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.