POEMS

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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