Came home and found my typewriter
case a little crushed it’s my fault
probably for leaving it looking like
a stepping stone for someone not tall
enough to climb onto the toy chest
but who very much likes to clamber
up there my father built the toy chest
for me and now the result is my comma
key sticks won’t fly up to make its mark
so no more clauses of that tender
kind or just imagine them there or figure
out how to use a semicolon or type the word
comma when I need one lots of things
are called commas not just punctuation
a certain butterfly a bacillus responsible for cholera
the chest’s nails are slowly withdrawing I notice
pulling themselves out in the invisible
hammerclaw of time or else the wood itself’s
ejecting them feeling maybe hey it’s been long
enough let me just be planks again or it could
be the climbing itself did I also climb
and all that climbing’s worked
against those nails a little each time after
my father held one in his hand one in his
mouth and with his hammer made a box

Taharah

I’m wondering about you, chevra kadisha,
the “holy society,” who will prepare my body,
once I’m no longer in it, for the earth.

Will you know me already, or see me for the first time
as you wash and shroud me, as my father was washed
and dressed in simple white tachrichim, for those

about to stand before God. Perhaps by then I’ll know
if I believe in God. I like the democratic
nature of the shroud, an equalizing garment. You

may see a body that surprises you. You may not have seen
a man’s body like this one before you, which I hope is very old,
wrinkled, and (since I’m wishing) fit, muscled

as much as an old man can be. You’ll see scars.
Ragged dog bit forearm, elbow my father picked gravel
from over the sink, then flushed with foaming iodine,

and the long double horizons on my chest, which trunked my body
like a tree. If I am unexpected, let me not seem
grotesque to you, as I have to many people, perhaps

even my own parents, and others whose highest
kindness was to say nothing. Please let me return to dust
in peace, as the others did, and recite those beautiful psalms,

remembering, as you go about your holy ritual,
how frightening it is to be naked before another,
at the mercy of a stranger’s eyes, without even any breath.

Related Poems

The Writer

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back, 
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten.  I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
 

My Daughter Among the Names

Difficult once I've said things

to know them this morning

the lights above the tollway all off

at exactly 7:36

all "we took our yellow from the pewter sky."

 

But we have so many

things!   Stories

about our diction, the leather couch

some trees and our ages.

What about all the rooms the sky makes—

 

she tried several

spaces today, under a desk, a nook

bent to her.

I thought of picking a fight

with dead Bachelard.

Her small body a new host for

waters, spaces brought round

for viruses, their articulations, their ranges. 

 

Think of all the products

left behind by a shift in design—

iPod cases, dancers called spirit rappers

sites where "women, negroes, natives were acted out"

for Rev. Hiram Mattison "vehicles of impurity."

 

"My children too have learned

a barbarous tongue, though it's not so sure

they will rise to high command"— Tu Fu or

Bernadette Mayer on Hawthorne's American Notebooks

a boy tried to hang a dog in a playground, she said.

 

O structural inequalities!  O explanations!

The owner of the desert house we rented

plants butterfly bushes, cenizo, and columns

of dark leaves where birds go.

Sharp sweet dung smell off the horse trailer

 

after it pulls away. 

What about all the rooms the sky makes? 

Faint blue expanse

a long far line of electric poles

a mountain I can see.  Dog yelps almost digital

 

maybe from inside a car at the Dollar General. 

She made her first marks today

on this page     

rain    hand      here

Punctuation

Without commas in her gaze,
the little girl dribbles colons with each breath
and swears an exclamation mark
is a lollipop:

“Is growing up for real or make-believe?”
Dot dot dot, I gasped.
A question mark is a fisherman’s hook.

I’d taken the bait of uncertainty, 
when she offered me as consolation,
wrapped in quotation marks, a single Smartie.