The Philosopher Did Not Say

What secret had Nietzsche discovered
when he walked the Turin streets
before he flung his arms around
a horse being beaten and collapsed
into a decade-long coma? Clinging
to the cowering brown beast, he said
Mother, I am stupid. Wild hair and a three-
piece tweed suit constrained the body
that held the mind that knew too much.
Why am I mining dead men for answers
when they were all as mad as I am?
The horse, his eyes hollow as those
of the Burmese elephant that Orwell shot
decades later, had the look of every
betrayed creature. Perhaps Nietzsche
saw the shock in the animal’s eyes—
how every human contains the capacity
to inflict cruelty. The look that turns
to recognition, to resignation, to an eye
reflecting a field full of fallen horses.

Waiting Again for Biopsy Results from the Second Floor Exercise Room

I glimpse the tulips every two seconds.
They arrived late this year. Those who planted

The bulbs must not have considered how they
Would look from here—red, paired with pink dogwood.

Seven umbrellas float by; only one
Inverts. Ammonia swathed on the machines

Makes this walk to nowhere less appealing.
A police car patrols the next window

Where a dingy white van remains parked. It
Is difficult to discern if it’s still

Raining. Two bridges (I have crossed neither)
And the asylum for the criminally

Insane loom across the estuary.
An old woman obscured by a plum cloche

Appears to hail a taxi but after
One stops, it’s clear that she is waving to

Children who laugh as they glide past. She turns
And exits my view. I will try to eat

Six green things today and nothing white. A
Flash dance mob and you are as likely to

Appear. My tiny bottle of perfume
Is almost empty. It sits alone, a

Deluxe sample, on the pink tray I bought
Last century in Florence. I don’t know

If I’ll buy a bottle—still unable
To find, at forty, my signature scent.

The postman slumps against the fountain, his
Body the heaviest load that he has

To carry. How much rain would it take for
The fountain to overflow? I wish I

Hadn’t been too self-conscious to learn the
Basics of the Argentine tango in

The three lessons before the wedding in
Thessaloniki. Ever since I read

Bronte, I refuse to use an umbrella
And pretend I’m walking the moors even

In the city. I am never where I
Am. If I told you what I look forward

To, I couldn’t bear your pity. I would
Not do any of this without music.

This room is a drenched rag of desire,
Even when it’s empty. It is not too

Late to learn something new, even with this
Trach scar and three letters in my desk drawer.

Nine dogs saunter past, smelling the sidewalk.
The weather does not seem to bother them.

It is too early to be this dark out.
I don’t want to leave the building today.

First Love

The boy beside me
is not you but he
is familiar in all

the important ways.
I pass through life
finding you over

and over again—
oppress you
with love. And every

Afflicted by my
kindness, they leave

me with my music.
I loved you before
I ever loved you.

Preparing for Residential Placement for My Disabled Daughter

My life without you—I have already
seen it. Today, on the salt marsh. 
The red-winged blackbird perched 
in the tallest tree, sage green branches
falling over the water. She sat there
for a long time, doing nothing.
As she lifted up to fly, the slender branch
shook from the release of her weight.
When the bird departed, it seemed
the branch would shake forever
in the wind, bobbing up and down.
When it finally stopped moving,
the branch was diminished,
reaching out to the vast sky.

Related Poems

San Sepolcro

In this blue light
     I can take you there,
snow having made me
     a world of bone
seen through to.  This
     is my house,

my section of Etruscan
     wall, my neighbor's
lemontrees, and, just below
     the lower church,
the airplane factory.
     A rooster

crows all day from mist
     outside the walls.
There's milk on the air,
     ice on the oily
lemonskins.  How clean
     the mind is,

holy grave.  It is this girl
     by Piero
della Francesca, unbuttoning
     her blue dress,
her mantle of weather,
     to go into

labor.  Come, we can go in.
     It is before
the birth of god.  No one
     has risen yet
to the museums, to the assembly

and wings--to the open air
     market.  This is
what the living do: go in.
     It's a long way.
And the dress keeps opening
     from eternity

to privacy, quickening.
     Inside, at the heart,
is tragedy, the present moment
     forever stillborn,
but going in, each breath
     is a button

coming undone, something terribly
finding all of the stops.