harm of looking directly at the sun,
the efficacy of prayer,
stepping on a crack to save your mother’s back,
as if all your carefully worded love letters ever made a difference.
To be distrustful of questions
is the best way to translate
three ravens clustered in front
of a house I was considering buying.
Even just a few months ago I would have
steeped the moment with symbolism.
The sheen of wing. Their beaded eyes that know roofs.
And trees. But no demarcation lines.
Before I would have said they were sent.
Instead I merely thought: I will stare at you
and shake off as many notions as I can.
Standing here is as close to being a raven
I will ever know. As I stepped toward to the house
you stepped aside, ushering me up the drive,
not needing me to speak.
It was much easier to open the door
now that I was full
of companion certitude.
It is a cave
we can only see at low-tide,
the moss drifting
like the hair
of drowned mermaids,
to the rocks.
Sitting on a bench at the dog park
a younger woman, someone who I
assumed was intelligent
because she was attractive,
said to me, “You have a dangerous dog breed.”
A single man has to double-consider
statements like that.
When God leaned over to Adam
with that fingertip cosmic spark
I’d like to think he said a few words,
which truly if God is anything like man–he would,
filling the space with meaningless chatter.
“Go get ‘em, tiger!”
There’s how we measure beauty.
And how we talk about it,
the lines that ignore we were just dust yesterday,
but today we don’t know how to talk
about when the leaves will change color,
about what is safe, unsafe, unchangeable.
There is a Providence in the perfect fold of a napkin.
There is sound in the light that the moon reflects.
Every day there is yearning, and more yearning still.
It was always New Year’s of a sort I guess.
That book was last year’s gospel.
You can’t read it anymore.
Here’s a new and different one.
It was like getting dumped in junior high by a girl.
Everything had changed! You leaned blind against the wall.
That night at home there would be mac and cheese like always.
And tea you would need to sweeten yourself.
But all you would really be able to think about
would be the love letters you still meant to send her,
all the love letters from her to you
that you never got to read.
I lose myself in daydreams of a sheep-
throwing contest on the moon. Distance
wins points. Bonus points are earned
for every sheep that lands upright and
magically prances away, launching itself
with strange floating grace. Is there,
somewhere, an animal whose mind drifts
to thoughts of a similar sport involving
the likes of me, flailing my limbs in
slow motion, propelled across the lunar
Wistfully I long for the day
when the Emperor of America
forgoes the affairs of state and instead
sits all night at his lamp-lit desk
absorbed in composing sonnets in tribute
to a girl he’d admired as a schoolboy.
Sipping peppermint tea, lips silently moving
as he tries out tentative phrases,
he’ll tap on his desktop with his finger
the rhythm of his lines, creating harm
and cynical mischief for no one.
I sit on the bench and borrow the view;
a small brass plaque spells out your name
as I hope you have all your answers now.
I watch the waves roll onto the shore:
the sea’s eternal gnashing at the land.
Your ashes long since flung to the wind,
scattered among the restless waves.
Along the tide-line bundles of seaweed
wet with a thousand tales,
anxious to begin a new journey, wait
to be claimed by the next sweep of sea.
Gulls ride the transparent funnel of air
where the dome of sky meets silver sea,
their cries carry over surf and salt-spray, echo
about the ragged walls of your mausoleum.
A fitting place to ponder life and death;
my body a hunched question mark
punctuating the eloquence of sea and sky.
There were two thousand red bricks that made up the front facade
of the high school I would eventually drop out of. I counted them
on a daily basis, as I waited for my step-dad to come pick me up after
class. Some days when he was on a roll at the races or the casino,
I counted them twice and three times. I loved knowing that whatever
loss befell us, as a result of daddy’s crippling dance with chance,
there would always be two thousand red bricks on the wall
to keep me counting on something.
Whenever I think, some notion
in the cloud or other confluence
that floats the mooring will seize
upon the wonderful convenience,
That bluster, “To duck, to dodge,”
has danced into its corner so few
adherents. Like a hollow barrel
the empty drum thinly porous,
I keep seeking that latent horizon
beyond a rip where a stone was cast
skimming that tide. It wasn’t easy to
wander back, when the cause gave way,
Henceforth as the middling struts
while the attendant speaks in tenets,
the graylag flock north of the Solway
knowing their ways instinctively,
Should such bold paths be excoriated,
our valorous sense refused by the heap,
that bluster will have taken root. Then
again, it serves as motivation,
Consider the cleverness of the Cooper’s hawk
who glides disguised the upslope of the roof,
crests the ridge, and dives on pigeons
perched at the feeder hanging from the eave next door:
the crash and sway, the spilling of seeds,
the prey pinned against the box,
the futile flap of wings
as talons sink in, and the predator
rises above the roofline, bundle compacted,
elevating toward hungry chicks hidden away
in a nest new-found since the city sawed down
the elm that canopied the park, a disease in its heart.
Pestilence and predation invert the arc;
the cycle turns on the wings of a hawk.
____Body clenched for months
____with mittens we try to clutch
____the transparent word.
____Humidity wraps round us
____hot towels obscuring the eye
____our achievement a few drips.
My inspiration lies as flat
as that new rolled field,
not a sprig, a twig sneaking up.
My body a sack of bones
with no dance to it
not a jog, not a kick,
not two bones to knock together
for one dismal tone.
My still poem is a soundless scream
in a terrifying dream
not a peep, not a word,
only breaking awake
in a sweat, absurd.
Don’t you understand?
You could be her grandfather.
Falcon stooping prey.
Fresh-picked berry, crushed.
Fragrant blossom cast aside.
Hummingbird wing, cut.
Cloak yourself in shame.
No excuses. Douse the fire,
stir the embers cold.
Lust exposed to light:
your name a scrap of paper,
Tattered coat, flapping.
Your days of empire over.
Girls are not playthings.
At first, I thought a brown dress glove
on the floor of the parking garage,
its seams raised like tendon lines
stiffening the back of my hand.
A life exhaled was folded flat,
composed like rain-dried leather.
The BMW was in my space again.
I saw my windshield note was gone.
I did not despair; now I wielded a bat.
With care I placed my new friend
against the driver’s window: an armored
send-off fitting a Teutonic Knight.
My angel took the car today;
gone, no doubt to a better space.
and the lake
are his memories,
cobalt images of clarity
and purity, running deep.
It was in this cove
where the black spotted loon
dove head first
into the heart of blue,
attracting the tender pulse
of her affection
to follow the creature
into the watery sweep
tangled with milfoil
that snarled her hair
while the checkered fowl
for its young.
Her blue eyes wide,
with the ripple of current
that swept beneath the surface.
He visited that cove often thereafter,
especially those days
where the sun’s gleam
highlighted the blue ghost
within the restless ripples
that will forever
wrap him in riddles.
Early morning, snow teases
the outstretched branches of birch
with help from the wind.
It is cold, but inside the stove’s warmth
cradles the recliner in the lamplight
where he reads poems.
His fingers, thick and calloused,
flip pages enthusiastically.
He notices the shape of his nails,
much like his father’s,
no moons rising.
And like his father had done,
it’s time to contemplate departure.
One day, the stove unlit, will dispense
the damp aroma of creosote,
the book will lie closed
upon the arm of the recliner.
One day, a relative will enter
that the house is empty,
no warmth, no breath, no poetry,
an indentation upon the seat
next to the book.
The change will go unnoticed
by the snow, wind, ice, and
those few crows meandering
for morsels upon the buried landscape.
He returns to reading,
the words delight him.
What would become of these joys,
Someone should take them.
This is grand prize for third date.
Slowly, I enter
relishing the warmth
as it permeates.
My weight settles:
a sinking ship
completing its watery descent.
Face to face
she is deep in thought
tells me ancient Egyptian women
inserted crocodile dung
into their vaginal canals
in order to prevent pregnancy
and somewhere between the words
dung and pregnancy
I melt like an ice cube
kissed by a blowtorch.
The village social, New Year’s Eve,
and he’s back from Cardiff, back
in the new routine, the old routine
he’s hankered for.
At ten to twelve, the Okey-Cokey.
You put your left leg in, your left leg out,
and there she is (hey, they’re thirty now)
across the circle, receding, receding,
plunging towards him, now receding again,
until the dancing’s midnight fervour
coils itself and spins and circulates
and it’s Auld Lang Syne and he’s next to her,
arms linked, hands held, it’s homecoming,
it’s Auld Lang Syne for sure.
This spoon all night on tiptoe
listening for the careless splash
that will never make it back –the cup
half hazelnut, black, half filled
so its prey can be tracked in the dark
the way one mouth finds another
feeds on the voice that can’t escape
–hour after hour being eaten
by the silence longing for the light
though even with the walls in place
even with her hands over your eyes
begging you from behind Guess who
you are circling the room, flying blind
spread-eagle, can hear the You
no longer moving between your teeth.
Where people get, no owls stay, a quibbling
I picked with night, when further down the road
the new guy hauled in lights, a trailer, bull-dozed
his land, bought pit bulls, started raising rabbits.
No one’s here but me. Still, he posted signs.
What did he expect? By definition,
I couldn’t ask. I gave up all he’d torn
from owlless night, yearned toward their absence
as though owls could give a piddling damn.
Not them, so much, I yearned toward. The texture
of the dark had changed. Since last winter,
coyoteless. I missed them in the abstract:
Romance as a tribal dog, I said, but really,
I didn’t care. They never sounded sad.
Just low-down and hungry. But after
the owls, darkness felt like stamp collecting.
I read. Drank. Became Episcopalian
from wariness of sensory withdrawal.
Then, my neighbor, survivalist cliché,
came by–big hat, mirror shades, holstered pistol–
and asked me to put up a mailbox. Sure
I said, Point where. I knew, though, that I wouldn’t,
which left us there, his right hand on his gun
butt, mine on the latch of the screen door.
Victrola records scratched and scarred,
the letters of van Gogh unread, and poems
to be painted, corrected and filed
after the words form, gently bidden.
I write a calculus for the intellect
and find a dust bin for desire.
The writing is all, or mostly all.
Lonely, a hawk alone, like
during the composition of a song.
A welcomed guest, anticipated:
Dark, misty, quiet, heath overgrown;
the hawk flies home.
Mysterious like the moors.
In April two lovers sit on a park bench. Pigeons pivot overhead. Kernels of corn at the lovers’ feet. Not just pigeons does their love feed.
During the summer months, their love is like the red of roses: vibrant, brilliant. If only roses didn’t have thorns and flowers didn’t wilt.
Autumn, and lovers meet. The same park bench, now dense with fallen leaves. She can barely lift her withered hand. Few pigeons left to feed.
When winter comes, the pigeons have gone and only one lover sits. The park is gloomy, the trees are bare—as empty as his heart without her.
like any other object, she said.
Don’t worry. They’ll observe you as they would
a vase or a tree.
A series of angles, planes, light, and shadow.
I’m okay offering myself for scrutiny,
step warily onto the platform,
letting inhibitions slip to the floor along with my robe.
I assume a pose, let my body be measured by those
who peer at me with squinted eye and extended arm.
I’m fine with them examining up close
or slowly circling to see me in 3-D.
I am servant
submitting myself as raw material for art.
Banish concern about hernia scar, paunch,
or private parts made public.
At break, even robed, I am still object,
subject of sidelong glances
or none at all.
I step back onto the platform,
in the center and elevated.
A man whose expressionless face belies
an ache in the supporting foot.
A person pulsing with feeling and thought.
I tune out their conversations,
look past and through the artists,
organize to-do lists,
compose poems in my mind.
And know that from the captivity
of this pedestal emanates the gentlest
I’m making eyes at the brown haired beauty
on the opposing balcony
both of us in his and her matching bathrobes,
mine at a conservative length,
hers mid thigh as she teases me with her cigarette
and I with mine and I really think that I’m in heaven
until my girlfriend, now aware of the elicit flirtation,
decided to untie my robe from behind and pulls it wide open
while my mystery woman convulses with laughter
before she compliments me on my nice boxers with a blown kiss,
and i am forced inside to watch the 2013 Academy Awards
when just as an ice storm begins to pound the North Plano world
outside I became convinced that none of these bad things would
have happened to me if I’d stayed behind in Los Angeles and my
girlfriend told me none of those bad things would have happened
if I wasn’t asking for bad things to happen me,
because I’d just won the Oscar for worst sense of humor
and that my trousers were more than likely to appear during
the in memoriaum sequence in between other honorees who had
nothing to do with the movies or even the big show she had
just put on for her vacationing sister’s neighbor.
You grew into yourself
knowing little about life
except through books.
Each leaf-vein, snake-skin, thumbprint
wrought second hand-
experience shaped forever, tacked
together, then tucked
into the bodice of your heart.
So many words helped you to grieve
or offered balm when all seemed undone.
See how you’re there already,
soothed by the glimmer of burnished gold,
the incense swinging in medieval
vaults; no safer place to go
when the light grows darker, but
back to the dense and thoughtful page.
Time is a twister, throws up
days when life seems skewed.
Again you reach out, search
for meaning to centre your world-
always, a book at hand.
Ten magpies—one leucistic—perch
on barbed wire above the railway line
five either side of a crow
a suspicion of omens from my window
a statement of strength in numbers
a school for omens a lecture theatre
awaiting the crow’s wisdom
but he is hunched slightly
aware of his cousins’ undoubted abilities
ten magpies—one leucistic—
sharp-beak-ready to peck away
his deep feathered cloak
his indiscriminate eyes
if he requires their children
An attention to omens
from my window it’s the small birds I fear for
the small birds
who may inherit the earth well before I am willing
to let go of their chattering wonder
their miraculous bones
All night the dog whined through strikes
and flashes while rain pelted the skylight
and sang through our gutters.
Morning hung over with lost limbs,
petals stuck to the patio, I steered
the dog across soggy yard, past runoff.
I remembered the summer the flood
sucked your car into the lake. One hand
dangled from the window when they
hauled you out. The dog stared at standing
water and strained on her leash to go back.
A beheaded tuberose spread far its thick scent.
”I keep having this dream that there is a garden
growing inside my chest, under the bones.”
~ Melissa Studdard
Tonight is an eye feast:
the honeysuckle climbing
over pickets in a long chain-link fence,
the soft swirl of wind teasing
the topmost branches of a mulberry.
Dusk, dying a blue-headed Friday
a deep shade of ebony.
How crafty this summer’s eve!
Shadows make worn and broken things beautiful—
like this dilapidated barn.
A family of tumbleweeds sits in the middle
of the cracked concrete floor rocking.
The aged slats look like a rib cage;
fortitude engraved its initials in rotting wood.
At Freedom Park, a jittery frog leaps
from the moon-stamped pond then disappears.
Who can resist such gifts, or hold happiness hostage
when this West Texas desert offers such splendor?
Look at this sky’s buffet of delicious stars!
Their champagne-light drips from a flute of darkness
into the unprotected yawn of a scalped pasture.
curtains of her long-lost love
in household chores where dust is found
a crossword puzzle of her loss
scattered wide on kitchen tiles,
withered, seemed like toilet bowls
which needed harpic now to shine.
groceries to put away.
so much to do.
so little time.
Midwinter night we share a glass of wine
Atop these seaside cliffs
Gazing out beyond the sea’s black hole.
Dark cloud clears. The new moon’s shine
A sharpened pair of horns. Perhaps a bowl.
Beside it Venus in orbit shifts,
Rising as the moon begins to set
Each reflected off the sea.
Pixellated lines of double white reach out
Like a school of silver fish darts from the net.
Twin searchlights flaring, feeling for the beach,
Mesmerize, head straight for you and me.
The boom car stomps its music
up and down the street
while inside houses
a rattlesnake warning,
and cranked-up bass
bounces sound waves off
T-shirts and blouses of residents
watching the car pass
a parade full
of mad, marching bands.
That some patch of dust
on that hard-to-get-to shelf yonder
could be dead skin cells
her bent, pain-racked body
more than 2 years ago now.
Or that some microbial creature
through my twisted, maze-like intestines,
a parting gift from her,
one last kiss,
that last time
we shared bodily fluids.
Moonlight pools, as if delayed,
in the folds of the duvet,
her second husband sleeping, lips pursed,
as if rehearsing.
He spoke in his sleep
their first night together.
She marvels at how he remembers dreams.
Over coffee he’ll describe his sister
appearing at the Redondo house
near the shutters by the rose bed—
only she’s grown up, plump, fidgety,
as though a crafty editor spliced
the frightened thirty-five year old
into their calmer childhoods.
They met on the set of the Williams play.
By himself on the folding chair,
he whispered his lines over and over.
They performed in the botanicum,
as Williams would have liked.
After closing, he kept whispering,
fixing what hadn’t been right on stage.
She could memorize his face tonight
as she’s done with the dock in Morro Bay:
customers huddling in the dawn
as Bill trawled in his salmon,
a pelican on a pylon, awaiting fish innards
carved by an old Mexican
(that may have been somewhere else)
with a curved knife and plastic bucket.
These images fill her own what if decades:
if she’d never met Tony, moved east.
She could be at the waterfront coffee shop
near women she grew up with,
with a crossword, scanning for the thousandth time
the thin arm of sand stretched across the bay.
I snap the blade into the scalpel’s handle
. . . Metal tongue, the violator’s shaft, is familiar to my hand
. . . . . . . . . the long nails of a vamp should suit me better
The brusque soldier,
. . . . . . just hours ago all hands and pinches
. . . settles from screams into ether’s kind arms
His blood chases my blade across his iodine-sick, fur-pocked belly
I am inside now
. . . inside the jungly cleft, the snaky gut
With a genuine smile I reach up to my wrist, grip his bowels
. . . . . . think of rape, how unwanted my penetration is
. . . I am not a doctor
. . . . . . (my Hippocratic oath is closer to hypocrisy)
. . . I am not a man on a plane of men
. . . I should be serving my only real purpose
. . . I have delivered babies too often
. . . . . . from sad WACs and WAVEs in denial
. . . I have cleaned holes crusty with gangrene
. . . . . . bartered cigarettes for bluebottles
. . . Prayed on abscessed flesh with maggot rosaries
I search the viscera for a moment
. . . despise such an empty cavern where womb should be
. . . Mere ducts and spaces
A vessel of death, hands strapped to carbine or torpedo
The musty little bag, the putrid sac of an organ we never need,
. . . exits with a scant graze of my knife
. . . . . . . . . bursts with a pop like Nazi gunfire
. . . . . . splatters onto parachutes and flyboys
. . . . . . . . . like shrapnel into Nipponese faces
I sew up this rent belly
. . . and hope
. . . . . . if plane and firestorm and enemy are willing
. this boy turned man turned killer turned foul body
. . . will die in a foxhole
. . . . . . smeared across tank treads
. . . . . . . . . crushed in the wreckage of a bomber
His devoutest dream, his destiny, his preference
Not in bed
. . . Not
. . . . in the arms of a woman.
Landed for real this time
and not just another tale
by Old Man Haggardy
of Martians crushing his mailbox
or souring his cow’s milk.
No, the aliens were here,
and here to stay,
applying for Social Security
and buying double-wides down by the quarry.
Sure, they started off strange looking,
built on radial lines, not bipeds (that’s what they said on CNN),
more than the usual number of limbs and digits,
but familiarity makes the strangest visions common
(like my cousin Cuthbert, on the Culbreath side
with webbed toes and a lazy eye)--
I don’t even notice nowadays.
But as I said, it was spring,
and emotions always run high then,
and I was glad to see that the aliens,
regardless of the color of their gills,
had taken a cotton to religion.
Round here they took Baptist,
over the ridge they were Church of God,
but what was nice was the way
their stories fit ours:
death, mayhem, sacrifice.
The whole us versus them based on
The aliens took to Good Friday and Easter
like scaly blue ducks to water.
And when they cried out Amen
and Hallelujah from those trapezoidal orifices I believe are their mouths,
we all felt kin to them.
Yes, Mamma was right again.
We’re not all that different on the inside.
one eye (the Left)
to the public’s people
and the Other sliced by shadow
breathing inches into the
upper arm: of Me, hidden
this is me
dopey eyed for
a buffet of strangers (or “By”)
but all at the same time darting through
this intricate subway system
which is made by electricity
I can hear them
but they don’t exist on Sundays
all cotton, all cottony
all laughing at themselves
but they can hear me hello
see my sock smile
I turns heads when I
turn my head
throwing the Other
into this big and old and big pot
the WU YU for flavor
“don’t stick to these goals” …
(a note to what you have to whisper
shaking into your ear
when falling into the Sleep)
I spend time in grocery stores. Eying food,
touching the lightness of bread, savoring
the dirt smell of tomatoes. I’m a hungry person.
Our mother brought home a puppy
we couldn’t afford to feed. She locked it
in the shed that held ghosts
of dried, flattened horned toads,
spiritless parakeets, colorless
chameleons bought from the five and dime.
The puppy whined from hunger, shook
like a scaredy-dog when its master dies.
Neighbors stared when they passed our house.
We shopped once a month, loading our carts
with faux Oreos, Lebanon bologna, canned raviolis–
stole Snickers bars from Rexalls.
When the groceries were gone
we begged food from our grandparents.
To punish our mother for running around,
they let us go hungry. One Sunday as they prayed
at church, we shattered
their window with a rock, ate anything
we could find. That night, after the beating,
when our screams died down,
the neighbors talked so we could hear.
What they said hit
our dirty screens like June-bugs.
The women stir cauldrons
of apple butter in rhythm to screams.
They don’t look up as windows shatter and animal howls
strike loose the last leaves of a sugar maple.
I am told this is how the Amish take care of their insane.
They keep them at home.
The Lord makes the insane, the Lord’s people
complete the task by giving them the body.
There are no cures, no drugs. Just prayers
and restraints when things get bad.
But today, as the last of the hay is brought back to the barn
and we’re handed jars of apple butter too hot to handle,
A man’s voice calls out through the broken windows
tells us the devil rides on our backs.
And we believe.
Mummy fragments were stolen, broken up and crushed into powder,
which was sold as an aphrodisiac well into the 18th century.
-From The Search for Ancient Egypt
No stone husband. No clay lovers.
She’s been left with alabaster servants
to face the length of death. Buried
with hundreds of lapis dopplegangers
all smaller than her, they’ll never help.
Someone (who could it have been?)
had a crocodile embalmed, as if this
would have made things easier. Maybe
whispered by a concubine
her husband bathed with, or the priest
who performed trephination
boring a hole in her head
with his obsidian knife,
they’d have thought, she needs
all the luck she can get.
She lies stiff with love or rigid
with fear among baskets of scarabs–
until Bedouin women rob her tomb.
Armed with magic formulas to outwit spirits,
their brains tingle with jubilant thoughts
of what they can sell, while hers rest
in a jar just out of reach.
A week after fumigation
the Jade plant out front
dropped its leaves,
small fleshy pads littered
the courtyard and
I pushbroomed them into piles,
the cement stained and slippery
with their juice.
Within a month
the bark puckered and pulled away
from the inside meat
as if distancing itself
drawing back from life
little by little,
until drained and hollowed,
for my slight tug
to uproot its empty body.
There is a problem with the calendar.
Days flip by like cards from a deck
and years change number
All those holidays circled in red
belong to people
that don’t belong to you.
Your house is a shell
that the seasons bang against.
Frost scars the windows and
new growth strangles the rails.
like an electric shock
while you wait,
shoulder to the thin wall,
for the worst to pass.
Outside is another country.
A foreigner, you eavesdrop on lives,
straining with the language,
smiling your incomprehension,
The ocean is strange from this direction,
sharp stoned and bottle green.
Waves wear down the rusty cliffs
and spill out over the coarse sand.
You are on the other side,
your mouth a thin horizon of doubt.
At night the hills lean
into the cold sky,
the pier shifts and moans
as I make my way
to its farthest point.
Above, the moon rising
and stars emerging, dozens at a time.
Across the water,
your tide pulling me home.
When I learn to read,
I’ll write in a language
which describes in one sentance
that will explain the depths
of transparent water,
that will depict the value
of eddies or darkness,
that will verify what
the wind said
of swallows, barely visible,
that will organize the vowels
of yawning muscles,
or the consonants of rain’s
This is what I would tell you:
the dance of distant trains,
the freefall of eagles
gossip between pecan groves
and their companion geese,
the constant motion of bodies
in the marketplace writhing
like snakes in a pit,
and the striations of the cramped
spirits of the outcast,
I need a language
found in marrow
flecked with dried grass
a language rising
from the heart of hot
cave stones and sinew.
To these I have gathered
and promised fidelity.
May I live in this city.
I want to be kissed
until I free-fall from
pink marble cliffs
into the unknown canyons of your mouth.
I want to fall into the feathered softness
of thick lips like lippows
from where I¹ll have to
float back to conscious light.
Kissed until my toes curl
and I swim in the warm
chocolate pools of Eden’s real garden.
Kiss me until I forget my name,
until I forget the I of me,
until I blend with air-born dust.
Kiss me unil my lips swell and burn
with your body’s intentions.
I want to lie down
on forest stream banks
where the only green
above me are your eyes
containing all the forest senses
and the dampness
of the river soaks
through it¹s bed and us.
I want to make a nest
in your chest hairs
like a small bird
and fluff and preen
and settle in.
And when you lay
your hairy body on my sleek
skin and begin to move,
you become a rhythic living loofah.
I want the pressure of your lips
to rosify my skin
so that I’ll be blushed
when I see God.
My lover, my priest,
kiss me holy.
And now that I have seen what he’s become,
I pause surprised! Why he is mortal, too.
For just as I have soured, and bent from plumb,
So he refused the grace from false to true.
There was a time when I was starved for light.
He stood as if the noon were in his hands,
And I reached out– no bread was ever so bright–
But then the world’s argument demands
The banquet end, even if it ends too soon.
Why yes, the seasons shift and branch–
The grape, the plume, the raisin and the prune–
We all start out with juice, but not carte-blanche.
___Now you who read this world with youthful eyes,
___Take heart, it’s not that bad when beauty dies.
___A man from a slate quarry saw leaves turn their colors and sensed his imminent death. He paced his bags and drove south, beyond the foliage.
___The trees there changed, so he drove away again. This continued for a while until he came to the sea, where he chartered a boat for the rest of his life.
___Feeling at home among the gray edges of waves, sunrise and its colors tricked him. He sailed to the North Pole and built an igloo large enough for the boat, the walls inside looking like rock.
___On a day after a thaw he stepped outside to find a red balloon, shriveled by its loss of air. It had drifted from a child’s hand in a North American suburb to find him. He kicked it rustling across the ice, the sound startled him, and he collapsed, his weak heart giving out.
left on dinner plates,
with a telephone
that speaks of adultery.
__A room talks to itself, the man inside doesn’t answer, and it raises its voice. Down the hall another room hears this ranting and answers in a raised tone. Neither can understand the other,these two rooms speaking in tongues.
__After a while, the man and a woman emerge from the rooms. They look at each other in the hall, the two rooms still yelling. After making love for a while they each return to their rooms, which, by now, have nothing more to say.
The party crowd
under dire lights
holding false sacraments,
and the laughing couple
in the corner
with sharp tongues.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk. Lines of communication grow dusty and sag under the burden of time.
I emerged from my study for a breath of fresh air — it gets stagnant in there: papers pile up and I trip over my own debris as I try to sift through it. The living room sofa offers respite: just to lie and stare out at a different view, unlock my brain, begin again. My eye caught on the lovely Baccarat bird on the étagère; the light gleams off its perfectly honed beak, sparkles through its delicate form.
Carole gave me that bird. I wonder if she remembers. She must have considered me special–not just because of the expense. Surely friendship isn’t measured in dollars, though at times dollars can enter the picture at a level crass enough to mar it.
This figure glistening on the shelf must stand for more than its name, more than its price. It must testify to some hope for perfection and beauty. Like the ancient Herodotus, it must represent an ideal of human possibility that illuminates the vision of the creator in the same way the light gleams off the crystal as it passes through.
Baccarat figures are never anatomically realistic in the way Boehm figures are. They make no attempt to become a human caricature like the Royal Dalton “Balloon Lady;” no effort to imitate the slim, poetic form of a Lladro “Milk Maid.” They can never depict; they can only imply. Baccarat figures are merely suggestions of form; outlines stripped bare of all unessential ornament. The details of each figure are left to the imagination of the viewer. Therefore, no two people can ever see this bird in the same way. It is to each person who beholds it, a different bird.
Sometimes no words exist that say what we think and rather than defile the available ones we must rely on silence. Not a silence of anger; not a silence that adds to the burden of time, but a silence filled with peace and assurance –a silence that speaks to a part of the self that needs no words, a part of the self offended by sound.
She might want to know this____________she might
want to know . . .
How persistent is the round morning sun to belong over the rocky pipes of the Organ Mountains? The rays like a bell have rung out each day clear to the west for eons of peace long before our human gaze. Now, we ignore the resounding blue that domes our curious dirt, our pits of construction edging out to the sea. The earth's crust is thin, I think, our precarious presence on only one side. The ink black of local headlines outline the frown on my side of the breakfast table. Over oatmeal I announce I do not belong, resist the inevitable gravity that pulls the trigger, pulls waves from the sea, creates class and caste to structure violence around my borders, able to pull two boys dead from a red Camaro, their mule backs black and blue from hauling narcotics to the rich in Tijuana. This is no peace. The deliberate flame of hunger strikes and gasoline pyres strike the face of peace. The flat AP columns on the World News page knell of flood and fever, a constant side of Mother Ganges, host to corpses. Women cry, scrub their laundry, as their blue silk saris dry on the rocks. Knobby-kneed old men talk in circles, belong hip deep, on the other side of the world, gesturing to a lurid sun that sets over the bell tower. A child sells votive candles to light and float on flower boats to the sea. They may carry souls to Tijuana, more fodder for the salty tides of every sea. "1,000 murders a year, six execution style killings." Mercenaries for a piece or a price hit easy targets -- attorneys and public accountants at close range, a bell weather of war "high above the seedy downtown," on green lawns, the other side of poverty. "...a waiting room filled with bodies" from any neighborhood belongs like sleeping porches used to. Remember when Belgians walked under umbrellas in the blue African sun? "Zaire Zoo Animals Disappearing," the keeper points to the skulls, "See, they died of hunger." "When the soldiers ate the elephants we knew it wouldn't be long before the rest would go." The crocodile last ate part of Romeo, shared with the keepers a piece of the familiar chimpanzee. "It's a sign of collapse of everything in Zaire." I sighed, imagining the "popular bar and restaurant," now swept silent by 22 keepers. The dryer bell rings me from the news to my everyday of laundry and children. The morning reliable over the mountains, over this house. I want always to wake to my cranky husband whose blue eyes meet mine every day. We hold our fort with beds of perennials on one side, a strong galvanized stock tank we use for a pool on the other. Our daughters high frequency clamor sends a joyful noise through the heat waves rising from the asphalt, creating peace at last that I can breathe in with the heat of coffee. The scream of headlines says I belong on my side of the table, where I must witness these dark flat words. I do belong to the language that created them, the waves of loss, that created the undertow of a sea that is not kind. I counter the words with what I know of love, and barely breathe "peace."
In the late afternoon a woman
kneels before another woman’s grave.
She is laying down some orange flowers
on the dead leaves. She is burning incense.
When she is done, she rises
and walks southward, past the trees
to another grave. There is a clearing here.
She repeats her gestures, but with greater speed.
The sun is hot.
She is an old woman.
My father is dead this morning.
I must wash my hair. (Mother says
will soon be
The water must run
from the tap
before it warms.
He must have waited
… Impatient man.
It's people like you who make a difference __________a note sent to the 49er's Eddie DeBartolo from a child, and appeared on a milk container
those days we want to smoke cigerettes
or throw away rather than diligently recycle plastic bags
as if language is decomposed texture
the textiles of composition
a fabric we never pretend to understand
a young boy makes a decision on his own
about living at that hotel with mom on drugs
dad in jail
one week he can make the honor roll
next he takes a joyride in a car with another fourteen year old
and he’s dead
that cruiser addiction of America
where we dig around for roots just the surface
vision it seems the aura of indigo tattoos on our arms
where some people branded with numbers
only it’s a deep whisper
the cracking of ice receeding
break three packets of sugar in to the swirl
of black indiscretion a lack of gravity
mugs of evaporating coffee
clean up the crumbs throw them
into a box that can be used again
repetitions of phrases that muddy message
we are dying
the clatter of internal percusive mechanisms
the choral text hoping we can follow the cracking of twigs
breaking from the tree in the wind the sky lights skin
breathe drunken blessed flowers
and shoes stalking the streets in the morning drift
They bake a cake every year and we celebrate you.
They know your name
and they know how old you would have been
They don’t know about the aching
that creeps into my arms in the night
still. After all this time.
And they don’t know about your small box of things –
all that remains to touch and smell and weep over
still. After all this time.
They saw me once, kneeling by your tree
laying sweet scented flowers down for you
and they came too
kneeling by you as I do.
We sat there, silent,
all of us together
until dusk began to descend
when it was time to leave you
___slick .45 smoking
___burning like a cigarette butt
___wasted in the gutter
___steel gray smokestacks
___fingering the sky
___with ruthless claws
___promising trains sighing freedom
___vanishing ghost in the mist
cadillac slammed down to the bloodstained asphalt
hold your ear to the ground
for the sound of danger
close your mouth don’t
arsenic laced dark chocolate
___lightening smoldering in July
___streaking across a black sky
___hot pants sticking to vinyl seats
___fields of tomatoes
___rotting in November
___reaching miles towards cool green mountains
___like shoulders rolling away
___a discontented lover
___winter days trapped in fog
___warmth and sunshine
___cruel summer illusions
Hold your ear to the ground
___the sound of danger seductive
stick out your tongue to
arsenic laced dark chocolate
At the end of its
oh so very long
the kite whipsaws
its way into
that it cannot go where
like the dark
blur of the
down near the
She said, My birth
mark is the shape
So now you try:
lift an entire
up in your arms
and then walk down
the hall, your hips
still dancing wide
beneath that weight.
Now just you try.
Murmurs a little in his sleep
lips push in
wakes up hungry
Can’t be still can’t
can’t not cry
fist clenched, ankle flexed
jerks his head back, holding
the nipple still in his mouth
____________In New Delhi the price of milk
____________has risen sky high
____________because the god has drunk
____________from the spoon that was offered
— and as suddenly as he woke
If you’ve ever seen blue rain
please explain to me when and where.
I promise I won’t steal so much as a fringe.
Tell me if it was closer to a peacock
or prairie-grass blue, the blue edge
of elegant paper, blue thread
inside a block of ice; whether it favored
purple or green, deepened to near blackness,
reminded you of a vein
or of a police car’s flashing lights;
the skin’s blue tinge when breathing
becomes shallow, the glaze
that illuminates a blue-tiled mosque.
Even if it looked shabby as the feathers
on a thrift-store hat or resembled a bruise,
tell me about the blue rain. Because if you
truly saw such rain, if only for a blink,
there’s hope for my square violet snowflake,
for the red wire that connects
waking with dream.
To burn off the layers of sleep
the red poem appears
all at once
in the scrawl of a dream
hastily recalled before its fire dies
leaving neither ashes nor a fine
black linen rash on the bed-clothes.
An acquired taste, the aubergine poem,
its sleek surface suitable for gift wrap
the wallpaper in a French boudoir
with whose roses it frequently rhymes, especially
those that climb perfectly aligned trellises.
Arranged on chaises lounges
philosophers speak in villanelles
about the infinitudes of being, becoming
the converse of a mirror, each syllable
suffused with whore-scent and chocolate,
symmetrically patterned on the finest
Limoges. Unpeel a bonbon
and a splendid nothingness spills, vanishes
into molecules of perfume
like the aubergine poem once read.
Spare me from yellow poems
larded with artificial sun,
gold fillings packed inside lines
so porous and soft
they leave no mark when they bite.
Its coldness, seeming flatness–
despite stray blue threads
that swim through its many levels–
may suggest that a poem
the color of ice
merits no claim on our memory
until its tautly-edged syllables melt
into infant-babble, a manic brook’s
mad rush, that pool where the world’s
many lost tongues
merge their speechlessness.
More luminous than snow at dusk
the royal blue poem
a pane from a stained-glass window
in search of a new cathedral.
Long a student of rain
I was glad to discover
yet another dimension
of its many shadows.
This time not feathery stripes
or braided strands
but white-rimmed dark ovals
scudding across a page.
If I didn’t know
they’d been cast by the rain
streaming down my window
I’d suspect they were cells
without cilia or a nucleus
escaped from one of the many
exotic diseases harbored inside
my closed car, their rapidity of passage
a sign of their intent to attack
through invisible gaps or seams
the upholstery, rug, my hands
the minute I stop writing this–
Cells so clever that when I rub the page
it reveals nothing beyond ordinary paper
waiting for something to break up
its white dry surface. Nor will the rain-cells
stop long enough for me to trace
the route of their stream
before it disappears at the margins.
I think of Leeuwenhoek gazing with wonder
at the algae and sperm under his microscope’s lens,
daring to draw their forms precisely
no matter how they might shock the good
burghers of Delft. And I think, too,
of the shapes that crossed the ceiling
above my childhood bed, how shocked
the grown-ups would be
if they knew I could watch all their antics
in my shadow-puppet theater.
For Jackie Robinson, W.B. Yeats, Schubert, Blake (both Eubie & William), Einstein, Christ, my mother & my Uncle Leo. . .and especially all who waved from the train stations in Vilna & Riga & Pinsk, ca. 1900
After the last wave, they walked home
turned to what they had to do:
light a flame beneath the kettle, sweep up
the snow and the crusts that got stuck in the mud,
tidy up the remnants of their century.
So I imagine all those people, known & unknown,
good & bad, who did not migrate with me
across the line between millennia.
(Let me not forget the many now living
whose calendars, Hebrew, Hindu, Mayan,
have drawn lines long ago crossed, yet to appear).
Unlike other journeys over time zones,
this one demanded no postcards, gifts, photos
for those left behind. Though what joy
were it possible to see Yeats’ response
to reels of rough beasts slouching
the hours ahead, to hear Schubert’s
reaction to hip-hop, tell Einstein
how they’ve sized-up his brain.
Dear Christ, were those centuries of sleep
really that stony; what do you think
of those who claim to be you, returned at last. . .
Did they miss the boat, all who died
before 1/1/2000, should we pity them, envy
their immunity to our fears, laugh at theirs:
ludicrous as their hats, their tight-laced
trousers, their delight as they capered down streets
sleek horses pulling their gold-embossed cabriolets,
their pride in their maps of the heavens, sun & stars
circling the earth, their doomsday predictions, dance mania,
conviction their names would not be forgotten & that
war was archaic. Or should we think of them
only rarely, as they likely thought about us?
everything here comes from somewhere
tibetan prayer wheels spinning mantras,
thangkas, prayer flags, delicate chinese snuff bottles,
old tomb warriors guarding shy women
caught in foreign relationships
living in clever cities crowded by historical mystery
and world children
geringsing – magical protective purity cloth –
village families inside dyed dried earth roots,
compose wood backstrap looms –
collect bone bead dust, Tarim Basin knives,
kata scarves, camel hair watercolor brushes, jade dragons,
fragments & filaments of unbroken bone conversations
scattered among language bones
charred beyond recognition
spewing marrows masses
______caught behind young bright burning eyes
o shining star
exploding grenades send mind shrapnel
scattering bodies left right center
‘hut one two three, left right left right’
cadence at 19 shaven down to the quick –
the quick and the dead thrust it home boys
cardboard statues stand in dream fields
dust dark dogs bark
among steel concrete jungle hospitals
reach for dictionaries
language tongues hang by a thread
woven on paper mache rattan rattles
dancing laughing loving caught leaning leaping
in death’s direction
at crossroads, intersections, byways, highways –
no speed limit
along soft shoulders,
yielding signs of life
He was the kind of poet who threatened
to commit suicide right there at the microphone
if the audience didn’t clap loud or long enough,
or if they didn’t drop enough money into the tip jar,
or if somebody in the back was jabbering with a friend.
He would pull out this big, serrated commando knife
from a sheath on his hip and wave it around.
Of course, everybody who’d seen it before
knew it was a gimmick, so they didn’t take him seriously,
and besides most of us thought it was a rubber knife
–so what if he stabbed himself?
But one Friday night he was drinking,
and slurring his words, and though he had his poems
with him on the stage inside a file folder,
he was trying to recite them all from memory,
and he was messing up his lines.
His images began to fall to pieces
as if someone had taken out too many nuts and bolts.
People were giving each other the look,
and coughing, and recrossing their legs,
and scooting chairs, and whispering.
That was when he suddenly stopped reading,
wadded up his poems, and threw them on the floor.
He pulled out a real commando knife
and raked it across his palm.
He opened up a cut about four inches long
and half an inch deep.
Blood began pouring all over the stage,
and he held up his hand like a trophy for all to see.
I stood up and went over to him,
pulling out a handkerchief to press against his palm,
but he wouldn’t let me touch him.
He bolted down the aisle to the front door
of the coffee house, the blood running a staccato line
along the carpet like a red pencil
striking out the poorly written passages of his life.
He charged into the street,
and though the four or five of us who cared
enough to give him chase were right behind,
somehow he evaded our eyes.
After we’d searched the streets and alleys
for several blocks around,
we came back to the coffee house and called 911.
They of course could do nothing except alert the police
to be on the lookout for a crazy motherfucker
with a self-inflicted wound across his palm.
We sat there stunned, the way you sometimes do
when you come upon an intersection
where you often run the light,
and see the wreckage of a car
that risked the same as you, but didn’t make it.
(at a tourist shop on the interstate, north Florida)
No, not ruddy, but pale rust cut
with yellow-bone of ocean,
a chunk of dawn sky. Across
the knots and jags that swirl the crown:
a gash. No, not the crack of beak or tooth,
nor accident of surge and stone that leaves
such remnants on the shore for lovers
walking the morning’s ebb.
No, a shock of steam that thrust out
the mollusk, washed the walls
of muscle and trust. What was hidden
is hollow; what was living is dead,
perhaps eaten. And the smooth
pale lips of the conch say nothing,
though we attribute to them
the elegies of surf, their song.
Pickets pay no mind during weekday release.
Legally on the ground,
he walks away with 50 bucks
& a fair voucher
in second hand pockets.
First expenses: a jalepeño burger instead of chow
& sunmart beer instead of chalk….a smoke…
In La Libre, he leaves:
jigger holdin’ to road dogs;
writ writing to in-house lawyers;
& gunning down to snipers
who see through the turnkey’s kill shield.
Hearty October afternoon, big
& bright, without a cloud ‘cross Texas…
Here, near the forest’s perimeter,
Pine trees pine
& Mockingbirds mock.
Skies seems newer
& somehow bluer.
Free air lacks staleness of men.
“What a good day to hold an aggie.”
But no! No mas!
“No more hoe squad
& high riding bosses!”
He repeats inside his brain:
“What a good day! What a good day!”
& reciprocates 11th Street “traffic”:
white cars with blue seals,
workers driving in gray,
pick-ups of co-eds,
& surely, rumbling chain buses.
My current expedition’s tacky labels
& “MY CHILD IS A LINCOLN HONOR STUDENT”)
secure. He walks in front of me
compelling a shift.
Without human assumption,
I murmur my epithets.
I am better.
White, church women never get caught.
The waves come in optimism,
two seagulls mimic nonchalantly
& one swoops down, then
upwards floating – it’s sea – the air
Off the sad horizon
a jagged long stretch of mountain
“it is, I, you’ve no doubt
heard of, the California Coast.”
People stroll by in twos,
& proud Palm trees,
wide as a Rhino
mingle with Eucalyptus,
There is a path of sunlight
holding a hand out
across the whitecaps
A brisk wind bellows, “hello?!! Hello?!?”
The surf crashes against the cliffs below,
I don’t know how we got there
Or why they let us play that day,
But some of the details are still clear
Of the fort they built out of
Fallen trees and pieces of dry rot tarp
fashioned like a tepee.
It was dark inside and despite
the dry dusty heat
It still smelled musty.
They had fashioned a fence
that marked the perimeter
Next to the woods,
Made of branches full of dry leaves
With raspberry canes
woven in between like barbed wire.
They built a fire ring from cinder blocks
and had it filled with partially burned logs.
Above it hung,
On a makeshift tripod,
A big black kettle filled with stagnate water
And blackened leaves,
Smelling like the sludge
You dig out of the eve troughs
We played cowboys and Indians
With the older boys that day
And they were the Indians
But I don’t actually recall
Being a cowboy.
We were captured
Our clothes removed to our underware
Ropes tied around our hands and feet
And we were staked to the ground
Left to bake in the sun, Brian and me.
The ground was hard and dry
And there was no shade
Where they staked us out,
And the cracked earth
From the clay soil baking in the sun
Left creases in our backs
Deeper than any sleep marks
I had ever seen.
We thought we could escape.
It was a game, not real.
But the older boys had tied us tight
And we could hear them
In the woods,
But they never came back
Neither one of us ever cried out.
I’m not sure how long we laid there.
It was long after
The sounds of laughter stopped.
I felt parched
And I would try to moisten my dry cracked lips
But it felt like a cats dry tongue scrapping
Across my skin.
I remember as the sun got lower
My brother untying us.
I don’t know how he found us
and we never spoke of it again.
We got our clothes on and walked home
Into the sun
With our shadows trailing far behind.
We got big fast, Brian and me
He stands six foot ten today.
The older boys aren’t so much older now.
I think we scared them
With our resolve
And by not crying out
And they never played that game
With us again.
They built apartments that fall
In the woods that bordered the fort.
So nothing remains
Of that day anymore.
My kids may never have
Anything like that
Happen to them.
But I grew up in a time,
And a place,
When games were mostly just that.
But since that summer
For Brian and me
This world became
Trying to find solitude
In red and yellow
Tumbling fall leaves
And a kite flying breeze
Blowing in from the west.
It’s the fifth year
I’ve been on my own
Since that fateful day
When I nearly never saw
This season anymore.
Time spent in utter shock
As the whistling winds of fate
Swept my life, my dreams,
My family away
With a cool autumn gust.
It seemed like forever
I wanted to wake
To the warm yellow air
That would fill our room
This time of year.
To brush your hair
From my face and watch
As silver maple leaves
Softly dance, tapping
Against the window pane.
To feel your hot breasts
Burn the palm of my hand
When, across the wood floor,
The cold morning draft
Hits my bare back.
Thigh against thigh.
In leaf piles outside.
It’s frightening how time
Erases what could
Keep the insanity
From happening all over.
Leaving only the longing.
they move slow 27 days in the state pen
and they already know there is no hurry
they them and it will be there when they
arrive whatever time that may be
sure enough they move faster to chow
it is scheduled at a time to begin and a time to end
they know there are no exceptions for that call
they move slow to stay in the breeze for as long
as they can cause once they enter the massive house
it is lock up time no skating on the wings
one con told me once
it is music man like a song these convicts
slow notes drudgingly moving across
the prison at all different scales
but call chow and they find rhythm movement
slow notes found rhythms
it is a song
it is a song
Receiving the championship trophy
can be bittersweet
Just ask any player
on the best team for
a 60-mile radius how it feels
to have the coach call
day the season ends
Sorry, bud, you been replaced
Didn’t want to do it but
your timing’s off
Means the loss of possession
the odds were high you’d
lose your spot
Some fifty boys turned out
Your ma did what she could
trailing me to my car
after everybody left
talking up how you practice
each morning even when
the family heads
to the beach
‘Can’t pull him away’
pride a lopsided invite
down her face
It isn’t that you
are any less quick
Couple boys made it
by the skin of their teeth
and who knows
come next June
you could be the one
knock somebody off
Just keep missing
at the beach
And don’t let this ruin
your summer none
You set that trophy where
it can be seen
When it catches the sun
it will hold the same sheen
as the others we managed
to get you
Under the chapel
The priest knelt while
The dust collected and
Over on the beach
Under a streak of white
Walked a calm bird
Who pecked and prowled
Where the raven sun
Cried at hearts.
The pew with dust and cobwebs dry
Turned faces below
Where the priests face cracked.
Under the chapel
The stone wood chipped
And wood dried
After a rain soaked night.
And with one voice
Rose to prayer:
The gothic figure above.
It was less than a week until Christmas
and the friends at my party were feeling
rushy and effusive. Laughter brimmed.
Singing and spilling and driven,
endless, emotional conversations.
Luxurious hugs and enormous smooches.
Frenetic gags and anecdotes. Fine mist
of alcohol to slow the circulation
and coat the world in innocuous glaze.
A close friend of mine from work,
David, asked to speak to me in private,
so we went to my bedroom. He told me
a man we both knew had struck his wife
in the kitchen. Several people were upset,
and David most visibly so. He had hugged
Amy, to say goodbye, and Greg (whose grasp
of love was mostly predatory and rapacious)
slapped her. Some thought I should call
the cops, or ask Greg to leave. I didn’t know
what to do. I was scared and agitated.
I pretended to be level headed, but mostly
I just wanted to avoid a confrontation.
He hit her, Christopher, David said.
His voice broke and I let him nestle
within my arms as the sobs came,
and hated myself for being afraid
of Greg, the charming, butch troglodyte.
We were there talking in my sanctuary
for awhile. I let myself (when it was
appropriate) kiss David, which I had
wanted to do for months. It felt fierce
and raw and urgent and he responded
in kind, like an astonishing nova
erupting in a black cold Eastern sky.
as we walked up to the Seven-Eleven
for cigarettes, he told he wanted me.
Many other things happened that evening.
Around two, the remaining guests went
out for an early, raucous breakfast.
We all felt gentle and buoyant and jovial.
Potatoes and ham and eggs and gravy
with coffee and champagne and cocktails.
Around five or six, I guess, David
called me to come and collect him.
Greg had apparently come back
and slashed his tires. I brought him
home, and prepared the guest room.
David was talking feverishly
(something I loved about him)
and stoked with adrenaline.
He said, C’mon Christopher,
put on a pot of coffee, I can’t
go to sleep right now.
But I had to beg off. Looking back
on that night, I can’t believe I was
so utterly dense. I was overcome.
Morpheus drowned the alluring
duet of Aphrodite and Dionysus.
I took him home on Sunday afternoon,
and called him Monday evening.
His brother told me they’d had to check
David in at Timberlawn. Though I knew
he’d had serious problems before,
this was news I wasn’t really expecting.
I didn’t hear from David again
for years: when I thought I’d completely
and unmistakably forgotten about him.