Its wings don’t ground into dust, nor do they signal
another ending. That is up to us, our rippled fingertips
smoothing the brown contours that flutter away
from our wish. The wings’ scales are tiny windows,
cathedrals of solar dust sealed into letters
that contain all of our questions: why are we here?
where do we go when we die? are we really so alone?
The moth collides endlessly with the moon, we see
its celestial weaving with immeasurable fragility,
and we feel night exposed for the first time again:
chafing pine needles erasing all we thought we knew
of this life, the owl screeching the universe’s original
vowel. When the earth is no longer ours the letters
will slide open easily as a palm cupping water
or a moth revolving around a porch light pouring
fine dust into a thirsty mouth that calls everything loss.
It wasn’t that she wanted to be pretty.
She wanted the world to see her
as she saw herself.
She wanted to see herself.
That’s what my daughter tells me.
I watch her, high up on these rocks,
her arm extended in a welcoming gesture —
she invites the world in.
I hold my phone arm up
an echo of her greeting
and am horrified to see my face —
some jackass left the camera flipped
to stare back at the operator
and now I am confronted
with my judgmental chins
and slack mouth. What
was I thinking about to make
such a grim expression?
I wanted to justify her figure
in this landscape. I wanted her
safe. My calcifying ideas
clamp around her, like the tower
Rapunzel’s furious witch-mother
locked her in. This fortress
I built with my own brain bowl,
bars grown from bone, I have stuck her
inside a snow dome, little white slips
flutter, so pretty; all the pages of magazines
telling girls how to be and the flicker
of grades and other ratings, ticker-tape
of male gaze and every comment
about her body — how tall, how blue, how boobs
and butt, how short the skirt —
why all this feedback about her appearance?
Who asked you?
And why mock her
when she draws her own door
and walks through it?
A winner, a swinger, a ringer.
A looker, a loser, an up-on-his-lucker.
Someone looser, someone tighter,
definitely not an all-nighter. A whiner,
wine-swiller, someone to entertain
the fundraiser chicken dinner.
Someone with handlers, another with baggage,
one with the umbrellas, another with the rain.
Different faces, symmetrical and un-.
A smoker, a non-, a joker, a song.
Two lungs, a heart, a head, a leg, a leg.
The drink, the dregs. The beggar, the begged.
Definitely an all-nighter, all-dayer, a swayer
of opinions, a bringer down of hammers.
An issuer of kiboshes, a knitter of knishes,
a whetter of knives, a weather of whether
or nots. A forget-me-not, a violet,
a violin, a cowbell. Someone old,
someone new, someone borrowed,
someone blue. Someone happy,
someone researching happiness,
someone who was happy once.
Someone false. Someone true.
A failure, a failure
who has found success
from failure, a feeler,
a feeling, the flu.
Sugar, salt, and acid.
Lake Crescent, Lake Angry, Lake Placid.
A shouter, a touter, an outer.
An innie, a sharpie, a shark.
What you want. Who you want.
Who wants you. The ditty,
the lark, the dark.
I’ve memorized the dark of my room now,
the path between the door and the bed posts
that lash out and mark my pale shins,
memorized the width of the rivulet I make
between our two sleep bodies by rolling
just slightly away.
He told me his kink was “morning sex.”
Indeed, I feel extra naughty
at approximately 6:36 a.m.,
get off on licking the sleep
from your eyes. I reach my peak
when over pancakes I get a glimpse of the deflated
anniversary balloon in the diner shellacked
to the curtains and hanging sad.
In my dream last night I lived with my parents
and we were skipping town. Their faces a
mishmash blur, they told me I’d have my own
room; a window seat, a walk-in closet.
We arrived in the evening. My dream self
paced through the room, which became a set of
stairs, which became a zigzagging blue
slide into a dirt hole. No the slide is
a yellow water slide in Texas and cherry blood
spills from my toe. No my toe is my future
child’s toe that I bandage. No my child
is a portable first-aid kit no my child
is a pixelated projection on a weird white wall
no I will not just spend my life as
the tender of this tin of bandaids!
You shouldn’t end anything
with your character waking from a dream.
But I can’t get out of this room
without at least one eye cracked.
Taking my knife to the sharpener
I had to ask my brother
how do I take a knife
to the sharpener
one chance not to ruin
the flesh of this tuna I wanted
to separate the head
and dissolve the eye into
powder on my tongue I said
something about a fire worried
about dying in a fire in this club
with these people she said
“Where I come from that isn’t funny”
meaning Rhode Island
but we were in a rented house
on the Oregon Coast
my teeth coated in the dark
with anti-fungal ointment
the label warned CALL
POISON CONTROL and I
did I was redirected
to the nearest call center
the operator asked
where I was in Maine
outside the Pacific recycled
its emergency she said
“Be calm, hon, you’re not
even the first one today
if you die today
it won’t be from this”
was her promise
breaking over a marsh
where cranes showed off
standing on one leg to touch
their toes or talons or whatever
a man walked by reeking
of gasoline and as he passed
the gasoline stayed
a woman stepped backwards
from her porch seeking
a stable place to lean the ladder
she climbed swinging
one leg over the gutter
think of it this way:
throughout history the horse
has been an emblem of speed
even on occasion an emblem
of flight and to travel
with any quickness at all
meant trust in an animal
velocity which always arrives
with its cousin
a vision of sudden death
though when it comes to that
all anyone will talk about is the bees.
I always forget who lives
in my city.
No comment on them —
my memory’s bad.
for certain things.
on a grocery list.
Or the precise feelings
a book produced
in me once,
although perhaps not
its phrases or ideas.
But people, you
too often I forget
I don’t find it hard
to reach out to you
in moments —
your flesh and flutter
Still, the grocery
a party commences.
It occurs to me
I store a vast reserve
of sympathy for myself
I don’t know whether
this is a triumph
of compassion or greed
but I guard it like passion
It's funny how much we ate —
we couldn't stop.
First dinner, then desert,
then the plates and the table.
At the show, she ate the stage,
I swallowed the microphones.
Back at the room we ate the chairs
the shower and the television.
Naked, breasts poised like the dark mystery
at the center of faith, she devoured the bed —
Behind her, arms around her victorious stomach,
I knew what it would take to fill us up.
Nothing short of a falling chunk of sun,
something nuclear come to love us clean,
burn our shadow into the wall just like this.
We can only recall the freak accidents:
the lightning bolt hitting the right arm
at a right angle, the bees pouring
from an overturned truck, the crocodile
that escaped on a lawn, sipping lemonade.
This is all to say: we did not mean to let
the road break in half. We laid down layers
of asphalt in the tradition of weavers.
The sun hardened our loom.
We were led here to break bread
and this is not a metaphor. The dawn
gnawed down around us. Full appetite.
In the early morning, we mistook snow
for falling specks of paint, a construction
site for an amusement park. We climbed up
the rafters and were tall. And here we are.
Tall. Our limbs stretched out enough
to call out our slights, strike by strike.
I need bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweet grain, salted grain, I want so much
To swallow you whole. I'm a damn sinner
Who can only be saved by your fingers.
Hurry, place the sacred bread on my tongue
And consecrate breakfast, lunch, and dinner —
Or maybe not. I wish I were slimmer
And more disciplined — a secular monk!
But I lust, lust and lust. I'm a sinner
Who seeds, threshes, harvests, feasts, and shivers.
Forgive me. Condemn me. I need flesh and blood
And bread at each breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
I know I want too much. I know what hinders
And troubles you. But join me in this flood.
Look at me. I'm your beloved sinner.
Sit with me. Please. Let's talk. Please. Linger.
Let's touch and eat everything that we touch.
Let us stay through breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sweetheart, it's your turn to be the sinner.
She squishes through fish, salmon stacked up to the door,
boots tracking scales in the wheelhouse, on the galley floor,
down the companionway, and in the engine room.
By the end of the day, there are scales on the mast. Scales
on the deck winch, on the ladder and steps. Scales in her hair,
in her gloves, up her sleeves, behind her ears. Scales
like freckles. Scales like glitter. Like bindis, like dragon skin.
Scales in her eyes like contact lenses. Scales flaking
and scales sticking like glue. Scales flashing like diamond bling,
like glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling, like fairy dust,
like silver dimes, like new shoes on the first day of school,
like piñata candy spilled into rust-colored mud. Scales
that taste like caviar, like salt, like sperm, the musty crush
of ocean and the stink of lust. These confetti-cake scales,
these sprinkles and bejewelers, these flat raindrops, these
dollar signs, these smashing dashing scales like a pint-size
helping of spice, you lucky bastard, you don’t even know,
but for each of these she scrubs and scrapes and cleans away,
she dreams your fingers drumming softly on her skin. In the shower,
she dreams your fingers into streams on her back, into stars
that see, into mist, into smoke, into fire that breathes.
Your fingers are whole notes on the bass clef or willows
sweeping windows in a warm breeze or cigarettes or
a fast bet you win in a hailstorm of desire. Fingers
that smell like diesel, like danger, like a damp, darling copy
of her body. Fingers that chart her scars like ocean trenches,
that flit like a seabird skims sky. Fingers that tap like a typist
but spell crave like a racecar takes curves. Fingers like buttons
on a birthday suit, like the wrong wrench, like the right wrench
and the screwdriver that turns everything loose. Fingers
like marching, like ants, like the crumbs they hunt,
and the sugar they love, like butter, like cream, like I scream
into a cornfield from a car full of flesh. She dreams
his fingers on fleece, on flannel, on denim, on copper,
on cotton, on nipples, on knees. How can I compare? I love her
the way a King’s black mouth gapes for air, the way
any salmon will taste the whole ocean and still turn for home.
On paper there is a woman and a heart. On
another, something is missing from a hand.
These are not metaphors. Weight becomes
a unit of measurement. Here. The point
of origin is here. Hands suspended
next to your skin is here. But that ends
here. Next to overturned boats and a drum
that can hold chemicals strong enough
to dissolve a body, but not dissolve itself.
moon’s waning crescent like
a grandmother’s toothless smile,
the man at the bar who’s having another,
a sailor writing love letters to a woman
he’s just said goodbye to.
the sky connects my father and me.
orion watches us watch him on a
september night, the smell of hay
reaches our nostrils, smelling something
so close and looking at something
very, very far away how the senses
bring worlds together how
we fill our houses with plants we
buy telescopes and microscopes to
feel closer to things we can never
i can never touch you, you
are too hot for my delicate fingers.
[to be read very quickly, as if almost out of breath]
Panic blossom speaks passwords into the edge of the voice at the edge of the speech that listens.
The password for membrane is not squirrels. It is also not squirrels of intestinal magic. It is not
squirrels that ride the antlers of your skin.
Every sink will be shallow and the deer with eight legs will run faster but on a treadmill of paper.
There is a password for the membrane. To get out is different from to get in.
The password is glass
The password is glass in a volcano
The password is clear glass
The glass is cloth
The glass is a cloth of waterfalls
The waterfalls are not the password
The password is not glass
Squirrels are not the password but they carry the keys. They carry the keys that wilt in the locks. They are leaf keys and they are not passwords.
A squirrel in our story has fallen into a pond.
The water and the squirrel fight their failing.
The water taps the lungs. The ghost leaves a lotus.
I didn’t know the password. The password was not squirrels.
There was a key but it was waterfalls.
Let’s talk about something else.
I barely knew them, but they kissed me everywhere, the squirrels.
It wracked my nerves but gave me purchase
for the password. Here and there a leaf fell down my shirt.
The leaves that cannot open things panic in the lock.
The hinge hears the blossom panic in the door.
That is the key.
The sinks are shallow so no one will drown.
The deer is catching up.
Its eight legs in the corner are listening to the edge. At the edge is a boy under glass
who looks through sheets of water.
Eve of the new year. Bitter cold city. I sit by the café window, bring the soup bowl to my lips. Someone in the park across the street is swinging high on a swing-set in the dark.
At least one keyhole has been stuffed with tissue by a previous tenant. So there is no seeing through.
A very partial morning. The things I am trying constantly to re-make, alter, edit, adjust. Bring myself always back to the path, and the path is hard to find. I do not always want it.
The early morning young mothers’ parade. A child I cannot see, screaming, “I need it! Give me!” Complete anguish of wanting.
A soft rain is falling, so fine it looks like dust in the air all around us, and everyone holds their umbrellas like a gift.
The knives come back sharper than they had ever been—sharper than new. We arranged them in the kitchen like an arsenal. We were afraid to put them away.
“What is your favorite place?” I asked the tree.
The place where I am.
Suppose it is February and there are writers writing at picnic tables in the park. Suppose writing leads us to this park.
Suppose the rhythm of the afternoon sky courses through you, igniting relief and terror. Suppose you are hungry and light-headed while hoping to retrieve the faintest mark.
Suppose a writer has planted a score inside her mouth. Suppose the wind morphs that score into something fizzy and warm. Suppose everyone puts pens down at the same time. Suppose each utterance is fatal.
Suppose the wind upends food in boxes sitting on tables. Suppose the grooves inside picnic tables become embedded with crumbs. Suppose you study everyone’s furrowed brow.
Suppose the writers are all writing about descent. Perhaps to bring Rene Char’s “ship closer to its longing,” you pin your sunken hearts to the ship’s mast in unison. Suppose the collective ache is relieving.
Suppose everyone lifted their palms from the page and pages inside their notebooks shuddered. Perhaps the times you’ve shuddered before, you felt an ancestor push through violently. Perhaps you tried to smooth it out and became very tired.
Suppose you can’t fix anything at all.
Suppose a bedazzled ax appears. Suppose the ax is offered to you first, since you’ve become impatient and you’ve been given permission to get to the light any way you can.
Suppose you strike down as if you have really strong arms.
Suppose you deliciously strike a piñata, block of ice or vial of liquid. Suppose diffuse light. Suppose you stopped going over your old movies. Suppose everyone leaves their spot and takes turns with the ax.
Suppose too much strength is not a good thing.
Suppose that even when autumn is long gone glamorous winds appear like time-release golden capsules. Suppose the barren trees have long oozed your secrets. Suppose your favorite body of water is a shade of bruisy blue.
Suppose all poems are evacuation routes. Suppose the most jubilant landings are the most dangerous ones. Suppose the park has become littered with foreign liquids, depleted wind-up toys and ticket stubs. Suppose the poem has an obligation to graph each scent wafting through.
Suppose teenagers strut through park in the dark. And that dancer you remember who wore a dress made of milk jugs. Suppose your phrases get caught in the jugs.
Suppose the park’s activation points are invisible and you’ve limited yourself by staying in one place. Suppose you give up and become giddy from reciting infinitives. Suppose you look up to find everyone’s eyes glowing in the dark.
Suppose brief-lived fevers are tossed back and forth. Suppose heads bow down and collapse into the spines of notebooks. Perhaps deceit is cooled inside this heat. Suppose your fever writes you back.
Suppose someone held your head, and their hand became a rhapsody. Suppose the dark is now the color of eggplant. Suppose eyes inside eggplant. Suppose the day’s pages shuffle before you like a child’s flipbook.
From the first day, the teacher wrote as she spoke. An inkwell was a hole
without words, on the desk, which was like a pasture, leaving me free to think.
I could not repair my cursive with my pen or with my breath on the window pane.
The inkwells were filled from a large bottle of ink kept in the teacher’s closet.
My mother was disgusted by the inkwells, and by how I was forbidden to write
a letter to a friend. Was I the only one who found inkwells in the picture book?
The older boys sanded wood into serpents with claws, and filled the inkwells.
To my surprise, the words were more brown than black in my notebook.
Birds are called quills, when used. I could see the globe and the squares of Palmer
Method, encircling the room like wallpaper. The rustlings under my pen traveled far,
the faintest murmur. The word “recess” was next. In his lunch pail, the boy beside me
discovered a meal of cold potatoes. I felt the embarrassment of hooking the lunch pail
through my fingers. Weird tether. To make a ball, each of us brought some string
from home. We tried to dip the string into our inkwells. The teacher called out
positions to get into, such as a hawk. I saw my score. Woebegone, so much to do.
I positioned myself like a startled hare. Our desks sloped, and there was a groove
for our pencils and pens. The serpent of our script crawled off the page.
and on the other side
switching pens there
& your tired body
My minor violence
Toward the gazelle
Now making lists
Of the longing that will stay…
And the longing that
Will be fixed in images
Hatred splits us
But its necessity
Is like water
You are not a machine, but a mechanic
tooling out from under skin. And in
my head, you might take flight, alight
with chandeliers of sand. A man said
one is the loneliest number, but this
doesn’t square. I swore I’d shaken
you out, but my hair parted, and there
you were. Part of me, do you smart
with the sting of the repressed? I’m blessed,
but some day you’ll depart, a fingerwave
to your avuncular host. Then I’ll be lost.
Long shot prairie
Long shot wolf
Long shot girl
Long shot deer
Long shot dog
Close-up shot little monkey
My dear sweetheart,
Where does the North begin?
Wolfang, Fang, Flash and Flame
My darling cotton wooly hotel
A tiny house is expensive
At the edge of the sea
What is happiness, Love?
My dear sweetheart—
HUNGRY WOLVES SURROUND THE CAMP
This time it is no dream. After twenty-three years away
I wake in a Spokane convent in my Black Watch
plaid pajamas — daybreak, the last
day of September 1996. I used to spring from bed
at the bell's first clang. Now there's
something wrong with the bedsprings
I cannot fix.
Shyly, light enters, spills over
the floor of the room. Holy or not, I
feel more at home than in thirty-eight
years I lived here. Then let me admit the light,
endorse the mirror over my private
sink. Time to reopen the old account
stored in the memory bank.
What was I running from
or into? The uneasy light of the senior
prom? Mother's dream of a child bride, supported by
pennies from heaven? Or was it the writing
life laid as a sacrifice to a jealous god
on the tomb of the woman
I'd hoped to become?
Whatever it was, it will soon
be over. I write this now to reclaim it.