Thursday, December 16, 2010


She tells me
other people don’t understand,

leaning forward and then backwards in the chair,
as if there was not enough room
at this little table
in this little coffee shop
in Brooklyn.

Apartment living is different, she tells me.
We were talking about space, the tender occupation of space,

how a life is cobbled together out of plaster dust
and poorly applied paint

We are just wading through.
Mythbusting, she says with a laugh.

You have to take it, bite down on it to find the gold.
A deep and unwavering act of cherish.
There is something both savage and tender in the act.

And she is right,
when last night I stood in the living room
and saw how 13 years of love could morph
and change and become something you needed to catch

and pin down and hold against you
till it’s breathing steadied and
it’s mouth finally closing over long teeth and
the night was brought back
to us

quiet again but changed
a renewal of sorts,
with slight scorch marks
and the sharp whiff of incandescence

like a fire finally stamped out.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

After the Accident

Keep your eyes open, he tells me,
and I watch his through the rear view mirror. Small and squinted
like he’s always smiling even when he isn’t, like right now.

The car is moving faster now and I’m not sure where
I should put my hands because of the blood.

These are the things I worry about.
I try to tell him this but no words come out.

Keep your eyes open, he says again.
At least I think it was again. Maybe this was the first time.

I can smell the water on me, metallic
copper – like rust waiting to be born –

Tell me what happens in On The Waterfront, he says
but I have never seen that movie.

Suddenly I am afraid, because I can’t answer that question
and I can’t keep my eyes open. So I start making up a story.

I add characters and setting and dialogue
and I hear him laugh lightly – but then whimper – like a hit thing.

Okay, he says. Wizard of Oz. Tell me what happens.
And I smile, my eyelids dropping because I know this one
and I know we are only a few miles from the hospital

and if we can just get there, everything is going to be okay again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Day After the Anniversary of Your Death

We walked through the freezing cold,
that blew up 75th street,
straight from the estuary
and through the fabric of our jackets,

your music blasting from
an ear bud one in each of our ears
the way young lovers do
not old lovers like we are now.

There was caterwauling
and I thought to myself,
we are going to wake up
all the old people on the street

because I can’t carry a tune.
You were doing great though, you always do,

but you weren’t worried about the others.
We always have to hear them, you remind me,

and besides, it was thirty years ago,
thirty years and one day
since Lennon was killed.

Tomorrow we’ll walk past the gates of the Dakota,
not really stopping by the guard,
but lingering just a bit to look down that driveway.
You will tell me that John asked to walk in. He stopped the driver.

There will be no singing tomorrow.
But tonight, we are still on this street,
with music in our ears
his music
and the hope of warmth
if we can ever make it out of this cold
and to the front door.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Appointment

Today is one of those days I have been dreading
because it all feels too personal.
His hands, slippery in rubber
up against my teeth filling my mouth
The metal or the pain, one of those, smelling hot
like a pot of soup left to burn on the range.

He will have me lay back in his chair,
his eye magnified like a bugs
through the lens so that I cannot bare

to look at them
blinking, huge.

I will be trapped and he will be in control.
That is the worst part isn’t it?

I will stare up at the light,
it’s sickly yellow hue.
There will be blood, and saliva,
mixed together,
filling my mouth.

If I can see it, in the reflection of his glasses,
I will think I am being punished.
This is how it will go.

There is too much work in the tending of the body,
and I don’t understand why I cannot just check out
sometimes, just float into another space,

of quiet
of silence
without thought and without the notion of the next thing
waiting to fall.

I will remember being younger and not being afraid
of this man with the metal and the needles
and the white mask over his face.
and how
stupid and foolish children can be.

Monday, November 15, 2010


When it come on, it startles me.
This realization of how many of us there are.

The subway car pulls up to the platform and I watch their
faces slide by, these people, who walk the same streets,
breathe the same air.

Their fingers touching the same metal poles,
and handrails, the same doors

Coming in. Coming out.

It is all of us, we alone.
I wonder what they are searching for

and I hope they wonder what I am searching for,
before the train clanks and heaves,

this vehicle of mankind.

The woman waits, pulling her hair out of her mouth,
the breeze underground can be strong.

She sighs and rubs her eyes.
I am you, I think as I pass her,

and we can trade lives. I can live inside your little world,
and with you pull poems
from your teeth.

You live inside a room I can’t imagine, and have never been to.
The moonlight probably falls on the floor there, long and elegant.

The woman on the platform leans toward the train,
leans the way one must lean into pain.

Keep it, and then give it away, like breath
and keep passing that way from one of us to another.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When the Dead Are the Dead

He tells me when his father died
there was a great force,
and they felt him leave,

his body vacant now,
but it passed through all of them, first.

You were there? I ask, wide-eyed.
I’m gripping my chair
because I want so badly for it to be true.

My husband has told me the same. He talks about peace.
How his grandmother looked when she died,
or really
the moment after.
The moment when the dead are the dead.

My friend tells me he wasn’t there,
he didn’t make it to the hospital on time.
But his brother was, and his brother told him so.
He says it with such authority. I don’t ask.

It makes me think of my mother
when she found out her mother was dying.
And she moved from room to room alone,
the nurse speaking through the phone in her ear

Come now.
Come now.

My mother knew she would never make it
and this woman, who filled this role as mother
who bore her into this world
would be ushered out alone.

My mother moved from room to room
alone, searching. Like a good thief in her own home.

Back at the bar, I listen to my friend speak.
I look between him and my husband.
They are sure. They know.
They have stood too close to death.
It has happened to them, without it happening to me.
I am still on this side.
Alone, searching.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It was the weekend after she died,
or maybe the weekend after that.

Everyone came back home even though my mother
had been clear there would be no funeral.

She didn’t want a funeral, my mother told me over the phone.
Okay, I said. I figure it’s probably a lot like my not wanting a birthday party
when I was younger, scared no one would come and then I would know.

My mother, to honor her dead mother, made all her favorite dishes.
Her ashes would be dumped in the ocean off of Florida where she lived for so long.
I was not invited. None of the grandchildren were.

Coordinating schedules is too hard, my mother says. It will just be your father and I.
And your uncle and his wife.
Okay, I said.

At dinner my mother talked about how hard it was sometimes.
She could be such an infuriating woman, my mother says about the dead.

And I remember being younger, my mother pulling me aside, telling
me to be nicer to this woman, this old woman I didn’t know. This strange presence in our house.

My mother pressed into my palm a little toy locket
To keep, she said, if you are nicer.

She was just unhappy, my sister said. She was never happy.
I know, my mother said. It was so infuriating.

And then she says, I wish I had more time. I think I wasted time being angry.

You should have been nicer to her, I said.

It just came out like a landslide of words
out of my mouth, past my teeth, floating out in the air.

My mother’s face crumples. She nods. She agrees.
I can’t bear to look at my sisters.
By then, it’s too late for me to take it back.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Last Stop

Even when I change seats on the bus, he seems to be staring right at me.

I know him, his red nose, red cheeks, big leather hat.

In my job you get to know a lot of crazies.
He stands in the stairwell of the bus even though there is a sign
telling him not to stand in the stairwell when the bus is in motion.

The bus lurches to a halt, the breaks squealing
the people pushed forward against each other.

This is the next to last stop. I could get off here,
and walk the rest of the way. I usually do.

But I watch the man in the leather hat turn to leave.
I don’t want to get off the bus the same time as him. I don’t want to avoid him on the street too.

Right before the doors close, he climbs back on
and I think, this is it. It’s because I didn’t get off.

I believe these kinds of things, that I am visible instead of invisible.

He sort of falls, the man in the leather hat with his red red nose
and lays on the steps.

Hey, he yells. Hey!
The bus driver lifts his head in the rearview but you can’t see his eyes.

Hey! The man yells. Hey!
The busdriver says What.

The man says, Thanks! Thanks!
from the floor and then climbs back up and the doors close
and the bus wheezes forward. I watch the man in the leather hat limp down the street
his grey hair floating over his shoulders like an angel.

and I wish I got off at that stop.
The bus starts to turn and then stops at the corner,
shaking. Idle.
and I wish I got off at that stop because I know that going around the corner,
I will pass another year of my life here on this bus.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Test Results

When the phone actually rings, we look at each other in surprise.
It is a foreign sound at first and then gradually, the connection is made
and surprise turns to disgust.

It is Friday night. We have a carved pumpkin in the window
and a classic on the television. It is two days before Halloween in the city.

Who is this? you say. Who is this?
Showing me the number.

I shrug and tell you to leave it.
And then I remember the way you remember a song
you haven’t heard in years. A song that belonged to a life you no longer live.

It’s my doctor. But by then, he’s already stopped calling.
You ask me why the doctor is calling so late.
You sound frustrated, tired, and now, a little scared.

I call the doctor back but he doesn’t answer.
He just leaves a message about calling him Monday.
His voice burns inside me.

I sit back down on the couch and we don’t speak for some time.
What’s wrong? you ask me.
It’s fine, you say. Doctor’s don’t call with bad news and then tell you
to call them back on Monday.

I nod. But I don’t believe you.

Already there is a division between us.
This experience, that will change us, has started.
You, as observer.
Me, as recipient.
This is what I think on Friday night.
Monday morning will be different, and I will laugh to myself
but also whisper a thank you, quickly, so no one sees
a breath of relief.

Still, right now there is nothing but the hours
from this moment, on the couch to Monday morning,

Hours I usually savor, beg for, kill for.
Hours that we have plans for, look forward to.
Hours that I now hate.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Doctor

He rolls my sleeve up,
his face dour and downcast.

He tells me all about his money problems.
How patients never pay on time
and how he’s always behind the bills

The worst thing I did, he tells me, is start my own practice.

He runs his hand through his hair
and then uses them to pull my shirt away
and slide the stethoscope across my chest.

He asks me what I do for a living
and I tell him.
He nods. That’s good, he says.
You’ll always have a job.

Which makes me laugh.

At least you aren’t a doctor, he tells me.
Big mistake.

He puts the needle in my arm
and I watch my blood fill the vile
slowly at first,
and then gushing
so fast I think it will go everywhere,
fill this room, drown us both.

At the end of the appointment,
he puts out his hand and I take it.
He pulls me toward him, hugs me.
He holds on tight and says,
Take care of yourself. Please.

After, I think, what are we looking for?
What right do we have to be happy
after everything we have done
and with
and mostly, to each other?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Returning Your Things

He told me I was terrible at washing dishes,
held the fork up towards the dirty window.
See the egg, he said showing me the residue
painted on the tines.

I had to rewash them all, he says.
I don’t say anything
because last night

he talked about his ex-girlfriend
for so long he started to cry.

He told me how they were going to get married
and she packed up one day
while he was in class
and disappeared.

He suspects it was Arizona she went to,
and tells me when we graduate, we can go there too.

He pulls me close to him at night
just to have something to push away in the morning.

Later, I will come by when he is in class.
And leave his t-shirt with this roommate.

He’s just messed up, the roommate tells me.
I nod and hand over his things, wanting
to be anywhere but in this dirty hallway.

The living room is filled with
the blue grey light of the television,
that most unnatural light,
and it casts the roommate in silhouette.

You should have said yes when I asked you out, he tells me,
taking the t-shirt.
I can make you happy, he says.
He takes my hand,
rubs the inside of my wrist,
like a beloved pet
and puts it on his hard cock,

Come inside, he says.
Please! and then my name,
And then,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Power of Names

There is too much power in names, I think.

There is a change the moment the word
shakes loose like a rainstorm,
from your mouth.

Like when I was young and out
past the neighbor’s yard
farther into the woods.

There was broken light and the smell of wet damp leaves.
Dan was there, and we did not tread lightly, he and
my sister and I. We stomped through wet leaves,
wet leaves that belonged to us the way the world
belongs to the very young.
We sang loud,
keeping the darkness at bay.

The snake was there, heavy
and slick half its body under leaves.
We formed a wide semi-circle
as if coming in for the kill.

Dan held a stick.

I remember my fear.
Is it dead, my sister said.
No, Dan answered.
And we knew, at that moment, it was true.

We had to go forward, a sort of
manifest destiny of our woodland ownership,
the snake lying prostrate through the path,
tempting and begging.
We argued over who would go first.

And then there it was, like a bell,
like a salvation, my mother’s voice,
crossing the distance between my home
and this creature, cutting a swath through the air.

The sound of my name.

And I turned and ran, free.
This is the power of names.

But it works the other way too,
when we are older and I call your name,
the word coming together, shaking itself from me.
As you cross the street you
look back for a second.
And I say it again, desperate
and you nod a little but
you keep walking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

These are the Things that Make a Nervous Breakdown

When I spotted the fly on my ham and cheese sandwich,
it already had one foot in the mustard.
He or she, I’m not sure,
but I jumped and waved it away.

Then when I picked up my glass,
my mouth still forming the words,
and lifted the glass to my lips,
there it was,

floating and dead,
in all that pale lemonade.

I scooped it out with a spoon,
dumped the dead fly down the sink.

and then poured the rest of the lemonade after it.

What? you asked,
Nothing. I said.
Just another thing.
Just another thing that can ruin a meal.

I stand at the sink
and listen to myself breathe,
a whistle sound, faint but there,
trailing the inhale
and trailing the exhale.
Trailing again.

I look down at my unpainted toes,
and they stare back up at me, like ten strange eyes.
For a moment, I wonder who they belong to.
They seem too far away to be my own feet
and just like that everything starts to come undone.
It will take awhile. It won’t fully happen until much later that night.
But this is where it began.
When it ends,
it ends,
I will remember that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dear Hank

I know we don’t talk much
and I tease my husband about you
and I hate that scene in the documentary
when you are so mean to Linda

But I just wanted to let you know,
the kids, they are still listening.
They still like your bluebird.
They read you online now,
they leave comments in 2010
about how much you mean to them.
See people don’t really talk these days,
everything is left online with horrible
spelling which, you might have liked, after all.
There are more little zines now, you
would have been an even bigger king now,
but still, what I’m saying is
they find you everywhere
and they too have a bluebird
like you had a bluebird
but they came too late
didn’t they?

All the same, I thought
you might like to know,
that even though
that typer has been quiet
for over a decade,
we still hear that whiny voice,
we still see those words.
It’s all still there,
right where you left it,
when you moved from
Hollywood and Western
down to San Pedro
to try to die in peace.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Interview

So both you and your husband get up at 5 o’clock in the morning? he says.
And what do you do?
What do you write?
Stories, poems, fiction,
failed novels.
What does he write?
Stories, poems, fiction,
failed novels.
Both of you? Every morning?
Yes. But no, we try for four out of five.
So you are exactly the same, he says.
You both get up, you keep the same schedule,
you write the same shit.
No, I say. We aren’t.
Well, what’s the difference? he says.

And I think about it.
He drinks coffee, I say.
And you don’t?
No, I hate that shit.
I drink tea.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hollywood Boulevard

Where are all the bars in this town, he asks me,
walking down Hollywood Boulevard.
Where are all the bars?

We pass the celebrity stars under our feet,
trod upon for fifty years.
Look, Rod Stewart, I say pointing.

I mean, he says, where do you go to get a drink?
Hank went to bars. Where are the bars?

Gone, I said, Just like Hank.
Look, I said, Marilyn Monroe.
And Chuck Jones.
And Bugs Bunny,
who is only a cartoon,
but then again, so are the rest of them.

This is one of the first times
we are off the highways,
off the 405 or the 101
or the 10 or the 110
or the other strips of concrete
that take you past,
not through,
this city.

Where can a man get a drink? he says.

Britney Spears, I said, and he snorts.
We get back to the lot and pull the car out,
the air warm, and smelling like pot.

We wait at the light and watch the people,
lined up across from the theatre, all the lights
and red carpets. They scream for another bald
actor who lifts his arm and waves limply.

And I wonder, where are all the bars in this town
as I wait and wait for what seems like forever
across from the throngs of fans, screaming
their cameras flashing and popping
and me, still waiting,
for the light to change.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Such a Good Day

It is not until later,
in San Diego,
that it started.

We found this great little joint,
called Star
and we sat with the black guys
and the Mexicans and listened to
No one bothered us.
We sat on the red leather seats,
our scotches in front of us.
We watched the Mexican bartender
laugh and dance and the old men laughed too.

When I got up to go to the bathroom
you said, Baby, be careful
and I said,
Careful? Baby, I’m home.
And this was the way it was.

But later that night,
I felt it along my back,
the creeping feeling.
You see, inside, there are tarantulas.
Things with hair and too many legs that are terrible all over.
They tumble inside me, falling and crawling over each other.
I carry them everywhere, even to the other side of the country.
And I just want them to be still.
You turn off the light,
and they scurry inside me,
their legs damp from the drink.
They hate the dark.
They want me to know that,
in this hotel room at night.
They want me to stay up with them.
And what choice do I have, really?
Even after such a good day,
when we found a good place for a drink
and a good meal
and had a good walk around by the water,
they are still there,
They chew on the inside of me with their fangs.
I want them to sleep but they won’t.
I beg them, to be still,
to be quiet.
To let me go, for just one night,
just one night
after such a good day.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Searching for My Friends

We chase ghosts even when they only come
in the form of metal signs bolted to poles
in downtown LA.
We drive around and around, changing lanes,
trying to find a place to park
so that you can run out and take a picture
of John Fante Square,
in the last vestiges of Bunker Hill.

We chase ghosts, even when they are only
stones in the ground.
Our hands placed upon the grave,
the marker that said, there once was a man
who didn’t try,
who lived a life,
who wrote a life,
and we think
because we read his words that we
knew him too or hope we did
or think we do or hope we have
the kind of life that is really lived.

We chase ghosts,
slowing down on the sidewalk
to pass houses everyone else passes
every day without notice.
Old houses, stone houses, wood houses,
Stained with wind and dirt and new paint.
Hung with ugly decorations now.
They are our churches.
They held the lives of these people,
these people we think we knew,
or we hope we might have known
if fate had been a little less cruel with her timing.

We chase ghosts and take pictures,
of places they have just left,
spaces they once occupied,
when all they left behind are the ideas,
the words, the work.
No one likes these pictures,
“What is with all the houses?
What is with all the graves?”
They ask but they don’t understand.

Ghost chasing his hard work.
These people are real to me, you see,
more real than the people around me,
more real than people I have known
my whole life,
more real than the beggars and the millionaires
and the cops and the old ladies that
build this city.
These people, these dead people,
who still talk to me, who feel as though
they just stepped away for another six pack at the store
and will be back if you just wait, for a moment
on the couch on their front porch,
these people, you see,
they are my only real friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Take Off

They are changing my father’s pills.
This is the way the days are marked.
Sometimes, it is the only way I have
to count the heavy march of time,
Except for when I count it by take offs and landings
that I have survived,
the plane heaving all that weight upwards,
as if it were nothing
and not the miracle it is every day.

We measure time this way,
between the trips, the sickness,
the days that start with work
or a fight,
or by sleeping in.
We trod along, we hurt each other
without even knowing.

Some bury. Some birth.
Some pass their old loves
on street corners and look the other way,
breath caught for just a single moment,
tender remembrance and then the quick release of shame.
It is painful to be so close to another person.

We open and close our mouths,
the sound tumbling out. I watch out for snails
on my walks and hold my breath to keep all the planes in the air.

It is all too pointless and sad, I think,
these lives and deaths,
the cold coming still.
I pull the covers around me,
push up against you, the smell of your skin in the morning,
the sleep noises you make, and I wait and wait for the dawn.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Something is wrong, he says.
Something is wrong.

He goes to take off his seatbelt.
Stop, I tell him my hand on his. Everything is fine.
It’s just dark out.

The plane starts to shake.
Something is wrong, he says
and I see in his eyes that he believes it.

This is me, I think watching him. This is what I do.
This is what I usually say.
This is me and this time, I am him.

Later on the ground, waiting for the car,
he apologized.
I don’t know what happened, he said.
There was just so much water
and it took so long to land.

He is embarrassed.
It’s okay, I tell him.
Softer than I said it on the plane,
when I nearly shouted it.
As if shouting it would make it true.
It’s okay.

I don’t know what happened, he says again,
his fingers going through his long hair.
I watch him shift his weight and look down the road.
I don’t know, he says again, not even to me.
But I do.
I know exactly what happened.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

These Days

There is a shift, sometimes,
you can feel it if you lay very still at night,
while the rest of this city is sleeping.
You’ll feel the shift, like a crack.

And it’s down there
in that space between yesterday and today
in that never-was time,
that I fear I’m slipping into these days.

So instead of me, I’ll fill it with these things I carry,
with the journals I have kept
words inked with a dead octopus
on paper brittle and cracking
but always words,
with the postcards
and broken down carburetors
and sand from the beach
with the conversations
whispered over the tops of baby heads
and inside stalled cars in the rain
the wipers frantic like a dying creature.

With the stories I’ve told and retold and changed
so often that even I believe it might have happened that way,
with the rocks from English countryside
and the coasters from the cafes in Paris,
and the maps of Spain,
with the dust of too many silent months,
settling over my lungs,
with the broken keys of pianos
and snapped violin strings,
with the teeth that are falling out
and the stubbed toes and the banged knee
and the broken skull
and the tongues of dead boys.

And especially little letters like this,
from you,
slipped under my door,
that if stacked one on top of another
could reach the top of buildings
all begging for the same forgiveness
that I’m not so generous with,
these days.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Building Civilizations

Sometimes I wonder if I made you up, too.
The way I have always made up stories.
Especially when you told me that you had never read
all the books you said you did when we were young.

And I stopped on the street, shocked.
I saw my reflection in the store window,
my windblown hair,
my boy jeans, my fall jacket, taken aback.
I have watched you,
over the course of our life together
and even in our life apart,
create and recreate yourself for other people
but I had the secret. I knew you when.
And now, I realize it has happened again,
this time to me.

“It was you,” you said.
“Those were your stories. I couldn’t be bothered.”

When we were little we built civilizations
in my basement. Giant pillows for continents,
toys and dolls for people.
We played God. Some lived, some died.
Back then, I wrote poems too, inside
without paper or pencil I just didn’t know.

And here on the street, with the slump
of your shoulders passing my reflection
I reach out and take your words,
pluck them from the cool night air where they float,
stuffed them in my pocket, like a survivor
and when you were gone,

I ate them, bite by bite,
savoring them, like a secret.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Weight of Gravity

She’s a mother
and a teacher
and a writer
in that order.

I can’t even prioritize.
I think about all the things that slip away.
The way the light moves across
the room in steady beats.
It comes, and illuminates the
stains, the dust, invades this holy space,
panel by panel before it finally goes,
like a disapproving teacher
or mother.

I stand at the window and think,
there are places out there, where no one is.
I think of deep sands where not even
a spider crawls.
I think of the wind burned barrier
where there is only snow
snow and more snow
colored rose and cobalt.
The ocean, the deepest parts
where even the plankton is still
and the weight of gravity is more than parental
it is tremendous and godly.

She’s a mother
and a teacher
and a writer
in that order.
These words like stacked boxes,
that are light enough to move
from one room to another.

And I think sometimes,
how neat the stitching
of other people can be.
These words, day by day,
year by year, without question
until the definition is etched in stone.
And that is all they ever were
and all they will ever be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Living Girl

When my father was lean, and young,
with dark hair,
and strong tan arms,
we went to the beach as a family.

I don’t remember this.
This is a story I was told.
Like all stories, it has a beginning
This one goes:
When my father was lean, and young.

There were birds in the air, flying low
and lazy, waiting in sky like old
women waiting for a bus

and there were broken seashells to find
worn smooth by the water and sand rubbing together.
There was New Jersey food to eat,
with wet fingers dampened with water and
dusted with sand. We were a young family then,
in the predawn of the 80’s. This man, this woman
and their daughters.

My father lean and young
put my fat toddler feet in the water,
lifting and dipping
wave after wave
and sometimes I think I can remember;
can smell his skin,
mixed with the briny water I can taste
on my tongue,
can feel the water, just this side of warm,
frothy pools over the wet sand like a bed,
that I wanted to lay in,
the scratch of my father’s stubbly cheek
as my white baby hair catches on it.

I think I can remember but I cannot
the moment his hands were gone,
the water over my head and under my feet
the steady heartbeat of the undertow
the tumble tumble tumble of my body
the sound of my mother screaming
and then
the ocean said No, it wasn’t this hair,
these feet, those eyes that I was looking for.
The ocean spat me back out
and crawled farther down the beach
searching for the woman she needed to take.
She said,
Not yet, living girl,
someday, maybe soon, but
not this day.

Monday, September 20, 2010


“I dream of an art so transparent you can look through it and see the world”
-Stanley Kunitz

She tells me I should have been a doctor,
the way I keep talking about the body.

I try to tell her I don’t know anything of science,
I tried and failed when I was a much younger woman
and put my heart elsewhere.

I know nothing of the chemistry,
the way the creatures that live far below
the ocean, past light, know only darkness and
nothing of us.

She tells me the one about breast cancer,
that one, she says, opening and closing her mouth.
I nod and make an effort not to look at her breasts.

I’ve thought those things, she tells me.
I’ve thought those exact things. Those words.

It’s a window, I tell her. Nothing more.
I’m just on this side, my mouth pressed against
the glass, yelling to you
and you are on the other side, your ear there,
waiting for
the sound and the heat
to come through in quivering waves
first an echoing hum and
then something feverish.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Watchers

I didn’t see the impact,
instead, I felt it.
I tried. In fact, I turned my head when the tires squealed,
but that was not soon enough. It happens faster than you know.

We waited, breathless, key in hand,
for the crunch and scrape of metal to metal.
But there was no sound.
Just the sight of a body thrown up
up up and then down, hard.

And then everything slowed.
And everyone froze.
And we were the watchers.

We saw, his body, lying there,
Ah, we said
it is true, then, about the shoes.
We had all heard the rumors
but now we knew.

He lay there,
not really twisted,
though parts
seemed artificial,
as if they were planted,
His hand swelling like a limp succulent.

We waited,
after the accident,
for him to move.
Slowly we crept closer,
like animals sniffing out life
in the nearly dead.

The driver got out of his car.
He stood over the man.
What, he yelled,
do you think you are doing?
Why were you in the street? He screamed
his hands on his hips like an exhausted mother.

He shook his finger. He scolded
as if this twisted wreckage,
this doughy muscle and tissue,
sinew bitterroot, scattered teeth,
and all that wet slick blood leaking
from the back of this body machine
weren’t punishment enough.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Exodus

I could have been the child who died there.
I think of this sometimes,
now that I am older and
try to keep a steely grip on this life.
We both could have,
laying at the bottom of the waterfall,
like death thirsty lovers.

My parents would have buried their youngest,
not even out of high school.
My name would have been listed among
the others in the school year book who were dead by

car accidents, disease, unknown sickness
and then me, bloody and crushed laying in the woods.

My mother would have tended to my grave,
My father would not come.
She would push her fingers through the dirt,
leaving dimples behind.
Flowers would bloom and die,
petals dropping.

Everything would chug forward,
one day, like a smoke filed train,
upon which I was not a passenger

and I would wait at the bottom,
in the sleek pool,
listening and waiting
for the ambulance that wasn’t coming,
to the fading laughter and screams of the
mass exodus.
To the priest who would come to save
and then, in saving, damn and curse this place,
and leave my ghost behind in that glassy dirty water.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Problem of Good Writing

“We don’t have to go to Tangiers,” I tell him.
“No way,” he says. “I’m not going to be the one who
messes up your chance to go to Africa.”

“It’s not that, I tell him,
it was just that book.
I got this crazy idea in my head that
I would step foot on every continent
from that book.”

But what if there are other places I want to go?
I ask the empty room, looking at the map taped to the wall.
There just isn’t enough time, I worry.

“Sure,” he says, from the bathroom,
then there is the sound of him spitting
out toothpaste. “Doesn’t matter to me. Besides,
that crazy fuck is burning the Koran down in Florida so…who knows.
I don’t know if we want to walk around a Muslim country
screaming ‘American’ you know?”
Then the sharp inhale as he sucks in
and looks at his teeth.

I examine the map again and I think to myself,
man, these books, all of them, not just these ones,
but all of them,
even the ones about to be written,
they are going to be the death of us.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why You Can't Have a Conversation with a Bar Drunk

I watch him as he speaks,
his tongue darting
like an errant fish between his remaining teeth.
There are only three of them,
jutting from his dark gums like great stone tablets,
crooked and yellowed.

I’ve been to AA, he tells me.
I’ve been there.
But now I am here.
He says, lifting his arms to show the bar.
No one is paying attention to him. No one ever does.

He runs a tired hand through his hair
adjusts the thick black glasses on his face.
I noticed the tape holding the arm to the lens
has yellowed and is starting to unpeel. It flaps in the breeze from the open door.
His eyes look like fish eyes too, everything about this guy is fishy,
blinking back at me like great glass orbs magnified
as he steadies himself using the back of my chair.

I says, he says, I’ve been to AA.

I nod. Everyone has to be somewhere,
I tell him.
Aren’t you going to ask me what happened?
He says.
I told you, I was in AA,
aren’t you going to ask me what got me back here?

No I tell him,
thinking it’s probably not a very good story anyway.
It’s none of my business, I tell him.
Besides, I’ve got this whole night ahead of me,
this whole life,
and before any of that can start,
I need to finish this pint in front of me.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

They Shine

like little stained pearls
all glossy opaque and tan.
he pulls back the wings so that
I can see underneath
where it turns red.
It is bone and tendon, vessels wrapping.

There is no meat here.

Everyone just crushes them he says.
turning the insect over so that
it’s segmented stomach
the plates of armor are visible.

and this one, he says,
pulling out another tray,
look at this.

It’s a praying mantis,
it’s legs stretched out
like an sacrifice, pinned to the board.
It is so green it is almost violent,
and the desire to both look away and to touch is overwhelming.

They don’t look different,
these creatures, when they are dead
then when they are alive.

Flesh loses the soul,
its elasticity turns taunt and stiff,
there is a harsh change you cannot undo.

But these creatures, their hard scrabble
crunching lives, they still stare up at me
segmented eyes, beaded like dew, watching, always watching,
claws, shining under the light, at their mouth
legs with jagged teeth
wings like handmade paper, veined
ready to un-tack from this prison

and beat
then lift,
like cilia pumping on the first water insect,
the need for survival quickening the heart.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Father's Life Work

He picks up the other extension
and starts right away.
My mother gets off the phone.
Hello? my father says again.

Hey, dad. The phone crackles in my ear.

He tells me how great he feels
about how he mowed the front and the back lawns yesterday.
Both in one day.
He hasn’t done that in years.
He’s very proud.

Then he asks me about paint
and the Yankee game.
What kind did you get, paint and primer?
You need paint and primer. All in one.
Is it flat? You should have gotten eggshell
but it’s okay. You didn’t know.
Good. Good.
Did you see the Yankee game?
No dad, we put on a movie.

Oh Ally, you missed a great game,
he says, his voice going high.
The pitcher, oh man, that pitcher. What is his name?
I don’t know.

No, really what is his name?I yell into the kitchen to ask my husband.

I tell my father.
Yeah, my father says, that guy. That guy is so good.
Don’t worry about the B12 shot. It’s nothing. It’s nothing.
It was such a good game. I swear, one of the best.
So what else is new? All these kids are here. I’m hiding
in the garage. Now he starts to laugh, this high wheezy laugh.
I gotta tell you honey, I’m here hiding in the garage.

This goes on for half an hour.
At the end he tells me about the drugs.
I’ve never felt this good honey.
I don’t want it to end, he says.
I finally feel like I should. Not like a 90 year old.
Like a 45 year old. This makes him laugh again.
I laugh along.
It’s been so long since I heard him sound like this.
The way he used to.

I feel like before 2003, he tells me.
Before the cancer, and the surgery, the chemo
before the stooped walk he now has,
and the leg pain,
and the sickness and the vomiting
before the catheter and the pain killers
and the exhaustion and the struggle to get out of the chair.
And the struggle to get into the chair.
And the struggle to get down the hall, one damaged leg after another.

It’s terrible like this, I think. To go, piece by piece. To fall apart, to live
through the cancer and watch the rest of you break down
until your life’s work is just
holding yourself together long enough to get through the day.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this good,
he says laughing.
He tells me again, before the surgery I guess.

I guess so, Dad, I say and swallow, my mouth full of words.
It’s great. It’s really great, I manage to get out.

It is honey, he says.
I don’t even feel like I’m dying anymore.
And then that laugh again, high,
like air coming out of a balloon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cell by Cell

My husband reads me the details,
about the couple killed in the city
we used to live in.

And I picture Main Street, downtown,
where the subway is. He tells me about
their children back in Texas.
Orphans, now, he says.

And just like that, I think about the fire
down the street from my job,
the conversation, the air full of soot
heat and ash, the crumbling blackened
charred bones of the building,
its sisters, standing open windowed
as if shocked, dripping wet.

You gather these people,
cell by cell, that share your space.
You breathe the same air as them,
jostling against them as the bus
chugs through the city
like a dying thing. You hate and love them.

You stand in front of these buildings,
these streets, and you watch the body fail.
Limp and bloodless. Smoke filled and charred,
like inanimate thing, a body transformed into ash.
I know nothing of the spirit; neither, I suspect, do you.
You wait and watch but in the end,
eventually the destruction is gone,
cleaned up by the men whose job it is to clean the body,
the building, to make new the face of the street,
and you nod
and you shuffle off,
board the bus,
thinking of the day behind you, the night ahead of you,
rub your eyes and exhale into your hands,
your breath filling the pockets of flesh from bone to bone,
It wasn’t me. Thank God. This time.
It wasn’t me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Women who Tend

We had been talking for hours, as if we weren’t seated in this hospital room
as if my father wasn’t in that bed and the sick man on the other side
of the curtain couldn’t hear us.

We talked about work and weekends, paint colors, the Yankees.
We passed around pictures of the new baby.

It was later when the nurse came, in her shockingly white shirt
breaking up our little party that we scattered, jumping up from our seats
nearly tripping over ourselves as if royalty has entered the room.
We collect at the back and sides, staying out of the way.

She bends down by my father’s bedside talking to herself,
not to us and not to him, just talking quietly to herself,
in this menial task of emptying the sack of urine hooked to my father’s bedside.

She places a plastic jug on the floor and tips the bag over
and I listen to the sound of my father’s urine hitting the plastic.

We are quiet now so the sound fills the room.
The tap of it, all pitter patter against the plastic.
It sounds like a tornado at one point, like it will never stop.

We all look away, my mother and my husband and I.
We look up and down, we clear our throats. We avert our eyes.

I feel the thickness and the weight of my own body filling space,
taking the air out of the room. I can smell the sweat of the living,
the metallic taste of it against the white walls.

It is like an offensive thing, all this breathing in and out, this pumping of blood,
the wet jelly of the body my feet clad in sandals snapping against the floor
as I walk out of the room trying not to think about how many times,
I have seen these women in white who tend to the body.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Starting Over

It seemed like I was waiting
all day
maybe all year
maybe all my life
to slide the key into the lock
like I did,
and open the door,

to find you there,
cutting chicken for dinner,
and the gentle hum of the air conditioner,
and the R&B you only listen to when I’m not there,
the cats fat and lazy, the apartment clean,
and smelling like a home,

like a place I have been fighting all day to get back to,
with you,

so much so that it was all gone
the second I got in,
all the anger and confusion
all the hours and minutes
and seconds I have been away.
The long long walk is over.

You are sorry,
you say
We are going to redo last night,
you tell me,
We are going to have the night
we should have had.
You kiss me hello
and I put down my bag
and just like that,
we’ve started over.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Did You Sleep Ok?

Did you sleep OK?
the post card over my desk
asks me.
It’s a picture of a framed post-it note
scratchy boy handwriting,
sweet sentiment,
left by an errant lover, I imagine.

We bought it in London,
in a little museum
in the park after walking all day.

It was right after we saw the Peter Pan statue, I think.
We needed directions and the British lady with the dog
told us not to expect too much.
Though she added that she thought the statue was darling.

DID you sleep ok?
The question we ask each morning,
shuffling around, tripping over two old cats
opening windows, making tea and coffee.

The answer is No.
I didn’t.
All night there was nothing about anxiety.
Bad dreams, nervousness,
The writing bad like this poem,
trying to say something but saying nothing,
nightmare of teeth tumbling out,
and bloody fingers.

Did YOU sleep ok?
Last night, I told you
with bases loaded and the Yanks up 10-1,
that if Alex hits the 600th homerun right now,
we would have that extra beer and sleep in tomorrow.
You told me that was too much pressure for one man.
But he didn’t, even though it was the perfect time.
He was always good for solo homeruns that don’t change the game.
So we turned off the television and went to bed.

Did you SLEEP ok?
At the end of this week filled with long days,
choked with need and want and misery of
this endless summer.
After waiting and waiting for the End,
which didn’t come, you get a bit of jetlag into
continuing your life. You are supposed to be thankful,
and you are because you read the paper and you know
how very bad it is out there. There is still that part of you,
that isn’t re-adjusting back into life and is still planning.

But tomorrow is Saturday so there is always another chance
and the weather is dropping they tell me,
so maybe we’ll have something, love.
Just a little something.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

You - 7/29/30

I always say You. Because I can’t say my sister.
We were not.

And I can’t say my friend.
We were not.

So I say You. So I say I forgot your birthday this year.

And you say nothing.
Like you have said nothing for years.

Your daughter is outside, right now.
digging through the dirt in the backyard.

And your husband has his arms around his new wife.
They are patching something out of the space you left.

This is the moment you were waiting for.
And never got to see. You have become the things you left behind now.
Nothing else.

There are things I want to tell you. No, not tell.
There are things I want to scream at you.

Until I’m hoarse and have no words left.
Until the sound has pushed you away, finally.
Until the plaster cracks and the trees die and fall like monuments to the ground.
Until your tombstone sinks in the groaning movement of this earth.
Until we are all long long gone and it is finally finally mercifully over.

I want to scream all of this. But I don’t.

Your birthday is passing us all by.
Your body so long gone. So long silent.

You show up in my dreams, all the time.
You never speak. That is a rule.

I don’t call you Sister then either. I never could.
I don’t say anything to you, anymore.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Continents - 7/28/10

I want to step foot on every
continent, and circumnavigate
this fat round earth.

It used to be every country,
but I’m already far too old for that.

So when we talk about Spain
we also talk about Morocco
and I roll my tongue

over the sound of a word,
that counts for Africa.

When I tell my mother she smiles
and says not to do Antarctica till she’s dead.
She doesn’t want to know.

For Asia, we have a plan
for the Trans-Siberian train
across the rough seas of Russian land.

For South America,
I hope for Peru, the steepness of Machu Picchu
or Chile.
Then Australia.

And last
all that ice.
I can’t afford to go to the Pole,
but I’ll settle for seeing the Ross Sea
and McMurdo Sound and the Ice Shelf rising like a castle
at the bottom of this ball
of fire and rock
spinning in all that dark space.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

With his Silence - 7/27/2010

It is like gathering
all the salt from the sea

locked arthritic hands, aching.

His wife opens the water bottles for him.

There is no end to this,
I want to tell him.
No finish line.
This is life now. This is just what it is.
You are beating the cancer, yes,

but your kidneys are dying.
The knee won’t get better.
The pain will always be there.

If you are in pain,
say something!
Be honest with the doctors.

I have a whole list of things to say,
but he will lift
those pale blue eyes
sea water eyes,
like his daughters,
from the paper
to me

and say everything with his silence.

And I know
I will be quiet, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sunday Morning - 7/25/10

I sit with my mother at the table
and talk about the business of books.
I'm mid sentence and she stops me,
holds her finger in the air.
The silence lingers,
as her eyes scan the newspaper in front of me.

"Who died?" I ask,
because what else could it be?

"Oh, it is her. Oh how sad," she says and for a moment
her face crumples.

"Oh how sad. She was only 48."

"Who?" I ask.

It was a neighbor.
I don't recognize her name
and upon seeing this, my mother,
who has lived for so long in this house
on this street,
describes the departed's location on the block.

"Next door to the Levinsons"
she tells me.

"Oh, I say, sure," but I'm lying.
I have no idea who she is,
this woman, who my mother tells me had no children
but was engaged to be married,
dead from cancer.

"It's always so sad when a neighbor's child dies."

I think of the boy down the street,
who died in high school and the line I stood on
to get into his funeral. It wrapped through the parking lot.

My father is on the couch,
the newspaper on his lap,
just having fallen asleep,
He is cold, always cold
and his fingers are locking up.
My mother opens all this water bottles now.

and I think about how long they have been here
in this house,
on this street,
my whole life.
Always here.

I think of that and how I hope it's longer still.
Just a little bit.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Voice of God - 7/23/10

On the 86th street overpass
in the part of Brooklyn the tour buses
don't go to

lay a pair of sandals,
side by side,
neatly tucked against the
chain link fence.

And next to them a wrapping from the Holy Bible
on audio cd and I thought to myself
even the voice of God couldn't save him,
when he dove and landed on the cars below
small stones embedded, still
in the skin of his heels.

He should have taken the Book.
The weight of it might have kept him
tied to his earth
a little while longer.

The thin onion skin paper
reminding him of his own paper thin skin
down near his sex.

So simply construced
and durable
unlike the body
crashing and popping
against all that metal.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flight - 7/22/10

I grabbed your hand
when the plane lurched
and the lights went out.
We were just in the air
and I thought to myself,
This is when they crash.
It's on the news all the time.

Take off or landing.
Right at the beginning and the end.

We were on our way to your grandfather's funeral
and I thought of your mother,
how small she would look
in all that black
her long blonde hair
and nervous fingers

finding out at the funeral home that
we were already gone.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What the Neighbors Said - 7/21/10

It was an unraveling
like these sorts of things always are

a thin spool of thread
where the sweater once hung

a dead bird
it’s neck craned backwards
at a tilt most unnatural

unfeathered wings snapped
like pencils which you side step

the fall from great heights,
from nest to the shore

from roof to the pavement

from hanger to floor

from heaven to hell

the door slam
like the crash of thousand
beautifully carved marble statues hitting the sidewalk

at once.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Big Sur - 7/19/10

Am Alone, says the king,
walking down the stone path.
Am Alone.
And at first he means it, they all do.
At first.
Until the silence grows
louder than the noise he used to make
down in the dirty city bars.
It grows like the moss on the trees,
like the gray hair on his arms.
Am Alone, they say
to get better
to be well
and still and peaceful,
to quell the fury.
But they hate it, like all kings hate being king.

They have no idea,
these men
with the bright ideas,
with the looks that give and take
away from the spotlight
and all their fickle tempers,
their broken glasses,
cutting the bottom of feet.
All the roaring.
They hate it
when there is no one to hear them.

Nothing but silence and the echoes
of their own fury thrown back at them
from the ocean’s mocking slap.

still, Am Alone,
something I have never known
not truly.
To live without it.
To forget and be forgotten.
To be still
for as long as I wish
vibrating like an atom.
Forever, even
Am Alone.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

For Harvey

We toasted you the night you died,
but I couldn’t help thinking that you
didn’t seem like the kind that would die.

Which is a very stupid thing to think.

Salinger died. But he already checked out,
decades ago firing shotguns at curious trespassers.
Steinbrenner died the day after

they found your body in the bedroom.
But it didn’t make sense. You couldn’t be dead.
You are too real to die.

You are supposed to be in Cleveland
in the grocery store.
Behind the Jewish lady with all the coupons
arguing over canned soup.
You are supposed to be living through the same
shit as the rest of us.
Bus routes
and late bills.
Sick mornings and fights with the wife.
You are supposed to be nervously checking the phone book
for another Harvey Pekar.

Not dead and still and peaceful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

For Stephanie, on her birthday

The sun has not yet fully risen
here in the city
as if she is tired from what the
rest of this month has put her through.

But I think you are probably up,
your infant daughter on your lap,
her gentle cooing over the discovery
of her fingers.

I can picture you
on your blue sofa,
the music playing softly
the coffee on the table.
The quiet settling of the floorboards.

And I wish I was there.
We would talk about
when we were little before the house was painted blue.
we would pull out those old stories,
about birthdays
and the streamers our mother would hang from the lights.
About the woods behind the neighbor’s house.
We would joke about our father’s
green lawn mowing sneakers
and the time with the golf club
that ended in me losing a tooth.

We would laugh softly
in case your daughter nodded off.
and for a moment that time wouldn’t
feel so long ago,
and neither of us would feel
the days stretching ahead and behind.

I wish I was there, this morning
on your birthday
but the best I can do,
are these words on this page,
a love letter
between women
from one sister
to another
letting you know
you are being thought of right now
as you are,
as this new mother
a thing of beauty and comfort
your hands cupping the feet of your daughter
a small song unknowingly escaping your parted lips

but also as you were back then, when the world was smaller
a thing of beauty and energy
and white hot streaking summer light
an explosion of laughter
in the time when we were both little girls.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Razor Blade

I should have moved it,
I tell my husband on the train,
watching the little boy cry and hold his finger.

It’s not your fault, he tells me.
But still, I saw it. I saw it and the other boy saw it
and I should have kicked it away.

He’s too old to be picking things like that up,
my husband tells me. Besides, it happened too quickly.

I could never be a parent,
I say,
I’m sick now just watching this and it’s not even my child.

The father has the boy on his lap. They are all very blonde,
They look Swedish but it sounds like they are speaking German.

The subway lurches up onto the bridge,
back out into daylight.
We are going home.
The boy has stopped crying now.
The mother is studying the subway map.
The father has kicked the razor blade
across the subway car,
like a dead thing.
Not like a killer.
The sunlight catches it and it gleams,
like a smile.

No one on the subway car does anything,
not even me. What is there to do?
Now we all wait and wonder.

I watch out the window
the water of the East River below,
the city retreating from me like a living thing and
think that I’ll spend the rest of my life
wondering if this kid,
holding his bloody finger
this five year old boy
is going to die of some horrible disease
is going to rot from the inside
if it is even already starting now.
I wonder if he’ll get to grow up, get married,
fall in love, have sex, get his heart broken
before it all comes to a horrifying end.
All of this wasted
because of one trip to the United States.

Who does that, my husband finally says.
Who leaves something like that on a subway seat?

And I think I don’t want to know.
But they live in my city.
For now.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

American Town

She is wearing glasses.
That is probably the first problem.
She also didn’t put her hair up.
No one wins Ms. Small Town America
without putting their long naturally wavy hair up.

They only ask the contestants two questions.
I tell my husband that I want one of them to stand up
and scream that it is 2010 and maybe we can stop
subjecting young girls to this kind of judgment
but I know even before the woman in front of me
shoots me a dirty look
that I’m talking to myself.

The blonde down the row will win.
She’s in a short blue dress. When the judges ask her
why she wants to be Ms. Small Town America
she talks about loving her town.
Her sweet little town.
Everyone cheered.
She’s going to win.

My girl doesn’t mention that.
She pushes her glasses up her nose.
She sniffs into the microphone.
And I think to myself,
Don’t worry girl.
You’ll be a poet one day.
And you’ll leave all this behind.
You’ll read Dorothy Parker and laugh.
You’ll find your way to Boston
and then farther on a plane to Istanbul.

You’ll never forget this moment,
when you don’t win,
but it will start to fade, like the tattoo
you’ll stamp on your lower back in five years
before you hitchhike out of this American town

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Water, Tons of It

The ice cubes don’t last long in the glasses.
I miss the sound of their clinking.
We keep the beers in the freezer and the
radio and television off.
We can’t hear it over the fans
which growl from the floor,
shaking in their fury to turn
casting about the tufts of fur
from the dying cats.
I’m trying, they seem to say.
We’re trying, but their little engine isn’t enough.
Dinners go unfinished.
This is like a mourning stage.
We talk about highs and lows
like diastolic and systolic readings.

This organism is weak.
I just want the moon to come up
to shine big and white
as if she could undo the heat of the sun
that never wants to set on time.
I want water,
tons of it,
till my heart floats,
till the gills grow
and my fingers prune and flipper.
I want to swim till I remember
where we came from
and wonder why we ever left
this cool abyss for that bleached sand.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Lake

You could be happy here,
or in a place like this, she tells me,
dipping her leg over the edge of the boat
her red toes flicking the water
as we bob past a little island of algae.
Their fronds wave little hellos and goodbyes
their tops just break the water
as a warning of what lies below.

I know, I tell her,
squinting in the sun to watch my husband
and his brother,
dive under water
and then come up,
shake their heads,
the drops of water flying.
They laugh
at something they both remember
or at nothing,
for no reason other than to laugh
and dive back down again.
Over and over again,
The water both warm and cool
and welcoming like coming back after a lifetime
of walking sun bleached land

Christ, do I know.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About The End

It goes in different directions. I try to stay away from the panic.
I think about Juneau. Or islands out there in the middle of the ocean.

I complain about New York City grocery stores and the weather.
We compare the places we have lived. But I don’t want to go back.
I want to go forward. Somewhere new.

This is what this time has been like. It is a vacuum. A non-space.
I don’t live here, no one lives here. Here we just wait.

We talk about selling off all our belongings. Leaving the apartment.
Storing the little that mattered. And walking. South first, then west.

Walking across America to see what there is left to see before the oceans become toxic and the people have all closed up and left for higher ground.

Just walking till we reached another land, another option. A place where the sand
feels like sand and not like the glass it is already trying so hard to be.

Then the cats meow. They curl around my feet and cry in the heat, so full of need.
And I worry we can’t go. We have so little but right now it seems we have taken on too much, the way a ship takes on water.

So then we talk about other things. Bluffing. Poker. We talk about chess and pawns.
Metamorphosis. We talk and talk to fill the hours before we know.

It is the universe, I tell you, telling us to move on. We talk about “better.” We use that word. You nod and sip your drink. We don’t talk about Europe. That part is too hard.

This is what we talk about when we talk about the end.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New York Grocery Stores

The girl tells me aisle four.
But it’s not in aisle four.
I’ve walked up and down aisle four
so many times, I feel like a soldier
defending her home. There is bleach.
There are paper towels and baggies.

There are pads.
But no tampons.

I try the next store.
And the one after that.

This is grocery shopping in New York City,
for those of you still wearing your patriotic 9/11 glasses
with the rosy tint of a clean Times Square.
This is my day to day.

So I settle for the bodega.
They have shelves that stretch to the ceiling.
I see one box up there. One old dusty box
that was probably the first box of tampons ever made
and think, fuck it, I’ll take what I can get.

I ask her. She climbs onto a cooler
but she can’t reach.

Let me get my boyfriend, she says.
He can’t reach either.
He gets his friend.

We are now, all four of us, crammed in this little store,
The friend uses a stick to knock things down.

This one, he says, as a packet of Stayfresh fall to the ground with a poof.
No, the tampax.
This one, as a box labeled “super” fall with a thud.
No, just the regular, I say. Just a regular sized girl here.
Which one? the friend asks.
The girl points to the regular. She’s trying to help.

This just keeps going on. Eventually they knock down the right one.
They go back outside to talk about basketball.
I pay and leave, not making eye contact.
There is still the wine store
where I will get ripped off.
I will come home, sweating in this rancid heat,
strip down and climb into a cold shower.

I will tell you we are moving.
I will tell you I hate this damn city.
You will apologize over the sound of the water,
pooling in the tub,

but right now,
I’m still on the street, in ninety degree heat
staring at the next block, which now has a chain
pharmacy store that I swear wasn’t there yesterday
Inside the cool air conditioning,
somewhere near an aisle four, I know there are
rows and rows of regular tampons
lined up like little soldiers ready to battle my period
and I think to myself,
after all that,
Doesn’t that fucking figure?

Monday, June 21, 2010


In the waning hours of spring,
the dj tells me that in Helsinki
the sun rose at 4:51 am
and won’t set again
till nearly midnight

on this, the solstice.
A day like that can never feel normal,
it could never be born and die,
like other days,
like this morning, your naked skin
cool against mine,
when you woke me,
with your body pressed to mine
full of need

in these death throws of a season.
No, there would be too many hours to fill.
Too many screaming hours,
full of minutes and seconds,
where the sun refuses to go down
and the cool relief of evening
when the light fades out
and you can finally,
after all this time,
stop shielding your eyes,
and remember that night is real
and not just something
you remembered from a dream.

I would go mad, I think
in a day like that,
but I would take a night that didn’t end.
The thought makes my knees go a little weak,
and I am back there and 14,
and waiting on the side of the lake,
for my chance to fall from the rope
from the black sky
through the black space
into all that black water.
Over and over again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bus Stop

They are waiting at the bus stop
two boys and a girl
and previously they were screaming,
racing back and forth between traffic
as if daring death was the best they could come up with
on a sunny Tuesday afternoon.

That is true youth, when even the ultimate stop
is still a flexible, tenuous boy muscle.

Now they are laughing
using that language we all once knew
but got to old to speak, their hands cupping their mouths,
their laugh like a donkey bray.

The old woman next to me, shakes her head.
She clicks her tongue with disgust
at the girls, in her too tight shirts
stretched over fat. She straightens her collar
in case no one noticed.

Pathetic, she said,
her white hair knotted tight except for one piece.
I wondered about the tendril that slipped lose
the untamable part of her
and floated up like a sea creature
each time a bus,
that none of us wanted, roared by.

Gross, she muttered again,
this time at the fat girl’s friend,
a Hispanic boy with tight jeans
and a lisp and limp and a fat lip
and everything he’ll ever love
stamped across his chest.

As I waited for you,
for that bus carrying you, to roll around the corner,
I felt the death of mothers and fathers
the ache and the pull and the tear
of a billion atoms splitting apart.
The sound stretching past where sound can go.

When did we all become so lonely?
When did we all strive to be in a world where others are not?
Did we work for this the way farmers tended the soil?
Was our skin so fertile that it grew there
like a fern, the big shaded fronds
of lonesomeness.
It has gone down our throats,
and coated our bellies
and now it is our only food.

Monday, June 14, 2010


-“for god’s sake look after our people”
Captain Robert Scott’s last journal entry

It’ll come to me, I said, when I’m not trying to think about it.
You nod, take a drink of your beer.
Don’t think about it, you tell me.

But I can’t. It’s right there, on the tip of my tongue.
Marcus? I say
but we both know that isn’t right.

We had spent the day in the city,
the first day off of work in what seemed like forever.
At the subway station we saw the ad for the Robert Scott exhibition.

I have a thing for explorers.
Scott didn’t make it.
Amundsen did. But he also ate his dogs as he went along.
For whatever that is worth.

There is a hard sound in it, you tell me.
I look around the bar,
watching people sit side by side, not speaking
their frantic thumbs thumbing flat screens.

We should ask someone to look it up for us, I say.
No, you say defiantly.
We’ll remember. Think about the book.

I know what book you mean. Scott’s partner,
the name we can’t think of, was a character in it.

Jake? I offer but we both shake our heads
knowing that isn’t right.

Things I know:
He knew he was dying.
He crawled away into the blinding darkness of all that snow.
He though Scott was crazy

Maybe I’m wrong about the last one.
We try to talk about other things.
We finish our beers and head out into the night.

On the train,
you say, “Titan”
and I spring up, nearly scream it,
Titus. Titus. His name was Titus. Captain Titus Oates.
You tell me we don’t need “no stinkin’ internet.”
And I can’t stop smiling.
Titus. Captain Titus Oates who’s last words to his team
were “I’m just going outside and I may be awhile” and
then he vanished in the blinding snow
or the blinding sun, either,
on that frozen wasteland.

But here, Captain,
Oh, here on this train,
without everyone’s favorite little gadget
that keeps making us stupider,
I remembered your name.

I remembered that later after you died, Scott, curled up in his sleeping bag,
next to the last two men, and they found them this way
eight months later.

Some facts can not, should not, be forgotten.
They should not be little passing interests,
another disposable piece of information
in this already too disposable culture.
They should be remembered,
frozen in your head for good,
like those men in the ice,
waiting on death or
infamy whichever came first.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Inspiration Arrives on a Hot Summer Night

I keep having these little fits these days,
usually at night.
It starts off with confessions of depression,
self diagnosed, of course
and proceeds to little tears.

And I feel terrible about it because
I watch you trying to make right what you can’t
make right.
What no one can make right.

You say good things.
You remind me that we aren’t a part of this whole system.

You talk to me about how when it’s all over
we’ll go travel the country, on foot.
We’ll walk through the Appalachians.
And what it will be like to come up on New Orleans over that long bridge.

I talk about Slab City like we are already citizens.
And this all makes us feel better.

And in the end you pull out that scene
where the old boxer tells his kid
that nothing hits harder than life.
You say this is the ‘big guns”
And we laugh and again I cry

and this time
because sometimes you need a better excuse
than weakness
and fear
and anger
something better than envy, even
we decide to blame
it on my period that won’t seem to show up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making a Case for Envy

I heard somewhere that the punishment
in Hell
for Envy, is that you’ll be put a vat of freezing water
which right now,
in this hell that is my apartment,
on the 10th sweltering day in a row
with the sweat rolling down my back
and the skin on my legs itching.
and the couch feeling like a volcano
the wine and the water won’t stay cold
and now, a vat of freezing water
doesn’t seem so bad.

We have stopped talking for a moment
because I need a moment to breathe.
I have gone point by point through my life
and tallied up the things I don’t have.
I can feel the anger inside,
yet another sin. The punishment for that is dismemberment.

I try to keep track of these things just in case the church was right
though they all strike me as rather uncreative.

And I can’t help but wonder what the Devil
is getting off on. The destruction of the body or the soul?

But first there is envy, the green dog,
as I tally my misfortunes and the success of others.
Envy is linked to the moon, a known jealous lover.
A woman.

Envy is the opposite of charity, the wanting instead of the giving,
the need, the passion,
the thing that drives you, away from slothfulness,
yet another sin
and towards obtainment, probably soon to be a sin or at least close
enough to Pride, another sin.

I think about influence and drive.
I think about having and needing
and this morning, the whirl of the fans
the darkness of the room,
your mouth on my skin
and your cock in my hand
and I wonder what is so bad about wanting, after all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I see him on 3rd Avenue
on my way to buy beers
even though we said the wine was it.

He’s talking to his kid.
We don’t really talk
outside of the joint,
but I stop.
I say hi to him and his kid.
The kid, reluctantly, slaps me five.

He says he’s sorry about the other night.
About his behavior
And I tell him it was cool.
It wasn’t his fault,
that he slammed down his beer
and yelled that he just wanted one hour.
One hour.
Where no one was nagging him,
where things could just be cool.
One hour a day. That’s all he had.
He kept saying that part over again.
That was all he had.
Godamnit. One Hour.

And I understood. Cause sometimes,
that’s all we ever got.
Sometimes we got even less than that.

I told him not to worry about it.
He was right. Things were messed up in there.
That couple wouldn’t stop fighting.
Lately they were both always drunk
and ruining the vibe
and I want to tell him after he left that night
it only got worse.
I want to tell him next time,
come sit down on the other end of the bar with
my husband and I.
We’ll ignore all their bullshit.
We’ll talk about music and books like we do sometimes.
You’ll lend me a new novel
one that I would have never read
and my husband will burn you a couple cds.
It’s nice that way.
We’ll play songs on the jukebox and drum on the bar
You’ll buy us an beer and then we’ll return the favor.
We’ll stay away from the toxic.
Some people don’t know how to act.
They have no discretion.

But I don’t say any of this.
I just keep telling him it wasn’t his fault.
He tells his kid to say goodbye
and the kid does with a limp little wave,
squinting in the light.
As we go to leave
I turn back and say, “It’s just getting so fucked up in there,”
and I cringe.
I shouldn’t have said that.
I shouldn’t have mentioned it again.
I shouldn’t have talked about that whole other life
and those people and how sick and informal it’s all gotten
like we are all officers on a sinking ship.
But most of all
I shouldn’t have said fuck in front of his kid
and on my way to buy beers,
I think
what the hell do I know about discretion?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


All month we talked,
our heads pressed together in the heat of nights,
our hands gripping sweaty beer bottles in twilight
of waning days,
toes rubbing the back of calves in early morning light,
the talk then, just a murmur.
We told stories.
We answered questions.
We stepped all over each others sentences
- little bread crumb trails that we have spit
out and scatter with our sneakers–
we talk and talk, loud over the radio,
softly over the downy sun scented hair of the baby.

We talk.
We start at the beginning and if we get to the end
we start over again,
but usually someone comes along and we switch gears
like travelers pulling to the side of the road to switch drivers,
stopping for a stretch, our backs sweat soaked in this desert of language.

Sometimes we laughed.
Sometimes the words stuck like hard little triangles
in my throat and they didn’t want to come out.
Sometimes we had to type them out.
We talked through windows, the mesh pressed against your nose
and then over the food that was brought out in trays.
Over the wine, the beer, the water,
the gentle snore of a dozing grandfather.

We talked,
as if the words were bricks and we were building a fortress,
a wall, and a tomb, all at once
and nothing was going to change.
We could stay there forever
and later eat the words, and finally
die there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Teaching My Cat

My cat is in the window
being tortured by the birds outside.

She is twitchy and every few seconds
a little chorus of mews slip out of her jaws.
It’s a chattering sound, like she can’t stand it.

Serves her right, she’s been trying to wake me
for hours, standing in the doorway of the bedroom

her cries like a siren.
As if she herself in all the world were solely responsible
for pulling up the sun with her calls.

The birds are having an all out war,
flipping and jumping over each other
their little bills used as weapons.

It’s a turf thing, I imagine,
gazing out at the window.

My cat looks up at me, begs me to let her join.

No, I tell her,
you’ll just ruin it.
You’ll just scare them all away.
As if an alien suddenly floated down from space
in the middle of their civil war.

You are too much like me, I tell her.
I did the same thing to a perfectly peaceful Sunday afternoon.
Someone has to learn this lesson.
Today it’s the cat’s turn.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Boys and Basketballs

I hear them thumping up the street
the steady beat of the ball on the sidewalk.
I hear their chatter too.

I hear the names they call each other
like peacocks puffing out their feathers.
They talk about girls, a lot.
Men will tell you that they don’t talk about women.
They will say only women spend all their time thinking about the other sex.
But damn, boys sure do talk about girls.

Thump, thump, thump.

They are getting closer and the cat in the window is getting nervous.
I see her tail twitch.
She cranes her neck to see them. She wants to jump down but doesn’t.
I feel her anxiety.

I sigh. It’s always the same with the boys and basketballs.
They will see her. They always do.
I want to coax her out of the window but this one is hers to decide.

I lay back down with my book and my classical station
which I can no longer hear over the

Thump, thump, thump.

One tells the other his girl is a whore.
They all agree. There is cackling and the jostling of fake fighting.
This also happens all the time.
I think about the long summer ahead of me and how living near a park
doesn’t see so charming.

Thump, thump, thump.
There are many “yo’s”
as in, “yo check out that cat.”
and I think, here we go. I sit up a little to watch her
but not enough that they can see me.

“Hey cat, was up?”
“Look at those eyes, man, that’s freaky shit,”
they say. They say more stupid things like that.
The cat lets out a long meow, the kind that I know is meant to be a threat
but doesn’t come off that way. She doesn’t understand how silly she sounds.
They all start to laugh.

One of them throws a wad of paper at the screen causing my cat to pull back.
I sit up more.
I yell. I try to sound like a man so they will be scared.
I should know better.

They don’t even flinch.
There is silence
and then the

thump thump thump of the ball.
Then laughter. Tons of it.
Eventually they move on.

The cat jumps down and I call her over.
She curls up next to me on the couch.

I try to explain to her about picking her fights,
about choosing when to ignore it and when to stop. I explain to her about giving up.
She doesn’t answer. She is unfazed.
She just purrs, and then goes right to sleep.

I think about how lucky she is. To be able to forget it all. Safe and inside.
I go back to my book, wait for the sound of my husband coming home and
decide not to tell him about the boys and the basketball.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Year Thirteen

I have not,
but the other day I felt I had lived a long time,
with you. The smell and touch of you as a person.
I was descending the steps to the R train,
music blasting in my ears and

he was standing against the wall at the bottom of the stairs.
Gentle sloped back, his fingers running over the
fret, a slick dark wood, wet as if kissed,
taunt strings,
the bow like a knife with which he would chop
through all this sick stale air.

I watched him rock back on his heels,
breathing through his mouth,
the violin tucked into his neck
like a child
like a lover

the way your face was earlier,
not even an hour ago,
your hands at my waist,
up against the kitchen table, your breath in my ear
feeling you come,
as if neither of us would let me out the front door
without this little parting kiss.
Your chin cradled by my shoulder.

I took the earphones off,
so that I might listen,
and watched people drop change
in his case. I had no change but didn’t feel guilty
because at that moment,
with the trilling notes echoing
off all that hand built stone
deep in the depths of the underground,
it didn’t seem to matter to the violinist.
He was somewhere else already.

Paganini, I thought,
the devil, the gypsy, the curved spine.
But as the doors closed and he was taken from me,
still playing,
still frantically playing,
without an audience
against the rush and roar of this metal machine
pulling us all away from each other,
I decided on Vivaldi.
It’s more romantic that way.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shamless Self Promotion

So the lovely folks over at Purple Stained Skin were kind enough to review my book and you read it here:
and if you are so moved by what you read you can most certainly pick up a copy of it here:

Or directly from me, whichever you please. I'm cheaper than Amazon!

Okay, ending my shameless self promotion.

Monday, May 10, 2010


She says Jesus just shows up in her work.
She’s not a practicing catholic
but she loves the stories and he just seems to wander in.

And I wonder about that.
Jesus doesn’t show up in my work. Ever really.
The dead do.
Christ, they keep passing back through that gate,
as if to undo the dying and to zipper up their clothes
first and then their old lives next.
They try to sit on their old couches
and use the remote. They try to work their jaws to make sound come out.
But it doesn’t.

The living show up too. They are full of shrugs and misdeeds.
They wound each other with little laughs.
And they write me later and say,
“Was that me? Because I don’t talk like that.”
And I tell them of course it wasn’t them. It was someone else.
And they feel better. I feel better too.

The rest is all big moments,
car crashes, near deaths, full deaths, murder,
pain, suffering, misery
and then little moments
the feel of the couch on the back of my bare legs,
the creak of your footsteps
on the hardwood. The incessant cat meow. Those things.

The molding of day to day,
stitched together to make week to week
patterned into year to year,
the quilting of a life,
my life,
until I pass through that twisted doorway too
and then, like the rest, try to get back out.

But never god. Or God. Or GOD.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


My oldest sister is turning forty.
We fought in the car once, in front of my mother.
She told me I had a sharp tongue.
I told her I wasn’t one of her children.
We barely talked the rest of the way home.
I sulked in the back like a teenager. I told her I wasn’t 9.

But we all remember each other certain ways.
I know that. I was just angry, I guess.

For instance, she’ll always be 16.
It will always be summer,
with the little black kitchen radio
the cord strained and twisted
to fit in the window
so that she could hear it from the deck,
in a bikini.
The deejay’s would come on between songs
and yell “Flip” and she would so she wouldn’t get burned.
I spied on her from the back door,
the way she looked to so grown up.
All hips and breasts and teased out hair.
Not even human, other worldly and certainly nothing I could become.
Just this creature that lived in the house.

Or in her car, sitting in the backseat at night,
the Led Zepplin blasting from the radio
the strange smell from her cigarette,
the burning glow of the cherry
dancing like a living thing
as she waved her hands in the air singing loud and off key.
It was in those moments that I felt like I was a part of something bigger.
She would whine about town or our mother.
She would pound the steering wheel to the drumbeat.

I don’t think about later when she got in the car and drove away with that man
who would give her a child and little else.
Or when she came home with that small sandy-haired baby boy.
Or when our mother got sick
and we sat on the same back deck,
maybe on that same lawn chair, I don’t remember,
and split a cigarette,
saying we would have to quit smoking now.
Or when we both fell into the rhythm of this life.

No she is still 16.
I am still 9.
I am still in the kitchen
fidgeting with the dish towels
waiting for lunch, watching her drum
her fingers on the arm rests of the lawn chair.
It is always summer.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Finishing Her Sentences

She’s out there somewhere
and I’ve got nothing but words at my feet.

Words. I keep arranging them left to right
and then right to left again
to see if they will make any more sense that way.

To see if they will call her out.
I’m dropping them out the window, screaming
Look Out Below.
Smoke signals.
All the little letters
in the periodic table.
I’ve got them all.

These are secret things we no longer keep secret.
We don’t live in that world. There are no more diaries
hidden in the mattress. There are no more
oh please god
or prying eyes,
little sisters,
twisting open locks.
There is no more betrayal.

We all have megaphones.
Loudspeakers. We are all veiled.
But we surely want to be heard.
She wants me to finish her sentences.
And when I found her in the void, I wondered briefly
if we pass each other some days, in real life,
where fingers brush strange legs and coat sleeves.
Unexpected touches,
stumbled stammering apologies.
Did we touch crossing the train station platform
trying to make our connection to this Siberia?

I have language, darling.
I’ve always had language.
In fact some days I have nothing but language.
But you have all the love.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Without Keys

He tells me maybe I shouldn’t read that.
It’s because I have been “oohing” and “aahing”
and letting out all these sighs.

He laughs from his couch.
I shift my pillows.

It’s just, I tell him, it’s just amazing.
I just want to do it.

Of course you do, he tells me.
He wants to do it too.

I mean, who wouldn’t? Sell off everything you own
and circumnavigate the globe without stepping foot
on an airplane?
I tell him about what I learn about freight cargo travel.

I sigh again, and sip my wine glass.
I look up at the pictures on the wall,
picture of our travels so far.

I think about when we were younger,
I was just out of college and settling into full time work.
It was already frightening me so we bought bikes.
We were going to quit our jobs and ride them
from Pittsburgh to California. We even told the sales guy that.
He nodded and laughed a little.

We fantasized about coming up on the Rockies, early in the morning,
the dew still on the grass, our legs aching from last night’s ride. The sun rising.
I had the whole scene.

“Imagine it,” I told him on cigarette breaks.
But it took years for me to quit and by then the bikes were stolen.

Instead we saw the Rockies by car nearly a decade later.
And we say Europe from a landing strip, not chugging
along at 25 miles an hour coming into port
after nothing but the wide open mouth of the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong, it was all beautiful.

Eventually I get back to reading, and I hear him fall asleep on the couch.
His breath steady and rhythmic like the rocking of a boat alone at sea.
There is opera on the classic station, and for a change, I like it.
I wonder how hard it will be to sublet the apartment.
And if my mother or his mother will take the cats?

I picture us, standing on the docks at Red Hook,
two backpacks holding everything we own,
a ticket clutched in our hands, fluttering in the breeze up the estuary.
Our pockets for the first time, ever
without house keys.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Love Poem Set at 14th Street, Union Square

It was just 14th street,
just Union Square,
practically vacant
in the drizzling rain.

You see, since we got back from Paris
we’ve spending more time in the city.
That’s what people who live in New York City
but not in Manhattan call Manhattan. The City.
Isn’t that funny?
As if Brooklyn were Another City
and had succeeded in seceding.

The Q train went over the bridge and we stood on the train,
hand in hand, watching all that water below us. We took a chance on the Q train.
We didn’t watch the Brooklyn Bridge. We stood facing the other way,
My gloves necessary in rainy April.

We didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do, it was one of those days.
Just a couple extra bucks and curiosity about what we could find at Strand.
The hope for a couple beers at the Grassroot. That was all. It was that kind of Sunday.

Before we left we got Halal food from the truck
and sat on the stairs cause they were the only part that was dry.
Before we were done, some guy joined us. We ate together. Us and this guy.

And later on, waiting for the D train,
I would ask you if you ever wanted a handcar to pass suddenly
squeak down the subway tracks, two old men dressed in overalls
arguing about getting lost. Wouldn’t that be funny?
You nod and smile and kiss the top of my head.
I forgot to tell you that in Australia they call them Kalamazoos.

But before all this we got off the Q train in 14th street
and it was drizzling again. There were no chess players.
No market. No vendors with pictures of Obama.
There weren’t even any skateboarders.
The men and women with the Free Palestine sign weren’t there either.
And they were always there. Freeing Palestine was a full time job.

You asked, “Do you feel like the city is vacant? Empty?
Like it belongs to just us?”
And I tell you Yes, with a smile.
But I don’t tell you that also
sometimes when we are shoulder to shoulder with people
on the corner of Broadway and 14th street
and one of his gets elbowed or hit with a handbag
and we can smell their breath and overhear their pointless
conversation and when we count how many times someone
says “like” into their cell phone,
that those times, too,
even during those times,
smashed shoulder to shoulder
with the worry that their won’t be any seats
at the bar,
even then,
it can feel like it’s just us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pick-pocketed by the the Alchemist

I didn’t go inside Nicholas Flamel’s house
when we finally found it down Rue Montmorency.
We were exhausted.
It was after the Pere Lachaise cemetery. We had been walking all day
down cobblestone avenues of littered with graves.

But we leaned against the other building to take pictures,
which honestly don’t do it justice.
It’s from the 1400’s, understand?
It’s just been sitting there for ages, you see.
Weathering harsh winters and blistering summers.
Rainstorms, vandals, the endless chatter of Frenchmen.

But I also didn’t go in because it scared me.
It looked fancy and we just wanted a place to sit down, have some wine
before we figured out what to do about food.

Right there I lost the map, leaning against that wall,
it slipped out of the back pocket of my jeans,
as if I was pick-pocketed by the alchemist, himself.

We wandered off, and it wasn’t until much later that we knew it was gone.

“It’s just a map,” I said. “We can get another one.”
But we both knew that wasn’t true.
It wasn’t just a map. It was an archeological treasure,
ripped already from repeated folding, the paper gone soft like parchment
and numbered in wet ink so we could find all those old ghosts.

#17 – Hemmingway’s first apartment
#5 – L’Hotel – Oscar Wilde’s death,
and so on, you see. It charted our every day.

The man at the café didn’t speak English but I went back in there anyway
to see if I left it on the counter.
We retraced our steps in exhausted silence.

And we found it back at Flamel’s place,
laying on the floor, taunting us.
French men and women stepped around it.
All hope was restored.
This time, you put it in your pocket, with a nod.

Flamel, that old codger, with his empty grave
and his death-less life.
Watch your pockets.
He could be anywhere, you know.