There was a story I was supposed to tell
About the candor of your fingertips,
their dampness on my skin, like vapor.
Instead, I walk outside – pigeons coo
in chorus from a hymnal of trash,
Rats run touchdown plays
heading into the season finals,
The grass is panicked, white faced, chalky,
at the approach of winter,
Trees gasp for oxygen
as their leaves dry up and drop away.
What did you open when you tampered
with the locks, thumbing the dial, listening
With your ear on my chest
tumblers falling in place one by one?
Why did flocks of birds fly from me
heading south, leaving me without their voice?
Gusts whip cold off the river, I am wordless,
a windsock gag in my mouth.
You are thief, lover, explorer.
Dr. Livingstone, I presume?
Like you, I watched Notre Dame burn – a thousand years of prayer in the rafters feeding fires hotter than devotion, a millennia’s fervor of hands and fingers pressed together like a flame. “Our Mother” indeed. Though not mine. Nations did not watch, no helicopters overhead filmed what burned in her, how her brilliance consumed and engulfed the prayers of my family, all the wreckage once that light was out. What part of the flame, what color, what heat is insanity? The blue? The white? What raging fuel in the mind – timbers and rafters of the past? Gargoyles like whispering gas jets? They said when she was a girl on the ranch she built a shrine in a corner of the chicken yard and prayed to Jesus every day, on her knees in the dirt, before her brother honked the horn of the school bus he drove at 14. And we mourn. And for a moment together we all pray for something holy to rise back from the ashes. If not our souls, that the stones holding up our walls might be saved.
I'm supposed to list my obsessions. OK, fine:
- The ferry maintenance depot near my apartment.
- The human body personified as root vegetables – potatoes, turnips, rutabagas.
- I can’t remember Jack Shit, though I’ve met him often enough.
Mostly the last one – it's like trolls under the bridge have custody of my memory. Pay the fee in princess skin or thou shalt not pass. I look in my wallet, but no Ben Franklin. That look of his makes me think he feels sultry in his lingerie, hidden under his coat. I feel pretty too, Ben.
Maybe my missing to-do lists and kodak moments are lost in a time warp – if we rip the veneer of space away will we expose its mechanism, its springs and bomb wires? What if lost time is a pendulum swinging in the clock case with its balls cut off – fixed like a steer so it can't reproduce. Or memory baked into adobe bricks, daubed with mud, stacked into walls in reenactments of the Alamo, where we always lose.
Someone said it’s the journey, not the destination, blah blah blah. I feel miles itchy with distance under my skin, yet the tundra of my kneecaps and knuckles are insurmountable. The rocks quit, the mountains quit, even the pavement quits before it ends down the block. With light pollution the milky way is only a candy bar. Nowhere to go from here.
Just once, contemplate Powell in 1869 – shooting the fevered waters of the Colorado river in wooden boats. Make the shift from your first gear to fifth, fourteenth, infinity. From darkness to light to fugue to black holes that leave you breathless on a far shore.
Rue de Rivoli – "It's you! Assassin! Mon frère!
Ah, we were but children when we joined the Legion,
marching from Algiers under Rollet – 'Honneur et Fidélité,' eh?
You, brave flower, fighting like a tiger in the alleyways,
and me, bragging open brothel doors.
The Devil or God (And which is which, in the desert?)
a coward when we blindfolded him,
rag carnation in his mouth,
we shot him with our Berthiers,
bolt-actions genuflecting in the sun.
Did we sin? We were fools!
We ate our bitter hearts out in that desert,
boiled our souls with thorns and thickets.
Riders with wind and sand rasping between our saddles and thighs…
Oh the melody they make – say it! Sirocco!
Now, over there, to your left, Diguet and his Montagnards
who gave so much blood at Tuyên Quang,
'Français par le sang versé.'
Now I merely puzzle the streets of Paris,
a toad who buries himself in cafes.
You say you garden now? Shadows of songbirds
against the barn, netting and dressing them
for your pies.
Here! Violets for your dear wife. Tomorrow it will rain.
Treat your blindness with care. Adieu!"
On Reading: Four Small Bees Found Living in a Woman’s Eye
He could see in her eyes she'd been sweeping graves. Memory and duty – incense and a yarrow-stalk broom worrying away leaves and dirt. Unearthed, bees flew to her sweat, her sorrow. They knew no pollen could yield such honey – love, so smoked with grief that it was holy. Ancestral manna to feed her, and keep watch.
First published Sept 2020 in the I-70 Review
You said I was to imagine a great thirst, and then to slake it. But I think “back at ya!” – instead why don’t YOU imagine you are the sea itself with salt in your throat, waves rolling off your tongue tasting the brine of last night’s sleep – the great deep trenches deep as the pathways of your lungs, as if we could name your breaths Mariana, Tonga, Aleutian – And you cannot imagine thirst because you are nothing but thirst, the way a fish cannot imagine water. And you cannot imagine drinking, because you are nothing but drink, the way a glass cannot imagine empty or full – In this way you, the reader, and I break the fourth wall of the sea – the stone jetties and dikes, the levees and breakwaters, give way. Our tsunami comes then, beyond imagination.
The day slips away, a greased crow –
hours and minutes on fast wings, my hands slick
from trying to spell the alphabet backward,
cawing: “Mind your p’s and q’s!” and which is which
Waiting for Amazon to deliver a box of wind,
open its thermals to lift my pages,
my shuffling, flapping sorrows and anthems –
trash or wings and which is which
My wife sends me to the pharmacy, midwife
to the season's skele-ghost and fire-nurse costumes,
the mockingbird kiosk sings for my debit card –
and which witch is which
I stop in the park and thumb coins into a rose bed,
wait for autumn to brew me a coffee –
I bang on the trash bin, demand oak trees
drop their red and yellow poems, end their masquerade
Of art and life, and tell me which is which
This morning I am a shuffleboard disc – shoes scraping across cheap playground asphalt, lines weathered and flaked I try shoving over a copy of The Waste Land, see if I can make points with ”hyacinth,” or bump off “lilacs” with ”lilies” But I'm too sleepy. I still have goblins in my fingers from last night's dreams, my maw dry and filled with peacock feathers Better, my game of folding grief like origami – I tear pages from the book, crease poems into surprise! A crown of thorns Forget about forgetting, memory steeps in tea bags of the past, dried peels and scabs of 1970 in tiny paper sachets "Are we having fun yet?" Outside again, the sun slowly slides Into scoring position, aloft Above the mirrored river, wings choppy as waves, geese wheeze south for winter
Sleepy, when my arm went over you, the trapdoor slipped open as always And we fell in stuttered flight, like bees drowning in sugar water set out in the lids of jars Tongues and stingers slurred with nectar, our waggle-dance instead a stumble Drunken semaphores to the Sandman – Instead of: "follow this way to forage, to hive, to hoard" He reads: “Turn left at Chicago, ride the ferry in your dwarf costume, and meet us in the Shatterproof Café” Which becomes someone else's dream tonight while we linger on the veranda, our bower draped in honeycomb
The same way rain betrays a newspaper left on the bench – Water kissing the cheek of headlines under a grey paste sky drained of news – I finger my coffee mug like a rosary, rubbing the face of Christ from the stains In my best Judas voice I ask to you please pass a napkin and a pen What will I erase between the lines, between you and me, What will I leave hanging