Mapping an Absence (2017)
Wind of Hours Unwinding (2014)
Learning early that home for her is not
rosy… Joseph, don’t you have hands
that have softened a hickory haft?
And don’t you wear spring in your bones?
You who seemed to wince when your foot
flattened a crocus in a lawn
smooth and damp as licked fur,
haven’t you primed your lungs for new
air, new slime glazing a park bench, Joseph?
You with the face of the ax you carry
—cheeks tempered toward the knife-edge of your bones;
you with spring in your bones:
Take her hands in yours. Take in your
hands little Mary’s face, that small
sky, with its constellation of worry.
Sit her down at water’s edge.
Tell her—kiss her—tell her I want
to kiss you with a fish’s assuredness
that, drenched in ocean or saliva,
no amount of water will drown us.
Anesthetized in a flower bed: a heliotrope
amid birdfeeders broken. Dying vines
sing tonight, with tendrils loose
on the gate’s loose rope. Mourning: me,
in reverie, in memory of a sweet, soft-
spoken wish: be near, and sing.
I will not die in your light.
Romanticized by poets’ pens. Rootstock deep
for feet, and leaves don’t hold like hands
(though nothing can): your embrace
is warm, but distant-cold. Sorrowfully,
I seem to be the unseen
scent whose kin would win you.
But I wish: be near, and sing.
I will not die in your light.
III. Feckless Fancy
A compliment: we got some color this weekend,
belly-up toward the pink rib cage of sky.
Communion from the clouds, our church of grief.
By and by, love, by and by,
more and more, my love is like the punctured
ostrich-egg in the drawer—the birthing
wound in its shell (a gift
from Saudi Arabia, from an uncle
in the dunes of war):
strange to think that missing
such a small bit of something could leave
its whole so hollow.
Evelyn, your vest has lost some sequins;
they're pebbling the sidewalk under orange trees—
small mirrors for the sun, for your belief
in silently, frowardly, selfishly hoarding more.
Your love is like the enraptured
organ-grinding of whores in a sweet
springlike hell. Swaddling
clothes of labia for your sweeties
borne and born insufferably sore.
Strange to think that missing
but the smallest bit of someone can leave
us all so hollow.
IV. Medicine In
White tiles. Cerulean doorframe.
A first-floor apartment with views of the war.
Stereo sound: the old Fife and Drum Corps.
A treaty is signed to resign to treat the lame.
Best not to scatter the ashes of autumn
With your breasts out and bouncing to the groove of the war.
A front for the front: fresh milk for the warlords.
And what of a womb of a woman to the soldiers who came?
(Take the medicine out; put the medicine in.
One pill for clarity; a handful for doubt.)
There’s a peach reclined on a summer table—
juices rivering toward the linoleum floor,
bypassing the nose, the lips, the cold sores.
What of our time when all time ends in a day?
V. Life Is New Again
Rent by a derelict group of old melodies,
your heart moved to cave
for the stale air, stale streets,
stale eyes. Love to last
is dim light amid the dregs.
Bent like a hickory hoop around your belly,
your arms own the warmth
of a heart learning to beat.
The soft walls collapse
toward the light between your legs.
The dam is strong, but the water
breaks, and life is new here.
Life is new again.
VI. Letter from Late Icarus
It was the initial rise, families
of birds, that unhinged me. Wholly a fool,
I believed myself sewn to the same
caliber of wing. Father, you fixed me
with a longing for what warmed me.
The sun’s ripe as ever; olive trees are bursting
with fruits smaller than thumbprints: under it all
I am oceanically content. Don’t bother
mourning. I seal your legacy in mine
with wax-dripped hands. I am sorry. Above
there is a god who’s drunk me to the lees.
Against a brick wall
of the methadone clinic, I found you:
sprawled in your shadow, your chin shining
with spit; afraid each open hand
would clench into a fist.
The others were in the square,
sated with being, but not alone.
I offered my hand.
into my palm like a zoo-goat,
expecting a ration
of kindness, maybe
a few corn nuts, sunflower seeds,
coins, a cigarette,
and were confused—as, in turn, am I—
by its emptiness.
VIII. A Lover's Lament
Rose quartz and fool’s gold on a chest of drawers of quilted maple.
Magazines are mineral oil-stained; the lamp is burning low on the table.
A stoneware vase of dried hydrangea, split
with a sunbeam sharp as a railroad spike, holds
a letter from a love estranged, though I can’t
decipher its tenor, quite…
Sing and wound me. Love is water I cannot ford.
Such things consume me: to be held, to be adored.
So well-dressed, so alone. Even songbirds
jilt me when it storms.
Sing and wound me. Love is salve I can’t afford,
water I cannot ford.
Clutching at flotsam in the wake
of her leaving, man drifts and dangles
as from her lobe a gold earring.
An adornment adored within fashionable reason
is misplaced or cast
aside at the change of the season.
IX. Honey for the Bears
We internalize the burnt orange of the autumn hillside.
It’s hard to vocalize the dying
language of the modern beehive,
darling, with your tongue distended
and marring mine.
Those honey-swells: peals of bells
or sidewalk-laughter. We’ve come to publicize
the sweet pageant of our own hereafter.
Darling, with your tongue distended
and marring mine,
I can’t call up the words.
Sounds of a city: eye-desiccants for balladry,
mendicant coins on the eyes.
Passerines singing on ladders. Their landings
ring out the rungs we can’t climb.
X. Weathervane Horse
You hold me like a stanchion, Mid-Atlantic.
I hide you like a slip-stitch in my overcoat.
You hold me like a stanchion, Mid-Atlantic.
The love I send is stronger than the love
in your parents’ house.
So, I need not mend my love, Dear Town Mouse,
Love, Country Mouse.
High above the ridge, the soft
cannon clouds move to fire.
I am the weathervane horse:
eyes on all points but this spire.
You hold me like a stanchion, Mid-Atlantic,
as the memory fades lightly by night,
and the turnpike
bends like a wolf to clean her young.
My knuckles are white on the wheel; the ice
is unsettling; oh, my, oh, my. Here is my vow,
which has been given up. Instead of running
gauntlets, these somber retreats into myself.
Dear Forgiver, in dreams I bow, I fire,
I rise on whole engines revved high, mistake
myself for oil on axles undefined.
I brood, I swing from light to hail; to hail,
I can’t just cling
to an unseemly everything.
I lay to rest these spare
unsongs—these pointless spears—
in expansive pink,
your rib cage of sky.
The Warp/The Weft EP (2013)
I. Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure
Here a hen pecks the afterbirth of a stillborn lamb--
with a pitchfork I remove the dead.
Despite the light now of spring, a dearth of life on the land,
and I turn earth to make his bed.
Once henpecked in the marriage hearse, twice shy; but understand:
the fowl song, too, can fill one's head.
Despite the depth now of sleep, I thirst for one strong reprimand.
I aimed to find truth but dreamed instead
that I nursed the blood of a bowing sumac;
you nursed the baby, and the nursery rhymes
were sung out from full lungs, a heaving breast--
when the milk was spilled,
who could do but cry?
Elegance or solvents, or whatever it is you down to fake a smile:
Your face flushed, O red, red rose.
May the heavens absolve you, and your ablutions at the basin prove worthwhile,
and may you never know again the biting cold of my fears.
Seraphim or herons, or whatever it is whose wings will dry your tears...
Your breast heaves in this brief unknown
May my hands remind you that touch is proof enough of a life made dear--
But go now: close, eyes, close.
We're as empty as a poor pantry.
We're wine-lees, a warehouse of breezes,
old industry, dead language degrees.
The flesh of our own uncertainty.
II. Caught Deep in the Dye
The brick is fastened with mortar.
I am attic-bound, witnessing
spring fall. I can't recall
what about your absence
has shocked me to write again.
I have stared for days on end
at squirrels nosing through
skidder-tracks, where needles stormed
from the felled front-yard spruce.
And here, though in bed by ten,
the town wriggles at the first licks
of spring. At Mulberry and Chestnut
my brain presses on
like a trawling motor, the familiar hum
silence can no longer do without.
*The line "I'm caught deep in the dye of her" is borrowed from Anne Sexton's poem "The Interrogation of the Man of Many Hearts"
III. Night Revision
I wish to but cannot
access the flight, still eyes
and long descent of the heron,
the harp of its body struck
with wind. Swollen over the pond,
the tones of solitude
diminish as they near me.
Awake with a fever
through a night of tumblers
whose ice barely numbed
these lips I recant
what love I swore to--
and for the bass drum of the heart
or the bolting of the door, accept
a metronome and the muted
churn of water toward the mill.
Head on the feather
pillow, nothing peers back.
The clamor of hours is not music.
Beneath the copse of white oak
there is a point driven deep
for drinkable water. The bones
of a dog are lashed still
to a blossoming lilac.
And for the ever-fickle heart
and the bolting of the door,
I am relearning home
and the emptiness of love
that love will fill.
IV. Storm & Wake
Stay on the shore, dear one; the wake could overturn you.
The soft ripple of a dorsal fin
in this cove; the cove the cupped hands
of a god at his shaving mirror;
the sky bent well in an Archaic smile.
Dear one, do you while away hours
in song, like a warbler?
Your tremolo, sweetest tremolo,
brings a storm, brings
shipwrecked sailors to your port.
V. Bathtub Mary
Well out of town & over
the border, we'll stop for coffee
& a taste of the news,
where a papier-mache Jesus lies
in a plexiglass casket,
on a strip-mall avenue.
I was raised in a land of Bathtub Marys
--those holy lawn jockeys
worth a prayer in passing--
planted like a hedge, with a porcelain
aura--a spectacle of cleanliness everlasting.
I, though faithless as the next,
admire the hearts that faith brings close,
and the cathedrals raised for nothing
but a faith in the unknown.