Friday, December 18, 2009

Taking Stock

I have a collection here of all the things
I’m not doing.
I wrote them out on paper,
in my shaking script and laid them at your feet.
I’m not walking out of rooms fast enough
I’m not making the right phone calls at the right time.
I’m not taking the right pills.

I’m not holding the sky up or sleeping well at night.
I’m not as far along as I should be. I’m not sure what the date is.
I’m not drinking the right wine or the right tea. I’m not choosing the right life.
I’m not keeping track of time. I’m not staying together.

The list is getting longer
Longer in fact than the days
that pass from promise to promise
like lily pads I’m leaping to and still missing.

And I’m not sure how many apologies
to hand out, folded into little origami swans,
to outstretched hands and shaking heads.

I am snipping off little tiny pieces of me,
to float down the river toward your house
but there isn’t enough left. I’ve used up all my fingertips.
And there aren’t enough poems for that matter,
or presents, or apologies to undo this feeling.
I’ve taken stock and yet again, come up lacking.

You are all just little words that slip out,
that taste iron and rusted,
the only taste left,
and I’m thinking that these days,
there isn’t a quiet pause long enough,
an island deserted enough, a night restful enough,
for me to keep getting up and doing this all over again.

So I’m going to fold up these little papers,
these lists of not doing,
and eat them one by one, till they line my throat,
till my veins are brittle and my blood is inked.
Till it’s quiet enough for me to just be still. Just this once.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chess Man

The chess man calls to me
while I’m waiting and watching
and trying not to watch the game he is playing.

Hey beautiful, he says with a wink.
Wanna watch me wreck this punk, he asks.

He sits on two milk crates
the board propped up on three.

He gives the other player the bishop.
He even tells him so. Just take it, fool.
It don’t matter what you do. It don’t matter.

Come here, beautiful, he tells me.
I smile and shake my head no, my eyes drift
away from the board and back to the crowd
as if I am waiting for someone.

This is just boring, he yells to no one.
The opponent doesn’t flinch.
He offers up a soft j’adobe and flits his
long black fingers over the rook.

Fool, the chess man says.
Wanna play baby?

I shake my head no.
I don’t play, I tell him. Which is a lie.

Dat’s it, he yells. He doesn’t say checkmate.
He doesn’t shake hands like my father taught me to do.
Back to the pond, he yells after the opponent who is already walking away
If I need to fish again, I’ll bring my pole, he yells and cackles.
He smacks his lips looking to see who’s watching.

For no reason I follow the opponent through the crowd.
He is tall. Dreads. Easy to keep track of in the city.
And then circle back around to see who’s next.
But the chess man is packing up.
He puts his board away with care, and the clock,
the rattle of the plastic pieces.

He lets out a heavy sigh, wipes his brow
hooks his fat fingers through the plastic crates
and shuffles through the crowd,
looking awfully lost for a man that just won.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Conversations with the Dead

“Is it like an unraveling?” I ask.
“No, I told you last year it wasn’t like that,” you say, looking down at your fingers.

I pour myself more wine
but you still haven’t touched yours.

“It’s more like tunneling,” you say, and I try not to look at your fingernails.
As if you have been digging in the dirt for so long your fingers bend back.

I nod. I don’t know what else to say. You continue.

“It’s hard and it hurts. There is snapping, like tree limbs, loud cracking
of bone against bone.”

“A splintering,” I offer, but you don’t say anything else.

“I thought it was supposed to be peaceful,” I tell you, sadly.
“Yes, it’s supposed to be. But what is peaceful?”

I think about what you said again before you leave.
I still haven’t gotten it right, this changing.

It is brittle bark. Crushed snail shells.
Things left un-watered. Everything cracks.

I thought a metamorphosis was always supposed to be for the better
but these days, it seems like everything has broken free.

Broken. Free.
Like bone to bone. Like the snapping back of the ribs.

The soul separating from the body. Summer crashing into winter
with the crush and hush of snow like a hand over your mouth.

Organs packed in ice and shipped off to be sliced down to their cells.
An undoing. An undying.

The dead, undying this time of year. Changing back to what they were,
if only for a moment, just to explain. And then gone again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wanted Prison

This is the end of another dying year
but it doesn't feel like it out there,
with a light jacket
even when the wind whips down 75th.
I want it to get cold,
desperately cold
and snowy
which it doesn't do anymore,
but when we were little,
it did and the snow buried the door
and we were trapped inside,
screaming with excitement,
racing up and down the halls of our little house,
until we heard a rumble at the door.
We pressed our noses to the glass,
cold and stared out into all that
frozen crystal. Our wanted prison.
An unknown planet.
A terrible forgotten place.
We would never get out.
Never, you whispered.
And then there was a scrape
and we squealed.
A snow monster, you said,
your breath steaming the glass.
And then the sharp red line
of a shovel appeared.
And the snow dropped.
And then our father's face.
Ice crystals in his beard.
Blue eyes, like yours.
Our unwanted rescuer from our wanted prision
and you said,
No fun, and stomped back into the kitchen
where our mother did the dishes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dear Morgan

My sister and I were discussing what to
get you for Christmas and on my walk
in the rain to the post office
I thought of something I could give you.

It belonged to your mother, a necklace,
that she gave me when I was about your age
maybe a year or two older.
It broke over the years and recently
my mother had it fixed and when she gave it to me,
I cried.

I don't have anything else that belonged to your mother.
A few letters. A few photographs of all of us together.
A weathered newspaper obituary.
But that is it. The dry ink of family.
Celluloid snapshots of faces in the kitchen, of food being made.
Photographs of time.

Morgan, you are almost 11 and you don't remember her.
Next year you'll be 11 and a half,
and that won't change. I only had a handful of days,
visits, letters, phone calls, over all those years,
like the first call when she sounded so much like my sisters,
her voice like a voice I should have known sounding over
an ocean of impossiblity. A chance most people don't get.
But I can't give you that.
I can't give you your dead mother's voice.
I can't give you the days, or the few letters, or the phone calls
in a way of explanation about who she was.

But I can give you this necklace,
that meant so much to me.
It broke before she died.
But not before she said she couldn't see us anymore,
this "other family" that we were.
Not before she decided that the wires would be uncrossed,
as they were meant to be and we would all float through this world,
not wondering about being related to the guy in the bank and not even knowing it.

When it broke, I carried it around in a baggie
next to this shipwrecked heart, thinking too much about blood,
disease and the cells of my undoing.
And then eventually I stopped carrying it.
That is the way of acceptance, I suppose.

What I'm trying to say is I was going to give you that necklace, Morgan,
but I can't.
You have a household of things she touched,
breathed life into.
A household full of photographs,
your father's memories,
your grandmothers memories.
Those people who knew her in a way I wasn't allowed to.
You have that.
I have this necklace.
This is all I have left.
Christmas or not.
This is all I have.