between sky & earth the mouth
perches its heavy want
its slick parables so far from
the fingers actual agents of ardor
i mistype poem as pome
from the french pomme de terre
apple of earth the earth
in the mouth my tongue
clutching the word sky
as a shovel turns over dirt
as the sound of dirt hitting
a casket the grief
of speaking what must be
made known & never
understood how else
do we get closer
with what fingers fail
to grasp time’s dissolution
childhood’s petrichor her ochre
hair o are you
the apple’s skin or the reflection
in the skin let me address you
fully as i should have from the start
as i know you void-throat
tell me is it true
waking in you is like walking
in an orchard where all prior
is heard but only from
a far opaque distance
a radio’s underwater garble
tell me am i doing this right
after Lisa Russ Spaar
NOCTURNE w/ LILACS & RAIN
Before rain, we steal lilac cones from rich peoples’ gardens
one at a time until they make a bouquet. We go to bed
with feet the color of crushed blackberries, small stars
of broken glass kissing our soles & dream. As we dream,
it rains. Rain trickling off lilac cones like your tongue
lying limp & fat with sleep. Your tongue snug
in your mouth, next to me, & mine in my mouth.
Does a lilac like to smell itself? Is that its version of dreaming?
An unlit cop car slinks down the street, scuttling racoons
from their feast. A racoon in rain can smell like lilac, will sleep wet
curled among its sisters like a tongue among its teeth,
like bills in a mailbox. If our roof caves in
it will be because we sent the bills back
with a recording of rain inside, as if to say,
here, listen while you sleep. Hear the rain
touching the ungodly world as if this was its sole purpose.
A tremulous tongue, inventing desire.
LIKE THE SHADOW OF A WING
I too have stared at the stars & found it hard
to believe them indifferent. Who are we
to say we are new? & isn’t it like this:
not what’s discovered but what’s been known
& forgotten, despite ourselves. Despite saying
“I want to remember this.” The cold leeching
up my leg, my father’s black shape
moving away through the snow, farther
from our fire ring, across the latticework
of trees. Our necks craned in wonder at the sky.
Was it this, then, the first prayer? But already
he moves further & further away from me
& I have forgotten how to move. Where,
a moment ago he traced them, constellations
fall apart like wet paper. Like the body
of the rabbit we saw yesterday slip
from an osprey’s talons & tumble to earth
with a gymnast’s grace. & isn’t it like this?
The soul falls catches on itself keeps falling.
How when the darkness comes it passes over you
like the shadow of a wing. Soft as the inner thigh
of a rabbit.
we’re retracing our footprints through the snow.
Already the light has moved on. Already
we’ve arrived back at the fire, already
I’m forgetting everything.
Like any other reasonable children who want to play
with their small goat but don’t know how to explain
their games because they don’t know enough goat words,
my brother and I strap on skateboard helmets
and take turns headbutting with Roger.
What else did she expect us to do?
I’m not saying my mom’s the devil when she’s angry,
but I’ve seen a goat: I gallop towards Roger with unfamiliar legs,
losing human form with each strike. I know horns
when I see them. No one will recognize me.
I’ll look nothing like my mom.
At the entrance to the museum was a model town
made to depict how the city had once been.
In the model there were no people but lights
illuminated all angles. The butcher shop,
the grocer, the pomegranate stand.
Rugs the color of dried plums
and large bellied pots lined the walls.
With his thick fingers the director pointed to a map,
this is where they entered, this is where we fended them off.
Each morning, we woke to pigs squealing, walked
the wet October streets. Climbed the abandoned mosque.
We clicked pictures, through fog, of a broken minaret.
In the church, we lit candles for those newly
and long dead. At night we drank with soldiers
and learned the word for dark, for bat.
We already knew the word for war.
The bed was thus, the curtains were therefore.
The moon floated past the window frame
and appeared to be. Fans roared as softly as.
A blue light becoming, or a wind
unlike anything outside.
Or a memory of, but less than.
In other words, a fine dust settling on the dust ruffle.
Released from memory. Released into remembering.
Motor coach and reservoir, children and fools.
The pasture being itself. Midnight. Perfume.
Schopenhauer breathing into a paper bag.
Sequins, rutabaga, emerald hills.
Burj Khalifa and a feeling
that in a moment anything could.
That the clouds might.
4:00 p.m. Al Ain: what to say?
Or your voice, the risk of. And rebar.
Then traffic, rushing as if it could stop.
Sure it could.
The noise, the ticking. Noise,
noise, boom. You letting go
was unlike. You leaving
was nearly like.
The man dreams under the tree. Or is he dead.
My students can never agree. How sealed is
that scene. Peaceful but sealed and the birds
are cut out. Their outlines remain but they
have fled. How to be free. That is what
the man dreams, folded arms, ankles crossed.
When I was a nanny, the girl and my hands
smelled of the soap the family used. They
always fed me and when I used that soap
years later, her tiny cheeks returned to me,
rising skyward on the swing. In the Chagall,
the sky is smudged with blue and the poet
seems to gaze upward, but his eyes are wells
of black that look inward at loss. If you don’t have
someone in a time like that you don’t have family.
Then you covered me in clean sheets. We watched
La Strada together before we never talked again.
You hummed along when the fool played his violin,
and once in the dark you put your hand on my side
to say, That’s old. It isn’t here now. There were no violins
in my childhood school. My mom rented a trumpet
for my brother and when it went unpaid someone
knocked on the door and took it away. Everything
has a purpose, says the fool, even this pebble.
I never cried when I left home. But, my friend,
for three years I cried if I said your name.
I was born among
blind to all but the sliver
above. I see the hawks
a pair, red-shouldered. Omen
of tall woods and water.
The first hawk oak-alighted
to hunt the bridle path,
the second circling, her kee-aah
letting the other birds
—at the rim of perception—
know of my unknowing?
outside the dementia ward
a woman tumbled fresh-hatched
from the egg of herself is watching
small children plant geraniums
in the garden’s empty places, knees
in the dirt, steered by a lay sister who if not
a nun is still a woman
jesus charged down from his cloud palace
to kiss directly on the mouth.
red is a color with many symbolic
uses, not least of which the tongues
we cage behind our teeth,
not least of which the velvet
petals in their nodding clusters,
hot-sauce hot-rod blood-hot pucker-up,
extravagance in the wormful wet.
inside are rooms with doors
that do not lock and men
who clutch their pillows like
infants they bless and bless again,
so much weight crushed
against their ribs it’s spilling out
in words like yes and no and stop it
i want you to stop it.
new flowers coaxed from their cases.
sun sliding between shrouds
of gray. like penitents or mourners
we work to the labors which humble
us most, attended and searching,
turning the earth with our spades,
letting in the light.
i walked out to the water. there was the tree
with its round brown trunk and crown full
of leaves and ghosts and smoking embers,
and all around were more trees and small
green shrubs and large boulders wherever
was appropriate to place a boulder. the sky
folded down upon my head in one gray veil
that i took in my hands and tied beneath
my chin so that i became my grandmother,
and as my grandmother i caught white birds
in my skirt and ordered the blue mountains
to sit up straight and say hello to the world.
at the water i bent at the waist to count
reflections: stalks of grass and weed, un-
named hosts of pale shapes moving, my home
on the rock, new-built and then ruined, food
for men who move stones. myself, young-
old-young, rippled and smoothed by wind.
The Historian’s Shadow
In questions of history I am caught between the confluence of two seas. I am measuring the height of their shadows with an inch-tape. I am wondering about integrity. I would like to kiss your nose. Soon enough, I am standing on the edge of the water at night. I am counting: my plum-dark nipples, the carnivorous fish washing up onto the city, their luminous teeth, a hundred, thousand droplets like the silver edge of the sea.
Time is a heady gardenia, white scent
pulling me into the green underswell
in which I am young and still unstacking
the matryoshka doll of his mind.
A desire path, the internet says,
is a consequence of unruliness,
through foliage an unplanned line not set
by formal design. They expedite
our wanting of home, of fields with their herds
of bells, of fish the patient fisherman
silvers the end of his hook with. Cow path,
pig trail, goat track, game trail, path that compulsion
leads us to suffer, the uncharted road
between us like orchards the dead light up.
Somewhere in Northern Ohio, on a farm
my mother is drunk, kissing an open
cut, placing my hands to my sides.
She is covered in moths. She keeps saying
I am your mother I am your mother
The moon is blood;
Wears her clothing inside out.
Points to the invisible bison— says
they come for me; my heart
is facing their curled horn.
She screams to the yearling:
I hate her I hate her
I hate her!
My mother hates me.
The first girl I kissed, the boy
I bought an apartment for, the last
girl I kissed, my roommates, my cat,
the grocery store clerk, the botanical
gardens, the bee colonies and their honey
all hate me.
I hush her.
My mother is tired,
My mother is my mother.
I am a good daughter. I take
care of love for the both of us.
In between the laundry line she flashes
smiles as the tablecloths roll with flame.
The air, thick, like leather.
Mother is on fire, again.
You must understand,
I cannot find peace.
I try to stop her, but I am no good.
I open her mouth with paper gloves
and out comes the red heat.
Listen to my heart beat.
The moon is blood. I wake up
in Northern Ohio with
a mother who is a mother who is my mother
who digs a hole in the earth for a dead bird
she finds on the side of the road.
I say, mother,
the bird does not need a grave.
Everything needs a grave she says.
Even me. Even you.
I Love What My Eyes Have Laid Sight On
after Angela Bassett
You: a gust
of fresh winter air / a fountain of eternal / life
an overflowing garden of lavender that never fails / to bloom
You: survival / reincarnated a wellspring / who communes nightly /
with chameleons for nourishment who built shelter with clay
and a dull / knife who carved / family
from a block of ruined / ice
You: a poet / again who found the words
they needed / on the underside of Hathor’s throne
preening between two pillars of purple clouds
You see / god in the looking glass you stare into
the [cis] eyes / of the world
with the moon in your back / pocket
you a column / of light
orange glowing full / of topaz maps blessed by stars
Your brother turns off the cartoon for your nieces
and removes the collard greens from his plate. The warm palm
on your thigh, your wife’s immediate shield, returns to the table.
One uncle laughs about the rising cost of synthetic oil changes. Your
rose-colored aunt does not. Panic unnestles itself from your bruised
heart, hidden beneath the dark brown binder. Your family diverts their eyes
from the man in your face and turns attentively to the head of the table.
Your mother, dressed in her warmest pajamas, extinguishes the fire
in the corners of her eyes and places the matches back into her mouth.
You unwrap yourself from each hug, every grandparent and cousin,
even the ones you haven’t seen since you first learned to write. The air
returns to a crisp blue. You and your wife get back into the car
and drive with the sun stretched across the dashboard. You return
to the couch, damp head in her lap. Your phone begins to ring.
Almost Every Book of Poetry Has a Poem about Horses
But too many are already
[Koko Da Doll]
back from the dead. Let us
meet in a meadow underwater,