On the last day of the working week we stopped at the video rental store. It was right next to the Mar T Café; the second brightest storefront in my hometown. Movie titles bobbled inside their plastic sleeves. The pebbly brown clamshell cases imbued the store with a gently chemical tang. If you didn’t have a VCR, you had to ring a bell in the back and ask to rent one. I always carried it out to the car reverently, palms up and back straight.
In The Neverending Story, Atreyu’s horse Artax sinks. I watched that scene in tense, sweet agony on Friday nights. Atreyu cajoled his horse to fight the quicksand then turned panicky. The horse, an elegant dappled gray, peered winsomely up at Atreyu and then bellied into the mud. The movie’s pitchy black swamp was full of bleak, foliage-stripped trees; my childhood home was a decades-long construction site. Sitting on subfloor in front of the TV, the sludge of Cascadia mud licked at my nostrils from the unfinished windows. The soundtrack’s uncanny chorus of mire-murmur was so like my rural bedtime lullaby, I thought the narrative was swallowing me.
I had my first pony at three. By eight, I was breaking gentler mares and geldings to saddle. Atreyu was a warrior from the Grassy Plains. He was the figment of a German author’s infatuation with indigeneity. I went ahead and assumed he was Shawnee. For a very long time, I thought Atreyu was a girl. I thought she was Shawnee and maybe we were cousins somewhere down the line. I thought I could be them, so I imagined reaching up for that VHS tape every Friday was a ceremony.
Once I read that Shawnee scouts taught fur traders how to evade quicksand by staying utterly still. All that movement I assessed on the screen, Atreyu’s overt show of dismay, consigned that swift, slim horse to the mud. Hush, I remember whispering at the screen. Shut up and be still. Someone I loved best got drunk and babbled tell me about your favorite problematic movie. I would never do what you did. Look at your fingers, he said, they are actually blue. Unwrap your hands from all that before you are pulled under.
tickle at the aural hum
of childhood sleep
when I might hear
river rush in my right ear
(Burntboot Creek, forked
from the Snoqualmie River)
susurrus of waterfall
in my left.
Austere and ascetic nomenclature:
Lindeman crossing into Buck,
North Fork Railroad Trestle,
Joseph, Judith, Seneca, Astrid.
Star women ambling
homeward without much fuss;
never begging for fast water
salt or skin or iodine,
not a meager sliver of apotheosis.
Tokul — darkest water,
The ice was always cracking
In its low thundering mist
we felt our own slick
treacheries accumulating. We skated ‘til dark,
dodging in and out
of the groaning
weather, shivering forward
like a train shuttering forever towards the horizon.
And only for a moment did we hope
for the ice below us to peel back, for
the surface to rearrange itself beneath us.
Then — we were falling, glamorously
into a black — splash of water.
We couldn’t wait to be famous,
or simply to leave,
to look back
upon it — our miniature landscape,
a diorama of who we’d once been,
where we’d placed our cold
red hands and
our hot and hopeful breath.
The birds are making a nest of me
out there, from all the hair I’ve lost
to my hairbrush and rug, bits of skin
and grey fuzz from my skirt too —
and everyone tells me
this doesn’t look good.
Am I shedding because it’s winter,
or because, as the Bad Luck Astrologer says,
Now at twenty-nine I’m finally completing
my first full twirl around the moon?
I think it must be both.
I should have known better then to test
my weight on that cold limb, should have
known better than to buy you
new shoes. All night they danced
around the house and just before dawn
tapped like a black moth
right out the door.
And all night
I brush my hair like a nearly dead plant,
letting the brown fall from its hard root
until it sings
like a sharpened knife
with its one sprout
of new life.
Wayne would sit in front of the class
and tell us how it was to be afraid of death.
We called him the Mescaline Man
and not even behind his back. Before Wayne,
I thought mescaline was a bitter lettuce
I didn’t like. But Wayne made it seem fun
and then, not as fun. The ghosts he still saw,
the lost feeling on his left side, one leg
hanging from the stool two inches shorter than the other.
This was the way with adults then, with their slow
cautionary drums — the real dangers not yet ours to know.
Under the power lines drinking warm beers
I felt it too. At the top of the world, the pulse
of electricity at my feet, a buzz that kept the world
moving, people going where they needed to go.
And there I was, standing still, listening to the hum
of my body in the late summer grass.
We’ll begin at the end —
move backwards toward the flickering light
that catches our skin like a spark.
I’ll call all men sweethearts
as their slim suits speed towards me through time.
I’ll wear furs and smoke long cigarettes
and you’ll snap your thin suspenders
when you’re pleased with yourself,
swing your coat over your left shoulder
like a baseball bat.
I’ll speak from an octave lower in my throat,
sing a bluesy note from time to time,
kiss the air around your head
as if everything about you
is a soft place to land.
You’ll be tough and unwavering —
like the shadow of a stone,
but no matter the bind it puts you in,
it won’t take long for you to turn
towards my legs as if
they were long strands of rope.
Just for tonight,
we won’t care who done it,
or wonder how we’ve arrived
at the edge of the pool,
looking down at the body
floating as bodies do in old movies,
or wonder which of us did this,
or which of us is already dead.
Lately, exes have been sneaking into my dreams,
and other places of suspended thought. Like
when I’m swimming laps, my body blue
and liquid as the water holding me.
They wave. They smile. They flicker
along the blue-floor depths of the deep end.
One shows up to ask if I think he’ll look good
with dread locks. Another shows up with his dog
to ask if I still love her. And another
reminds me of the summer he made a movie
in which I played a young girl learning French,
my only lines words I already knew. And because
he was poor, or young, or in a hurry
there was only one take. And because
I was nervous, or lonely, or young
I remembered only two phrases,
which I purred,
again and again,
in my lowest,
the way I’d seen Jean Seburg whisper
to Jean-Paul Belmando in Breathless.
And even in the final scene, in which
I was supposed to have been hit by a car and killed,
I wouldn’t die,
but looked straight into the camera
propelled by my too-sudden death —
and kept humming:
à bientôt, pamplemousse, à bientôt.
The boat, full hold,
runs in deep cold.
In dusk’s fo’c’sle
we crewmen wear
sheer sleep and hear
snores. Dream of beer,
the slightest fear
of dawn, the work
day brings, its jerk
hard. This murky
night, Skipper skirts
rubs swollen joints
and lucky coins,
wants to anoint
the autumn’s plum-
dark with light rum,
chooses milk, hums,
broods as it un-
ravels white threads
in coffee. In bed
we sleep, bugs feed,
skitter on heads,
hands, hearts, and sink
torch tongues in skin
glass smooth and thin.
Little beasts, pin
puncture mouths. Ache.
See how we wake
naked, how we find
the smallest butcher
making of us meat.
To the feminist karate union and the screeching
motorcycles on 1st Ave, burnouts a block long.
To the skater punk snapping selfies in the sun,
wearing a scruffed up t-shirt the same shitty
black as oblivion, not smiling, not even the eyes.
And also to the tangueras who drown oblivion
with their bodies, a terrible drone of beauty.
To the morning yogis I love to hate in their spandex
and grace making asanas before light. To impossible,
delicate hijabs framing the face of six-year olds
who skip in to an old brick school. To the kids,
the mother buying frijoles y tortillas for dinner again,
invisible men building and feeding and cleaning
the city to send dollars into walls of casas
they’ll never know. To the inherited, lucky wrench
in the mechanic’s hand, to the boozy cherry
on a toothpick, to the fruit trees no one picks clean,
the cherries and plums and apples. The blackberries
rotting on city brambles. To the spoiled kids, the quiet
kids and the angry kids and the yes kids and the no
kids, to all the kids who haven’t yet met oblivion
but are learning the ways to shape themselves
around it. To the techies who never really know
what to do with their money. And the few who do.
To the bus drivers. To the crackheads, the fishermen
weaving their nets and blackstacking North.
To the woman and her cart on the canal not leaving,
staying, how many days, under a broken umbrella?
To sail boats, to craft ales on sale, to jackhammers,
to cranes. To Seattle, you ache too hard, vibrate
at the seams. Like flint. Like caught breath.
Like NW’s finest weed burning a hole in the throat.
Once the moon was the minute hand, the seasons
the hour. What I miss most is stillness.
For five nights a fat banana slug has come to visit me,
chugging up the window, stopping just at eye level.
In front of the chair where I sit to write most mornings,
he sleeps for the night. Or does whatever it is slugs do.
By sun up, he’s gone, leaving in his place a tiny pile of shit.
It’s hard to look past this. Drinking my tea and writing,
imagining this shiny, slimy creature I’ve come to call friend
exposed on a field of glass, making his morning constitutional.
With no real predators—not even the bears or skunks
will partake of him—he appears entirely unworried.
His simple body, tentacles, mantle, anus, upsets me.
How easily it does exactly what it’s supposed to!
Warm dusks too hot to sip anything
but rum and look north & north & north
like cold nights when the aurora glows.
Meatballs, size of a small river stone
hand curved, roasted & frozen
saved like speckled marbles in a jar.
Cattails bent over their pond
as if signing a mortgage.
Driftwood waving her wild bone
arms at the end of the sea
as if she untangled from nowhere, with
everywhere sprouting from her fingertips.
Boy perched on the rock above the cliffs above the river,
the second his pointed toes depart the rock.
The dive & the cold.
His wet head above the eddies.
The now & the now & the now
like the filly, top lip stretched so far above the brambles,
stomping to ram her fragile adolescent
chest against the fence
as if she could close the last hovering inches
between the taste of blackberries
& empty air.
a bewilderment I who was merely an afterthought
an obscure thing barely noticed among the giants
naked now to your scrutiny I who lived surrounded
cloaked in others’ luxury indistinct and anonymous
did not ask to be seen
what drifted down through their branches
what seeped into my roots
what seems to you like amputation disfigurement
was for me my only body
one by one the others taken
their branches tumbling the forest
disassembled by human hands
what was left to admire
meaningless as jangled
keys a muscle twitching
aimless but alive
nothing recognizable except the blood
none of us wanted to say we were “with” him
when the news trickled in
local in the first days
then the smell of it
how the hand on the revolver
was his and hungry
and the shots
would not be undone
apologies to Wallace Stevens
one must have a mind of silly putty
interrupt combust at 35 one leaps
the other lies deciding’s not for us
one must have a mind
of anecdote not data point must
never mind the grope
one must have a mind of
antelope one must have a mind
of wind of pantyhose one mustn’t
mind the mess or make a fuss
must mine the hive believe the lies
one must have a mind at least one
We dove under a table, my bag
clutched in one hand, your hand in the other.
House rules: no politics. Who had slipped,
stepped aside, maybe only moments? Left
the door unbounced this summer
night? He fired, pointing first
at the other end of the room, shed
one weapon for another. Is that
how we had time to dive? We threw
our bodies down like castoff shoes,
like trash. He walked out. This happened, it
happens, it will happen again, maybe to me,
maybe to you, waking. Down he went
through each room in my house of sleep, from
attic to basement shooting out the lamps
making permanent the dark.
tilted pelvis toward a velvet sky
linted with stars
you offer your self
present your softest place to be shined
into you tell the night that
you have held secrets like black holes,
surely you can take constellations
and the generations that will come
after these stars have died
will find their way through life
by the stars of your pussy
And in that moment
when he saw her
partake of the angel that
was the “forbidden fruit”
of the tree of God,
Adam realized he
He saw what the woman
pulled from his body
knew long before, that
he was dim and
dirt-made. That the angel
was her own piece of
forever to consume, while
he was merely her
limitation in paradise.
And Adam felt the heave
of less-than like the first
heart that ever broke,
then told Eve to
put some fucking clothes on.
When you ask your mother how you came to be
she will look at you presently but be somewhere else.
Her eyes will light with the warm glows of conception
and you will see in her remembrance that you came
forth from light — pure blinding light. As you continue
reading the story that her face always tells, you will
trail her eyes as they land on the figure of her mortal
husband. And then, just like that, the light will be gone
but your mother will be back with you presently. She
will tell you again with her mouth the answer that her
eyes never seem to corroborate…
And the moon, high above
and removed from all,
will decide when to exile her
from eden. When to begin
the ruination of a life. When
to pull rivers from virgin wombs.
And the girl, down below
and under it all
will never question the day
she becomes unclean. Will learn that
some things will never be
her choice. Will see a rock
govern her body
before she ever will.
(for the people of Flint, MI with empty cups and running faucets)
Someone fed them
Of Jesus turning water to wine
Here they heave
From their subsequent thirst
Lies wafer-thin as the body
Lead pours out as the blood
Do this in remembrance
Do this & remember it
Do this & dismember them