Rock Paper Scissors

- 1950-

         Midnight snow swirls in the courtyard—
                 you wake and mark the steel-gray light of dawn,

                           the rhythm in your hands
                           of scissors cutting paper;

         you pull a blade against ribbon,
                    and the ribbon springs into a spiraling curl 
                                        when you release it;

         here, no one pulled a blade against the ribbon of desire,
                  a downy woodpecker drilled into a desiccated pear tree; 

         you consider how paper wraps rock,
                                         scissors snips paper,

         how this game embodies the evolution
                                         of bacteria and antibiotic;

         you can’t see your fingerprints on a door handle,
                   but your smudging,

                                       like trudging footprints in snow,

         track where and how you go—

                             wrapping
                             a chrysoprase heart in a box—

         how you look at a series of incidentals
                               and pull an invisible thread through them all.

Slanting Light

Slanting light casts onto a stucco wall
the shadows of upwardly zigzagging plum branches.

I can see the thinning of branches to the very twig.
I have to sift what you say, what she thinks,

what he believes is genetic strength, what
they agree is inevitable. I have to sift this

quirky and lashing stillness of form to see myself,
even as I see laid out on a table for Death

an assortment of pomegranates and gourds.
And what if Death eats a few pomegranate seeds?

Does it insure a few years of pungent spring?
I see one gourd, yellow from midsection to top

and zucchini-green lower down, but
already the big orange gourd is gnawed black.

I have no idea why the one survives the killing nights.
I have to sift what you said, what I felt,

what you hoped, what I knew. I have to sift 
death as the stark light sifts the branches of the plum.

Spring Snow

A spring snow coincides with plum blossoms.
In a month, you will forget, then remember
when nine ravens perched in the elm sway in wind.

I will remember when I brake to a stop,
and a hubcap rolls through the intersection.
An angry man grinds pepper onto his salad;

it is how you nail a tin amulet ear
into the lintel. If, in deep emotion, we are
possessed by the idea of possession,

we can never lose to recover what is ours.
Sounds of an abacus are amplified and condensed
to resemble sounds of hail on a tin roof,

but mind opens to the smell of lightening.
Bodies were vaporized to shadows by intense heat;
in memory people outline bodies on walls.

Looking Back on the Muckleshoot Reservation from Galisteo Street, Santa Fe

The bow of a Muckleshoot canoe, blessed
with eagle feather and sprig of yellow cedar,
is launched into a bay. A girl watches
her mother fry venison slabs in a skillet—
drops of blood sizzle, evaporate. Because
a neighbor feeds them, they eat wordlessly;
the silence breaks when she occasionally
gags, reaches into her throat, pulls out hair.
Gone is the father, riled, arguing with his boss,
who drove to the shooting range after work;
gone, the accountant who embezzled funds,
displayed a pickup and proclaimed a winning
flush at the casino. You donate chicken soup
and clothes but never learn if they arrive
at the south end of the city. Your small
acts are sandpiper tracks in wet sand.
Newspapers, plastic containers, beer bottles
fill bins along the sloping one-way street.

Related Poems

What the Angels Left

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

The Whole World Is Gone

Driving alone at night, the world’s pitch, black velvet
stapled occasionally by red tail lights
on the opposite highway but otherwise mild
panic when the eyes’ habitual check
produces nothing at all in the rearview mirror,
a black blank, now nothing exists
but the dotted white lines of the road,
and the car scissors the blackness open
like the mind’s path through confusion,
but still no clarity, no arrival, only Pennsylvania darkness,
rocks, cliffs, vistas by day that thicken to black. It’s
sensual, though, too, and interestingly mental. What
I do alone, loving him in my mind. Trying not to
let imagination win over reality. Hurtling through the night
passions so spent become facts one observes. Not tempered,
just momentarily out of view by the body that perceives them.
Turning that into my prayer: to be deprived.

Mean Free Path [excerpt]

For the distances collapsed.
            For the figure
failed to humanize
the scale. For the work,
the work did nothing but invite us
to relate it to
            the wall.
For I was a shopper in a dark
            aisle.

For the mode of address
            equal to the war
was silence, but we went on
celebrating doubleness.
For the city was polluted
with light, and the world,
            warming.
For I was a fraud
in a field of poppies.

For the rain made little
            affective adjustments
to the architecture.
For the architecture was a long
lecture lost on me, negative
mnemonics reflecting
            weather
and reflecting
            reflecting.

     ...

I finished the reading and looked up
Changed in the familiar ways. Now for a quiet place
To begin the forgetting. The little delays
Between sensations, the audible absence of rain
Take the place of objects. I have some questions
But they can wait. Waiting is the answer
I was looking for. Any subject will do
So long as it recedes. Hearing the echo
Of your own blood in the shell but picturing
The ocean is what I meant by

*

You startled me. I thought you were sleeping
In the traditional sense. I like looking
At anything under glass, especially
Glass. You called me. Like overheard
Dreams. I'm writing this one as a woman
Comfortable with failure. I promise I will never
But the predicate withered. If you are
Uncomfortable seeing this as portraiture
Close your eyes. No, you startled

     ...

Unhinged in a manner of speaking
Crossed with stars, a rain that can be paused
So we know we're dreaming on our feet
Like horses in the city. How sad. Maybe
No maybes. Take a position. Don't call it
Night-vision green. Think of the children
Running with scissors through the long
Where were we? If seeing this as portraiture
Makes you uncomfortable, wake up

*

Wake up, it's time to begin
The forgetting. Direct modal statements
Wither under glass. A little book for Ari
Built to sway. I admire the use of felt
Theory, like swimming in a storm, but object
To anti-representational bias in an era of
You're not listening. I'm sorry. I was thinking
How the beauty of your singing reinscribes
The hope whose death it announces. Wave

     ...

Numbness, felt silence, a sudden
Inability to swallow, the dream in which
The face is Velcro, describing the film
In the language of disaster, the disaster in
Not finishing sentences, removing the suicide
From the speed dial, failing to recognize
Yourself in the photo, coming home to find
A circle of concerned family and friends
It's more of an artists' colony than a hospital

*

It's more of a vitamin than an anti-psychotic
Collective despair expressed in I-statements
The dream in which the skin is stonewashed
Denim, running your hand through the hair
Of an imaginary friend, rising from bed
Dressing, returning calls, all without
Waking, the sudden suspicion the teeth
In your mouth are not your own, let
Alone the words