Letter to James Wright

I think of you whenever I cross
the muddy river, more often now
that I’m living on the far side.
When Ohio becomes not “home”
but “place of origin” it’s easier
to call it beautiful.

I think of you when I look
at someone who loves me, and I know
what you meant about breaking
into blossom. An unfurling of petals
that burst through the skin,
love, a continual fracture.

I seek your wild perfections
in every late night line, as I watch
my glass empty and the lights
across the street go out.
Your words: a yellowed map
of a familiar place, dried edges delicate
but fibers strong like hand-knotted lace.

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The Arrival

I would say it took years to return
to the country of myself—

but I am not entirely certain
of true arrival.

How I wandered—sistered to
a kind of vertigo—

in and out of surfaces, spreading
myself, in search of new skin

as though I were a fine pollen.

Perhaps I am a country of selves—
the one who loves you

and the other ones who are drawn
like sky
to any reflective surface.

The way I was drawn to him—stunning
in that astronomical light,

but accidental,
even a hint of the distressed damsel.

I am not the arbiter of this body.
This body is
pure vehicle: provisional,

contingent, yet driving desire.

It is so strange to be
this akin
to asymmetry. To never know

what kind of will I’ll break upon.

Hope is no Metaphor

My apologies, Ms. Dickinson,
but hope is no metaphor. I cannot
picture your cheerful bird. Hope
reminds me of a seagull,

squawking away, persisting
at the mere suggestion
of a crumb. Hope is the pressure
of fingers around wrist, or neck,

the impact of knuckle, and you know
it’ll bruise, evidence
apparent along collarbone, but you invite
him home regardless.

Hope is what chipped
his tooth in a fifth-grade
playground fight. Hope is humid air
without a storm, masturbation.

Hope is the goddamn ink in this pen.

I don’t have faith and I don’t pray,
but I continually glutton on hope
as though it were the eternal,
singing orgasm tingling

when I bend and shift hips
at a 35 degree angle, knowing all
the enticing positions. I hope
no blood spots my white dress now

that my nude lace thong was ripped
off from behind, and bluing skin
is never noticed in dim light, right?

My dad shot the seagulls in our yard with his .22
They always came back for more.

Breaker

My father—grizzled
from years of hacksaws,
plaster, insulation,
wires blue and red that

popped
when he touched them,
wires that snaked
from his room to his brother’s
to his step-father’s, where booze
hung high in the air
and his mother got

popped
for crying too loud,
wires blue and red that
snaked through his arms
to mine, the two
of us sitting in his
room, where beer
hung low in the walls,
keeping him quiet,
even though the wires still

popped
when he touched them—

my father taught me
how to be an electrician,
how never to cross
the wires.

Fort Point Crutch at Low Tide

for Frances Whistler

Whenever I walk across Fort Point Channel,
heading to Drink, I look over, check the tide,
imagine mudlarking there, imagine what
I’d find. Not much. At low tide once I saw
a crutch nestled in mud, a jaunty angle,
thought about the guy who tossed it, how
he gave it up. He limps along, then stops
and curses, weeping, about to jump, his life
behind him. Low tide, he probably wouldn’t drown,
but I bet he’d break his legs and freeze to death.
And then the Lord suffuses him with light,
breaks the past open, relieves his mind, his pain.
He lifts his crutch up to the heavens, a sort
of toast, and chucks it over, all better, healed.
I was going to Drink to meet Frances, and told her, learned
she’s an encyclopedia of loss:
the wooden leg that turned up under the torn
down roller coaster at Blackpool, the meringue
with both plates of some poor bastard’s dentures stuck
in it, found by the Buckingham Palace gardener,
kicked under a rosebush at the Queen’s garden party.
Milagros in Mexico, the new prosthetic limbs,
we share Ramos Gin Fizzes, Fort Points, Bees’
Knees, tell each other everything we know.

Street Music

The three-note rhythmic pattern
of your glance gave me hope
for the future of music
as an emotional diversion.

It’s said that the tongue
of the humpback whale intones
sorrow when sunlight withdraws
from his skin, that the daily

devotions of razorback clams
damn the orgies of oil spills
intoxicating the water.
You can make a map of me

without straight pins this time:
I promise to sit still. You can trace
the topography of my seabed,
mark where the waves crash

over my shore. The liquor’s worn off
and the acoustics have softened
to silence, which serves no god
save its own half-bastard son.

As it turns out, sex is an island
mirage. Attraction a matter
of opinion. You take your glance
away. Your three notes play

in the space of two: the melodic triad
funk dispels all doubt.
I allow myself melancholy,
divulge my dreams

to another street musician.
He listens, lays his sax down,
then says something
true about the sea.

The Road from Dark

We wake, lake water locked
in our ears even still,

to the neighbor washing his Buick.
Maybe spray on chrome is music

to charm the loneliness of sixty-five.
Maybe he’s mad at his wife, or she

is mad at him. Maybe they, too,
have discovered love grows old

and cleaning the car at two a.m.
is salve on that eruption. Or maybe

it’s to ward off the thieves
that have hit the house across the street

three times already this month. It’s August
and the year has wrung out of us

most of our appetites. Appetite—
that unexpected fuel

whose consuming will dream us now till morning.
Through the window I watch the neighbor

give his own shapes to darkness,
to the metal talisman glinting in floodlight.

Maybe he’s thinking of days when people
cared for cars, when twelve miles a gallon

was good enough, when we sat in cars
like the mind in its skull, the soul in its body.

My daughters sleep in the next room,
mermaids curled

and washed in the careful light before morning.
The same water pooled in our ears

beads on the fender. He turns off the hose
and rubs his eyes as though he has been crying.

What is a car but a way to get
from one place to another,

an engine that’s always hungry
even if it’s just to cover

the road from dark,
whether at seventy miles an hour

or stationed on the blocks,
the way I go tonight—leaning my way

through all the curves of this summer,
never looking back, looking back.

Procession

A limousine ride—his former wives
and me: eighteen, daughter of the deceased.

Awkward among women
who talked with gestures,
rigid postures, eyes dimmed
then lit like rabbit holes
covered and uncovered.
I did not yet grasp
the irony of this firetrap:
his harem assembled.
If only he could see them now,
would he laugh?

His first wife’s specter simpered
from the coats. First love, last love,
her Cimmerian boast. Beside her,
my mother tucked a wayward strand
as the day’s weight canted her lipsticked grin.

Wife Three also tested a smile,
while glad-handing the others.
Her ankh shimmered, like my mother’s
key when I was four
that had suddenly failed to open
our front door. Had this woman
pulled aside a curtain that day
to peek from my own childhood house
at my stranded mother and me, locked out?

A freckled arm stretched to pet
my shoulder; this was The Fourth,
regarding me from a screen of shades,
Xanax, Jim Beam. She sputtered
platitudes but all I heard was her drunk
drone from late night calls
to my Garfield shaped phone, as I
wondered why she slipped on her words.

Next to her sat my father’s final paramour,
gawking at her gabardine sleeve like perhaps
she could glean an escape hatch.
She had been dating Dad, half-interested,
when he unexpectedly ceased to exist.
His parting gift: a fancy limo trip
to Fred Hunter’s with the rest of us.

On Time

Nipper nearly dips his muzzle
in the cylinder phonograph.
His paws double in the glass.
His head cocks, thoughts
whipping like punchballs
back and forth:
Where does the voice come from?
After all, it’s seeing that’s believing.
Just ask the signalman
or witnesses of mutants,
or anyone who has seen
a clock. We’ve seen time
pass in watches, in Grandma’s
wattle, in dough to waffles, but
it’s no mere bagatelle to tell
what time is. Our foot
on the treadle, we’ve sewn
this construct to our consciousness,
sophistry or gospel, while
so many more Nows
could be possible. Somewhere
I’m polishing cat’s eye
while you hold your stinging
finger, pricked by a teasel.

Skycast

Hear the clamor from Mount Olympus
echo through the cloudless blue sky,
no thunder, no Titanic resurgence,
just the howling of Ares, who is missing
the USC-UCLA game because Aphrodite
won’t stop watching Glamourella.

Whenever the remote control is missing,
the pissed-off pantheon blames
Hermes, while Zeus flicks bolts
to station hop with such poor results
that Dionysus points out the beer
models that need his static touch.

Before Hestia left, she and Demeter
could agree to watch cooking shows,
but Zeus and Hera’s desires almost
never coincide, just on principle,
nor do they snuggle on the thunderbolt
throw pillows during the Olympics,

which suffer from the lack of real drama,
the ripping of limbs from fallen foes,
the kidnapping of athletes’ families
to make them race faster than the four
winds, to jump higher than the golden
chariot slicing the sky into bloody orbs.

Apollo himself tends to refrain from
the kvetching about who gets to pick,
but marvel, ye mortals, at his radiant
pouting when twin Artemis records over
sweet Delphi City Limits on the DVR
with
 Cypress Sally’s Buck Hunt marathons.

Everyone hates when Poseidon visits
and turns to undersea documentaries
or cartoons where he wears a starfish
crown, the latter enough for Athena
to question who is really in charge,
and the television turns to wrestling

on both sides of the screen, plastic
cups of ambrosia spilled on the sofa,
Ares distributing noogies to sisters,
Phoebus handing out solar wedgies,
until mighty Hercules picks up the set
to smash it over Hades’ dark head.

The pieces end up in the rumpus room
next to a bent harp and Olympia Beer
sign on the fritz with Hephaestus forced
to rebuild the cosmic set with 4D tech,
swollen feet and sadness that comes
from watching so many lost episodes.