In some other life, I can hear you
breathing: a pale sound like running
fingers through tangled hair. I dreamt
again of swimming in the quarry
& surfaced here when you called for me
in a voice only my sleeping self could
know. Now the dapple of the aspen
respires on the wall & the shades cut
its song a staff of light. Leave me—
that me—in bed with the woman
who said all the sounds for pleasure
were made with vowels I couldn’t
hear. Keep me instead with this small sun
that sips at the sky blue hem of our sheets
then dips & reappears: a drowsy penny
in the belt of Venus, your aureole nodding
slow & copper as it bobs against cotton
in cornflower or clay. What a waste
the groan of the mattress must be
when you backstroke into me & pull
the night up over our heads. Your eyes
are two moons I float beneath & my lungs
fill with a wet hum your hips return.
It’s Sunday—or so you say with both hands
on my chest—& hot breath is the only hymn
whose refrain we can recall. And then you
reach for me like I could’ve been another
man. You make me sing without a sound.
Under the eaves of the gas-mart—swallows
fall into the day, wheel before the headless
grooms of the formal wear shop, angle low
as my shoes, then comet up, sheer, careless
of traffic, all that is grounded or down.
A flight of leaf-blown cursives, blue coats
over dashing white, the red-rift of dawn
painted upon their crowns and busy throats.
I must learn to keep them with me, to hold,
somehow, their accomplished joy when I’m gone
to the city where I am mostly old
and their song, under the noise of hours, is done.
But now, auto exhaust cripples the air
as my grey somnambulant bus draws near.
When Milo was a kitten
and spent the night
with us in the big bed,
curled like a brown sock
at our feet, he would
wake before daybreak,
in his best Burmese,
and make bread on our stomachs
until if one of us did not rise,
sleep-walk to the kitchen
and open his can of food,
he would steal under the covers,
crouch, run hard at us,
jam his head
in our armpits,
and burrow fiercely.
Probably he meant nothing by that.
Or he meant it in cat-contrary,
just as he did not intend
drawing blood the day
he bolted out the door
and was wild again
for nearly three hours.
I could not catch him
until I knelt, wormed
into the crawl-space
under a neighbor house
and lured him home
with bits of dried fish.
Or he meant exactly what he smelled,
and smelled the future
as it transmogrified out of the past,
for he is, if not an olfactory
a highly nuanced cat—
an undoer of complicated knots,
who tricks cabinets,
who lives to upend tall
glasses of Merlot.
With his whole body,
he has censored the finest passages of Moby-Dick.
He has silenced Beethoven with one paw.
He has leapt three and a half feet
from the table by the wall
and pulled down
your favorite print by Miró.
He does not know the word no.
When you asked the vet what
kind of cat it was, she went
into the next room
came back and said,
The yellow eyes, the voice,
the live spirit that plays into dead seriousness
and will not be punished into goodness,
an ancient, nameless breed—
mink he says and I answer in cat.
Even if I was not
born in a dumpster
between a moldy cabbage
and an expired loaf of bread,
I too was rescued by an extravagant woman.
It’s one thing to be hopeful and to be full
of feathers is another and it’s a third to
conflate the two and do fourth things
even survive being thought of?
Five fingers on fire close into a metaphor
about how we’ll never, never ever, never ever.
The smoke above the hospital is beautiful.
The smoke above the hospital was beautiful.
Above the hospital, the smoke looked
and seemed, its seams dissolved
into memory which is a terrible way
to tell time in the cold. I misread
the “Creve Coeur Camera” sign
of the shop beside the supermarket
as “Cri De Coeur Camera” like it is my job
to misread signs. Something beautiful arrived
in a helicopter, something beautiful left
forever. Here we go again, against,
aghast. Something in us floats, floated,
our feet dragging through future ruins.
I know, “something” is an ulcer
on any reaching, making intelligence
but the ulcer wants what it wants, to be
something after all. For an awful whale,
a moment tries to beach itself, it does,
I learn Tomaž has died
then it is a magnet of terrible power
when I know for certain Tomaž has died.
I convalesce, selfish as a branch punished
mildly by wind—Tomaž lived! and will,
but it’s only the kind of enough
nothing ever is. I feel I am being
ironed, and it all only burns. I feel
the subtraction machine subtracting
my maneuvers. I feel the abacus
in my brain, that accordion, finally.
Finally licked into char. Five. Now any chair
I steal into for any length of time
has three unsteady legs. Cri cri cri, etc.
It would be a swell time to have a handle on
any methodology for rising into the sky,
a really great time to turn into a bird.
What a time! the sun is out and it is snowing
and I am as close to being a plastic sword
as I ever have been. How I would love
some toddler coming into their tongues
or some beloved ancient to sentence me.
How I will love the sound
of my own final clatter, but
only if it comes when I am tossed aside
to signal the end of hostilities.
While crossing the river of shorn paper,
I forget my name. My body,
a please leave. I want a patron saint
that will hush the dog growling
at trimmed hedges it sees in the night.
I want the world to be without language,
but write my thoughts down just in case.
Send help, the dog’s growling
won’t let me sleep. I haven’t slept in days.
I am looking for a patron saint, but none
will let me pray for guidance. There is a buzz
in my right ear that never goes away, no matter
how hard I hit the side of my head
for loose change. Most mornings I wonder
who I can pray to that will make sure I never
have to survive waking again. Most nights
I forget to pray the rosary, though I sleep with it
by the bed. I’ve never owned a TV because
I’ll replay this conversation in my head.
My dead lovers are hungry in the kitchen,
so I fix them food they cannot eat. I make toast
of vellum paper, fry an egg made of crepe.
I only want a patron saint to protect me.
I only want someone else to bleed.
You can only hear you look like a hooker so many times
before you become one. Spandex was really big
the year I stopped believing.
I babysat for the rabbi’s son, Isaac. There was luxe carpet
in every room of the condo. Isaac liked Legos
and we made a pasture and a patriarch and lots of wives.
In his car in his garage the rabbi handed me a self-help book
and put my hand on his crotch, ready to go.
I didn’t care.
I made good money.
Isaac lived to be 180 according to the bible.
Isaac is the only patriarch who didn’t have concubines.
Isaac is 30 now. Modern scholarship tells us
the patriarchs never existed. Experience taught me
the patriarchs are all we’ve got.
The violence done to the mind by the weaponized
word or image is bad.
We can live with it, though
We can understand it. Or we can try. And we
can consider ourselves lucky, which we are.
Nothing can be understood
about the blunt-force trauma to the head.
The percussion grenade.
The helmet-to-helmet hit at an aggregate speed
of forty miles an hour.
No concussion protocol comprehends the self’s
delicate apparatus crumpled in the wide pan of the brain.
The roof collapsing in Aleppo.
The beam slamming the frontal lobe.
The drone, the terror by night and day.
He wanted to remember it all,
to fix the image cradled inside the image
of itself, itself, itself
down the facing mirrors of future and past,
and then he wanted to be left to die there,
in the ditch where he was cudgeled
down and under—
ground water seeping into his mouth,
himself becoming ground water.
But he felt a hand reach down and grab him
by the collar and yank him back up
and set him on his feet.
And as he steadied himself, he thought,
This compassion he feels for me as his
mirror enemy, image, brother in wrath,
and that I feel for him,
this compassion is the compassion that those
who see themselves in agony feel.
But there is the other compassion, the one
felt by those who see agony in themselves,
which the deaf master will feel
when he imagines us poised and ready to recapitulate
our thinking’s frozen violence—
the great deaf master,
living in the villa of the deaf,
where he will paint us in silent pastels.
That streetlight looks like the slicked backbone
of a dead tree in the rain, its green lamp blazing
like the first neon fig glowing in the first garden
on a continent that split away from Africa
from which floated away Brazil. Why are we not
more amazed by the constellations, all those flung
stars held together by the thinnest filaments
of our evolved, image making brains. For instance,
here we are in the middle of another Autumn,
plummeting through a universe that made us
from its shattering and dust, stooping
now to pluck an orange leaf from the sidewalk,
a small veined hand we hold in an open palm
as we walk through the park on a weekend we
invented so we would have time to spare. Time,
another idea we devised so the days would have
an epilogue, precise, unwavering, a pendulum
strung above our heads. When was the sun
enough? The moon with its diminishing face?
The sea with its nets of fish? The meadow’s
yellow baskets of grain? If I was in charge
I’d say leave them there on their backs
in the grass, wondering, eating berries
and rolling toward each other’s naked bodies
for warmth, for something we’ve yet to name,
when the leaves were turning colors in their dying
and we didn’t know why, or that they would return,
bud and green. One of a billion
small miracles. This planet will again be stone.
The river is high. I'd love to smoke pot
with the river. I'd love it if rain
sat at my table and told me what it's like
to lick Edith Piaf's grave. I go along thinking
I'm separate from trash day
and the weird hairdo my cat wakes up with
but I am of the avalanche
as much as I am its tambourine.
The river is crashing against my sleep
like it took applause apart and put it back together
as a riot of wet mouths
adoring my ears, is over my head
when it explains string theory
and affection to me,
when it tells me to be the code breaker,
not the code. What does that mean?
Why does lyric poetry exist?
When will water open its mouth
and tell us how to be clouds, how to rise
and morph and die and flourish and be reborn
all at the same time, all without caring
if we have food in our teeth or teeth in our eyes
or hair in our soup or a piano in our pockets,
just play the damned tune. The river is bipolar
but has flushed its meds, I'm dead
but someone has to finish all the cheese
in the fridge, we're a failed species
if suction cups are important, if intelligence
isn't graded on a curve,
but if desperation counts, if thunderstorms
are the noise in our heads given a hall pass
and rivers swell because orchestras
aren't always there when we need them, well then,
I still don't know a thing.
I turned my back on the color fields. I turned my back
on the abstract, New York, the blue/red adjustments
and the inflamed men, the men inflated with trust
and acts of god and gorgeous manly man drag.
I turned my back on the furious magazines [I could
read], their reds and blues and frequencies I used
[I could use] to spin myself into an ecstasy, white
dervish, in custody of a story that begins troubled
with power, then the trouble is you as you spin,
a dance that ends with what kind of man I am.
Propped against a tree on a sidewalk next
to the trash cans, shorn of sheets, its fabric
a casing for its coils, harborer of secretions
seeped and dried, its phosphorous surface
glitters abandoned skin flakes in moonlight,
shingles from roof sides of humans. Mucous
trails pearlescent from a snail crawled up
the trunk of the tree upon which this bed
formerly slept on now leans. Loved upon?
Perhaps. Dreamt on most definitely. Hands
on skin most definitely, the stains it harbors
are the trails of dreams, the shotguns aimed
at baby carriages, molars boring holes into
the palm upon which they are cast like dice,
and the mystery of love as scratchy and fine
smelling as the needle tree that carried you
off with its scent of resin: it’s a hideous thing.
Sheet marks on the face won’t disappear into
the water filling the basin. Under the eyes dark
lakes before the resinous reflection of window
cast into mirror by interior lights set against
the night. Do you wonder if I dream of your
shattering? Marks on the face don’t melt into
the water. It would be strange to dream that
hard for a stranger, even for you who became
strange within an hour. Yet, I am waking from
the press of your face against my face. Carried
off over the shoulder, hauled through doorways,
receiving your murder, once this mattress was
bent at its middle, sagged profuse as a gaping
blouse, and bore stains of which I was never
aware while asleep. You knew. You were there
too. You will dream of congress between us.
I withdraw my hand. I refuse. Haul me away.
A black-chinned hummingbird lands
on a metal wire and rests for five seconds;
for five seconds, a pianist lowers his head
and rests his hands on the keys;
a man bathes where irrigation water
forms a pool before it drains into the river;
a mechanic untwists a plug, and engine oil
drains into a bucket; for five seconds,
I smell peppermint through an open window,
recall where a wild leaf grazed your skin;
here touch comes before sight; holding you,
I recall, across a canal, the sounds of men
laying cuttlefish on ice at first light;
before first light, physical contact,
our hearts beating, patter of female rain
on the roof; as the hummingbird
whirrs out of sight, the gears of a clock
mesh at varying speeds; we hear
a series of ostinato notes and are not tied
to our bodies’ weight on earth.
then i am sprawling in through me
then i am fastened into myself
into my points and my pulls
then i am spinning in rev, in stare
it is a stun and a shunning of this life
it is a slutting of this life
it is a spawning of this moment
i am a promise awake with knowing
a pull in a thread
a driving to the edge & waiting
a waiting for the edge to fall
an edging closer to the fall
a wanting the fall to crush
and now i am in the fall
i am the fall
i thank the desire
i kiss the desire
i hold the desire
i thumb the desire
i bite the desire
i thrust the desire
i grind the desire
i rub the desire
it is without oars
circling in a pond
it is the wind tracing
the feet of the kicking beneath that surface
the earth beneath sucking & sucking
that filling of the mouth
that shattering of time
i am bringing myself to a standstill
i am allowing the water to spread
i am afloat in the desire
the desire of me
i am pinning myself to the surface
waiting for the moon to fall
longing for the pierce of stars
tonguing the night
brushing away the darkness
til there is light
til my eyes
to the white
of the sky
1. I ate eggs from a chafing dish while the baker reminded us: the only thing that will hurt you out here are your own bad decisions
2. I felt fettered then un-
3. I listened to the rain
4. I listened to the rain hitting the Carrier compressor, the gravel walk
5. I listened to the rain flattening the clover, I listened to the rain letting up and then it was ozone and drip
6. On the bench under the overhang in the rain I let myself pretend I was younger and childless, like the first time I arrived here
7. The first time I arrived here, I never thought I am small and luminous
8. The body, burdened and miraculous
9. The body as thin-nest boundary
10. I climbed into your body like a cave
11. I was frightened to walk in the dark
12. Late at night even my own movements became unknowable, magnified and rustling
13. The night cut by the moon, punctured by the whistle of the cargo train
14. There was only a hole, there was only forward and more forward
15. The inevitability of a scarred life, your pulse, stitches, this palace of breath
16. go on, go on / again, again / return, return
Mudslide in Rio de Janeiro state . . . : in the early hours of Saturday, following two days of heavy downpour. A boulder slid down a slope and hit a group of houses in the city of Niterói.
Volunteers joined rescuers in silence so that any survivors could be heard.
—BBC News, November 11, 2018
It's as if the marrow of the earth mistook us
for part of itself, our limbs its own settling
form, like we have sunk into chairs and taken as us
our tight-tucked legs, our bellies. Or known the settling
head of our daughter to sternum as an uncleaved us,
one sleeping self inside a woken self. The settling
mud around, its heave, seems simple now: is softening us
into dense dark shape, and we are settling
our gauges too: voice from volume, sediment, shadow, us
from the spaces we lived. Silence settling
who we thought we were, was us,
into this all-consuming lack. Nothing settling
a choke around the circumference of light, drawing us
in. We no longer know if our eyes are open, only settling:
(where our daughter sank her pillow—her hair—and us
somewhere too), though we're yielding there to this, settling
aphotic loss, how we once lived what we could bear: us,
her, no more. Now there is weight so true, a settling
so whole, we could die in its lightness: it exiles us
to formless terror—no blanket, no bed, but settling.
If we could remember that once a throat was us
inside a body. Only: here, or here, inside this settling,
a hint of shade, almost like memory: the sound of us.
If we could just know again our mouths. We
could part the earth with our voices, ask to be heard.
All poetry is about hope.
A scarecrow walks into a bar.
An abandoned space station falls to earth.
When probing the monster’s brain,
you’re probably probing your own.
A beautiful woman becomes a ghost.
I hope I never miscalculate the dosage
that led to the infarction
of my lab rabbit again.
All poetry is a form of hope.
Not certain, just actual
like love and other traffic circles.
I cried on that airplane too,
midwest patchwork below
like a board game on which
mighty forces kick apart the avatars.
I always wanted to be the racecar
but usually ended up a thumbtack.
When I was young, sitting in a tree
counted as preparation and later
maybe a little whoopie in the morgue.
So go ahead, thaw the alien, break
the pentagram but watch out for
the institutional hood ornaments.
It’s not a museum, it’s a hive.
The blood may be fake
but the bleeding’s not.
We were all Jack Gilbert’s lovers, not in the world
but in the poems, in the world of the poems, dying
on the rocky broken spurs of hard islands in a blue
country across the sea, lovers carried in his arms
for decades sometimes, more, the wind a character
that refused to lift the center of the word pain, where
vowels fall into the letter n the way the summer,
wheat-blazed and feral, pours into the cold weeks
of November, winter in its bones to come. Jack
loved us, not as a god or a devil, however nuanced,
but as one who must attend to the difficult harvest
of a life, to the losses and the simple grain that we might,
if we listen beyond the howling in our own hearts, hear
him singing about as he carries us up the dead mountain.
how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
the way it’s scraped off
those flash-storms of rage
I grew delicately-feathered
luna moth antennae
to fine-tune your emotional weather:
sometimes a barometric shift
in the house’s atmosphere / a tight
quickening / some hard dark shadow
flickering glossy as obsidian
pulled down like a nightshade
behind your irises / but sometimes
you struck with no warning at all
rattlesnaked fang of lightning
incinerating my moon-pale wings
to crumpled cinder and ash
now your memory resets
itself every night / a button
clearing the trip odometer
back to zero / dim absinthe fizz
of radium-green glow
from the dashboard half-lifing
a midnight rollover from
omega to alpha to omega
I remember when you told me
(maybe I was three?)
I was mentally damaged
like the boy across the street /
said you’d help me pass
for normal so no one would know
but only if I swore to obey
you / and only you / forever
now your memory fins
around and around / like
the shiny obsessive lassos
of a goldfish gold-banding
the narrow perimeters
of its too-small bowl
coming home from school
(maybe I was fifteen?)
you were waiting for me
just inside the front door /
accused me of stealing a can
of corned beef hash from
the canned goods stashed
in the basement / then beat me
in the face with your shoe
how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
that I’ve always pined for you
like an unrequited love / though I
was never beautiful enough
for you / your tinned bright laugh
shrapneled flecks of steel to hide
your anger when people used to say
we looked like one another
but now we compare
our same dimpled hands /
the thick feathering of eyebrows
with the same crooked wing
birdwinging over our left eye /
our uneven cheekbones making
one half of our face rounder
than the other / one side
a full moon / the other side
a shyer kind of moon
how can I admit I’m almost glad of it
when you no longer recognize
yourself in photographs
the mirror becoming stranger
until one day—will it be soon?—
you’ll look in my face / once again
seeing nothing of yourself
reflected in it, and—unsure
of all that you were and all
that you are—ask me: who are you?
Someone had laced the pot,
my date shape-shifting
in the car’s plush seat.
I rolled with it, his tongue,
not sexy or soft, but possibly
earnest. I must have bit him
on purpose to regain my breath,
redirect him away from my throat.
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on,
his favorite song on the mixtape.
I was a liar, called my parents
hours later from a distant Finger Lake
to say I was sleeping at Suzanne’s.
Is a hydra like the zebra mussel
taking hold here, forever altering
the ecology of Keuka and me, half-dressed
in his younger sister’s top bunk,
my bony hips against his,
the popcorn ceiling scraping my back
each time I was flipped over.
I’d foreseen this happening
the second we left the gymnasium
with its stupid decorations.
Through the bay window of a child’s room,
the black water licked the dock,
the huge lake a dream
into which I threw my still boyish body.
He wasn’t aware of me,
nor I of him. How inelegant and sad
our untangling was, how we’d misremember it.
What I thought was a cat
was a sack of sand.
toward the flood
or where they thought
the flood might go.
That by now
was days ago.
Animals, go home.
I am better when I am dead
or when I am
Having finally entered
the carboned pistons
of your machinery.
You, as a boy,
the warm excess
of night’s soft decline.
When I rise
place my hands flat
on its weeping
The music is smashed
Wurlitzer, trashed and drug
up from a landfill
Earth mixed with quell
and the bright peal
of a mangled glockenspiel.
In the winter hills
of summer, a sick
foal in the barn,
and an old farmhouse
with all its clocks
Its cold room
with the slow sediment
Because the cathedral leaked yellow light
onto cobblestones like a slit carton of milk.
Because boxes of red wine emptied
down the throat’s swiveling street.
Because the music of my footsteps
like notes of ash.
Because he curved like a question mark
puncturing a flap of heaven.
Because litros tucked in brown paper bags,
two packs of Chesterfields a day,
at the breakfast table,
on the lip of a balcony.
Because I woke in a shrine
of my own stickiness.
Because his lips were aperitif.
Because my father kissed his forehead
outside the mosque,
the taste of rum and rose petals.
Because oranges bulging in coat pockets.
Because the condom held against the light,
swirling cities of children we would never conceive.
Because it broke,
the cartography of longing pulsed onto soft thigh.
Because the long walk home chaperoned by stray dogs,
the drunk's grief of the Guadalquivir,
blue cough and jasmine rotting in my hair.
Because I passed out in the bar bathroom
and mistook the toilet for my mother's legs.
Because the shard of glass in the singer's throat.
Because he cried when he was happy.
Because the thief looked me in the eyes and didn't take the purse.
Because the petroglyphs of our hands wounded the white walls,
how we made the world small,
siphoning god's breath
to sweeten the blood-flavored noon.
My two hunting dogs have names, but I rarely use them. As
I go, they go: I lead; they follow, the blue-eyed one first, then
the one whose coloring—her coat, not her eyes—I sometimes
call never-again-o-never-this-way-henceforth. Hope, ambition:
these are not their names, though the way they run might suggest
otherwise. Like steam off night-soaked wooden fencing when
the sun first hits it, they rise each morning at my command. Late
in the Iliad, Priam the king of Troy predicts his own murder—
correctly, except it won’t be by spear, as he imagines, but by
sword thrust. He can see his corpse, sees the dogs he’s fed and
trained so patiently pulling the corpse apart. After that, he says,
When they’re full, they’ll lie in the doorway, they’ll lap my blood.
I say: Why shouldn’t they? Everywhere, the same people who
mistake obedience for loyalty think somehow loyalty weighs more
than hunger, when it doesn’t. At night, when it’s time for bed,
we sleep together, the three of us: muscled animal, muscled animal,
muscled animal. The dogs settle to either side of me as if each
were the slightly folded wing of a beast from fable, part power, part
recognition. We breathe in a loose kind of unison. Our breathing
ripples the way oblivion does—routinely, across history’s face.