There are three
ing in a
lake. One does
not know how
to swim and
don’t know how
to swim I
But there. They
are. They’re float
ing straight up
and down so
the top third
of each face
bobs just a
bove the wa
ter. These are
a few of
(with apologies to Philip Larkin)
Contemporary romance peaked
(Which of course was rather late)
When mousy Midtown office girls
Sought out rich men to date.
Now, since then there’s only been
A sort of echoing
Of Heyer’s style of thing;
A virgin beauty’s quest to find
A duke for marrying.
For all at once, the smut appeared:
Everyone fucked the same
And every book became
A drenched and dizzy bacchanal
Quite free from tact or shame.
So books were never better than
And now is far too late
For those mousy Midtown office girls
And the wealthy men they date.
He died on August 15, 1964,
during that hot hot summer.
Mother sent his clothes
down to Mississippi
for the Freedom Riders
or anybody else who needed them.
I wish she would have left just one item out for me,
something with his smell still on it.
One of his shirts, maybe, with the stained collar
or the worn down brown Oxfords
that he always polished.
I would have loved to have the fedora he wore all winter
or a pair of white socks
that he filled with Dr. Scholl's foot powder.
She could have left me anything: a handkerchief,
his bathing suit, an undershirt,
or those thin black leather shoe laces
he always broke.
I would have liked the shaving brush I bought him
or the striped tie he spilled soup on.
Certainly his false teeth, the cup he put them in
and the tall glass he sipped hot tea from.
I would have liked his Russian-English dictionary.
or his bifocals and his damn racing forms.
She could have left me anything,
even the belt he hit my brother with.
As I drive through the bower
of old oak trees
scanning 68th and 20th avenues northeast
I am scared by the moon.
It is so low in the sky this night
I think it will smack me in the face.
I try to turn the wipers on,
but strands of hair white as paste
cover the window like thick rain.
A woman's mouth stretches open
in a silent scream. Bent fingers claw
until they reach my chest.
Some nights I lose my way home.
and an unspace
It is all and half of all —
a third of half
and a tenth of that
A poem floats — spaceless
yet touches a finger,
an eye, lips and a hand.
A poem’s content
and form are sublime
yet, narrow and broad
A poem is speechless with sound
Such is ambiguity — it lives in every act
Therefore, the poem is an act — an event —
An event is an act — is a poem
— and more —
I’m five years old.
We’ve just been buzzed into Aunt Miriam’s house.
Uncle Ben’s office is to the right, off the hall.
Before walking upstairs to the second floor,
I look to the right and see dark.
Mother holds my hand while I peak in:
Equipment. The kind the Nazis used?
No, for taking x-rays.
Overheard: Once, he gave me medicine
to abort my baby but it didn’t work
and the baby was born with an extra thumb.
I’m thirteen years old now.
Uncle Ben’s been dead eight years.
Daddy says the only good German is a dead German.
That was 1946 and Uncle Ben can’t practice medicine
at Johns Hopkins hospital. No Jews allowed.
Is that why he doesn’t smile?
I don’t know how to like him.
He doesn’t look at me.
He has a Doberman Pinscher named Prince.
When women come to the house,
Prince looks under their dresses.
Men laugh. Women are embarrassed.
In the basement of Aunt Miriam’s house,
a ping pong table and knotty pine walls.
Once when I was nine
a cousin played ping pong with me.
He was sixteen. Now I’m sixteen
and I read about a man the Nazis put in a freezer.
to see how much cold a human being can withstand.
When the man’s testicles turned blue, he collapsed
and guards dragged him out. A doctor records
how much time it took for the man to die,
but I don’t remember what the number said.
keep me safe
keep me safe from those who want to cut
keep me safe from those who want to cut me
keep me safe from those who want to cut me open
keep me safe from those who want to cut me open me and crawl inside
keep me safe from me
keep me safe from my own
keep me safe from my own hand
keep me safe from my own hand if it is me holding the knife
keep me safe from my own hand it it is me holding the knife
Last night I became a flock of birds on the eve of their descent.
Last night I was a murder of crows.
To be a murder of crows is to not know
if you are magic or dreaming,
a flask of ring tones or a canvas of teachers
a worship of poets or a cashbox of planets.
I did not know body or the hungering scratch for permission.
I was at once a marriage of galaxies, a shining glory of mistakes,
a lumbering storm of shoelaces,
and a cinema of head turns.
I walked like a torso of regrets heaving a crease of love letters,
written in blue, flowing downstream.
I chose to live as a river of ripped journal pages,
a sprain of tears, spilling
into a spectacle of wringing hands.
In the pitch, I became
a dictionary of guitars, strings taut and out of tune
I had forgotten what a migration of fingertips
feels like on the landscape of the skin,
I had forgotten I am not the strings
but the articulation of sound when they are played,
how forcefully we pour out of our bodies to be formless,
how even in a foreign wrapping,
our bodies break
free of the stilled silence.
After Natasha Marin’s Red Lineage
my name stumbles ups the stairs
climbing towards grace, an ascending arc of red and gold
my mother's name mends shards back to glass
melts them down with the heat of a thousand hearts,
an aged and forgiving red
my father's name lives in a spoonful of shadows
hungering for a cloud that will rain red
follow the seedlings and you will see
my name become a little kite dancing in the wind,
stand still under the cicadas’ summer song
and see my mother's name strut
to a living and slowly dying beat of red
breathe in the fire’s flicker and my father’s name
tending to the embers collapsing red.
I come from a people known for speaking without saying,
for spitting the shine on their boots & stomping blackness
into the heavens.
I guess it’s easy to want to be black,
when everything is the new black,
shiny as LP spinning at 33 rpm
in the hipster owned record store
on the formerly black block
in the formerly black neighborhood
but do you know what comes back
around for black? that needle scratch
deep as the river
don’t nobody want the old black —
people want the Jimi Hendrix black,
the psychedelic star spangled banner by your own rules black
the sparkled glove, moonwalking, grammy winning black,
not the dark skin, big nose self hating black
not the Jim Crow black, segregation black,
poll tax payin, separate but equal black,
the happy smile shuffling tap dance black,
not the minstrel show, burnt cork black-face black,
not the yessir boss black,
not the whistle at a white girl
and end up cautionary tale black
when black folks all around you fought
to gain a piece of the real estate
that’s been redlined
and sold off
and sold off
and sold off for centuries
when the folks that lay claim
to its legacy got that shit on layaway,
but don’t ever get to put more than a bit
of change down each month
and interest rates ain’t no joke
cuz don’t nothing change
then I guess being black
is like putting on a pair of snow pants
to brace against the cold when
you’re already fully dressed
and you just love your accessories,
been sliding on kimonos and dashikis
and headdresses and dreadlocks
for Halloween and theme parties
you can switch in and out of
like a downpour
of a storm
except you get to decide
when it’s time to come in
and take shelter out of the rain
Said the prayer to the dream
I don't believe you want to hear me
Said the dream to paper
I don't believe you want to hold me
Said the paper to the wind
I don't believe you want to help me
Said the wind to the man
I don't believe you see me
The man felt the wind whisper in his ear and swatted the dream
that sounded like a prayer that was held by the paper
In one breath, the wind became an answer
no one ever asked the question to
In one dream, the wind forgot its voice, in another dream the paper
was torn before it learned how to say its own name
In the first dream, the prayer learned what walking through
blackness feels like — it is the opposite of abandonment
In the last dream, all the names are written on the paper
in the form of a prayer that sounds
like the wind and feels like the breath
of a flower across your cheek
like a heavy freight train
is headed towards you,
but you are running, tripping
over its tracks. You hope luck
is the taxi ready to pick you up,
but luck’s the subway, luck’s
the bus with the accordion
middle. You wait
for luck, thought you bought
a ticket, thought the cab
would stop. At the airport
you hold a sign, Welcome
Luck! But everyone passes,
luck passes, doesn’t stop,
and you are left
with your sign and a moment
of hope when you think
you’ve found luck
in your pocket, but luck is down
the street in the Horseshoe
Tavern, so you peek inside
and see it — luck, in its shy suit
drinking a beer
with your best friend,
and they are taking selfies
with their smartphones,
and you holding
your paper map,
hoping luck would travel
long distances to find you.
There is a part of me that doesn’t understand longing.
And yet, with my hands full of daisies, forget-me-nots,
I walk into a field of wildflowers and ask for more.
This is how I feel when you touch my shoulder.
There are nights of only so much moonshine
and I want to bathe in more than my share.
Saltwater, you’ve said. The oceans calms. Sometimes
I lose myself and want to go under. Part mermaid.
Part riptide. There was a time when every beach
was a room I would undress in. Now, I forget to live
that openly. Now, I hold back what I want to say.
There’s a belief we each have to live flawlessly.
I rip off the roots of flowers and place them in a vase.
Forget the fields where you could kiss me hard
and instead, call the florist, close the door.
Because we can’t say what we want, we write
a confessional poem where every sentence is true,
except one. Tell me again how often you think about me.
Tell me again how the drowning man finds himself
dreaming how one day walk he’ll walk on land.
My friend on the couch trembles.
She’s crying because someone in her family
has died/is dying/is dead. She has stopped
speaking in future tense and only says, Now.
The clock speaks in abstract sentences
and she says, We need more wine.
A corner of her life is being rebuilt
by a construction company she hasn’t approved.
A corner and her driveway is being paved.
With gravestones. When she cries, I pour her
a glass of minor relief, another glass
of lessen, and still one more of forgetting, a refill
of liquid assistance. There are too many days
to wait, she says. And there are days
when the world’s veil is so thin, she feels God
in the wind between the buildings.
She is almost mourning, but
knows how close we all are
to being remembered. She is haunted
by leaving, by the ones who already left,
all those doorways swinging open.
A breezeway to loss is where we are headed
no matter how hard we drag our feet.
She says she hates that she can’t stop wishing
for all of it to end, though sometimes in the blues
of the curtain, she still sees hope in hospice.
Because there’s a sparrow outside that appears to be dying.
Because I carry it with me, not the bird, but the emotion.
Because its feathers are wet, almost drenched.
Because not knowing what to do is my own purgatory.
Because nothing in the house is sugarcoated.
Because if you position yourself at the window you will see things
you don’t want to see.
Because there is a forest of coyotes and we keep finding the bones of fawns.
Because sorrow has embroidered itself beneath my ribs and I can’t unstitch it.
Because even when I’m wrapped in a blanket, I’m not warm.
Because we all keep dying.
Because it’s really not a bird, but our country.
Because the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop, the rain won’t stop.
When I was a girl
I wanted to live
inside of one.
A wooden, small
place to hold me.
I was in love
with its bird
face. I imagined us
married. The dream
of domesticity. Keeping
house à la bric-a-brac
or conversation piece.
But time has told
what makes them tick.
than magic. Dark
and a stiffness
crowns the eaves.
Clockmakers all carve
the same male game
in their overhang.
and alpha beasts —
They rule the ornate
roost. And it’s a heavy
pull on me. Those two
their gonadal hang.
Henri had ‘no other teacher
but nature.’ I recalled that factoid
from an art history class while peaking
thick with narcotics in the clinic bed
then they scotch-taped me to the ceiling
in his poster-sized jungle print.
The safe place for banished PYTs
ripe with uglifruit, there I learned
a woman leaves The Virgin Forest
much the same way she came in.
I laid across the forest’s plush green
canvas. My own foliage, shorn
the night before. Smooth palm leaves
split open in jungle book narrative
where the shadow doctor conflicted
beneath uterine sun —
part man part beast.
Then the thunder.
And it was broken asunder.
And then it was over.
Blood orange fruition
of the smallest, wild hope
crawled out of me for five days
in broken shells and poked yolk.
In the beginning, it was innocent. Just play. Let’s mess with Mrs. Flowers’ mailbox! Fisher and Price asked me to spy on an old witch they believed lived alone in the woods. Is her husband dead? Or does she just hate men? I wondered. I wondered if she would ever come out of her shack. They tried everything to catch a glimpse of her. Sometimes they fisted worms and mud inside the black hole of it, then pushed the hard red flag up in high salute. Special delivery. Sometimes they didn’t erect it at all. Instead I took long walks with those two leading me through the woods in the heavy heat of curiosities. We built camps. We arranged rocks. We smoked cigarette butts. We lit twigs on fire. We lit trash on fire. We broke brown beer bottles against old trees. We pretended to be married. In a navy blue cotton shirt with a loose ruffle along the bottom edge, I was the bride, marching toward them. In the warm August air, my veil lifted off so easily.
The tulle veil
was bone china
white and thin.
A breakable wisp.
It was fleeting.
shots of it
I sat in the family
in the unused room
with ankles crossed.
under the skirt
of my church dress.
It lived there.
A lace sash
the pure me.
as an eyelet.
The workers hum to wile away
the afternoon and tenants chide
their sons to sweep from room to room
last night's dust motes — stirred dreams
entangled in wide streaks of light
that, in the daytime, bloom,
unsparing, bright — like operatic
high notes. Pierced and round,
the clouds of sleep fill us with
sound. A loss. A tune so deep within
the brain we cannot help but weep
as sons push brushes past door after door
locked tight like eyes and tombs.
Our quiet. Our heavy score.