American Rome

            Marion “Shepilov” Barry, Jr. (1936-2014)

Marionberry:   jams of Washington                                                 
state. I thought they were mocking this city.
Take a mayor and boil his sugar down—                                          
spoon-spreadable, sweet. We take presidents
and run them in a game’s fourth-inning stretch.
We take Bullets and turn them to Sea Dogs.                                   

Do you remember that ballot? Sea Dogs
Dragons   Stallions   Express
. The Washington
Wizards was no more or less of a stretch.
We wave gavels like wands in this city.
We’re the small town in which a president
can plant some roses. Each time I sit down                                     

to try and say goodbye, all I write down
is Dear City. My neighbor walks his dogs
past a monument to a president’s
terrier, forever bronzed. Washington
has no J Street, no Z, yet the city
maps attend to fifty states and a stretch                                          

of five blocks NE Metro track—a stretch
named Puerto Rico Avenue. Bow down
to the unmapped names: Chocolate City,
Simple City. Ben serves up chili dogs
through a riot, and Walter Washington
is the first and last time a president                                                 

picks our mayor. The truth is, presidents
come and go, four or eight years at a stretch.
Barry said, I’m yours for life, Washington;
Emperor Marion, who could get down
with Chuck Brown. Later, reporters will dog
his Bitch set me up, his graft. Dear City,                                          

will you let me claim you as my city?
To love you is to defy precedent.
Your quadrants hustle like a pack of dogs
around the hydrant Capitol. They stretch
and paw, they yap and will not settle down.
Traffic:   the berry to Washington’s jam.                                         

For city miles, Barry’s motorcade stretched.
We laid him among vice presidents, down
where the dogs seek congress in Washington.

Cherry Tomatoes

Little bastards of vine.
Little demons by the pint.
Red eggs that never hatch,
just collapse and rot. When

my mom told me to gather
their grubby bodies
into my skirt, I'd cry. You 
and your father, she'd chide—

the way, each time I kicked 
and wailed against sailing, 
my dad shook his head, said
You and your mother. 

Now, a city girl, I ease one 
loose from its siblings,
from its clear plastic coffin,
place it on my tongue.

Just to try. The smooth
surface resists, resists,
and erupts in my mouth: 
seeds, juice, acid, blood

of a perfect household.
The way, when I finally 
went sailing, my stomach 
was rocked from inside

out. Little boat, big sea.
Handful of skinned sunsets.


For six months I dealt Baccarat in a casino. 
For six months I played Brahms in a mall. 
For six months I arranged museum dioramas;
my hands were too small for the Paleolithic
and when they reassigned me to lichens, I quit. 
I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them 
Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.
I speak Russian, Latin, a smattering of Tlingit. 
I can balance seven dinner plates on my arm.
All I want to do is sit on a veranda while 
a hard rain falls around me. I'll file your 1099s. 
I'll make love to strangers of your choice. 
I'll do whatever you want, as long as I can do it 
on that veranda. If it calls you, it's your calling, 
right? Once I asked a broker what he loved 
about his job, and he said Making a killing. 
Once I asked a serial killer what made him 
get up in the morning, and he said The people.


After you've surrendered to pillows 
and I, that second whiskey, 
on the way to bed I trace my fingers 
over a thermostat we dare not turn up.
You have stolen what we call the green thing—
too thick to be a blanket, too soft to be a rug—
turned away, mid-dream. Yet your legs
still reach for my legs, folding them quick 
to your accumulated heat.
                              These days
only a word can earn overtime. 
Economy: once a net, now a handful of holes. 
Economy: what a man moves with 
when, even in sleep, he is trying to save
all there is left to save.