Small, Smaller, Smallest

On a cold winter day, I squish through the streets 
of Greenwich Village 
until I stand before 75 1/2 Bedford Street,
the "Narrowest House" 
in New York City.

Where lived the widest mind –
her words expanding like swan wings in flight 
over the quarrel of water tanks
and tarpaper rooftops
endlessly arguing the city. 

Clearly what ails me –
I take up too much space.
I must move to smaller and smaller rooms, crawl
into an overpriced, cubbyhole of my mind and write
crabbed on a stool.

Or maybe jack into one of those 
video game follies 
where the walls slowly press in 
and squeeze –
a giant lemon press for poems. Or garlic.

That’s it! Smash myself 
paper thin, 
pressed like a stricken butterfly
between the pages of a dictionary. 
Yes, that is how it’s done.

To grow bigger, get smaller, 
said Alice.
Squeeze and squint and scrutinize 
the margins, annotations, punctuation,
the endless inky spaces 
within words.

Smaller. Swooning past atoms,
forgetting even the names
of electrons and protons.

Smaller still. 
Silly-string theory 
squirting from mathematical cans.

Smaller. Past the hearse whisperer. The ferryman.
The exquisite, infinite, idiocy of nothingness.

The Quantumverse.

For Shay’s Word Garden

TSM 200

In which the poet is interviewed by the poems. “Tell us about yourself.”

Tell me about your eyes.I am a periscope
squinting above the surface
of coffee.
Why is your soul caramelized with soot?My vacation in Eden was a hot time,
but I wandered too long in the garden
without sunscreen.
Why did you abandon the piano?My father re-pointed the bricks of our house
with Mozart. It was beautiful, but his fingers
tipped the scales.
I heard you can breathe underwater.Do you want to see my fin collection?
Some people have shoes,
I have a closet of dorsal Nike’s.
Did you once throw your fate on a wheel?No, that is a lie
spun from mud and clay.
What is it with your hair and the birds?When taking trash to the dump on Wednesday,
first one, then another (!) seagull
pooped on my head. True facts!
How did you survive in the desert?I decapitated myself by rolling up the car window.
I was tired of the complaining
and that thirsty mouth.
You cried watching “Valley of the Dolls?”As a boy I was in love
with Patty Duke
What do you do when your back is to the wall?Write a sex poem.
You write of the co-evolution of wolf and shark.When I stumbled on the carcasses
of two frozen deer on the beach,
words flooded my lungs with hunger

The Sunday Muse

Lament of a Wool-Spinner’s Husband*

Beyond the porch, hydrangea weave a blue and purple skein,
your fingers spin naked kisses on the wheel – 

wool leaves a honey smell of earth on your hands.
I listen to rain the wheel makes.

I taste crabs, tide, when you say here, feel this, it is so soft 
and beautiful, I say is this for Pablo's socks? 

Yes, I can see as you spin, you will then knit this yarn 
into loaves and fishes. His feet, so white, will know 

salvation and charity, they will be an origin story, feet 
that create the world like Enkidu and Gilgamesh – 

wild man, bull man, who beats his shield before the gods, 
his song immortal. If only I had such socks!

Dear wife, I see a cortege of right whales and topaz, 
hawksbills and vole-song emerge braided from your hands, yet 

when I try on the socks, they are heavy as iron. My voice
sours, I bark like a dog, my words falling down stairs

like malediction, take them, please, I feel silly
In them, they are bluebirds of misery. I

peel myself off, skin turned inside out, hamper rim-shot 
my soul – I will be sweat washed from Sunday's laundry,

then drain and spread and seep down through sandy loam, 
where I am salt that feeds the flower beds under our awning

and stain your lips again
hydrangea blue.

*Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda

For Shay’s Word Garden

243 West 63rd Street

black and white keys are bullets from a piano 
loaded in your eyes then fired by trigger fingers
curled around the doorknob where you lived 
at 63rd and West End someone calling out "who's there?" 

when I would stand outside listening for the ricochet 
of silences as if there would still be echoes 50 years on
instead of shots from the projects across the street
and tasting the gunsmoke of heroin-grey sky

smelling jazz salts revives me from 
touching the numbers on your door,
the rooms now empty of music, no piano in the kitchen
fact: our apartment was a block from your house 

Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle of 5ths 
where the rhinoceros statue was cemented head first
by its horn in the ground as if a fat-man trumpet player 
made a swan-dive of scales from the balcony above

the rooms now full of music the color of money, 
tickle the ivories tickles your teeth with diamonds
until the piano player calls it quits and closes the shades
each note recluse as the door bangs open

the new tenants brush past me coming down the steps
in overstuffed coats as if whatever music was left in the walls
they've hidden in pockets or packed for extra warmth 
and smuggle down to the subway take the A train to Harlem 

where the notes escape like a flock of birds
riffing into the sky

The Sunday Muse

The Firepossum

I look over and see a firepossum 
trundling in from the storm –
eight baby owls on her back,
her crown of scarlet begonias.

She heads to a stack of journals,
feeds on the garbage I call poems. 
Spits and hacks out most, but a greedy 
smeck smeck smeck from time to time.

I say "Firepossum, play dead!"
and she filches around in her pouch –
has a bootleg tape of the Red Rocks tour –
Jerry and Co. jamming on Row Jimmy.

Wikipedea says the firepossum
is a mythic beast that rises in flames
like the Phoenix from ashes 
of suburban shopping malls in Arizona.

The familiar of muses
who blow into the mouths of the owls 
like feathered ocarinas
tuned to the key of see? 

She climbs into the burning hearth,
disappears, leaving an empty room 
and owl pellets – I hold in my hand
inky bullets 

of hair, bones, claws, and teeth.

The Sunday Muse

Toe Jam

Baudelaire sits in my living room trimming candle wicks and his toenails
with a pen knife.

A Nor' Easter blows into town 
like a circus running from debt.

He asks for a lantern. I show him how to turn on the floor lamp 
and overhead lights, but no luck. He sits in the dark.

The wind keens, the moans of dinosaurs 
wailing their extinction.

I have to read him the Wiki article on Fleurs du Mal over and over, like reading
Goodnight Moon to a child. He appears to understand English.

Lightning from Dr. Frankenstein 
bringing his monster to life.

He wears his flâneur costume with that floppy bow tie. 
He's back to picking his toes.

Gusts of snow mad as hornets
sting my face.

Let's be honest, the opium and syphilis have not been kind to him. His skin is mottled 
and orange like a pumpkin.

And then leaves town, vamoose,
with the runaway girl.

Shay’s Word Garden

TSM 197

There is no poem here, just my uncle
in the first hours of August 6th, 1945
watching in darkness the Enola Gay gain speed
on runway Able, North Field, Tinian Island.

Mid-morning the sky – a blue and turquoise axe handle – 
swings down a flaming red blade
on Hiroshima. He said they saw the light
1,500 miles away, a second dawn.

No poem. Talked with the ground crews, 
went to mess, played poker 
with his tail gunner 
and the navigator.

Will meaning come later, if ever?
If he drew to a flush of hearts, he does not remember.
Or if Tokyo Rose played Blue Skies
on the radio.

The Sunday Muse

Virgo Rising

Maybe the Zodiac killer of the ‘60s
disappeared from earth
or at least California 
and true to his name
began stalking the night sky instead

Killing off constellations 
he thought were rubbishy glitter,
or taking a razor to the Gemini Twins
for their sophistry
and pretense

Finally, someone stabbing new stories 
into the darkness, a stiletto 
cutting fresh scars 
with needles of light: The Goblin, 
The Madhouse Nebula,
The Killer Toys

Holding my hand, you point: "Look, there! 
next to the Pleiades Morgue –
isn't that Ted Bundy?"
I say, no, it is Ted Hughes,
husband of Sylvia Plath, serial killer 
of poetesses, his words slashing lines in poems

"Oh yes, I see that now, and 
there's The Oven! Yes, yes
there she is, can you see Sylvia, her head,
that cluster of stars filling the kitchen 
like vapor, 
gas?"

Which makes the starlight fray and dim,
the night now a bit dark
even for me

Shay’s Word Garden

Close Work With Print

A blackbird rose from the catastrophe of scrub,
pomp and plump of snow clattering off branches.

Its wings were flapping like a book 
flying off the shelf, feathers black and smudged

from close work with print, wingtips of words 
and birdsong slipped with ice melt and berries.

I say "Downward to darkness, on extended wings."
and the bird grimaces, because I always say that, 

because it is always "Sunday Morning" for me,
in my waking dream I wander through a poem

of coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, 
words, the fragrance of lilacs. The bird whistles: 

"Call me Wallace." This old, odd chimera of my life
made of papier mâché, an ill-matched pastiche – 

part lumbering walk, part postcards from Colorado, 
part the haunted mask I wear – laughable

my pretense of the ancient sacrifice, to arrive
at this place in the woods without gloom

or suffering – a bird rising from the snow,
its beak red with berries, testing my reality

as if I were the poem, the fabrication, 
the dithered smudge flying across a white field.

Shay’s Word Garden

TSM 195

I thought snuff poems were illegal
since at least the 90's –
No more candles in the wind, thank Jesus,
no night stars blowing out one by one,
all the tropes of hope and light gone up in smoke –
arrested, up against a cop car, spread-eagle
and cuffed with zip ties.

A young poet I knew went to police academy
to play cops and robbers – bad idea –
our metaphors mug honest words
at knifepoint,
disturb the peace of stolid, taxpaying nouns,
graffiti defacing
the library wall of verbs.

she forgot
all art is theft
and poetry is murder.

The Sunday Muse