pressed between blue pages a few hours
on our old boat which is not ours my leg
over the bow you in the stern with the kids
in the stern I’m reading poems you’re not
the sky a depression of noon wilting
on our way back from the island we did not
reach the boys drag bits of pita through
some dip argue the last cola we are not
arguing now I said what I thought
you said what you thought and I won it’s not
nice what do you want I said and you don’t know
it’s been so long so long since I even
wondered you said pinned here in this book almost
no wind none the water glass like old glass
that much ripple that much distortion two
small sailboats go by portside one red-hulled
the other white it’s not our boat your
father’s gone days don’t get more beautiful
than this the white hazed blue a few big clouds
we could not stand it any bluer and
the land rolls up away the glass the glass
reflects the sky thank god thank god we
cannot see ourselves for home we’re headed
nothing violent nothing shattered
glass the surface just before us always
smooth always untouched and when we
mar it it repairs itself with no help from us
SLEDDING AT HARDING MEMORIAL It was how humans, the future will say, entertained themselves those last centuries winter existed. Cribs of dogwood racked in the side yard. Jarred fruit. Fat in our snowsuits, my sister & I climbed the huge steps & pressed our faces to the gate's wrought bars. Beyond them the President, we understood, slept beside his wife in the hard earth of Ohio. Here, in 1923, street after street of our hometown trimmed in black felt, his funeral train trundled at last to a stop. The body, blocked in ice since California, face sewn shut, sunk slowly in its chamber & later that evening the team of men whose job it was rose from their dinners & lifted into place the great slab, something paleolithic laid at the spot where history— its grand ambition in ruins— wandered away to die. On Delaware our father watched us from the base of the hill. I held my sister in my legs & allowed the inertia of the spinning earth to work. Wind lashed our faces. The formed plastic of the sled scored the ground behind us & after we had stopped our father, become suddenly a beast in harness, hauled us back. The last of the presidential tombs towered above us, its roughly classical columns obscured by the shifting snow. By extracting for their monuments only the finest of stone, Spengler argues, Egyptian architects expressed through craft their culture's solemn & meticulous care for the future. Therefore the past. Pyramids of limestone sliding into place behind men bent forward. Father tying our sled to his own. Low against the earth, he turned us to the edge & together, our train of blood & plastic lashed tight against what would come— the sudden thaw, our long- unlooked for ruin— we began again the descent. OREGON TRAIL Before I was a man I was a man made of pixels, a glittering column of dots drawn west across the earth by word of land limitless & given freely to he who worked it. First, on the line assigned, I typed the names of my children, fitted our wagon with axle grease & for each child a change of clothing. I followed the pathway day by day across Nebraska, my rations set to filling, my four head of oxen walking steady. Spirits were high. To hunt, the instructions said, enter 'BANG' as quickly as possible. I slaughtered, with my deft spelling, elk & buffalo, whole herds of antelope & my family sucked on the bones til Bridger. Beyond our school's computer lab that month, McVeigh's Ryder truck erupted in a parking lot somewhere we had never heard of, its twentyfoot fuse looping cartoon -like, I imagined, to the packed wagon. Back in 1855, miners with the Lupton party charged at midnight a tribe of Takelma camping near the trail. They tore women from their husbands, from the arms of their mothers cut the littles one & ran them through Bowie knife spine to hilt. To hunt, the instructions said, enter. We bent our faces to the screen, keyed the letters again & again & let the meat of the pronghorn rot in our wagons. We contracted typhoid, forded the river at the South Pass & were dragged in the mad flux under. Amy has drowned. Dad has measles. We marched with our diseases seaward & wrote, when at last we succumbed to snakebite, our tiny pixels flickering in the dusk somewhere at the edge of the West, wrote there our own epitaphs on the line provided. Behind us on the map our path wound like a fuse across the continent. Congratulations the game said. Press SPACE to continue. AT MY SISTER'S WEDDING, I DANCE THE DANCE OF SWINE In the country my kinfolk came from, shame— ancientest of passions— had still in the old years its uses. If you, as I am, were for instance eldest of your family's siblings & if on the day of your sister's marriage you remained spouseless still, given rather to the Black Forest's fruitless wastes & to brooding, you danced also the hog's tarantella. The trough is wheeled to the floor. My father's family, four centuries in Ohio, lines the stage waiting for the past's last lingering ritual. My sister smiles. Her white dress is everything that I, imagining it, had imagined it would be & she, inside it, is for the last time the small & wiggling thing I held in the county hospital. Slop, the trough means. That she is the fairytale daughter gone tonight to some dark country of love & dying & that I am thirty & single. Still my family's name awaits in me its future. In Luke, Legion— demon of many parts— plunges to the sea snared in a herd of pigs. My pants are rolled to my knees. My feet work nimbly the mix of mud & wine. Once we played, Amy & I, wife & husband in our mother's kitchen. I admit it's the closest I've been to living with a woman. Once, in the old days, angered by the pride of humans, the brute gods dropped among us one of those chthonic monsters myth is crowded with. This was a boar, the story explains, sated only by the blood of children & if, as I was once, you also were a man you mustered with your people each autumn to slaughter over & over the cloven- hoofed hog. The trough rocks beneath me. The mud, color of shit, is sweeter than you would believe. My people, who love me, are just. PACIFIC STANDARD Against which, I mean, we for the first time sounded ourselves & were found wanting. What else could we do then but spread to every recalcitrant corner we carved from sandstone & Sioux? Sic. It's craved I meant, as Magellan, who named the thing, sailing around the Cape craved home. The hushed waters he thought he saw, I see nowhere tonight in the rising white- capped combers off Pacifica. Pax facere. To make, Magellan believed, peaceful. To find oneself at the edge of the continent for the first time, as I did at thirty, & to forget this hour has happened almost everywhere. That men for centuries scattered their sicknesses before them like seed. That we who shadowed gold to the coast confronted only then a phenomenon beyond our capacity for destruction. Something like a violence utterly other— the tumbling scud. The seastack & crag crumbling like what do you know of power? How can you not look away? Where I am from, everyone I know is asleep.
The shade we named sidewinder
fang hung on a signpost
at the main-gate lookout tower—
another, tree die-off, we newsprinted
into leaflets about how far
until the next water supply.
None on spyglass lenses could filter
the color of a highway,
color of highrises over highway,
moonrise color over both.
But we tried, oh yes, we tried,
and what thanks did we get?
Trace of desolation we made
sandstorm around the shantytown
outskirts, light warning
light perimeter fence around
each rebel’s house. Though we did it
for their own good, the restless
chased westward color,
color of piston strokes, of coastline
close by. When dizziness and nausea
poured from the ears and pores
of runaways who planned
a breakout for the wasteland,
when sulfur or suffer bubbled up
hip-deep as wet cement,
it built character. At their age,
we too had believed in the color
with no border, with no shudder,
nonstop color. Because we said so
was why outsideresque and two types
of worry and wait wait wait
replaced those other crayons.
Who else would think of the children?
Our littlest ones, who left us
last, were the color that represented
open, mountaintop color,
color that meant
SEXTON TEXTS ON INDEPENDENCE DAY
Sat. July 3, 8:14 am (1/2) Because there was no other place I went home away from the scene of crazy-making senses came back before dawn in heavy July Sat. July 3, 8:15 am (2/2) my purse wide, thighs wet keys set down bedroom bound where one child also sleeps. Tiptoed as if a strange thief. Thought of my blotted out x’s— for this is the mind’s prison not a playground Sat. July 3, 10:31 am Sorry. Fell asleep reading Rimbaud. Same dress from the night before once I would have thought nothing of this. Today I feel like Gomer before Hosea chose her. Maybe I will conjure Jezebel or Tamar through the oracle. They were thrown into Hell, too Sat., July 3, 10:45 am I am rarely alone but the children, those little muses, have left to wander. Recall my dream now: dead deer mice in the garage, albino possums, ancient doors Sat., July 3, 11:15 am If I draw my blinds tightly enough sunlight loiters smoky dust begs to be let in like a Maine Coon in Brooklyn, outside double panes, in the throes of heat Mon., July 4, 7:23 am Morning. Ants run errands. My kitchen floor finds them second-line marching to crumbs tri-sected bodies shouldering scraps twice their size, such scattered strength! Mon., July 4, 7:52 am (2/2) Gather or Scatter: ants are Titans, Atlas, sky vaulters! I made that up, but do you get it? Mon., July 4, 7:51 am (1/2)Foragers are dumb muscles packing meal lumps fallen from some child’s grubby hands, not even for themselves. Long live the queen! Nobles eat well & often. Social orders exist in every world on every back Thurs, Aug. 1, 10:49 am (2/2) Her son rides up and down my cul-de-sac to drown out his mother’s yell. He waves to me. A package comes. I must sign. . . Thurs, Aug. 1, 11:01 am My fingers still smell like last night’s spent seed. I wonder if he has washed me off. Watercolor, Watercolor Thurs, Aug, 1, 10:47 am (1/2) a distant droning, it’s all grizzled buzz one neighbor lives in his shed sawing wood for a project he won’t finish. Outside, a Jamaican lady screams to her estranged lover, “I don’t know you! Ya’ come to m’door everyday beggin’.” Fri, Aug. 2, 12:01 am A lifetime of such small reminders A lifetime of blotted outs coming on or in. This fucking hunger! This fucking! Fri, Aug. 2, 12:07 am Should have gone to live in Amsterdam and had mixed-up, kinky-haired babies Fri, Aug. 2, 12:15 am Strangers would call you ‘mammy’ for taking your tiny joys public. This is the small life with long days in it & nothing to force clock hands closer Fri, Aug 2, 6:41 am (2/2) around the block. Faces not plumped or juvedermed or botoxed, yet all that holds back a soul? skeleton squeezed under wrinkling corsets Fri, Aug 2, 6:39 am (1/2) Every here same old crows, same ruined perches. Crones with young lovers and that man who drags his dull wife’s fat dog while he jogs
SEXTON TEXTS DURING POLAR VORTEX
Thurs., Jan. 19, 3:18 pm “Let us eat air, rock, coal, iron. Turn, my hungers.”-Rimbaud Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:01 pm Meanwhile, I’m trying. God knows. But mother unearthed each small bloodmain under her gauzed wrists. She fought a strange compulsion to press her mouth against her right pulse, taste the throbbing veiny eels her crooked lovers forsook drink from blind lakes of their leaving, undo their digging Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:32 pm (1/2)brick ledge, scarp fault no matter how much silt I packed into the hole, no matter... Thurs., Jan. 19, 4:33 pm (2/2) Trenches never fill never unslope else they cease being soldier’s shallow shelter Sat., Jan. 21, 7:17 am Ice storms, splintering crystals, of course. Today, everything wheels and bone touch, every slick black lies under rock salt Sat., Jan. 21, 8:01 am (1/5) Every day, my father fell six feet into a vat of tar. Burned his neck, ankles, veins. We saw his viscous shoeprints blanched blisters and salve. Hours after, when he touched any door- knob, steam rose from the brass. Sat., Jan. 21, 8:03 am (3/5) Recall he wanted to go home, meaning, maybe, Sat., Jan. 21, 8:02 am (2/5) He died for the last time on a Monday, or Tuesday or Wednesday or was it Thursday or Friday? Sat., Jan. 21, 8:06 am (5/5) point is: he died at some point during some week Sat., Jan. 21, 8:05 am (4/5) back to tar streets
VIEW POINT, SAN ANDREAS FAULT
From here, I see the up-thrust of collision,
how the Indio Hills have changed
through time. In a year, the sign says,
we will be standing two inches to the left
of where we are now. I have wasted
the winter on a man who will never
love me. Five hundred miles from here,
my apartment stands on top of this same
fault, just hidden. Nights I can’t sleep,
imagining the forces beneath me
creating a world I’ll never see. In the one
I can, the park closes at sunset.
The light is handsome, but I can’t give it
to anyone. The flowers start shutting down.
Where the valley rises, I can believe
in a future that does not hold us close.
Intersecting, the plates broke through
the earth’s crust until time was visible.
I want us to matter like ephemera:
old stock certificates, the postcards we buy
in the gift store. Driving home, we pass
the air force base, which of course
we can’t see. It’s the army. It’s a secret.
From the overlook I could see
into Mexico. Everyone else leaving
each other in their different languages.
A BAD DATE
The pleasure boats cut across the lake we can see from the hotel restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. “I’m a sucker for a view,” I say, which, he tells me, dignifies imperialism. What with Rome, and all. We’re meeting to see if I will let him, tonight, tie me to not-his-bed, to, with the instruments he will deem necessary, knock against me while his wife watches. I’m trying to forget another man, so I repeat what I have heard on the radio: to assuage traffic jams, engineers are studying ants. Sans egos, they get where they need to go. No flash. No honking. No aggressive driving. Outside is only an inch of glass away. I sip my wine. The fog bank has been erasing the hills for a week, and in the mornings I climb the stairs to my apartment’s balcony, where what is visible is mine, and I would kill for it, the right-out-there.
my children knew I was the kind of fool who could drop a spark on my coat and wear it burning into the house, fold it over a chair and go on reading as smoke filled the apartment they knew then there was a reason I carried out recycling every afternoon they figured it was me who started the dumpster fire that time the trucks came though face it they must have smelled the smoke on my hands each night I tucked the sheets around their necks and now it was not just me who had burned but the building they slept in half the time half their drawings and laundry and the two chests their grandmother painted now they would live in only one house remember when that was all they wanted
dear salt dear water scribbling difference between where I can dryly stand+not dear sea dear shell dear Florida from your panhandle I'm staring past seagulls flit +scurrying across sand white as my unsunned torso at an oil rig miles offshore which must even now be barbing into deep durk+mank to extract the treasure I'll later pump a refined version of into minivan's rear flank so we can trade this sucrostic malleability for the cold bones of home dear edge dear border dear horizon which just lays there flat as a that's that voice when what's done's been done, when there is as the phrase has it no going back up the road a thousand miles snow drifts where I'm from on hurt+merciful alike as it must, like Christ or a bad mechanic true cold can make no distinction regarding whom it bestows its shivery gifts upon dear south dear December I'm standing here because I believe the ocean keeps saying stand there then like any of us changes its mind, the way the waves gurgle playing the game of life which is called get everything then retreat dear boundary dear almost dear exact location where self ends+beach begins I came here to witness quietly shifting things: the moment one year breathes out + the next in, to listen to an I do transform Ellen's uncle+his love into husband+wife but my daughter kept shouting so we went outdoors where she again attempted to put the universe into her mouth dear littered plastic cup dear cigarette butt dear fallen palm leaves I watched the you may now kiss the moment from beyond the church's window as Jo said da and da and da pointing first at sky then trees then the cars passing the small white chapel +finally da pointing at herself, and then me, all of it da and how can I not hope she's right hope she hope me hope we never forget how the thin distinguishments of living are temporary mercies setting us free within flesh to believe beyond flesh dear wet envelope of ocean from which the moon slides nightly like the lovest letter dear moment bread becomes body there must be room within each infinity for all of us seeking the phonebooth in which our true selves stand waiting to answer whatever call finally comes.
it is winter again as we feel our way through a bed of glass in the river we’ve been here before everything’s the same still the morning still the pieces of glass we pile in the image of a child and praise in truth we can’t make anything happen between us winter began inside you no one knew but I knew * I want to believe this will end with the child coiled around your finger with thousands watching and throwing roses at us with lights and glitter in our hair but we both know how it ends we practice until we don’t need to tell our bodies how to do it the child with her glass head— her lips curled in my palm trying to say her name for her will you hold her to the light will you breathe a little pink into her your hands on her throat looking for the song at the other end not everything is a bright flute made of bone * we tried shaking her out of us like a bee down our shirts but what if the bee had been a wasp what if it died not because it stung but because it grew tired of stinging milk eyed small lunged prophet in the mud you wash the sand out of your hair where the mushrooms outnumber the stars we sit on the bank in the sun and quietly roll clay between our legs and its hardening is a form of meditation winter begins with her hands detached from the branches you knew you always knew
EARLY MORNING FLIGHT
Half-empty plane, hot black coffee – it takes so many people
to keep my body soaring.
I must be important, or at least not dead,
and my not being dead must matter, or it wouldn’t be so sunny,
and if it’s sunny because I’m not dead
I must be the fulcrum, the measure of existence,
the line God draws
between meaning and meaninglessness
in sand composed of outgrown shells and diatoms,
animal and vegetable
ground into mineral glitter
by the pestle of existence.
I’m not ground yet, so I must be happy,
smiling for the camera
eternity, focused on me, must be.
I must be happy, falling asleep,
sinking into the clouds below my seat, soothed by engines’
rumbling stutter, the click-click heartbeat
of eternity’s shutter.
SMART WAYS TO DIE
That was a short list, wasn’t it?
An old man fingers a double fugue
alone on a famous stage.
There’s no smart way to die
during a Bach partita’s
helices of being and becoming
twinning, twining and untwining
chromatic, arpeggiated longing.
No genders, no time,
no way to die, smart or otherwise,
even though we practice death’s scales
day and night,
confounding individuation with despair, avoiding recognition
that the only part of us that lives forever
is the otherness we anticipate and echo,
a fugue that began before we began
and sings without a moment’s interruption
when our seats are emptied, our despairs compressed
into obituary and epitaph, our bones broken down
into nutrients absorbed by grass
nibbled by rabbits struck by hawks
and assimilated, briefly, into their soaring organs.
The smart way to die is to recognize
the stage is bare, the piano wheeled away,
the old man probably has a tough time peeing,
lets flattery go to his head,
foolish as the rest of us
when the universe serenading itself through him
lets his fingers become fingers again,
the universe too smart to die without rising,
twinning, twining and untwining
old men, vibrating strings, creaking seats and silence.
there are galaxies
above what used to be the soft spots
at the top of our heads
we elongate our necks
at an angle
trying to take in
all that neon-filled fullness
of the light-splattered cosmos
it scares me — that I don’t know
what you’re searching for
me, the same old — a flickering
of some sort, a disjointed piece of wire
just as I used to compete
with my father, pointing out night planes
in place of dead stars
I pick you up
& you are a child made of longing
clasped to my neck. Iridescent,
lovely, your inestimable tantrums,
I carry you back & forth
from the underworlds
where your giggles echo,
grow into howls.
Your alphabet wraps itself
like a tourniquet
around my tongue.
Speak now, the static says.
A half-dressed woman named Truth
tells me she is a radio.
I’m going to ignore happiness
I’m going to undo myself
I pick you up
& the naked trees lean
into the ocean where you arrived,
shaking chains & freedom
from your head.
No metaphor would pull you
out of your cage.
Light keens for the dead.
& I’m troubled
by my own blind touch.
Did the ocean release
my neck? Did the opal waves
blow our cries to shore?
You don’t feel anything
in the middle of the night.
ANOTHER WOMAN’S COAT
Alone with snowfall & pockets
of silence beneath shining streetlamps,
I pull her coat closer, finding spaces
in its arms. These seams do not belong
to me. And I won’t know this yet –
slipping down snowy Remsen. I stop
on the promenade, I’m solitary again
& stare at the city edging
the East River. Air blowing stings,
stinging, I pull the hood down,
burrow inside her wordless
flesh. Alive from dancing
with friends, & the music
of that. Pulled over me
like an eyelid of glitter.
As much as Manhattan
glares, can its insect
windows make me out
here on the other side?
Gatsby’s green heart
of a wish. Or whatever
was above me
that looked at my mouth
& said, Yes, it’s enough, isn’t it?
in snow that needles
like fire, I’ll walk,
a Siamese with ten shadows,
amongst dense brownstones.
Heart, what telescope do you inscribe?
Snow light growing the shadows
of sycamores & fire hydrants
into giants. The bare pine seller
stands. The streetlights change
for nothing. When I get to my door
I’ll reach for a key
that opens & returns me
to myself like a rune. Then I see
I’m wearing a coat
that isn’t mine. Her syllables
& smiles & the wit of another
woman’s neck lingering
in the lining. Sweetness
& irony & how you couldn’t
tell, in the dark, you could wear
something so intimate
& otherwise? Hearing her
hands & breasts & ribs
murmur inside of the down.
The feathers you now
warm with your own
as the music we shared
as we danced,
the holiday like flecks
of tinsel caught under
the god’s tongue. Julie,
I hope you’ll forgive
me for wanting to
verse your instrument,
& how, when Brooklyn
wasn’t looking, I made
angels against the air,
our skin, like words slipped back
beyond midnight & knowing
I have no other way
to bear my life, you
laugh at the café
where we meet
& tell me
when we give
our coats back
that the dance
was so lovely
your legs hurt
in the morning.
Zero degrees again. Midwest winters confuse loving with not leaving.
Yes we are made of drifts. Yes we are made of degrees on a map of discontent.
Breath of blood history, breath of aromatic bitters]
Example: I left my home full of salt and chrome and church manners. Moved away,
where I willed the memory of glaciers to silt me downriver again.
Dogwood, devil’s food, breath of divinity with almonds]
Vacant hills of snow: fugue season, no permits given.
Under each fallow mound I idle and thaw. GOODY’S BODY SHOP: PAINT REPAIRS PARTS
Folly, fork in the road, breath of sod]
They swim up in the sun, the sleepers, the root-fish,
sow rain into beds, they evaporate.
Hickory breath, hymnals, breath of leather, breath of sorghum]
Rivulet the dark with what do I remember: stop for an ache,
quarry-side: peer into its deep gunmetal eye: hello, loaded chamber.
Jam breath, cherries jubilee, gin breath of bathhouse row]
Pews lined end-to-end with legs like piano keys break into rafts
or into song. They glide and steam. PINE BLUFF ARSENAL EXIT 2 MILES CLOSED
Lotus breath, bobcat laugh, breath of lone oak]
No one told me not to: I yelled down backwaters that echo.
Mud face named, catfish alien, puppy-hushed. What did swim up.
Nickel, new roads, breath of soffit and tornado]
Lampshade sun: loaded barrel chest: mountains
knuckle the sky. The river cracked slate and chalk.
Phantom breath and pantomime, breath of empty frames]
Jesus of Billboards and Hearts’ Doors. KING BISCUIT TIME. My
itinerant bridge of blue mud and mosquitoes, interstate of homeless lights.
Ridgeback and breath of rice fields, breath of accents]
Hunger-nested, I swarm, I hive, in fault lines, in
golden meat, on the backs of wild boar, in the rough of diamonds.
Terrace breath, breath of taffy, tree swing breath of currents]
Ferry across the lake to the island with the cliffs. Let turkey vultures
eat the gift of my violence.
Velvet breath, breath of grease, breath of fire]
Darlin’, what’ll ya have? Fingers licked clean.
Can you pay for what you’ve taken? Not even close.
Xiphoid breath of bone tongue, breath of shoal]
By what shore my hands have emptied me. No pennies
and no receipts. At what tables I swam and fed.
Zodiac breath, zenith, breath of weather, teeth, and grammar]