Poems from Journals and Websites
Earth ” from Verse Daily
“Still Life with Glasses and Tobacco ” in Umbrella
“The Sanatorium at St. Paul de-Mausole ” in The Big Ugly Review
“The Twentieth Century ” and “Sleeping Beauty ” in ThePedestalMagazine.com
Poems from Before There Was Before
Before There Was Before
1. Before there was before, there was still before, no verb to carry the abyss. Light from dark, this from that, an easing of boundaries, a slit making a run for it, everything blue at the edge of that pose.
2. The Big Bang hurled all the star stuff ever to be made—brazen tumult, lashed by the muscle of spume, hydrogen and helium waiting for their rings to close, dark tonnage, billions and billions of mewling seed stars, all burning and burning themselves out, the universe braced to decay. 3. The shoulder of one boulder settling against the shoulder of another. Canyons cleaving, granite wrenched free. The apple asleep inside the sleeping tree. 4. The tide slinks in. Shelves of blue-green algae. Bluefish. Lungfish. Weakfish. 5. Shaggy-maned mushrooms sink and dissolve. Beneath, beetles frill. Pea vines, holdfast clovers. Bees shiver the white throats— 6. Whales slip through the slot. Baleen and blue milk spilled through all the rooms of the ocean. Long lives call and click the grievous migrations. Sharp-shinned hawks seize their trophies, clamping down the whole lid of air. 7. When trees come, they are meant to be climbed. Stay away, or come, or come just this far—you and I are here, the compound of us, a colossal conjunction. And the calendulas in the field who are riddled with life-spark and flaws. Let’s take a stab at the dark, let’s time our tea, if we have tea if we have time.
If There’s Nothing
Did Monet love light more than he loved Rouen Cathedral, or did he need to stand long enough in the same place to see that nothing stays, even evening is eroding, the saints in the portal of the cathedral softening in each other’s gaze. Even the dead refuse to stay dead: and so Cerberus needed three heads to keep the dead from leaving the shadow kingdom. Yesterday, the pond was dazzled by the turquoise wings of dragonflies mating midair, the water lilies helixing— everywhere I look is a pool of sensation. And in the morning, my brain begins to savor the coffee before my hand reaches the cup. Let’s touch it all. Call it home.
I’m Reading Darwin
1 On a tiny rocky island in the Atlantic, a few months out on the Beagle, Darwin found only two kinds of birds, the booby and the noddy, both . . . of a tame and stupid disposition, easily distracted and deceived—the males couldn’t stop crabs from snatching the flying fish they’d left near the nests for their females. They even let those crabs steal their chicks. And on that island, not one plant, not one lichen, no royal palms succeeded by majestic plumage, succeeded by Adam and Eve’s descendants. Instead, just two dumb birds, on whose feathers and skin and shit the life of the island hinged; and a species of fly that lived on the booby; and a tick burrowed in noddy flesh; and a small brown moth that fed on the feathers; and a beetle and a woodlouse that fed on dung; and a host of spiders, who fed on them all. 2 In Santa Fé, Argentina, Darwin said, a man splits a bean, places the moistened bean on his sore head, and his headache goes away. A broken leg? Kill and cut open two puppies, tie them on either side of the leg. Replace doubt with a plaster! Did Darwin despair? Or still believe in a God who would break our chains? On a dark night, south of the Plata, he comforted himself with the sea’s most beautiful spectacle . . . every part of the surface . . . glowed with a pale light . . . two billows of liquid phosphorus before the ship’s bows, and in her wake . . . a milky train.
Adam and Eve
He came down to the sea. She came up from the sea, their bodies not yet credible, not yet dry. They are still just clay, silica, sea and sea bed, weathered rock. Words are broth and their tongues ladles— How will they ford the blue-green world, bear the heaviness of hips, their busy breath? Sand will be scratching their skin, the scorching sun easing into dusk. Under their hot tent of stars, date nuts, sweetmeats, pearls of fire. Artichokes with wings. Hard things: eight winds and sixteen quarter-winds. Slow things: ennui, eternity. Fast things: pillars of salt, quakes, hunger setting a torch to the world.
The Book of Apology
Some things I don’t profess to understand. —Stanley Kunitz The last time I saw my mother I was reading on the patio, when she came out, cinching her bathrobe around her, her wrists thin as a wren’s, her arms, slack saplings. Her belly, swollen. Blue veins trawled her pale face. She asked me if she could sit beside me. Yes, I told her. And she said to me, Wendy, I want you to know I’ve had a good life. I think it was the first naked thing she’d ever said. ~ I didn’t really want to understand that she had just opened the door the dying must pass through to leave us. And what did I do or say to her then? I might have muttered something, or nothing. Or did I bow my head, and return to my book to find my lost place? ~ She took the long bus ride. Traveled all day and all night to get there. No ticket, nothing to place in the overhead bin. When the bus pulled up to the station, she had nothing to declare. Shadows unfurled. She stood there in the glaze and sipped the light. Her dying was slow. I didn’t hold her. We weren’t like that.
At Dunkin’ Donuts
A man and a woman are talking close. He crumbles a muffin, takes a bite, bows his head over the Styrofoam cup he’s cradling in both hands, palms it side to side, gouges the lip with his thumbnail. Her red sweater glows like sunrise as she leans her head on his shoulder, smooths his forearm with the tips of her fingers, combs a crumb from his sleeve with the side of her hand, brushing away each undone, every undeliverable. And I want to pour them a pitcher of blue sky, plant an apple tree between their arms, save his cup for my Museum-of-What- Makes-Us-Human, the wear and tear of it, the coffee-stained too-muchness of it, that brush of touch that caresses an arm, a shoulder. That grace, that brace, that balm.
Shelter in Place
—April 19, 2013 And Boston is a dark harbor, hardened, the streets furrowed with chase, with grief, and a marathon of turns—hairpin, wrong— and dead ends, a desert of dead ends without provision or cure. Tanks and sirens stampede all day, all of us at home behind locked doors mining the TV screen for every last look, the price everyone will have to pay, and a man climbs out of a tarp-covered boat in someone’s backyard, a rifle’s red laser dot locked on his head, a blood skew crazing his face as he raises his bloody hand, his bloody shirt, to show he is unarmed, while just a few blocks away from that very yard, two shelves nailed to a tree, paperbacks on top, hardbacks below, and a sign— Take a Book, Leave a Book— and as the city raged that day, all day, the Little Free Library stayed open.
Love Poem for My Husband
We’re celebrating our new patio furniture, the striped cushions that pick up the warm tones of the acacia-wood table and chairs, the new umbrella, a Special Order from Bed Bath & Beyond—more than enough shade! We pour two glasses of wine, drink the late-afternoon slant light, savor the clouds as soft as lambskin, the table oiled to a sheen. You say we should plant a lilac tree at the bend in the road so we won’t see the traffic. I tell you that the fox urine I bought at the hardware store and sprinkled on the flower bed hasn’t stopped the rabbits from snapping off the daisies. I get up to rip out some swallow-wort before it strangles the forsythia, and think of the dead who have nothing to do, while we fret in the garden, take another sip of Malbec, nibble goat cheese on a cracker, letting the good enough be.
His black-shellacked body lay belly up on the basement floor, everything in him already decided, the huge husk of him— three sections knuckle-coupled like train cars: the thorax scribed with scarabs, compact as a flower bulb, the abdomen hinged to his tiny head, and inside that, the minuscule brain that mounted his little music, day and night issued meek and fierce instructions to himself in his dark city. And refused what? And raced where? Sought what solace scuttling? And did he notice or not the tepid light squinting through smeared windows? Did he brace his legs against the spin of the washer’s thrum? Nothing more for him but this one hard look—to memorize the six matched dancers of his legs, each curving toward its partner in a series of jointed etceteras all the way out to the hooks, barbed, and beyond, the ardent tips that almost touch.
Poems from Western Motel
It is always life or death—Chinook, Coho, Sockeye inching, first stair-step up the ladder, and the woman sits and clicks each one past the underwater glass window— salmon thrum, salmon clobber, singular, desperate by ones, by twos, salmon sling themselves, fling themselves, fall back by fives, by tens. In this way, they meter out life’s dry measure—ghosts lost in the spillway, sucked into the turbines, shredded by the intake grates by twenty, by one hundred, roiled downriver in the tailrace by one thousand, diminished, three thousand and five, three thousand and four, diminishing, three thousand and three savaged mad with singing.
Refuge of the Dream—Gulden’s spicy brown on Hebrew National, honey bear, bottle of Tabasco, cartel of napkins, dispensed white from steely towers, and the grill: the short-order cook in his blue baseball cap is humming hard work’s Anthem. One practical flick of the wrist flips a pancake wide as a prairie. Waitresses clatter plentiful platters— black angus, tabouli and tofu, tongol tuna, polyglot Reubens and Rachels, Cobb salad, democratic potpies. All day breakfast rides, like a good poem, Robert Frost says, on its own melting, and all the yolks are sunny side. Deep in our duct- taped booth, we are sated, flutter greenbacks from our wallets, plenty of change.
And dead fish eyes set in silver bezels, ringed and pouched and crumpled. And the sun that made those eyes glisten, or lit them from within. Smaller than my thumb, knife-thin and rubbery. No, not rubbery, exactly, but not yet stiff, either, and still sweet-smelling. The skin, immaculately foiled with cross-hatched lines that scrolled all up and down. And the mouth, two bronze shutters, that tail, a gossamer, a ghost, a ship, though all day I had been trying to renounce metaphor. And wondered if Death will make me beautiful, and hated Death more for that irony—not to see anything at all! And so my consolation was less than I’d hoped for—beauty and death held together in my palm.
Excerpt from Gas Stations, Drive-Ins, the Bright Motels
i. Daffodils that sang of yellow, saw only yellow, awoke from the yellow other side. Clouds clattered downward, upward into vanished air. I was a child, wobbling the wet cement on my bike. Already good at cutting corners, how could I not ride out this far? ii. Nothing has happened yet— so I scratch a piece of linoleum kitchen counter with a paper clip to see whether or not I’m sorry. Daddy comes home. Mommy tells him to spank me. He has never spanked me. His voice rises, then dies. Maybe he won’t. My life is a yellow box too short for pencils. When I play, I play alone: separate into families my trading cards— horses from flowers from birds. I let my yo-yo sleep on the end of the string, cut out a new pink dress with sparkles for my Wendy doll, take off the plain paper dress she wears around the house, press onto her the tabs of her gown, wind up the ballerina in the music box, make her spin on one thin toe.
What Distance Brings
Who knows why desire grows in its own shadow? We see a distant lighthouse punctuating that sandy spit, the sky swollen, rinsed in haze, swarming like a herd of stallions— we like to say that— a herd of stallions— and when we get there, the lighthouse is a stack of white-chipped brick. Don’t all clouds obscure something we thought we wanted? It’s distance creates desire, and the lighthouse better far away. We want the singing— gleam and shine, gleam and shine, which leaps from our hands, or is too terrible. We want a frame to contain the vastness. We want a Hopper postcard to hang on a wall. We want to hold the sun but not its burning, or we want to burn.
Have I been sitting here for hours, straight-backed on the bolstered bed, alone among the molten elements, sand ground down to its hardest part? Hours jut and leer like a car’s chrome mouth. One last flare of gold, and the hills gather into loaves. To be the one. To be the only one, my wrist shapely and disconsolate. My fingers grip the bedrail hard. I console myself with light detached from the empty wall. If I let my hair go wild, will shadows spill their liquid spines, and break? Everything is right beyond my vision—prologue, denouement, the ringing of the bells after the bells have rung.