At the Roadblock: an Incident
They arrested me at the corner, as I tried to walk home past the roadblock up the street, took my passport, handcuffed me, and shoved me in the black Mariah. My back hurt, as usual, but I wasn’t scared. The gypsy told me yesterday that my lifeline was strong, that I should avoid water on my birthday, and think of mirrors as doorways to another world. Actually, I enjoyed the ride, as I mostly walk, and my feet get sore. They sat me at a table, un-cuffed my hands and let me rub my wrists, which itched, but didn’t hurt. A young woman brought in a tray steaming with vegetables and bread. They poured glasses of wine, urged me to eat. The food was hot, both to the touch and as to spice, and my mouth burned pleasantly. “So,” they said, “Tell us what you know.” I told them about Wordsworth, how he went off to Cambridge with high expectations but did too poorly to become a clergyman, how he went to France, knocked up Annette Valon, saw the revolution up close, then came home disillusioned. Decided to become a poet. “Yes, yes,” they said, “We know all this already. We want to know what else you know.” I could have told them how the 1932 Yankees won 107 games with eight hall-of-famers on the roster, or that Babe Ruth led the American league in runs, homeruns, rbi’s, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS for the Red Sox in 1919, while starting 15 games and going 9 – 5 as a pitcher, with a 2.97 ERA, but anyone with Google already knows that. So I told them about Dorothy Wordsworth, how her crazy brother-love was probably tainted with resentment, and about the secret poems she may have written about singing to his severed head. “Thank you,” they said. They actually bowed, tight, ironic little movements, which made their heads bob a bit. “We can work with this.” They led me out into the corridor, and pointed me the way out. It was dark and clear, and suddenly very cold. I walked home by starlight, as Dorothy did when she went to the river to cry.
The Man Who Spoke to the World
From a dark place beneath
the stairs, he spoke
sitting with corpses
recalling the shape
of a small cat’s
angular face. He never
split a stone
or cut a board to fit.
puddles after it rained.
When he passed another
walker, he rarely
smiled or waved hello
so busy climbing
the ladder of his
thoughts or calculating
the cost of his own blood.
He spoke to the world
as if it were alive
by which I mean
the earth, and most of all
the waters there –
lakes and rivers that bore
his words down
to the sea: blind fish
thrashing in currents and mud.
In the kitchen
we lie down as if I could see your bones
beneath flesh, as if mid-summer were not
some prayer we cast away with wings shed
as they grew too large for the shoulders
we wore in fall, when leaves carried us down
to some distant shore. We introduced ourselves –
“Hello, my name is – “ bitter on my tongue
or lost among the attic shelves. I shook your
pretty hand, you climbed up my back as if
I were a ladder to the moon. “Terrence,”
you whispered in that breathy voice I love,
“you are so tall when you stand up straight.”
My cousin said you might tell me that, your
soliloquy of water and freedom and myth.
That night I stepped out of my name, stood
naked watching you breathe water, located
your superposition from the angle of light
against wave, went beach combing with my
head split between wonder and disbelief
at your thrift store lingerie. My pleas for help
weren’t louder than your moans. We drove
to a club downtown, listened to metal
machine music until the first “you and I” fused
into a mulberry tree, dreaming our lovely
daughter home through a crack in the jagged sky.
The Man Who Dissolved
into salt; into wind, into windows
made of ice, stared at a puddle
of tears. His body floated to the surface
like a slick of oil. Wind hurled his name
in a tempest of foam. His eyes dissolved
and then his mouth. He drowned, but rose
again on the seventh day. It was quiet,
a morning of snow followed by sun
and gradual melt. He based a religion
on the songs of frogs. His mind dissolved
and he followed his breath to the delicate
bridge all sleepers cross when they find
lost treasure wafted onto shore: bracelets
fashioned from amber and light; combs
carved from zebra bones; candles driven
into the skulls of birds. His ears dissolved
into moonlight and mist, but still he heard
a raven’s call. By then he was water
and mud. His limbs swirled and dissolved;
he pounded pegs through empty hands.
Words tore at his throat like barbs. They tasted
of acid and rust and a handful of nails.
He woke on the shadow of wine-dark waves,
cursing the sky and chanting the death of stars.
Calling the Darkness Home
“In this rippling stillness
we wait, displaced together”
Laura Kaminsky, “Northward, Up”
Here in the north, darkness floods
a blue-gray sky through oaks and snow.
Beneath the ice, another throbbing
heart and cold lungs struggling
to breathe. In this silence we can hear
the earth heave, feel vibrations spiraling
up the muscles of our winter-tightened
backs. In memory, someone calls us
toward a blue door, but her voice seems
tangled in thickets of mist and wings
and rust. Time freezes to a single frame,
montage of shadow in dying puddles
of light. Is it black-winged birds rustling
in high branches of leafless trees, or
the struggle of our ancient blood, as we
writhe, bound to the cold cliffs of dream?
The Quantum Route
Behind the curtain nothing moves,
nothing hides there, only a film
of dust, just the faintest hint of shape.
I slip my fingers through the wall,
grasp a handful of hair. A noise
like water gurgling in a slow drain
and a voice so desperate it can only lie,
even when it tells the truth. A shadow
man sits on a hard chair, gray locks
rising like a waterspout. His teeth
have fallen out, he breathes with
a terrible rasp. He has the face
of a wasp caught in the wind of electric
fans. Change the channel and he disappears.
Tomorrow I will rescue him from time.
As he grows younger, I check his pulse,
offer towels to wipe his face and hands.
I keep him clean. Though I’ve never
been his son, I father him home, sing
lullabies when his hair turns fine and blond.
Together we escape via the quantum route,
winding our clocks through every possible path.
“I keep on being happy,
disclosing to nobody
my ambiguous malady”
Doctors can’t explain it, why my eyes
turn inward when rain sweeps across
mountains, why my glands wince at
violins. Though they have stripped me
naked, dragged over my skin with icy
instruments a thousand times; vetted
my prostate, measured my heart
to the micron, pricked my palms
and soles and sent my blood churning
through spectrometers, this good cheer
remains unexplained, a medical mystery
beyond the reach of MRI or EKG.
They have photographed my bones
and brain, prescribed the usual drugs,
forbade caffeine and alcohol, suggested
yoga, Ten Thousand Steps, free
weights and a diet of Zwieback and tea,
but nothing helps, neither excess nor
abstinence. Could it be the strange song
bubbling in a new key rising from the base
of my larynx, or the clarity of cold
on this February day, with its cloudless sky
frozen above last night’s snow?
Or maybe the wings budding at my shoulders,
feathers weaving themselves into nets
capable of flight, oiled and ready for wind and sea?
“If I’m dead and don’t know it
who’ll give me the time of day?”
Are you prepared to love the fallen leaves?
If now you can hear the river roar
will those waters ever eat the falling rain?
As shadows lengthen in the afternoon
will your lover return, or will she
wander in the swelling hours of night?
If you square a number, square it again
keep squaring until your mind floods
until the number grows larger than the sky
will it devour every star in a rush of wind?
How, when snow swirls in December
storms, will you hold onto memories
of those who marched with naked feet
bleeding into furnaces of a century
that burned like a city in a rain of bombs?
When questions are piled in heaps
soaked in gasoline, consumed in a rush
of orange flame, will you be the witness
whose breath catches on the last ash
tree yellowing in the grip of the emerald
ash borer, tiny harbinger of rotting and ghosts?
Brooklyn is Not Expanding
but the coasts are growing wild,
chemicals brewing in the fishless sea.
What can you do when there’s no
place left to stand? By then
the drones will have learned to sing;
they’ll be indistinguishable from Seraphim.
Together they will flock in early morning
air, carry messages from GOD.com,
blow trumpets that will open a door
in the sky. Follow them over the bridge
of a single hair. Look neither right, nor
left, nor down, as your trembling feet
bring you to the gates of a new earth.
Know this: your password will be stamped
on your forehead, a mirror glistening in your hand.
Complaining About the Cold
September heat. The world is full of sorrows,
with the west on fire, mountains ringed
with smoke. In a drying yard, some boys play
ball. Near home plate, a green snake lies tangled
in the sun. By the lakeshore, a wooden boat rots
slowly in the reeds. Everywhere weeds twist like wire.
Silence pervades the air, as if everyone has gone,
pulling their weary bodies up north. At the mall
stores nearly empty, salesgirls smoke and fiddle
with their phones and hair. There’s a twenty percent
discount on everything. In the parking lot, a few cars,
sixteen pickup trucks. Indifferent insects patrol fading grass,
swarm around young trees, fly at anyone who comes near.
Someone says “In three months, we’ll be complaining
about the cold.” A thin man sits on the curb eating
from a bag of chips, drinking beer from a foamy can.
His veined nose has been broken at least once, and now
his hands are soaked. He licks at them without concern.
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