Shelter in Place

Schools are shuttered     everything is cancelled     and my body has become

an extension of my house     this shift is strange     but not entirely unfamiliar

the way a cardinal’s home     is a disordered stick bomb     just about captures

how I feel

        how the mother bird uses her shape     as a template to form her nest

shoving sticks together     in a fit of random engineering     randoming would be

the verb I guess     or jamming as it applies to me

                                                                                a steady state of hysteresis

in which applied pressure     changes the ensemble     in which the structure

bounces back     but not completely

                                                      I’ve been thinking

of ways to speak     to my children about fear     how to be adaptive

I want to tell them     about zebra finches     who are content in captivity

and who unlike robins     which favor mud as cement     make their nests

from anything they find     strips of paper or string     fibers from a coconut husk

I want to stress     that these elements the finches assemble     seem haphazardly

placed but behave collectively     how there’s a logic buried     deep in the mother

building her nest     which is a story of the nature of her body     as every child’s

first home     that we don’t struggle alone     as the architects of our days

that nature will continue     to amaze us      in ways we don’t expect

Butterfly Catcher

In the Sixties
Nabokov switched

from ink to eraser-
topped pencil

on index cards  a box
of cards for Ada  a box

of cards for dreams
whose "curious features"

include "erotic tenderness
and heart-rending enchantment"

in one draft
he traded "stillness and heat"

for "silence, a burning"
                       so picture:

Vladimir seated
at the trunk of a tree

a spring day
at Wellesley  where

he marvels at his students
and their cable-knit socks

the way each elastic
grips without binding

just below
the knee      so exquisite

an application of pressure
that when said sock

is slowly
peeled off

the skin shows
no trace at all

Some Kinds of Fire

               Anna Akhmatova burned
her poems and the light of Madrid was like water

at La Latina luncheonette I ate a cup of chocolate
and a motor oil churro 

every day for a week

                      ...the cherry bomb alley that was our street
Hotel Chelsea ablaze from a rum-soaked pillow and a cigarette, 1977

iron balconies were dropping like lace
windows were popping like sobs...

"Can you describe this?" someone asked

Anna Akhmatova
as she stood on line "Yes"

she said "I can"

Reality Series


on Sixth Avenue

sports coat-
on the same oldschool
skateboard as ever  ragged

wheels but a beautiful
deck, wood  smooth

as if the plank had
been tumbled in the sea

his right leg
a manic pendulum

but strong

under thin
jeans  hard to believe

he's still

after all
these years


nine days
into thirty

and  already
a gray hair

that won't sit down
that springs up

from under
my palm

in the morning
in the mirror

a kind
of private joke

time marching on


once my  bedroom  
caught fire

in summer
orange flames

floated up
like feathers

exotic  hypnotic

I stood staring
several seconds

when the lights
went out I found

the dog but the cat
would not come

from behind
the mantle mirror

fragile as china  she
knew she wouldn't

make it  in the flashing
darkness I saw

my smoky

out of the room


"The Giglio (structure)
was built in Paulinus's honor...
After his death the carrying
of the Giglio was dedicated
to the sacred penance for the souls
in purgatory and the remission
of sins of the living."

        -112th Annual Feast
        of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
        and Saint Paulinus


in the bathroom
on 10th Avenue      pink tile

and a view of Hell's Kitchen
my mother pierced

my ears with a needle
and thread  I cried

in rage but later
admired the loose red

loops until each
wound had healed

and was studded
with a dot of gold


My mother's mother told
me not to wash my hair

on those days
on those days

she said shaking
her head  the natural

balance of oils
in the scalp

is disturbed by water
its atomic opposite

that pale lather
strips and the sweet

masking scent of Breck
can throw the body off

throw the body off
she said don't

throw your body
like that


106 men
in a village

were taken
to a barn

and shot
last month

an old man
in a wool cap

the story

to the News

each man's

on the grass
for the camera

he said the names
of the men

not stopping
even as

the lens
moved away 


a friend once
booked a red-eye

flight first-class
from Helsinki

in the middle
of the night   leaving

her sleeping husband
unaware   sardonic

as ever
as they lifted

her to the stretcher
so she wouldn't miss

the plane  seat on the aisle
meal intact

cut tumbler
of ice glinting

bright next to mini
cutlery on the plastic tray

frantic the whole way
making calls to old friends

from 30,000 feet
she tried to trip the Queen

of Sweden on her way
to the bathroom

time froze
as she watched

the Queen fumble
for her crown  failing

to fall down or find
humor she vanished

through a folding door
marked vacant


At Long Last, A New Sun
With a Family of Planets

       -The New York Times, April 16, 1999