If you sing a mantra, holding worthlessness
like a babe to the breast, you will manifest
only a long litany of loneliness.
The myth you tell yourself is a story
learned from forgotten sorrows
and years of rehearsal. But, all performance
is improvisation, no matter the script.
Play the fool, lines forgotten, and dance
until you feel only the drumbeat of your own lungs.
Dance until the song becomes laughter,
and you know the undeniable truth
that you are beautiful.
If you sing a mantra, holding worthlessness
Night held sky still, like a lover unready
to let go, and I craved for you more
than I should.
Like a thing wounded,
the curve of you lay in damp grey
and I listened for your breath across
the years between us, wanting to touch
the unseen part of you.
Somewhere, a feral
housecat, long hair matted and muddy,
spills the wet silence;
one body warms the body of another.
We sat just outside of the grey light cast
by a street light, in the brittle November dark.
The leather seats of the Cadillac I bought for $300,
then painted with house paint into a mismatch
of flowers and eyes, rainbows and rustspots,
suckled at our skin, pulling warmth from skin.
She told me the test was positive,
that she wasn’t sure what to do.
Her mother’s apartment called, window light
yellow against the building’s bulk and shadow,
the shape of things suddenly different.
I wanted to sound authoritative,
wanted to cover panic with hard words
of rational; unprepared, responsible,
Bundled in my terror I shivered,
and she seemed so calm.
So, my friend Melissa Rene told me that her mother swore the clock all stopped when Melissa was born, and that image has stuck with me for years. I finally got around to using it in something, and this is that something.
My mother tells me that clocks stopped when I was born; the wooden
antique restored with fine-grit sandpaper and more money
than she had, the cat clock with big eyes in the bedroom
where my crib waited to hold me, my grandmother’s
tiny faced watch. Our neighbor’s pot-roast burnt, no
timer stopped it, the lady downstairs slept
late into afternoon, school children
learned algebra and grammar past
the time to return home. When
church bells rang that day
it was still dark.
My mother claims that for weeks
everyone in town was late,
that people arrived at jobs
when it seemed right,
that visitors would arrive too early
or too late.
My mother says that on that day,
everyone and everything,
slipped slightly into the past.
Only I moved forward.
Penelope longed for Odysseus’
safe return, surely, with the fidelity
of myth and history. She never wanted
for a rough hand nestled against her
palm instead of the shuttle’s hard edge as
it passed, endlessly, back and forth through
oily wool. There was nothing in her that yearned
to taste salt on a lover’s lips instead
of the dark perfume of wine and wheat.
It would be slanderous to think
that she imagined unknown lips, hot
against the dark coins of her nipples, instead
of the homespun roughness of a tunic.
The weight and dampness of another body
was, surely, satiated by the morning
dew and the memory of her husband.
She was, obviously, in all ways the perfect wife.
Remembered: white linoleum, speckled black and auburn
Remembered: glass windowed view of airplanes and smog
Remembered: bench seats of travelers and delay, luggage and waiting
Remembered: a rare visit; my father, in fedora and overcoat, walking to meet my
Remembered: a woman never met, told her sister, my grandmother, dead the
Remembered: knowing there is more to loss than talk
Remembered: my question of why there were no tears
Remembered: my mother’s brother breathing a myth into truth
Remembered: his story that the old know too much of grief, and cannot weep,
that the young have not yet learned how
Remembered: later, the soft gasps of sorrow through my mother’s door
In the midcold of November, brown weeds splinter at each step, and the buzz of the chainsaw snarls and rattles across leaf-blanket. A notched tree will fall opposite to the years it has grown. You are still asleep, balled into yourself, buried below the quilt your mother made as a wedding gift. Even now, before the first snow, logs lock with frost and bark peels away at the separation, every strike an undressing. All wood has its own scent; root beer Sassafras, Red Oak ketchup. When you wake, the pillow will hold only you in its arms, your hair across its width like the fingers of a branch. This is the season to split and stack; spring’s cuttings, now grey, surrender to the maul and Maples bleed less than in spring. Cordwood piles become walls, stacks of splinters holding each other, pretending to be whole. Later, you will sit in an office that stares only at concrete, the pale scent of oil mixed with the warm air, your name still wet in ink on paper.
Fully heat and smoke,
heartwood burns until it is
consumed into ash.
Selaphobia-Fear of light flashes
I have friends who love a field in summer,
the quick organic flashes, one insect
calling out to another, love songs made visual.
They talk of mason jars filled with little victories,
of fists closed enough to hold but not enough to crush.
One friend released his trove in an abandoned quarry,
the ceiling glittering with hundreds of false stars,
their yellow-green light irregular and shifting.
I listen as they talk, fingers rigid,
palms cold and damp, ears filled with hurried blood.
As they speak, I see the abrupt light,
feel the air catch at each flare,
shut myself against the sparks of their words.
I imagine the field swarming only with simple blackness,
of mason jars holding the sound of the wind,
of a cave bare and damp.
And, in that moment I smile,
and my friends believe I share their joy.
Sei Shonogan Poem
97. Things That Give a Clean Feeling
The blank page, before the words
Static and crackle as the record spirals to the first song
147. Features That I Particularly Like
A cat curled into himself, a nautilus of sleeping
The curve of tall grass in breeze like the nape of a woman’s back
173. It is Very Annoying
Seeing the back of a woman and imaging her as beautiful, only to have that person turn around
When a fish of mango wriggles from one’s fingers
16. Things That Make One’s Heart Beat Faster
The terror of a first kiss
The shadow from the curve of a lover’s ribs in the first grey light of morning
17. Things That Arouse a Fond Memory of the Past
A cornfield, planted in the same even rows as when one played hide and seek
Murphy’s Oil Soap on hardwood floors
Shifting boxes and discovering a parent’s photograph that looks more like a reflection than does the image in the mirror
The smell of cut onion on hands, like a woman after she has loved
109. Things That Are Distant Though Near
A train’s cry, like an angry child, that fills the air so that one cannot tell from where the sound comes
A voice on the other end of a phone that says nothing in particular, but says it right
The first yellow daffodil teacup against the monocolor of winter
29. Elegant Things
The pale petticoats of leaves turned waiting for rain.
The silence the falls between snowflakes
The grainmap of a newly split piece of wood
Her hair painted across the pillow, as she sleeps
14. Hateful Things
Calling a sweatshirt a sweater
One who asks a question, and upon receiving the answer immediately says that the answer is incorrect
How every year one must remove new stones from a garden, as though the pebbles left the year before grew beside the tomatoes and basil
Being woken early by one’s own angry dreams
80. Things That Have Lost Their Power
A lie exposed
32. Unsuitable Things
Baths are really just dirty person soup
The smell of a father in summertime, like over ripe fruit
Birds in cages dreaming of flight
Forgetting how to cook for one, after a lover has left
47. Rare Things
Her mother told her that all the clocks in town stopped when she was born, so everyone knew what time she had arrived
The distraction of finding someone new to think about
This is a very rough piece, and the question I would ask of anyone willing to offer suggestions is, does this dwell too much in abstraction?
It is not that you are an ache,
or the adrenaline dreams that wake me
and keep from sleep,
or a plausible ideal made possible,
or the fleeting linger of touch and breath.
It is not that you are any of this,
and that you are.
You are a voice when I am miles away,
saying nothing particular but saying it just right,
or the place I leave my exhausted thoughts,
or an unkept promise of a promise about tomorrow,
or the fading image of a body in undress.
You are all of these things,
and you are not.