I have been writing poems since I was a kid. To me, writing is the slipperiest and most evasive art form to master.
A poet can train for decades and still feel like a stumped idiot when looking at an empty page. Even the best and most celebrated poets are known for only a mere fraction of their output. The rest is useless to anyone.
My poems have always had to do with themes of time and nature. As I got older, my poems began to involve themes of living in the Male Gaze, and economies of intimacy. As I got older and my career mattered more to me, I began to write about work.
AUTO DETAILING IN NOVEMBER Cold suds crawl a whitewall rim, water slickens tire’s ribs and gullies. At the back of your throat a greenish smell, something like hand soap and Windex. Drying your hands gets them warm. Plunk the scrub brush down in its foamy pit, laced with leaf bits and candy wrappers. Take out the power-washer, shake loose the hose: pressurized sigh sprays the suds down, sets roof and windshield gleaming. For twenty dollars you finish three sedans, weekday mornings before class, starting on the inside with a plastic shopping bag, the same closed-in smell car after car: air fresheners, of pennies, old coffee, minutes traveled in private. Pluck a dried-out french fry from between the seats, scrape chewing gum from a window gasket with a folded book of matches. “Women are better with the details,” the boss, hiring, had said. He told of his bachelor party, dancer dripping hot wax on his chest. He kept a photo of his wife on his keychain: smiling blonde in salon-orange skin. For this too, you are paid, for witnessing. And it can be the soot you spin into gold, but only if you believe in that, and only if you keep a pen in the bib pocket of your Carhartt’s, and only if there is a receipt balled and stuffed into some ashtray, that you can flatten against your thigh while no one is looking, and write ‘cold suds, greenish smell, scrub brush, foamy pit dancer dripping wax, salon-orange skin’ LOVE NOTE FROM A 15 YEAR-OLD BOY In blue ink in borrowed ballpoint ink he writes not of the night his wheelspokes spilled out sweet -ened mists dew cooled from the field grasses, mown, chilled in back road tunnels between lines of trees the old hills where for twelve miles he rode barefoot, shoeless for having left his shoes inside his parents’ kitchen, the only way out at night his window on the second floor, the window screen the asphalt-shingled roof ledge, a crouching leap, the packed dirt ground the pedals’ teeth their worn bite on his skin. In blue ink in borrowed ballpoint ink he details not the hayloft, her stepdad’s barn her tight, high breasts, her recoil, at first, her braces on his tongue. In shaky alphabet in plodding ink the letters cut halfway through the page as if to wield so light a thing as tenderness with heavying hands the pen up and down inking not his memory or the cost, in bruises from his father’s fists but the initials of her name and shaky leaking hearts SONG FROM THE PINEAPPLE BED Once, before she died, I saw by accident my grandmother, naked. A half-open door, a bathroom off a bedroom, white indirect light from the sun on the white and flowered sheets that hung on a line by the Cape house -- we were a lucky family then and we had things like extra houses in coastal climes where needles fell and roasted on the grass at the edge of the yard lined with hydrangea balls blown blue as periwinkle. Her body was like mine - - same big ribcage and small legs, same small shoulders, her body turned as if to avert on purpose, her face vanished, brown hair still brown in her 80's, cut very short with no gray and no white and she looked tan, she looked almost young, her curve -d waist and haunch did not give away her unhappiness, or what I imagine had to have been unhappiness, for what other feeling could you have, having borne eleven children, like a hireling, to a man who had business elsewhere? When they met she had no inkling of what beyond the big house and maid and boats would come but who of us women has any inkling of that, when men put palms on you and gaze at you as if you were something new, and you are, if only just because someone else has gotten old. I think of her, naked again, lying in their pineapple bed, some night in summer after another one has just been conceived, and the others in the rooms of the house lit by streetlight mewl or snuffle in their childlit sleep, and she too is in between cool white sheets dim in streetlight light, prone once again, the new lifelines stitching and separating in her already -- another one, whose first few cellbeats will hereafter be embedded with the way he now pulls down the points of his starched collar yanks on pants over shirt the way men do the belt buckle song and the unwieldy soft clink of his keys, that says not thank you nor I love you but after all this was why you were brought here with such fanfare, such silver, such crystal -- here, to between these four notched finals shaped like paint-full brushes, this is why you were caught and why you gave in to the sweetened bait and the trap for you, wild animal, whose wildness is used and used even as you shine in the dark bay of this whispering headboard, black in the night as the inside of a coffin, closed where folks go to be born. ORGANS Imagine them: yellow or purple, clotted with soft debris or soaked in blood, his organs packed like soft loaves. His liquid parts pump their courses, curved or branchlike. Veins in fans crossing calves, knuckles. Tears that level, clasp his eyes upturned in sleep. The tender acids. The sleeping ejaculate. Oh love, oh salamander slipping back inside your glossy nests. How could I ever leave you, except to save myself? THE DISNEY QUEEN, SNOW WHITE, REMINISCES Everything I am now can be traced to a panic, a night alone, lost in the haunted forest, having fled from my stepmother’s castle. Blind – meaning my smell and my touch guided me. Here – meaning a place I had never been to before, meaning “out”. Here was the place I would have cut my own path, if left alone, eventually – or at least that’s what I tell myself. Here, locked-in, lost in thorny tunnels snagging me. And a hunter following me, a hired killer fathoming the bramble, lurking with his whetted knife, smelling for me. In his hand, the box waiting to enclose my heart. What saves you, in the end is not your luck or your cunning, but always his weakness: He glimpsed me in this stupid ballgown, this spill of hair black as ebony, this skin white as snow. He bowed at my feet, and cried. (I can’t do it! Forgive me, is what he said.) At your most vulnerable, you are more powerful than he. This is what I learned before I was found. SELECTIONS FROM “MORTAL TASTE: AN ADDICTION SEQUENCE” Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste Brought death into the world, and all our woe, With loss of Eden.....Sing, heavenly muse -- Milton, “Paradise Lost” = Trust nothing but this powder, snowing down from glassine envelopes. Silent, bright shape waiting on the mirror, new and plain. Like Rorshach's inkblot: The thing you see in this deciphers you. I see life turned easy. The great "mattering" in life thawed-out. How much life matters! Choice by choice, concluding who you are. Pale, bitter blots—inferring a trap door, hiding place, where choices can't matter—wait for me. Some would shy from this, I guess. Some would see the death close-by. I hover, compelled by death. Heroin, I breathe you in, bundled snowstorm—consoling, deleting. I wait for you to solve me. = Combined, the forest forms screen-like effects For low-hanging sunlight and cumulus. Our bus low through the hills now. We pass A rock-cut wall -- icemelt soaks it bright. Deep in, a small stream glints--it must still run. Above, a sudden scrap of moss glows green. The sun, though bright as it is in spring, is dim. High noon, it's not yet halfway up the sky. The living things are gulping what they can. Oh, filamented self, remember why We'd gulp and glow like that? Nerve lullaby Of crushed pills, powder, wax bags, razor, case, Carbonated blackness climbing our face? The fight, the kill? And then, such downy light? THE ABBEY The story goes like this: The abbot told my father to quit the monastery hill so far above the town. Six years of mornings sharpened on sung prayers, blue dawn windows where light brightened, strained against the glass. Six years and still called brother, my father’s path lay off the hill, where he could paint, the abbot said. Not here, the creek and woods and fields where brothers collected sour, furred fruits off stems, whip-like and frosted with fine thorns. Where brothers’ hands jarred and sold the jam they made, that none would taste. I had a lover once, a child I stole too early: seventeen. He’d grown up in that town. He liked to sneak around the abbey gate, for the creek beyond, he told me, for the fish that cruised, tangled in dark water. Such fishing, he told me, so many, but you had to move fast with your catch, you had to watch for the monks who walked, sometimes in pairs. Such fish he said, trout, bass, pickerel. I used to like watching his work-hard arms cast a line across a lake, the pole bend, the tug, and the fish, final splashes on water: such writhing silver. My stomach moved like that, pulling in to the driveway where he lived--his boss’ house, a room carpeted in remnant scraps, basement mornings where he rose, scrubbing his face with dry, calloused hands. I wanted to write like he worked, all day at it, soaked in the wet scent of red oak, spilled trunks, the rippling orange-red circles telling time. One afternoon we drove east, to his mother, a hospice near a saltwater canal. I’m not sure what she had but her face was so twisted in a hard grin--so hard I couldn’t tell whether the gleam in her eyes was happiness. He fed her quaking head rice from a plastic spoon. Afterwards we stopped, stood on canal boulders. He described his father’s fingers pressing tender bait bits on steel hooks here, early mornings, tossing lines out into nowhere. My father did listen to the abbot. He did not marry that life in Christ. Instead, I imagine, those first few weeks in town, he gathered linseed oil, panels, brushes, turpentine. He thought: This brand, these colors, this panel. He knew what his father had known: suppleness of fine brushes, the especially dense white paint, the softer yellow ochre, burnt umber, like butter left out too long. The five varieties of light.
AUBADE Sleet and rain. Nine o’clock. Dressed, now, for the train. But what brown birds are those the ones pecking at a cloud of yellow feed, half-concealed by filthy ice? Down in the courtyard a wet seed slips over a pointed tongue. Their parts built, it seems, not to last--mere processes of air, keratin, make vanes for flight. My wrist senses their dozen (or so) hearts: muscles, buried, each rapping there against its fluid pressure. I feel their rhythms intersect, feel them combine to a hum. Oh, I belong. I’m leaning in, to their flurry of pincer calls, their chirps like flecks of ice, like flecks of razors turning skin to spit. Oh, I know I stalled. I hope you know, though, how I hope for us. For these mornings annul me.
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