ANOTHER WORLD GATHERS
I sleep in a bedroom once a horse
stable for a monastery.
The monks have all turned
& the cork trees stripped to red.
I am a weak thing. A body down,
an eaten up mosquito net.
A white candle drives out fear,
a red one drives out lust.
THIS IS WHY I NEED A GODDESS
winos, picking up empties,
their laughter of firework.
The city’s full and nuts
but I can’t hear
its usual neon,
thrum of its barges.
No, it’s quiet
and the devil blinks,
Tonight hurts. Fights.
Drops. Sleeps. It’s 3 am—
the Atlantic midnight
for a poet.
Come on, cruel finger
with your cruel
and refusing shake.
Come to me, finger
and not the bottle.
Go paint the bulge on this white
page. Write about hell
factories and cemeteries,
how they dance blurry
pieces of flames.
But instead you give me
the sea. My feet.
You throw love out
like an old sack.
A loaded mouth grinning,
a downer for dead
and night’s ripeness
inching toward wreckage
See, he’s got you too.
Finger, fix it and make it right.
Like a seeing-eye dog,
the lord will see you good.
…in heaven it is always Autumn
—John Donne, Christmas Sermon, 1624
By sunset, the crickets’ trilling begins
in the airless damp, rich with salt
and the sulfurous fumes the Gulf flags off.
Bristling cattails brush my hands.
The light-crested water rises and falls
like a chest flecked with blonde hairs.
I feel estranged from You.
A shoal of minnows breaks, silvering
my ankles, like a mirror; my heart swims
in gladness at the changeable world.
Tell me in heaven it’s warm enough to wade
into this fine transparence, never want for air,
only light and water, and be as the river
flowing into the sea which gives up its name.
after the BP oil spill
We leave the jewels and daggers, a long wool rug
whose dyes have deepened to rust—
you don’t notice. Near the exit, two guards chat
about the spill. A sea-blue bowl
dazzles me, its craquelure like arteries, blue ink
where blood would be. No one
knows the name of the woman in the porcelain,
offering a man sweet cakes.
Could she be Scheherazade, each night always the first,
cushions unchanged, pastries never stale?
They’ve been buried centuries, no one to complete the story.
Is it still that dark underwater, the guards ask?
You tell them of the dead zones, cloudy-
eyed fish covered in sores and scars; of fishermen,
their nets slack with fewer crawfish and oysters.
I come when you call, swept away from the bowl,
full of unfulfillment, and down terraced steps.
In the park by the riverwalk, children dodge jets of water,
their joyful noise sharp as crystals.
The brown Hillsborough River flows into the bay
and circles the dozens of spoil islands.
Tonight, our thousand and second night,
tell me the story of our laughter
through sudden summer rain.
Tell me the story of salt: on your shoulder,
chest, and chin. Tell me how that first week
we seemed to know our pasts by heart,
where we’d been and where we planned to go.
Tell me the story of how we woke up wet
in each other’s arms and watched the Gulf
widen into deep water where, beyond our vision,
an explosion claimed eleven workers,
smoke billowing skyward, a dark reflection
of the darkness below. Who’s to blame?
Who knew what? We can’t keep any story straight.
Somewhere the Gulf still rolls brightly ashore—
after oily booms were hauled in,
dispersants and matted wings, “Closed for Business”
and wringing hands, and thousands
of small fish, pale as plaster dust. On that shore
crabs shuffle out at night and mate.
We watch gulls float down the old river, vanishing
under a bridge. Plastic bottles idle
in bilge, until an unseen current carries them away—
the way we’ll part.
Across the river
the university gleams, its confection of bricks and minarets
like gingerbread with icing dusted silver.
Perhaps, Scheherazade’s bowl—its story inked into bone
and china clay—would fill for us with wine.
We would trade it between our lips and see the picture
rise with every sip while our faces warm
and you tell me the story in which I mistake you for the story.
This is not an ode. February’s ice razor scalps
the gingko trees, their hair pulled skyward
like the ombre roots
of young women. March harrows
us mottled girls. Vernal equinox:
a hare harries the chicks, hurries
behind wet haystacks. Livestock.
Gnats. The glue-traps are gone.
March, ladies. March for your dignity.
March for your happiness. March, a muss
of lidless eyes. In the forest, a handsome man pisses,
puissant, luminary’s ink leaking on trees.
Penury I furl into the craven lens, in its mirror, a pulse:
webcam where I kiss my witnesses.
They watch and watch and watch the butcher
cut, the surgeon mend, they watch the glade
of crushed femora, they watch my dorsal fin,
they watch my scales dart across the cutting
board. They watch the way I open, flinch, bent
against the wind that beheads the nimbuses.
Or April’s turning toward ecstatic sob—departure.
Networks freeze, all sloe, all ice. Transmitters
falter. The cicatrix soaped, cilia & pus
rubbed raw. No machine. I dare
my witnesses to stick their pencils on me.
Do they marvel at a conquest—
blue flesh & gills. Do they think of me as soiled
or new soil. Do they take notes in their medical
journals. Am I their inspiration O Vesalius god
of anatomy is that why they ask so softly for my name.
This morning I peruse the dead girl’s live
photo feed. Two days ago, she uploaded
her confessions: I can’t bear the sorrow
captions her black eyes, gaps across a face
luminescent as scum. I can’t bear Ithaca snow—
how it falls, swells over the bridges,
under my clothes, yet I can’t be held
or beheld here, in this barren warren,
this din of ruined objects, peepholes into boring
scandals. Stockings roll high past hems
as I watch the videos of her boyfriend, cooing:
behave, darling, so I can make you my wife.
How the dead girl fell, awaiting a hand to hold,
eyes to behold her as the lights clicked on
and she posed for her picture, long eyelashes
all wet, legs tapered, bright as thorns.
Her windows overlook Shanghai, curtains drawn
to cast a shadow over the Huangpu river,
frozen this year into a dry, bloodless
stalk. Why does the light in the night
promise so much? She wiped her lens
before she died. The smudge still lives.
I saw it singe the edge of her bed.
TEN YEARS AFTER MY MOM DIES I DANCE
The second time I learned
I could take the pain
my six-year-old niece
—with five cavities
humming in her teeth—
led me by the finger
to the foyer and told her dad
to turn up the Pretenders
—Tattooed Love Boys—
so she could shimmy with me
to the same jam
eleven times in a row
in her princess pajamas.
When she’s old enough,
I’ll tell her how
I bargained once with God
because all I knew of grief
was to lean deep
into the gas pedal
to speed down a side road
not a quarter-mile long
after scouring my gut
and fogging my retinas
with half a bottle of cheap scotch.
To those dumb enough
to take the odds against
time, the infinite always says
You lose. If you’re lucky,
time grants you a second chance,
as I was lucky
when I got to hold
the hand of my mother,
how I got to kiss that hand
before I sprawled out
on the tiles of the hallway
in the North Ward
so that the nurses
had to step over me
while I wept. Then again,
I have lived long enough
to turn on all the lights
in someone else’s kitchen
and move my hips in lovers’ time
to the same shameless
Amen sung throughout
the church our bodies
build in sway. And then
there were times all I could do
was point to the facts:
for one, we move
through the universe
at six hundred seventy
million miles per hour
even when we are lying
Oh magic, I’ve got a broken
guitar and I’m a sucker
for ruin and every night
there’s a barback
who wants to go home
early to bachata
with his favorite girl.
I can’t blame him or the children
who use spoons for drums.
And by the way, that was me
at the Metropolitan stop
on the G. I was the one
who let loose half my anguish
with an old school toprock
despite the fifty-some
strangers all around me
on the platform
waiting for the train
about to trudge again
through the city’s winter
muck. Sure, I set it off
in my zipped up three-quarter
coat when that big girl
opened the thunder in her lungs
and let out her badass
banjo version of the Jackson Five,
all of which is to say, thank you
for making me the saddest man
on a planet teeming with sadness.
The night, for example,
I twirled a mostly deaf woman
in a late-night lounge
on the Lower East Side
and listened to her whisper
a melody she was making up
to a rhythm she told me
she could feel through her chest,
how we held each other there
on a crowded floor
until the lights came up
as if we were never dancing
to the same sorrows
or even singing
a different song.
UPTOWN ODE THAT ENDS ON AN ODE TO THE MACHETE
What happens when me and Willie
run into each other on a Wednesday night
in Brooklyn? He asks, “Where we going?”
And that’s not really a question.
That’s an ancestral imperative: to hail
any yellow or gypsy that’ll stop on Franklin
and Lincoln to fly us over the bridge then
zip up the East Side where the walls
are knocking to Esther Williams or Lavoe.
And you know Willie daps up Orlando
and I say What’s good! and it don’t take
three minutes for me and Will to jump
on the dance floor or post up at the bar
sipping on Barrilito or to tap on my glass
a corny cáscara with a butterknife
like I’m Tito Puente but I have no clue
I really sound like a ’78 Gremlin
dragging its tailpipe the length of 119th,
which is to say, it don’t take long
for Willie and me to be all in. And that’s when
out of nowhere in the middle of the room’s boom-
braddah macumba candombe bámbula
this Puerto Rican leans over and says to me
real slow, “Everybody is trying to get
home.” And I’m like, “Aw fuck.” because
I’m on 1st Ave between 115th and 116th
not even invested in the full swerve yet.
It’s not even five past midnight and Will
is dropping science like that. Allow me
to translate: There are neighborhoods in America
where a man says one simple sentence
and out flow the first seventeen discrete meanings
of home. If you haven’t been broken by the ocean,
if your own weeping doesn’t split you down
into equal weathers: monsoon, say, and gossip,
if you can’t stand at the front door
of an ancestral house and see a black saint
staring down at you, no name, no judgment,
if you haven’t listened to the town drunks
laughing underneath a tree they planted
so they wouldn’t forget your pain, then your story
must have a whole other set of secrets.
You must know what it’s like to expect
an invitation. You might not know what it’s like
to wonder if someone is even waiting
for you to return. Your idea of home
might not contain ways to call blood cousins
from another time zone or just shout
from the middle of the road. There are those of us
descended from peasants who never had to travel
too far to visit the smiths who craft knives
from hilt to tip, who cook blades
that split the wood or carve the rind
from flesh. I once went to visit the men
who make the machetes of the Philippines.
There was a time, I didn’t care where
those knives came from, how the men and women
stoked the embers and dropped their mallets
with a millimeter’s precision. When I was young,
I thought hard was the mad-dog you could send
across a crowded bar. I thought hard
was how deep you roll or how nasty the steel
you bring. In some neighborhoods of America,
hard is turning down the fire just enough,
so you could kiss the knife and make it ring.
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Kim Kardashian Didn’t Always Love Her Body
Kim Kardashian Says She Used to Pray
“Hurry. What matters is to be inside the prayer of your body.”
The story wants to devour a girl. Her hands,
two groping accidents that forget
to cover her face. All will recognize
her face, but for now here is the room
she grew up in—
here are her favorite books. Open the blinds.
The sun will strip her body apart. Unbuckle
the spine from its latches, legs
wide, wider & asking what is holy?
So the camera goes & the girl knows no one
will ever love her again. The breasts make
a seam with the body, which casts
an unfamiliar light. It isn’t vanity
that eats her alive & the room
echoes that tell-tale. She wants it
says the forsythia on the blanket, reaching their bright
yellow tongues toward her knees.
We’re losing her say the dresses. I can’t watch, the mirror.
It’s cold in here her heart says as she switches
positions on the mattress which cries
she used to use this bed for sleep.
n. A small fishing boat equipped with several 1,000-watt light bulbs hung from aluminum shades to attract squid to commercial fishing grounds.
Jesse isn’t really a pirate, but the Coast Guard thinks so when he calls to say he found a body. It doesn’t matter that she’s still alive, so cold she stopped shivering, blue fat of her naked body waxy and blooming red patches where his hands grabbed and hauled her from the water. He stands over her with a filet knife, slowly honing the blade as he waits for Search and Rescue. The glassy eyes of a dead tuna stare up from the galley counter. At dusk, Jesse flicks on the squid lights. When the uniforms arrive, they question Jesse, but never tell him who she is. Taking her away, the Lifeboat’s white wake is brilliant in the night. Days later, Jesse reads the story of an obese woman slipping out of bed at Johnson Memorial. She shed a hospital issued flannel gown and left nothing more, not even a whisper of footprints on the white tile floor. Jesse lights up a mass of squid and imagines her bare bottom shining under the moon as she waltzed herself into the slate-gray ocean and floated away. He knows how she must have longed for the cradling dark. He watches ruddy bodies pulse in the artificial bright, the net dropping around them like a curtain.
Shuttles flick through diamond-shaped windows.
Just fingers flash, bending the twine in stair steps up and down cut edges.
Their pockets full of hooks and flagging tape, men mend the net.
Jim recalls branding cattle as a kid in North Dakota, winter cold just lifted,
calves struggling in mud before the prairie bloomed, withered in summer heat.
Playing cowboy now, he says he shot coyotes and Indians off his dad’s land.
Face deadly straight, you only know he’s lying when his fingers stutter,
stick, the tiny knot coming up slack. Just one unraveled compromises the delicate
lift and pull of meshes under stress. I’ve seen whole seams split from end to end.
He knows love knots pull tighter under pressure, stronger than the lines used to tie them.
He starts talking about his grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Each winter she thinks
every day for a week is Christmas. Last year she fell in two feet of snow.
Feeding the horses, hay in her hands, the wind at ten below, she lay crying
until Jim’s grandfather found her. She didn’t recognize him,
but knew love when it grabbed her, pushing back the terror.
Jim joins two lines with overhand knots, sliding them one on top of the other,
pulling for tension. Sometimes the line snaps in his swollen fingers. His hands ache.
He cracks his knuckles, asks the boys if they’re ready for a beer, remembering his first.
At fifteen he drank Rainier, bittersweet scent biting his nose while he sipped,
making him crave pancakes all night. He didn’t know why until he remembered hunting
trips when he was five and six, Brown Betty, the old flat top stove at his uncle’s cabin.
Uncle Joe would tinker the diesel flame into smothering heat, sizzle of bacon
while Jim’s dad poured Hamm’s in the pancake batter, saying, Our little secret.
Holding a burnt handled spatula, he’d flip white beer cakes mid-air.
Outside the web locker, Jim’s crew chuckles, calls it a day, each popping a beer tab.
At home their fingers twitch all night, tie imaginary hitches, sheet bends,
loop knots, a bowline on a bight. Jim dreams of the whole net flexing,
all the pearl-sized knots shrunk and snug, rippling in the current.
Then I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I who went away—from Chopin in the bones, palms heavy with dates like dark purple fingers reaching toward sand, toward fruit sickly sweet outside Mama’s bedroom window turned mine, her girlhood unloosed in mine, on the ground, rotting yellow. But skyward: a salted moon, a brittle sound, a bed of headstone with its high- pitched calling like a night animal hunting, no, a night animal hunted, in distress and calling, but the mama’s turned deaf—no, the mama’s the one yowling in the night shrub, taken, only the predator’s not the barn-owl. The predator’s prickling gooseflesh of the chest turned to full-fledged breasts and shared with boys, too early to understand how it would haunt into her parent years… into a time her children would come searching for her in bed like the icehouse in town before it closed, the ice inside too cold and melted too quickly into a time she knows will be coming when her children search in other beds and find instead a field, where the road dead ends into the basin, nothing but high grass lit by a pale streetlight… Mama would turn on the music, sometimes she played her flute and I would dance. Growing up I heard stories of Mama’s life but it never occurred to me she was alive for anyone but me, her daughter. I understand now how she needed me—no, how she made music of me and I was rescuing her from dark rooms and nights darkly lit, the slapping hands and terrible hands and the history of genes that replicate themselves in the smallest versions of ourselves: we play a piece of music listening, not for time, though time is constant, but for something deep in the belly… for Mama, who couldn’t keep us from aching, no—who gave us song as gesture for pain.
September 13th, a bright diamond-shaped light appeared in the sky
above all of central New Mexico
I’ve found the warmth Mama left in her bed
when she rose to watch the sun making pink sheets
of clouds through her window.
The balloon is risen above earth’s atmosphere
collecting celestial gamma rays
where our imperfect sight cannot reach
and then the sun is too bright;
she closes her eyes, and I can tell
she’s imagining herself in that unmanned
balloon. I want to say the instrument is already
in you, cosmic & infinitesimal… but she moves
her face behind a curtain, the moment arrives
and is gone. That light, her light,
while it was rising, lent meaning to the sky.
So we continue—the birds with their funny
pointed beaks, their ancient flapping. A child
born to rescue us. In Sunday mass
I would fix my gaze on Mary in her blues,
Mary prone at his bloody feet as I sang we will soar
but God must have known what I meant.
It’s not as if the sky is empty for me now—
even on the coldest mornings
in New Mexico, they rise
as lanterns in our land of enchantment
they rise, in jewel-tones or flag
stripes, in the oldest human-carrying
flight, with their chambers of air, they rise, burning
air into their bright billows.
My favorite resembles a sparrow.
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.
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.
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.
Even in the most inhospitable circumstances there is always time for a cup of tea.
Say you live in a cup with a hole blasted in its side in a blasted landscape, by a blasted tree
and an empty barrel. You can still park your worn down shoes side by side
at the door and steep your questions in hot water. Since you are a man of letters
I imagine you have many. As steam brushes your cheeks you may read the leaves.
Take your time. The wind is aroused and the clouds are either massing or clearing.
You have lost everything but not what makes you human. I don’t mean your coat and tie.
The forebears have gathered. The clocks have split open. Clock hands lie on the ground
like bent utensils. The forebears emerged through the rock. They are ruins. Dissevered.
Parallel faces frozen in profile. The forebears are listening. And there you stand
(I almost missed you), memory’s king, an ant among giants, hands tucked in your
pockets, downcast, with a stone for a shadow, waiting for whispers, husbanding
wisdom, at home at last in an old stone Eden. Whose face does the rock face bear
and repeat, each and every — your face, God face, Jew face, membranous blessing.