FOR ITS BLUE FLICKERING
If you take cobalt as a simple salt
and dissolve it—if you dip a small metal loop
in such a solution and place it in a standard
flame, it burns a brilliant blue,
the flame itself bluer than the richest of skies
in summer. I wanted to be that blue.
And so, I claimed that element as my own,
imagined that fire could make of me
something bluer than the bluest of blues.
But what does an eighteen-year-old boy know
of the blues? All I knew then of cobalt
was its stable isotope. I had no knowledge
of the radioactive one with its gamma rays
used for decades to treat cancer. I had yet
to be exposed to such a thing. I was hot
for cobalt, for its blue flickering. Chemistry
can be such an odd thing. When a teacher of mine
offered up that faggots doused in certain chemicals
burned blue, I saw it as a sign; how can we
not see such things as signs, as omens?
Blue the waters of the Caribbean Sea,
blue the skies over the high deserts,
and blue the passages I found in old Greek texts
that surprised my prudish sense
of what men could do with men. It always
came back to blue. But boyish ideas are just that.
They seem for all the world to be fixed things,
when all they are is merely fleeting. In the end,
my make up was none other than anthracite,
something cold, dark, and difficult to ignite.
It is dense, only semi-lustrous, and hardly
noticeable. One dreams in cobalt, but one lives
in anthracite. Yes, the analogy is that basic.
Anthracite, one of earth’s studies in difficulty:
once lit it burns and burns. Caught somewhere
between ordinary coal and extraordinary graphite,
anthracite surprises when it burns. It isn’t flashy—
it produces a short, blue, and smokeless flame
that reminds one of the heart more than the sky.
PORTRAIT IN AZURE AND TWINE UNRAVELLING
Sometimes what attracts us is nothing more
than a marker of what is wrong with us.
Ravel was heralded as a genius, a master
of Impressionism, for his use of highly repetitive
structures, his rhythmic and repetitive structures.
Who can deny the beauty of Bolero? Not me.
As a child, I asked my mother to listen to me
while I practiced words like cobalt, each one more
and more odd for their sounds, their structures,
something I was still figuring out. “Grant us
Peace,” we repeated at Mass. Everything was repetitive.
And that is how it started, me trying to master
the language, the very words, fearful they would master
me, instead. Azure, sinecure, the long u had me
so early, and then the hard t one finds in repetitive,
substantive, titillation. I always needed more and more
words. Debussy once described Ravel as a man just like us,
one who understands that repetition structures
the way we move through the world, structures
our very breath, breath being that thing necessary to master
song, language, the natural world around us.
The first time I took a lover, she took time to watch me
sitting on the edge of the bed mouthing the word more.
After four hours, she dressed and called me repetitive,
told me the fun of it had ended, had become repetitive.
Memory, even when about something painful, structures
our worlds, structures our hearts and minds and more.
Within years of writing Bolero, Ravel could no longer master
music. He even lost the ability to use language. Imagine me
hearing this story. We were still new to each other, not yet us
but still a me and you. When Ravel left this world, left us,
you told me, many thought him mad and madly repetitive
pouring the same cup of water over and over. “Listen to me,”
you said. “Music is more than the simple structures
one need master.” I chose language instead of music to master,
all 171,000 words in the English language and more.
This morning, you caught me mouthing something other than more.
Ravel was not a man like us. Really. I just needed a new word to master.
My love, I’m repetitive. I sit here saying: “structures, structures, structures.”
TIME SURE FLIES WHEN YOU’RE NOT LIVING UP TO YOUR POTENTIAL
So, everything failed. The jabbed-iron trees flamed out
in spectacular failure along the ragged range. Forecast
failed. The pollster that glistered turned huckster. And
the memory of that ex who called you petit bouchon
failed to reassure that you once loved wreckful and reckless
and in a foreign tongue. All around you now Florida fails pinkly
and by voracious flora. The lizard who burned or drowned
hot-tubbing in your hot coffee failed perfectly, curled into
an eternal question mark, little fingers clenched, dukes up.
If death is the body’s failure, it is also its final fuck you.
Which has to count for something. Which has to be a win.
LIGHTNING SUSPECTED IN DEATHS OF HORSES
I want to take you to the black-mud spring pasture
where six horses fell and did not get back up.
I don’t know if they were dark or dappled—
I wasn’t there. I read it in a newspaper in Vermont,
sitting at the counter of a diner that no longer
exists. Lightning Suspected in Deaths of Horses—
small article in a bottom corner, not much
more information than that. It struck me—
I’m not trying to be funny—I carried
that headline around until it became a slogan
although I’m not sure what I’d been sold.
Maybe this: the sky opens, you kneel
and beg its mercy and it doesn’t make
one lick of difference. Or, light appears
and your life is transformed. Finally getting
exactly what you’ve asked for all along:
a shift in luck, sudden brilliance, your body
lit, electric, your own enough to let it go.
Remember that time the ocean came in through my bedroom window? Remember that time I woke up choking on sea salt spray, my bed a boat on the sea that had replaced the stained gray carpet? Of course you don’t. You weren’t there any longer. But each night I heard you singing. Remember that tape you left—how quaint, I said when you slipped it in my player, like olden days!—the one I told my therapist I threw away? I didn’t. It was all I had of you left. You sang each night’s lullaby, sang me into a sleep so deep it bled into death. Whether you liked it or not. You probably did. You had a certain affinity for resurrection narratives. Remember that time I woke thick with sweat, salt dried on my skin like sand? Of course you don’t. You weren’t there any longer. How easily tapes break, their black film twisted like seaweed. There’s a reason no one uses them anymore.
A Wednesday like any day: Up, coffee with a little something, comfortable yet professional, flat shoes. The news says a woman was raped behind a garbage bin; a man jumped off a bridge but failed to die; there is a low pressure system making the grey weather hang on interminably. Unlock the apartment door, 8F, lock it behind. The hallway is as blank and narrow as a hotel’s. Only two exits: the stairwell, the elevator. The sky hangs too early over the trees as if trying to smother them.
Someone has broken into her car. The driver’s side window violated. The door handle sprinkled with diamonds of glass, tads of it still hanging in the frame, littered on the seat, the floorboards, the ground. A crime scene, maybe she shouldn’t disturb it, but who would care? The center console and glove box are hanging open like empty mailboxes. The useless ashtray is pulled out. There must be fingerprints, but even so it would lead to nothing. They probably found a few forgotten coins, that was all.
She calls her insurance company. Such a pity, they say. They can come and replace the glass at her work site as well as home. They will call when they arrive, and she can go out and face them. She gets her hand vac, which does a poor job but good enough for her to drive. Stopped at a light, she pulls a shard from beneath her right hip. A minivan next to her, a woman driving, two children in back singing and wiggling out a dance in their seats as if vibrated by the radio. The woman holds up a phone aimed at the back, recording. She flicks the glass stub, small as an eraser, making a satisfying plink against their window, though no one notices.
She is already in her cubicle when she thinks of the gun. A friend had come to the apartment with her toddler, days ago, maybe a week, someone she knew from AA when she used to go. The friend wanted to leave the toddler for her to watch. Something had come up, the friend said. She had taken the gun out of her nightstand and locked it in the car for safety and never fetched it back. There was the gun and the bottle of vodka. The friend insisted that she wasn’t drinking, it was just that something had come up that she couldn’t get out of, an emergency with her boyfriend. She was doing well. Her life was zipping along in a straight line. She was hunky dory, as opposed to some people she could name. The friend left, and she and the toddler had piled up a fortress of pillows then sat inside it watching TV.
She bought the gun at Walmart after the mugging, on a whim really, there to buy toilet paper, bananas, a new phone. A man had accosted her on a street that wasn’t even empty, wasn’t even dark. He was walking toward her and stopped in front of her and pulled a gun out of his jacket pocket as if he had something trivial to show her- a picture of his grandmother. The gun had caught as he withdrew it, and he had to wrench it free. She was afraid he might insist she follow him into the alley, gesturing at her with his barrel. When she was a teen, men had jeered and hey babied her, grabbing at their crotches, come get some of this, staring at her in the grocery store when she was only trying to buy the hotdog buns for her mother. It was frightening. Why don’t you make yourself more attractive? her mother wanted to know. You were such a pretty child. The mugger was no prince – strung out, red-eyed, desperate. Give it to me, he said and clawed at the purse still over her shoulder. When he’d got hold of it, he dug one dirty hand inside for the cash – twenty-two dollars – and her phone, throwing her credit cards back at her with contempt, dropping the purse on the ground, all the while pointing the gun vaguely at her.
She is finishing the last email when she thinks that maybe the car burglar was someone stalking her, targeting her to get the gun or the vodka or her body. Maybe he knew she had gone out to the parking lot yesterday and taken a little slug of vodka, practically lying down on the passenger side so no one would see her. The stalker is going to come to her office and shoot her in the head while she’s at her desk with an Excel sheet still open on the screen, or drag her out holding her own gun to her head and rape her in the bushes.
She flees her cubicle for the bathroom, hides in a stall, her heart small and hard in her chest. Someone comes in, the rainfall of pee, the shuffling of feet rearranging clothes, the flush, the water running in the sink. They don’t know she is there, or don’t care. She pulls her feet up before someone else can come, leans against the flat box of the motion sensor, which makes the toilet flush and flush again. She must be very still, must hug her knees, must be small, a tiny still point of nothingness.
The phone in her pocket rings a country song of lost love from years ago. Unidentified caller. She has to unfold herself to answer it. The toilet roars back to life. Detective Blank. She had reported a car break in? Nothing stolen? Did she perhaps keep a 38 revolver there, serial number ending in 834, registered to her? Oh, my God, she says. I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. It’s been recovered, he says. There’s been an incident and you should come down to the station to identify the weapon. The gun, she says. The gun. The gun. Ma’am, Detective Blank says. Oh, my God, she says. The gun.
She hangs up on him; she leaves the stall; she washes her hands like everything is A-OK. In the mirror is her hair, boy short, her cheeks a shameful red, her eyes black beads. She has forgotten makeup again. She grimaces at herself as if she is checking her teeth for bits of toast. Nothing there. She can’t manage the tri-fold paper towel, her hands flutter as if someone has grabbed her from behind, shaking her by the elbows.
The vodka is definitely gone. The only thing under the seat is a single, crumpled movie ticket and a shard that pricks her finger. She starts the engine, drives home, leaving dots of blood on the wheel. If they call from work, she plans to say she succumbed to sudden fever and vomiting and weakness, too sick to speak.
There is the handle lock and the deadbolt, the peephole already taped over. She turns off the phone, shuts down her computer, makes her favorite, a Mind Eraser: Kahlua, vodka, soda, no ice. She drinks in bed, the comforter heavy as a radiation shield.
She hasn’t been out since, balcony curtains drawn tight, an extra layer of old, green blanket pinned over, making the light inside grassy as a forest floor. Sometimes she silently watches TV, the captions on, but nothing about crime or the downtrodden. Once there is a ringing and knocking at the door, but she freezes in the kitchen, glass in one hand, bag of chips in the other, still as death until they go away.
He got out of his truck and composed himself. His new white shirt stuck to his lower back where he’d been sweating against the vinyl seat. She was in the hotel up there, and she might be looking down. It was seven o’clock exactly. The curbs, the sidewalks, and the asphalt were unbroken and clean. Maybe fifteen stories, it was a new hotel.
When he was halfway across the parking lot, he looked back at his truck. He liked the look of it in the last light. It was just washed, and the cam that he had dropped in only a month ago made a thumping and purring that got him looks at stoplights. Admiration and envy. The truck was almost thirty years old, battered and authentic. He liked the way it shifted on the column. He had nice forearms, and a girl could admire that without having to understand. The evening was cooling off, and he was relieved. The air conditioner was broken, and they’d have to accept what the weather would give them. He went in.
He got off the elevator, saw the brass plaque numbers, and figured the direction to her room. It was only three doors from the elevator. Outside the door lay a room service tray with some dirty dishes staggered and peeking out from a silver platter cover. It struck him as odd, but he didn’t think about it, and he knocked.
She came to the door. He was expecting a black dress, maybe something deeply red or blue. But she was in her pajamas. Her face was the same. Not so youthful around the eyes and the mouth, but he wanted to kiss her on her eyes and her mouth. They hugged in the doorway for a good while. She started pulling away first, and he thought to say something, but he just let her turn and go back to the rumpled bed where she plopped down and leaned back against the headboard.
Trying to show his old sense of humor, he said, “Are you good to go?”
“My stomach feels funny,” she said.
“Mine, too,” he said. “Am I overdressed or what?”
“I ate some room service,” she said.
He’d seen the dishes in the hall. He touched the TV with his hand, and it was warm. She had been watching it before he came.
“We were supposed to go out.”
She shrugged, tilting her head, squinting, giving him a look as if she were only a little sorry she’d disappointed him. He didn’t want to be mad at her, her pretty head tilted that way. On the drive to the hotel, he worried that they might fight at some point, and he was irritated already. They hadn’t seen each other in five years, and she pulls a stunt like this.
“Do you want me to rub your belly?” he said.
“No,” she said
When they were in college in Laramie, they used to lie in bed taking turns rubbing each other’s bellies while they talked about classes and their stupid jobs and stupid friends. They were such a comfort to each other then, holding each other when they were falling away from their parents into their own lives. They were sensitive in the way that others around them weren’t.
He asked, “We’re still going out, right?”
She looked apologetic, maybe. She looked at the wall. “I don’t think so,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows, perplexed, standing there in his white shirt and black shoes and clean blue jeans.
“I should go,” he said. His jaw was tight.
“Don’t go. Sit down for a while.” She smiled, but he couldn’t tell what it meant. What was a while.
“Why’d you go and eat? We were supposed to go out. Together.” He didn’t mean to plead with her.
“I don’t know. I was hungry.”
Him, he was not hungry. He had lost all appetite since she called out of the blue and said her company was sending her and her boss to Dallas for a conference and would he like to get together for dinner one night. It would be nice to see him again.
Now, even though he had no appetite, he wanted to go to dinner, to go out with her. Dinner had been her idea. She was supposed to ride in his truck that he didn’t have when he’d known her, and they might look at each other along the bench seat with the wind blowing on them as they spoke in raised voices so to be heard over the road noise and the pretty cam. He had been thinking how he would open the truck door for her.
The last time they went out, they had gone to a nice restaurant with candles. They fought and both cried right there at the table because he couldn’t find a way to make it work. He was the one who left. Their families tore them apart for a dozen different reasons. But they were kids then. Now they were adults. But she’d eaten already, and she was in her pajamas. He felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t want to let on about how mad he was, but what could he say?
“Well, this is a fine how-dee-do,” he said. He sat down in the hotel chair and sighed. The sweat on the lower part of his shirt was cold against his skin. “What now?”
“We can talk,” she said.
“OK, you start,” he said.
She looked at him with wide eyes. He had barked it, a little, and then he tried to undo the meanness in his tone. “You’re really pretty. You look great, you know, not the pajamas and all, but you look nice. Your hair is like I remember it. I like the color.”
They were supposed to go out. What brought this on? That she would order room service just to spite him?
He picked the card up off the table next to him, glanced at it quickly and said, “Maybe I could order something off the room service, too? But then my stomach would hurt.” He was sounding mean again, and he didn’t want to. “I had a couple nice places in mind.” He couldn’t get over it. The way it was going. He should kiss her on the cheek and say goodbye. He shouldn’t have come.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We got through with our meeting, and I was just crazy hungry.”
Crazy, yes. Hungry, what the hell?
Two men walked by the hotel room door, and one was telling the other he should get out of mutual funds. Then it was quiet again. What was her boss like? Her boss must be crazy for her. She was beautiful. Her hair was brown, straight, with blond and reddish highlights, cut in bangs across the front. It was bobbed in the back, and around the sides toward the front it got longer and longer sharply. It would cut a man to look at her, the way her neck was bare. It would cut him right to the heart. Your eyes went from her brown eyes straight to her neck. He used to kiss and kiss her neck. If she were on top of him, she would finally tilt her head way back when they made love. And shudder. Her neck drove him crazy.
“How’s your boss?” he said.
“Larry? Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “He’s a creep.”
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I just wondered how the job is coming.” She worked for a company that sold frozen food to half the restaurants in America.
“We just look at spreadsheets and graphs all morning, and everybody tries to predict who’s going to buy what next year. I agree with what Larry says to make him look good. I write down what everybody says, and I act interested.”
Is she acting interested now? Not so much. They used to know each other without having to understand or gauge each other or think there was a strategy.
“Do you like Dallas?” he asked.
“It’s fine,” she said. “We haven’t been much outside the hotel. We’re not even close to downtown. I guess you know that.”
There was a lamp on the table. It was lying on its side, and the lampshade was askew.
“They’re supposed to come with a new light bulb,” she said.
Someone knocked at the door. He got up and opened it. A housekeeper stood there with a light bulb in hand. He thanked her, took it, and closed the door. He set it beside the lamp, and sat back down.
“What timing!” she laughed.
“That’s pretty weird,” he said. “What could it mean?” He figured he should fix it for her. He got back up and screwed the light bulb into the lamp, tested it, turned it back off, put the lampshade on, and then turned it on. He could feel her looking at him, at his clean white shirt, and he wondered how she hated him to spite him so.
“Would you mind if I sat over there beside you?” he said. He wanted to try.
“No, that’s fine.”
He wasn’t sure from her answer whether she was suggesting he stay put or if he could move over there. He got up and went over to the bed. She moved over a little, making room for him, and he sat down.
He gave her his open palm. She took his hand. Out of pity, it seemed. She didn’t hold it affectionately, but she held it. They sat there for a while like that. Like two people shaking hands on a deal neither of them would honor. But she turned his hand over and began to stroke his hand with her other hand. “Kiss me on the cheek,” she said.
He leaned into her as if leaning into a knife. It took some doing. He kissed her gently, but he pulled back to look at her. To take her in. He wanted to kiss her neck, but he was afraid she would push him away. She looked at him hard, her eyes unsympathetic.
“You were the one who left Laramie,” she said. “You never asked me to come with you.”
“That was a long time ago,” he said. “But here we are.”
He had tears welling up, but he quenched them by wrinkling his nose and blinking hard. She looked, it seemed, through him. No tears at all.
“There you are,” she said. “There you have it.”
“I think I should go,” he said. He stood up a little too quickly. He didn’t want to be dramatic.
“I’m not soft any more,” she said.
“I see that,” he said. Through the windows’ sheer curtains, he could see it was getting dark outside. “I wish we could have gone out, though.” As if there were one last chance. He had so much to say to her. Or he thought he would have so much to say once they got to talking. At the restaurant.
“It was good to see you,” she said, as he walked to the door.
“Was it?” he said, and he wasn’t sure she heard him. She was still there leaning up against the headboard. He didn’t look back. He opened the door and walked out and closed it.
When they used to be out walking home from a bar or from school or anything, she would fall on him so he’d have to catch her in his arms. It was a game they played. She’d just fall helpless into him like she couldn’t stand up. She’d laugh and laugh when she was doing that. He remembered walking home from the bars with her one night. A curb next to the sidewalk gradually rose into a garden wall, and she walked it like a balance beam, and he had to catch her when she fell on him from about three feet high. He spun her around then, and the stars spun and her laughing spun. You’re strong as a tree, she said. Rock-a-bye baby, he said. Those days he felt like he was swallowed into an easy whirlpool of strength and comfort. This was love.
Now in the hotel hallway he was dizzy, and he thought he might fall down. His knees wouldn’t hold him up. His couldn’t swallow, and he felt like he might be sick. He walked slowly, his hand along the thick wallpaper to steady himself. He couldn’t turn around and go back to the room.
He made it to the elevator and rode down. The lobby was a little busier than when he had arrived. People were meeting and making plans for going out, and three women with cocktail dresses and funny flashing antennae on their heads were raising a ruckus in the hotel bar.
Walking to the truck, he felt self-conscious in his white shirt and no jacket. He should have worn a jacket. He drove without the radio on. His mind was back in Laramie the whole trip home. There was a townie bar where they had played pool. They drank cheap bottles of beer, and sometimes she smoked. In the coldest part of winter, walking down the street, sometimes your eyelids would freeze together when you blinked. Once in the summer, they lay out under the stars all night until the sun was coming up. He remembered she kept a red and black plaid blanket in the back of her car for any sudden picnic. Everything was simpler back then and understood. There was no worry about yesterday or tomorrow. No sterile hotels or busy highways.
He walked into his house, and he climbed the stairs to his room. His wife was lying in bed, reading a doll collector’s magazine. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth, wondering if back at the hotel she was still leaning against the headboard and if she had turned the TV back on. Did she go down to the hotel bar? Was she sleeping by now?
When he came out of the bathroom, he fell onto the bed. He couldn’t keep himself from crying. He was sobbing. His wife put her hand on him and said, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
Not-knowing, the last of the last times slipped past
us like small ships—no memory of the last
hand within hand, the last curving against
curve, the last naming, the last receptor clasping
and unclasping—the last trace
of us traveling from spine to mind, axons
to dendrites—a relay of loss.
If we took every fish and scattered them equidistant
across the waters, there’d be less than one
minnow for every Olympic-sized swimming pool of sea.
There are many ways to describe loneliness. There are not
enough ways for light to travel through water.
There are approximately three million wrecks
beneath the seas. Imagine if a ship knew it’d be her last
sail, how deliberately she would’ve gripped
the salt winds, how tentative her bow,
how, peering within, she’d marvel at all that shine
and shining—all that light inside of her,
all those seafarers calling her name.
Once, we learned that humans know more about the surface
of Mars than the seabed. If we were anything
together, we were cosmologists—how much easier
it is to look up, where space can’t
flood out the planets, not even the ones light-years
away. Once, I told you that if I could be anything,
I’d be diving, I’d be a trace against the seafloor, tendering.
Note: The poet would like to thank the writer of the article “If the Ocean Was Transparent: The See-Through Sea” for the scientific facts that inspired this poem.
don’t be shy. I know you have been watching me as you would a salmon tailing up the river—I
recognize that white glint in your eye. Don’t hide—come closer to me with your awkward,
lovely gait, and nuzzle my ears with a low growl; come and feel slowly, with your sharp bear
claw, a woman’s tender spine reverberate. It is all right, I like you warm-blooded. I’m sure such
gentle heat can’t compare to any winter coat. So stir before solitude floods your skin and don’t
go hibernating, leaving me awake, searching for your
stars at the sea,
(I see you don’t dare hug my shoulders. You fear denting bone, but you underestimate me.
Underneath this spring dress dappled with grass sap, I keep a thousand layers of skin petals, and
over it, an amphibian film of toxic spit. Though surely, if handled well, medicinal—like
everything else in this world. Press your finger-claw through my hand, convince yourself that
I’m not made of glass—see how we are both omnivores of rugged meat. No need to hold back
Coach Mac told us
as we sweltered on the sideline
and the freshmen practiced tackling
how the heat drove snakes
into the cool steel tubes
on his father’s construction sites in Burma,
taipans coiled inside the rifled hollows,
vipers slunk down the silvery lengths;
how when the chatting workers
tipped the tubes upright
the snake inside would slide out, puddle
below the rim, confounded
by the brightness of the world;
how a dart, two lunging pricks
could end a man where he loafed,
slouching on one leg,
sipping shwe yin aye and asking the score
of the White Angels match;
how they called them five-step kraits
because the forklift operator
was dead before the sixth;
how after that day, his father
made him stay in the foreman’s tent
and the workers only picked up tubes
in pairs—one crouched, ready to lift,
one gripping a shovel at the other lip,
poised to thrust down,
sever skin and spine.
—Thing to get
a rich interior life.
I understand this
I’ve gotten intimate
about my wreck. Everyone’s
about sex, but
what about his body, prone,
on the bathroom floor?
Wouldn’t sleep in our bed
out of guilt—maybe
a need to be alone
with suffering. I
lay singly but didn’t
talk about it. That ritual which has
What was inside me
was not yet
barrenness, but your basic
but weedy, weeds ripe
for the yanking out—
a tract of fertile metaphor.
—Stinging nettle, bristly
oxtongue, panic grass /
How should I fill my days
now that I’m admitting
I’ve got nothing?
Look into the world,
the world suggests. Forget
the obvious comparisons
between plants and
clouds spill over a real place
But who cares
what you call the outside
if the inside is shorn clear—
wanted: a width, a girth. vessel me, burden me, break me into bearing:
take this sluice to be swollen, worn, heavy in gait, o
give me a heft to hold, his or her own I am, owing surrender:
the deed to a bastard house I lost—
there is no one to ask to bear with me
our unborn. who is our? it takes a plural to produce
the thing that’s gone— what we?
who were you anyway?
Say hi to California for me. Say hi to lovely weather.
I hear your movie is a good one. Your movie is a winner.
Say good morning to the good girl beside you. Say hello
to good decisions. The bread and the toast it becomes.
The sweet unction of jam and the dull knife that spreads it.
There are ratings for content and there are ratings
for effectiveness. Give this breakfast a thumbs-up, give this
daily bread an M for Mature. You are no longer the man
who wakes in his own sick. You are a clean and gleaming
example of the benefits of benefits, the outcome of income.
Hello car, hello driveway, my goodness it’s been
forever since we gridlocked together, since we were caught
in a pattern and sidelined. Hello burning vehicle. Hello
tire smoke. Use your turn signal when passing. Politeness
is a virtue is a virtuous man. LA is a town and LA is a set
piece for noir and incest. I hear you bought all
the orange groves. I hear you’re a pipeline and a girl
with a fresh nose job goodbye goodbye. You inhale
and she inhales the good day the good idea
and the smog isn’t smog it’s potential.
WHO SAYS SORRY
The habit of sealing up sweetness,
of saving but never
tasting, isn’t lost
when the drones disperse,
and the queen
is left to starve.
These uncapped frames
with ready-made cells
say there are six sides
to every argument
and there are six arguments
for abandoning your home,
but each can be built
upon and expanded.
Even when the chemicals
in our body smooth and the horizon blues
there’s still a synapse
or two that crackles
that prefers the look
of honey in a jar
left to darken unopened,
the comb floating
like a ruin.
EVEN THE NEWS
When Napoleon wrote
to Josephine, “Am returning in three days. Don’t wash,”
he wanted her
concentrated, the sweet and the rank
in the crevices
of her underarms, the accumulations
dabbed over days
in negotiation with the stiffer perfume of her crotch,
which we call musk, which we describe as animalic,
acknowledging our flirtation
with the fecal and fecund,
the way we sniff, wrinkle our noses, and sniff again.
this aroma we’ve hunted musk deer, killed muskrats,
dried organs, ground them, tinctured the grains
and then anointed
our bodies with the complex
scent that attracts and repels
Napoleon couldn’t know
this battlefield missive
would be passed on and repeated
in varying shades of admiration and disgust,
or that one day he’d be a synonym for a man
overcompensating. He was of average height for the period.
Upon Napoleon’s death,
the attending doctor cut off the corpse’s penis
and gave it to a priest in Corsica
like a relic,
which, improperly preserved, shrank
and thinned to a leather shoelace,
redolent of sandalwood,
tying us together
by what repels and binds.
Tomorrow there will be a better tomorrow
if we go to bed early if we say our prayers
there will be a cessation to this still weather
but not a tornado. Tomorrow the sprinklers
will click against the drought
during appointed times and the small pines
will stand stranded in red clay.
The bubble skylights of Walmart will aim
their security cameras to the heavens.
There will be cleanups on aisles five and six.
There will be returns. The hideous apings of sex
from our neighbors carrying across the asphalt
are not like our hideous apings of sex spilling over
the window frames. Ours call the world into new focus.
Tomorrow we will make promises. We will say our prayers.
We will go to a church recognized suitably Christian.
A hat will be passed though no one wears hats anymore.
If our prayers have answers they aren’t these children
bicycling in aimless circles in the parking lot, singing
the song of the summer. Someone like you. Someone like you.
The number of nights I’ve spent alone crowd
the grass like fallen green apples. They are years
spotted, bruised, and wasting. Not a spell or a season,
but a lifetime—a good life with a brick house,
libraries, a surprise party for my thirty-third
birthday, leather boots, Fela Kuti, and mercy dressed
in my mother’s terry cloth robe. I forget
the three meals I’ve eaten most days. Another
hunger gnaws at my restlessness.
Beside you, I am a ring or a moon, or you
are a ring or a moon. Or we are one planet
with moonlike names for the places our bodies
have yet to touch: Sea of Clouds, Sea of Ex-loves,
Sea of Rib Cage, Sea of Seas of Patience, Sea of Long
Islands, Sea of Ohio, Sea that has Become Known.
Awake, I recall the choreography—my arm
numb, turning to one side. Last night
you dreamt of saddled horses from a carousel
gorging on autumn apples. You say there was plenty,
and I believe you. I make my body a long neck
to reach for your face. The first time we kissed
was on a street corner waiting for the light
to change. We stepped from the curb
and rowed the air with our sleek bones,
the bones you hold me with now
in the almost-dawn. Inches from us
in a puddle on the floor is a flannel shirt—
the one she said brought out your eyes.
A touch is enough to let me know
you have not forgotten her. Forgiven her.