As when we awaken startled from a long, damp sleep
and realize that what we thought was love
was not love was not even the hollow kindness we show
a neighbor five doors down when we say “so sorry for your loss”
and think we can leave it at that was not even
a “there, there” we offer a friend of a friend whose husband
took up with a slinky redhead was not even the feigned
pity we show towards a second cousin once removed
who tells a cousin on our mother’s side about her stepbrother
who fell down two flights of stairs, broke his neck, and left behind
an ample wife was never even like
the small gasp that leaves our lips when through a car window
we see a blur of black bird with an injured wing
hop helpless in the road.
winter upon us
Shook elms lining the sloped
edges of a pitted road drop
their dying leaves while
Simon, with Sam, heave-ho
the grounded ones then
threaten each other with
pellets and rope.
Somewhere above the
one songbird calls to
a white-winged friend:
and feeds her slick babies
black beetles and yarn.
What was once
dark was gray
after became hope
wanting to wind
its way down
to the ankles of
and lap at the feet
of the widow who
longed for that fat
girl Sanne to return
home and lie about.
I will tell you about the naked oak in our yard and about
my dead robin, June, who couldn’t fly south for winter
and about the Cooper’s hawk that swooped down to eat
the poor thing, pecking first at a dull eye, while close by
two cracked eggs, each the size of a large jelly bean,
lay oozing yolk and about the cold sky pulled thin and
plumed across my low horizon and about Hyena, with
his pail full of silver buckshot, who shouted from across
the avenue, “Wanna lick my lollipop, pancake tits?”
while behind him two fat boys cackled, with Br’er
Rabbit, the older by some years, in Daddy’s pink shirt
and about mother leaving for the City, her thin
lips painted plump, and about my gray lunch
congealing in a tin pan that sat on the top rack of a
cold oven and about the canned peaches she dumped
into a tea cup and placed on a shelf in her
refrigerator. But not yet and not here
To those who no longer have fathers
or who have them but keep losing them
or who never had them at all
and who have mourned their death
or other leaving
of every single day
for years upon years:
Say they left.
Say they went.
Say they turned away.
Say they’re dead.
Where do we go from here,
when it is nightfall,
when soon the cold stars will spin,
the moon will die again,
and the marsh peeper
will call out to his coy lover,
who may or may not appear?
Must I beg for that last drink of you,
that spilling grace,
or for the touch of
a cool hand?
Longing can become a dark dog
awakening briefly to an emptied bowl.
If I leave here tonight unwhole,
will a smaller god follow me,
A thin, naked
her lacquered nails down
and up the bedroom
window like a pointless
back scratch reminds
me we are the same
star stuff the same
sorrow the same
sackcloth of bones
and wails the same
hunger and heat
we hide from
“You know we love you. Right?”
Alone in her bedroom a young mother shouts,
“Don’t pretend you can’t hear me!” and smirks,
those teeth, front-gapped,
those eyes, dark and empty —
on the walnut nightstand sits
a drained bottle of bourbon,
beneath it an oval
burn mark the size of a
child’s scabbed knee.
By the pond a peeper
announces the arrival of
spring, his biology
unhiding a loin-longing
he cannot escape.
baby’s bones daddy’s dust
Try to hide sorrow in a dry poem
and all you’ll get is a line arrow
of razzle-dazzle pique
pointing down, down deep,
towards a brown road in
a flat state where the sky there
hangs half dull half billow
and no one gets up before noon
or goes out before the moon
rises over a straw-colored cat
stretched sleepless across
the lid of a metal can half filled
with balled-up paper and gristle scraps.
Baby tried not to cry,
her eyes still bulgy from a ten-day
binge on gin and tears
and sex with an uptown pimp
we’ll call Joe, who promised
a generous wad
of cash each week, a sapphire
ring, a Chevy Impala, a trip
to Acapulco, and back,
plus a condo with deck just outside Coral Gables
in exchange for a lie-down wherever and whenever he said
so. Seemed a better option, by miles,
than a tenement on the lower east side.
While her daddy diddled every big-breasted, boy-hipped secretary he
could get his hands on but married himself off to a little, brittle
chickadee from across the pond, who herself
had a taste for gin and also for Vegas craps
and kidney-shaped pools but not for the small dark girl
who followed her everywhere, nut-scampering and twitchy,
and dogged the silky retriever pup that ate soft sweaters,
then piddled in circles beneath the stairs.
Under a scorching sun they came from far flung
for daddy’s burning, the jackass penguins and their lah-de-dah crows,
but baby’s bones just got tumbled in,
with only a parched girl in black jeans, a lunatic aunt, and a few sparrows looking on.
Someone touches daddy’s coffin and sobs.
I throw a few rose petals into baby’s open grave.
A golden eagle glides
down a mountainside & midair
drops the oily serpent
she has been holding in her talons.
This is God telling us to worship the unseen.
A young man with black eyes removes his two shoes,
throws them into the street,
& gets down on his knees.
This is God saying that our fear will be our death.
A husband beats his bride because
she will not sleep in their bed.
This is God telling us our dark thoughts
will create a dark world for our children.
A moth beats its wings against a backdoor screen
& plummets to the pavement, exhausted:
There is no way in or out.
This is not God speaking.
When love leaves her beloved
Even love will catch her death
under a cold moon will become
a patch of brown grass buried
beneath an early frost will shiver
into a single dark vine winding
around a splintered trellis will crawl
panting across a desert floor will dry
up to a trickle of water down the
face of a stone mountain will run
frightened through a long hallway will slip
unseen out a side entrance will know
when it is time to turn and pull
the door closed behind her.
like trying to plot the coordinates of someone’s dream
[inspired by, and with language lifted from, the 2014 podcast Serial]
[How] can you tell if someone has a crime like this in him?
[Well,] she had broke his heart. [No, wait.] He was chill about [her] seeing this other guy, some white dude, [with his]
blue eyes and blonde hair and a Camaro [and whose name she wrote 127 times].
But [, we learn,] there was never a thing [like he] was screaming and yelling at her
why are you leaving me [though, he said,] there was times I was very sad. [But] I never not one time actually thought they believed I killed [her].
[And, the “streaker” told police he]
may have discovered a body in Leakin [often incorrectly called Lincoln] Park. It’s known for
dead bodies [Leakin Park] — 68 bodies found there since 1946. [And,] right near the body
was a liquor bottle and at the road [was a] condom and bullets and shell casings from two different guns
and two Blockbuster video cases. [What?] Brambles and trees that’s what [he] seen.
[And, the “weirdo” said,]
I conversated with him [and] we woulda went down to the river [, yeah,]
for a smoke. [I don’t care if you don’t believe me.] I was there. I saw it.
I know what I know. [He definitely said]
that bitch is dead come and get me.
[It was a] terrible sad sight.
[So, were you two friends?]
[Well,] we wouldn’t necessarily be kickin’ it per se
[because] I [was] the criminal element [at school and]
you get a certain reputation [that] kinda sticks with you.
[Let’s just say] I wouldn’t be [all] let’s call the cops.
[And, a friend? said,]
He was different. He [was a] weirdo — the Dennis Rodman of [our] group.
He would dye his hair different colors
[and] at the time
I didn’t know too many black guys [who]
were into all those piercings
He tried to stab me
because I hadn’t
been stabbed before. [What?]
I gave him a knife [what?]
and he tried to stab me with it.
[And, another friend? said,]
he had a reputation for lying
for lying about something like that, something
so big. [No.]
that popped in my head was
[And] you’re left with [this] fog.
You Don’t Know How Cool I Am
Don’t tell me
what to think or what to cook
or what to drink or what book
I should read. Because
you don’t know how cool
I am with my black sweater
black jeans black boots
and beatnik roots.
Don’t look through me
or ignore me or act smug
or speak for me and pretend
you’ll be young forever whenever
I am clever and you don’t expect
someone like me to be
more hipster than you
you don’t know how cool
I am with my december soul
and that cancer ascendant
in my astrological chart.
At the end of the day
I just gotta say
yo, I, am the queen
of fly and
the coolest star
in anybody’s sky.
love is a lunatic aunt
come down from the Bronx to
rant about her maybe baby
and prophesy calamity
he some dark eyed
and need him
on the side
with they aye papi way
he gonna kill me
dead that one
and snuff these holy flame
gonna do miss mujerzuela
so as give him nena pain
lo siento sobrina but
you don’t got no chance
I just thrown the lovers’ tarot
and seen trouble with romance
first I pull the tower then
the devil after that so I think
you better go mami
before you too much fat
* llamas gemelas = “twin flames”
Tripping then falling
In the fever dream I mean to write a love poem,
an ode really, but without any edges,
and begin to think how I can sardine together
tender words you would have wanted to hear:
(as a woman might call to a sailor tossed over the bow)
or try and imagine a blue-black ocean crashing waves
of churning conch pearls onto the brown sand and
burying you knee deep in abalone shell.
Hearing the laughter of a Siren from another dark sea
I look up just as she touches your mouth with a fingertip and
whispers something saucy enough to make you
grab hold her hips and quick swim away from me.
In the morning dream I awaken
belly down on a bed of cracked earth
and somehow know that our hot-dim world
has been without rain and bright light for years.
Off to the right stands a ramshackle cottage
where we once lived with our young children —
well kept then, our cottage —
with the front window kicked out across its middle and
looking like a row of jagged teeth.
Just inside sits our long table,
now made of red hickory,
where we ate a last meal together, the twins,
as you may recall,
spooning sweet potato pie onto the good plates
while two flickering honey candles dripped wax
on the turkey platter and our kind but unlovely
Charlotte, your dear girl,
quietly carved her first name into my sideboard.
4. and down
At some point I notice the basement door
and am eager to remember what else we left behind
so slowly descend the wooden stairs though
cannot see much of anything and
missing the bottom step altogether
fall forward into the silent wide open.
“Sit over there on the sofa no dear the white one but mind
where you put your feet and leave the coat unbuttoned yes
very pretty like a red painting or a two-line poem pity,
death, because I didn’t know your eyes would be dark
and deep like the sea outside or think
those delicate wrists would be pulsing with so much life
the wife was a brown rodent fat as a field
you know I might have finished her myself but
she died before I had that pleasure ha so
stand up and turn very slowly now
pour me a little wine before I come kiss
those lips of yours they beckon and how.”
I never said I was an actual angel.
I said I was like a brown-haired angel
beating back the cold night air
with my dirty wings.
You never said that.
I said I was like a sweet part of mother night
holding off the dawn
with my forgetful heart.
You never said that.
I said I was like a bemused Christ
in Pniel pinning Jacob
with my bare hands.
You never said that.
I lay right next to you
and touched your hot skin,
whispering into the dark that
I was an actual woman you would need
Pick up the gourd flute and
play me a fragile song,
tender with your breath, wet
with the sweat of fingertips
dancing down bamboo.
Charm me deep, oh, as you would another,
your eyes black with mystery,
your heart overbrimmed.
Lift me, coiled, from my dark basket —
frightened as I may be by
your bright world
and the easy way
you have with sway.
I’m sleek, though,
daddy he’s gone &
mommy she’s sauced
brother is monstering
all over the house
chasing down sister &
tearing her blouse
pinning small shoulders
prying small knees
opens her mouth
and do what they please
The Other Mary
Dedicated to R. Browning
We even watched the moon, that moon, sink
as some hearts break. And I,
who loved her more than he
in life could do, demanded
one kiss, just one,
and thought well of it for all I’d done!
With the tears I’d dried, the endless rubbing
of those trembling hands, and
whispering only a ‘there, there, my own sweet dear’
nothing more would ask
from my stenched corner,
though I was made to watch those rounded hips
sway, so lovely
in their way,
as she walked the dusty floors, toes dragging,
and would hear the cries from her soft lips escape,
yet me, unheeded.
How could I listen twice more
to that ‘sweet Lord, mine,’
(by then dead, her Lord, though risen)
and striking her not once,
that thankless whore, but thrice,
as any man would, and must?
years ago now
when first I felt his
opening to it
on an old couch, waiting,
the wanting wound
her way through me
as if she were a
fin de siècle Salomé
looking to fetch
a cry of sexual longing from the king of Judea.
If this were a poem
it would be about
your dark eyes and
the sorrows there
like the blackbirds
on the wood fence
behind our house
my handsome father
your mouth on me and
the hunger there
like the night
begged him to stay
if not for her
for me at least
and weeping wrapped
her negligeed arms
around his knees
the sound of your voice in
a hotel room at dusk
when you whisper
like my father
on our porch
please don’t leave me baby
as I turned around and
without knowing I would do it
closed our back door
On the way to Cochabamba,
and just as the heat
from the white sun overhead
began to burn
through the silk scarf
you gave me to cover
my bare thighs,
we pulled off the main road
to eat the papaya
I bought for us
the day before.
“Cada pequeña semilla es un deseo,” you said
and held up, between forefinger and bruised thumb,
one glistening dark seed for me to consider.
“Do you mean that each little seed is a priori a wish granted?” I asked.
“¿Qué significa a priori, cariña?” you wanted to know, and laughed.
Later, when we awoke from our naps
and a late afternoon breeze tousled
the dark curls that had fallen so sweetly
across your forehead,
I leaned over to kiss
and to whisper,
“What if we just stay here?”
Like that old photograph I found
at the bottom of her sea-green lunch pail,
where his tanned arm, white shirt sleeve rolled to
just below the elbow,
rests on the dark steering wheel of their old Impala,
with her leaning in,
left knee on the passenger seat.
Or like that old movie I saw,
where the mermaid bride longs for her sailor lover,
he in his blue and white striped t-shirt, both sleeves rolled to the shoulders,
and resting one hand at the small of her slender back.
“Bésame,” she begs.
Or like that old TV show I watched,
where barefoot and only half smiling
he walks slowly to the water’s edge, wet trousers rolled to the shins,
and says to a woman we can’t quite see,
And she almost does,
but the best encounter
I’ve ever had
the best one
I was tracking a jaguar
in the jungle
which I usually don’t do
I saw these big male tracks of a jaguar
I’d never seen before and
I just took off thinking okay
I’ll track it a little while but
I shouldn’t be alone but
I ended up tracking it for hours and
it was getting dark and
I didn’t have a flashlight and
I can’t be alone in the jungle without a flashlight so
I turn around and
there’s the jaguar
in back of me
(Excerpt from an 8.18.14 interview between NPR’s Diane Rehm and zoologist/wildlife ecologist Alan Rabinowitz )
It Was Like the End of the World
in those fields
the grasses were very high
wheat fields sunflower fields and
you would come upon the bodies
in their strange shapes and
it felt so deeply sad that
no one was coming to help them that
they were alone
there was a little girl
who had a little
pink T-shirt on and
she was in this distant area near a pond
totally thrown clear
not near anything at all
they stay with you
the faces of the people and
how they lay in the grass and
they come into your mind and
it’s hard to get them out
(Excerpt from an 8.6.14 interview between NY Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise and NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross)