My diaphragm left behind
A mind works funny when it comes to sex
important things crash
A fire wound takes everything away
Random acts of nature relentless
Internalized violence a fog
I killed the frog for science
What we love we destroy
Yesterday I was a sex machine
My warrior searching a way to spark
Internet recessions scare me
I wanted to sleep with him
but my diaphragm was lost
His talking politics turned me off
What fool runs a train so fast?
Dying we land in the book of the dead
Damage occurs when you play the target
If only sex solved problems
We are soon to topple
Did I mention violation?
Law of the strong versus the weak
Mandatory sex is one way to subjugate
Someone was fucking in the warehouse
tools got slimmed, a rack fell over
solid groundwork was laid
A multitude of actions equals no progress
My ass plays tricks on your brain
There is no time for sex unless forced
Did you call the powers into a meeting?
The landlord too busy to attend
The accountant buried in his books
The secretary took notes even though no one showed
The notes were scant
People who don’t vote are like pigeons
dead on the side of the road
Evil an often-traveled trail
Anger stores up in cellular tissue
No heart can stand a broken back
We must learn to ignore much of everything
Survival, a game we lose
No jackpot named freedom
When did Clockwork Orange become fun?
A thrill a minute means alive
An exchange of body secretions
From the other-sided, alee the valley; to give what you want —
says the mentor, irreparably. As pretense gets wrecked like a
photograph. As we haunt eternally.
It's hard to tell.
Cold guy drifts in cold veins, this nightly swim.
So I overheard in LA, grab a shovel, LA is dead.
Nothing is Real. Lame,
I know. Ask if there's proof.
Of life, if not for death's warming the carpet living room.
I'm officially bored with weed,
as if a backpack with nothing in it. As if I hope the world is done
sleeping in synchronicities.
Are there heavenly capillaries networking? Blacked-out to neon.
Who is recording
our untitled hallucinations: washed up on the amethystine sea he plunged,
and what of the notes nailed to the roof with a gun? Days of
noise funneling into the hollows
of my hips. A lot of beating hearts out there. As they say, imitation
is suicide, you lowlife.
I’m an insomniac, it’s a lifelong thing. And lesbian. I’m sick when I say this, a little envious of a body that can fit through anything, a lifelong thing, steady hands but a little shaky otherwise, getting hurt in everyday ways, we joke about it, I’m sensitive. Growing up together it’s years of tangled up arms or conversations and no one touches me as an on my own grown-up but for hugs and comings and goings or across my hair when I’ve just cut it, I’ve grown all arms and head. I say to students in art class, do I look like an octopus? And when did we all know I’m gonna know you forever, and the times we were wrong and the wet weather of being teenagers or losing touch, moving back, it felt like we were fully formed forever ago sweetie. We kept returning to the ocean with varying levels of expertise.
There’s a girl freshman year I still wonder about you, I don’t want to seem vulnerable, said something about misdirecting and hiding. Her cracking, daily voice. You share so many things I’d like to think your openness hides something else you won’t tell me. I’m flooded with sudden possibilities that are in the past. I say who knows, I don’t know. Remembering her like when I finally found an octopus below me but you turn to tell your sister bobbing next to you and looking back I can’t.
I don’t know what I’m looking at and I’ll know it when I see it, I’ve known you guys forever. In my marriage I had no friends there but nowhere to be solitary, you have to share everything, it was in a roughed up old country that knew everyone else better. We had a stuffed animal octopus from some country’s aquarium in our bedroom, it could have been Australia or mine from home or some trip, as a married grown-up what do you do with stuffed animals when you want them, because IT’S AN OCTOPUS, but it’s not for anything. In the divorce, apparently I got the stingray. It’s on a bookshelf now, or maybe never see you again, ever.
After divorce I kept finding myself ranting laps in the pool, back in my own country, foreign again differently now. Could no longer say my wife to uncamouflage myself in the straight world. I’m back with my childhood friends, grown-up together who all live there now they have husbands. The other night we were laughing about the little mermaid. There’s something else.
In England, Ursula was a real name, a friend, friendly, I met her at the lesbian Uni group. Then I got married and she was my wife’s old friend and first girlfriend, my friend their friend Emily’s first girlfriend too, they had such history I just dropped into it, no one was ever solitary, we would laugh about the history all the time or just forget it. I realize later she’s a widow with children. At the pool, there were paintings on the wall that recently disappeared and reappeared more colorful, dolphins sprouting with enthusiasm out of coral and sponges but the octopus picture never came back. I never say the plural, I don’t want to look foolish unless I know you know I saw it coming and know what happened and I’m ok with it, and breezy. I don’t know if you see this in me and there’s no point in hiding. I know it wasn’t realistic but it was my favorite, a group of them orange and floating blithely in the open blue chlorinated wall.
I also worked briefly at a rare bookstore in Cambridge for a woman, forget about it, her own kind of cartoon Ursula, brutal in an impotent small way, learned to describe what kinds of books as octavo to please her but she never explained what it meant, the work ended, it’s hard to think about when I needed her job so badly. It turns out I have a few good friends back here to rush around me. I’m the only one on my own but they are here for weeks and years. This time last year I told you I was coming here and so delighted, what I learned about cuttlefish as well, my grandma just died and the weekend had to let go of everything, rush to family for something huge and unspecified, but I came out on Monday as promised. You asked about donations to remember her. The death lurking in each funny moment, and I picked up some stickers for you, and I remembered intriguing facts for you, and I also have to be reminded about the facts. The last time snorkeling was your fairy tale wedding at the beach. I had food poisoning and thought I was dying like a small child on Friday nights when your parents got divorced. I’d still go back, it was beautiful.
Now we’re all back here I think in the fairy tale version, I’d be Ursula. It’s my body, I’m a nice person. I don’t want to hurt anyone, on the phone I don’t ever say it, I just listen and laugh let her feel we could be close because she won’t notice that we’re not, why uncover myself again. I have no evil plot but I’m not the other characters. You’d be Ursula because when I came back here for visits you suddenly grew up without me, as a grown up you wear dramatic red lipstick sometimes and it surprised me then but now I live here and it’s you of course, normal and glamorous. You’d be Ursula because of the greyish purple color I see when I think of you sometimes, and weekends together, and because of your octopus shirt that I love, and you’d be Ursula a casually flamboyant performer, and wicked sense of humor anyway and we were talking about it to begin with. At the end, I realize I’m Ursula because the sound of my other dead grandmother, I felt like she was family. When I’m sick I wonder if I sound like her. Her deep mysteriously broken voice, so ordinary to me but shocking to my wife then over the phone, no future partner will know it now just throwaway moments. Thought it was a grandfather, but only her normal everyday voice like a million ordinary things breaking and settling.
I use a trick to teach students
how to avoid passive voice.
Circle the verbs.
Imagine inserting “by zombies”
after each one.
Have the words been claimed
by the flesh-hungry undead?
If so, passive voice.
I wonder if these
sixth graders will recollect,
on summer vacation,
as they stretch their legs
on the way home
from Yellowstone or Yosemite
and the byway’s historical marker
beckons them to the
site of an Indian village —
Where trouble was brewing.
Where, after further hostilities, the army was directed to enter.
Where the village was razed after the skirmish occurred.
Where most were women and children.
Riveted bramble of passive verbs
etched in wood —
breaking up from the dry ground
to pinch the meat
of their young red tongues.
There’s this vessel I feel
the presence of all the time. My sister-
in-law sprays a semi-precious wash
of silver beneath her tongue
which is one way to manage. For my own
part I envy the wooden pencils
shot through with graphite, deveining
themselves to the end of every line.
But for the stenographers
everyone do your own typing
seemed a sensible and leveling measure.
They still have their secret alphabet
and their flip-top pads so suited
to it. They took dictation
the way young Mother Theresa
heard God talking plain as a neighbor
yelling through the screen door
that the dog has got out of the yard again
but after starting that new order
and dressing all the sisters in white
cotton ribbed in periwinkle she didn’t hear Him
ever again. It’s not that Wisconsin
is newly rich in silica, which is another
word for quartz, which is another
word for sand, but suddenly industry
can’t get enough of its impressive
compressible strength and tiny
roundedness, which is another word
for I am found pleasing again. I will pour
most of the glasses of water I will ever
drink. I don’t mean loneliness. I could
impersonate your heart by tapping
on this wiped Formica lub dub
until you consent to tomorrow’s
urgent appointment but I hope
it doesn’t come to that. I think
of my prototype — the prototype
of me — gangling on
a ledge: the wire limbs
taped to the short cage
of torso were engineered for maximum
slouching, but, too, you could drop her
from the high roof
as much as you want. That egg
would never crack.
We’re on a roof taking in the view. You
throw something over the edge. You don’t know
how to count into a million pieces. You don’t
know that gone is defined by what you still have
to live with. You want to see where it went
and it’s my job to tell you these things
so I show you, my shoulders and hands tightening
as I bend us into that irrevocable space.
You reach your hands out, straining
against my hold. In this moment I’m capable
of anything, which reminds me of yesterday,
the cup of tea I held steady as I tiptoed
toward my chair. The few drops escaping anyway
onto my skin. My hand opening. I remember
the cup breaking, how it woke you
from your nap, how my quiet was gone
even before it began. And now we’re here,
both looking down, and I’m that capable of anything.
On the plane I whisper the travel prayer more softly
I mouth the words but keep the breath carefully
concealed in my throat, worried I don’t have a permit
for these verses in international airspace.
The prayer is filled with soft sounds
Ash-ha-du a tender hush, unlike
the sharp hiss of testify. And the mess
of vowels la ilaa ha illaa wants breath
it is difficult to keep this all inside.
It is difficult to pray, and even more
difficult to marvel or to rage.
Allah was my go-to word
for all the moments of the day
(close your eyes and savor here)
Allaaaaah can you believe the fragrance of this gardenia?
the colors of this sunset? How is it your lips
are still as sweet as the first time?
and the transgressions
(clench your fists and tremble here)
Please help me survive this
Please help me believe this will end
Please help me trust there is some power
greater than all this suffering.
I have this notion that if you live long enough,
there are three or four great stories that you will have in your life.
A story of a journey or a transformation.
A story of love, which will likely mean the loss of love, a story
of loss. And a story of spiritual illumination,
which, for many, will probably be the moment of death itself,
the story untellable, its beginning and middle
and end collapsing with its teller into a disappearing conclusion.
I have believed long enough in my notion
to know that it is a romantic notion, that it erodes each time
I realize that the shard and not the whole
comprises a life, the image and not the narrative. Otherwise,
there’s no reason why all I remember of the airplane
I took as a child from one country to another
is the moist towelette packet we were given with our meal,
the wonder and absurdity of it. Or that, in love,
high in a tree in the dark, and high, he and I sat in the rain-damp
branches and ate 7-11 donuts. Or this, this piece
of a story that isn’t even mine, that isn’t even a story
but a glance of an experience, of the friend who held the stray
dog after it was struck by a car. Not knowing whether the dog
was dead, my friend called a friend
who worked for a vet. Poke the dog in the eye, this friend said.
Because if the animal no longer has a blink reflex,
it probably means the animal is dead. Decades after
college, when you could do such a thing, I typed his name
into a search engine to find out what became of the 20-year-old
boy from the tree. Like dozens of old keys
in a drawer, so many of the wrong people with the right name.
The child dead from leukemia, with a school gym
named for him. The wrestler who had a perfectly square jaw,
like a cartoon police detective in a fedora.
When I arrived at a page that was certainly
about him, I no longer knew the face but I recognized the life
that he had had. He had transferred to
another college, gone to film school, and become a producer
of TV documentaries. A film about fishermen, the harsh fishing
season in Alaska. A film about Abraham Lincoln
and a film about the last days of Adolf Hitler.
A film about the Sherpas who go up and down the Himalayas.
Bruise: A Study
The bruise begs
in purple tones
for you to think
with your tongue,
for you to listen
with your hands
to the tremulous
voice of my skin.
pressed it into my skin, ran into the corner of the counter on my way to make dinner, opened a door in to my shin, let you too close, slammed my finger in the car door, dropped a book on my toe, pushed the baby on the swing and didn’t watch her swing back, had surgery, pinched myself over and over like a pulse, slammed my head against a wall, ignored the warning signs, fell down stairs, fell into you, fell away from you when you pushed, found myself under something heavy.
Run your fingers along it. Here.
Feel the heat radiating?
One way to say it is:
I want my pain to warm you.
Which is close to:
I want my pain to warn you.
The fist-sized knot of color
throbs with my heartbeat
if I lie very still and don’t breathe.
I wonder if I might read bruises
like wood-grain or tea leaves.
I wonder if I would believe it.
Don’t view it from the corner of your eye. Look at it straight on. Not through glass or in reflection, but eye to blue-blushed and broken skin with only air between. Not with the intention of recording in paint or word, but only to see the way it fades in the direction blood flows. Watch the edgesshiftas healing requires. It won’t be the same again. No matter how well it heals.
Like nausea it recedes
into green and yellow,
hints of death and then
renewal. But this isn’t
This isn’t a miracle.This isn’t a returning to.
It is something changed.
Something marked by pain.
This flesh regains the ability
to blush and pale and blush again —
but the nerves and muscle know
what has been.
The wound heals before the colors fade,
the body wants you to remember its work:
hemoglobin produces a red-blue color,
the wine spilled across the carpet;
biliverdin pushes green to the surface,
too easy to say the hint of spring (instead: bile);
the color and cry of jaundiced babies;
hemosiderin with its golden-brown,
barely distinguishable now from flesh,
except in the right light
where the shadows fall like memories.
Once upon a time a man took me to dinner, asked
if I’d been abused as a child, like that would explain it.
Sure. I keep a cabinet of curiosities —
but that was never one of them. See the dust?
Things we’re too old for slip off shelves,
line up to watch. In direct sunlight they’re small,
made of ash, disintegrating like abrupt love.
To recall a memory weakens it,
which means what exactly? Between what I want
and what I want to be, I get a little lost.
Blame the dinners where my glass fills again and again
before it’s ever emptied. Trauma and der Traum
aren’t etymologically related, which makes sense
but also not.
What I brew in me
your tongue no longer tastes.
Do you believe passion
ruins the palette?
We once boiled red
like the most glorious
and at the worst times.
before I’m lukewarm,
before the whistle of regret
keeps us awake.
Dear love, last night
I walked in the rain
dressed only in a bathrobe. I bought
a little kettle on sale
and am convinced our lives
will be better now.
I am not sad
when I say this. I am not quite
If there is one thing to be said
about marriage or monogamy
there is another thing entirely
to be undone. Clean or dirty
is how I divide the day.
After you leave
or before you come home.
The more I smell
of cleaning products
the messier it means I am.
The toilet, the kitchen sink,
every closet–this house
is yours to pollute.
I’ve been alone
for many, many hours.
There’s no trace of me.
It’s as if
I don’t even exist.
fare well, feels. be gone
sacred geometry from
lover’s muscled tongue.
buds — honey whispers hiding
larvae, bee stings, wax.
freeze this full chalice
cocktail of liquid lapis —
high tide in the cup.
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.