Let’s practice getting under the desk.
Let’s practice barricading the door, turning the blinds
in our eyes. Shhh now. Let’s demonstrate
in utter silence. Every desk is a bunker in disguise.
I must have walked a hundred miles
in a single afternoon. No one followed,
pacing myself. Sunlight stained the leaves like glass.
Vine maples tangled in an avalanche of shine.
The protocol is not what you think.
The protocol is run hide fight. Step by step
the trail cut from granite
bleached and gleaming, strewn like the bones
of old calamity. Varied thrush
or rush hour radio, call note drowsy like a long fuse,
like pure denotation. Sometimes I hear guns
in the valley — pick-up trucks, tin cans, shattered bottles,
trigger trash. Sometimes I hear bullets
marching down the hall. Today there is no question
and answer. Today is only multiple choice —
the field trip wire lying in wait, mare’s tails combing the ridge
like movie weather. Crescendo of mountain.
Is this a classroom or a mortuary? Who can catch
a bullet in the mouth? Bullet points for extra credit.
Bullets for teeth, for the all above.
We drank too much.
Stayed up too late
watching elephants disappear.
The beer was flat. The ice
receded. The moon
tracked its footprints into the house.
Bases loaded, the batter struck out looking.
The kicker shanked the field goal wide
to the right. The wide receiver took a knee.
The drone strike found its target.
The drone strike missed its target.
The drone strike turned the village to dust.
We stood in line for hours
waiting to vote.
We stood in line for hours
to procure a gallon of gas.
The hurricane struck out looking.
The hurricane stripped our limbless roofs.
The car swerved into oncoming traffic.
Traffic thickened in our veins.
The DNA test came back negative.
The DNA test came back positive.
The father never came back.
The father started smoking again
after the heart attack.
We ate too much red meat.
We ate too much corn syrup.
Our vote wasn’t counted after all.
Our vote was packed into safe districts.
We lost track of the days
we didn’t have to work overtime
to make rent. The rent woke up.
The rent went up in smoke.
We ignored the lump in the lymph node.
Doctors hit the lymph node hard.
Not our doctors. Too expensive.
Someone brought us a pot pie instead.
The dog ate it. The printer jammed.
Dandelions took over the yard.
Smoke took over the sky.
We drank too much. The world was flat.
Poachers took out the last rhino.
Few understood the news.
and sink into her smooth white hollow
run the pads of my hands along
her cool slopes admire the curves
that cradle my naked skin
as the water runs I’ll stick my toe
into that brass faucet and accept
a spray of water sifting
over my thighs and shins like sugar
the heat a rising redemption
misty and heaven-bound as water
folds over my hips my belly
the rising and falling of my chest
buoyant with each exhalation this rest
quiet above a porcelain body
I tell my therapist that I do not want to cry
because it’s two in the afternoon
and there’s a turtle
sunbathing on a felled tree
in the marsh outside of her office window.
A Great Blue Heron hobbles close,
and it’s probable that the two are holding
a silent confessional barred in by a community
of water lilies that are tethered to mire.
She asks, how I feel when I talk
about home — I hold my rib cage close
to her ear so she can hear the wind howl.
Let’s begin with bark beetles, sugar pines and sap. I am twelve,
and as high as I can get in the tree behind our double-wide
mobile home. I’m peeling bark back by my bare hands
to see bug tracks, small iris-like engravements canyoned
into the tree’s meat like a secret message or a promise
from the maker of trees: Your eye will not purple
like your mother’s. Her cries are faint from this lofty height —
breezy, though more shrill than moan. My aunt has a soft whine
when she’s dragged by her hair down a hallway. I don’t cry
for her or for my mother. I’m too scaly to know
that the tree’s diseased, that these gnawings are evidence.
It’s summer in Sanger, California,
and there’s a volcano
between my mother’s lips
as she stuffs me
into tiny shoes and a cotton dress.
Ashes powder my pointy bits —
nose, elbows, training bra.
Instead of running in grapevines,
I sit in mahogany pews
at a Methodist church and stare
at the heavily blushed face
of my grandmother —
her gray head juts
out her coffin
like a matchstick from a box.
She used to force relish
into tuna — I said
I didn’t like it, she said
I didn’t know
how to brush my hair
and even if I did
it wouldn’t brush right.
I want to strike her face
and ash her body into a jar —
cover the condolences of strangers
with I never liked Nona
and she never liked me.
To make the banana naked, crack
its neck and peel its jacket. To make
the bed naked, throw back the sheet
and the cotton blanket and the down one, too,
along with whatever's been whispered to
them in the damp minutes around midnight.
To make the dog naked, let the mange
rake and ravage, the tiny mites like
humpbacked handmaids, plucking a hair,
dropping it overboard, scraping away the skin.
To make the moment naked, take a look
right at it: Under your gaze, the wrapping
of what might happen slides down
its shoulder and slumps to the hardwoods,
drowned in a pool of shadow. Nakedness
means now, the very is-ness of being. Time
is nippling toward us and we dare not
glance aside, dare not toss the subject
out the window, flip the page to stop
the topic of how to bear so much to bare.
Branches in January are naked.
The inside of eggshells is naked.
Wrong notes on the cheap guitar
when the child is tired and sad are naked.
The bike, bound to the stop sign
by a spiral of steel, shorn of its tires,
stricken by the nightglow: naked.
The man's face at the graveside
of his child, a nakedness sheer
enough to tear the fabric of everyone
nearby and leave them dangling there,
threadworn and bleeding out memory,
skinned by the minute that is now upon us,
shaved of everything but the we that are in it.
The cantaloupe sits
on the counter like
a little moon
off its course.
and modest navel,
inside, a wall
of pale orange fruit
and inside that
a child's night terror
of seeds and guts and string.
It is no matter:
The kitchen has
its own astronomy.
The instant the cutting edge
pierces the rind — flesh
yielding to steel —
the gig is up.
We simply eat.
Outside the rain
arrests itself. A false sun
flourishes for the afternoon.
Inside his bus
the busdriver sighs
ignoring if just
for an hour, the terrible
pair of pants
the empty seat.
How to hold it
all together: the violence
of the harvest, the embarrassment
of the blade. In his heart
of hearts, the buzzard
knows he is digestible.
He scans the plain:
Too much wild life.
He shakes the daylight
off his wings
and waits for the earth
to cough up the fruit,
for the night to bring
Once upon a time
an accountant there was
who numbers loved
And every day
numbers flew in
and numbers floated away
and days were numbers
and also gloves and boots and
numbers counted the noodles
in his soup as he ate it
Until one day began
the numbers to slip
their shapes, to stand
up off their stools, to spool
into nests of number
and start to nap
And grew afraid the accountant
and strung up by elbows
the numbers and
to their chairs
he tied them with garden
twine and wire
And could not move
the numbers now or wave
or cartwheel their dance,
their fountaining over
each other all over, forgot,
the way they rose to the top
and tumbled down
began to be a dream
Until at last sneaked out
the accountant from his corner
to cut with nail scissors
the bonds, to filch
from the window an inch of air
to nudge a number, struggling,
to the sill and watch it, gasping,
toss itself out over into
the hedge. And then its brother.
And then its mother. And then
its son. Each number went.
Except for one.
And since that day ever
holds he the zero
to himself, at center chest,
hand over its open mouth
so hear he cannot
the tiny ringing cry: alone,
It was hours and then the end is almost over.
Velvet curtains all in rustle at the borders
of the stage. Our eyes are dry, our knees numb,
our temples dull. Nothing is left to be begun:
No tearing at the breasts of hairdoed birds,
no smooth unscrolling of the Italian words
for love and loss. No garden froth, no castle wall
to knock the sword against, no impossible
extension of the slenderest ankle in its arc.
The lights on stage will dim and so we feel the dark,
feel how the real — real sex, real pain, real meat —
awaits us in the car. We feel the purses at our feet.
Onstage the voices call but we are half-
way back to home by now, numbering the claps,
saying the bravos that we hope are minimum.
We are adding up the babysitter's sum.
We are watching for the last breath of the lover.
We forget to be the ones who don't recover.
I go out to smoke but first
To get my lighter from the Jeep &
Walking past I see a lady
Leaning against a silver car in front of the bldg
She’s on the phone
& leaning is that her car
A crow is very upset
Calling & cawing & gargling it seems
A branch in the tree the lady
Does not notice me I see
Her pink hood & black hair her
Yellow bag leaning against
The silver car OK
That sounds very good to me
She says & leans fwd toward
The thread between her
& another lady it must be
On the other end a thread
Stretched like the two plus
Hundred years of silence
Btwn Emily & the shepherd
Begging live with me come be
My love the silence
Is the most important element of
Any poem according to Allen
Grossman she’s discussing the
Details of meeting somewhere else if
I’m not there then
No I cannot
glugs of amber winelight lay like legs
splayed/splashed/slayed on the glasswood floor
what one might think of as a heavy
smoke-colored cover of clouds is no, is
honey candies on the fresh white pillow case:
the pillow itself the pillow of a woman long dead
smelling of that woman’s bed i
lay my deathhead down
The child is no one. Her needs are
met. She’s bringing flowers to an idea.
Of bees, there’s a hive the child tends —
fresh picked flowers on a made mound of dirt
packed in the shade of a dark green fire escape.
As she picks (and puts) I think of a singing —
the voice itself a handrail up
to an altar in the middle of a church which once
with Olena I entered
how many summers ago,
where we crossed the hold between kinds
of light and sat ourselves
like Protestants in an oiled wooden row.
We could have been
in Rome, our pair the only audience
in Santa Maria del Popolo, facing the facing
Caravaggios. I wish — but the child is no one. Her needs are
none that I know.
— it’s 1962 March 28th
it’s 2017 September 19th.
I’m sitting at the window on the 3rd floor of fog.
Day is rising.
I never knew I liked
morning lifting like a conductor’s baton.
I didn’t know I loved my body.
Can someone who hates their body love it.
I’ve always schemed against my body.
It’s just like all my other lovers.
I’ve loved long roads all my life — the flat
macadam itself listening under the mist of lamps, no traffic at the
hour. I know that road is both obscured and obvious.
I know its lights aren’t enough to see —
I love to close my eyes and look at your eyes
and see if your eyes are still closed.
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.