I Wanted to Be Enormous: 45th Post

                                 NO SAVING

In the night a car plowed sideways through our front yard
and left a tall cedar pointing into our bedroom window,
like a prosecuting attorney asking who
did what, when, where.

“Did you put on gloves?” a friend asked about my being
first on the scene. God I forgot. I wanted
to save someone. But limber as gymnasts
the drunk driver and passenger stuck their landing.

There was that time when Chris came shouting
into my kitchen and I tended her cut scalp,
tried to get her to call the police, stuck my anger
behind my face and just cleaned

the red sink, red counters, red floor.
No gloves. No saving.

And the time a man who needed a bath and clean clothes
heckled us marchers at a Pride parade.
Most of the women said Have a nice day and kept walking but
he called me a name whose invisible weight

tilted a scale inside me. I didn’t aim
for his face and miss.
I aimed for his hat brim
and it took his head with it.

What were you thinking? my lover shouted
as the man walked away fast, muttering.
God I don’t know. I wanted
to stop him. I wanted

to get his attention.
To make him afraid.
I wanted to be enormous
to save someone.

Not Angels: 44th Post

ADMITTANCE TO THE CITY OF ANGELS

Returning from Central America I made
the smallest jest at the passport station
and found myself in line C4. Three places
ahead stood a Latino—tall, late thirties
perhaps, crisp white clothes, Panama hat,
shepherding two large bags and a
rolled hammock.

He stood straight and still as they
emptied his bags mechanically,
two factory workers deconstructing, unfolding trousers,
uncoiling a belt, unrolling mated socks, tossing item after item
on the stilled conveyor belt.
He kept his hands in his pockets as they opened bottles and tubes
and poured and squeezed them empty into a bucket
that smelled at first like wheat fields.

He removed his hands from his pockets and hung them
as they opened every envelope and read each letter,
hefted, smelled, and felt the safety razor, hairbrush, and dental floss,
removed the back from a framed picture and separated the photo from
its backing, tapped the heels of tall black boots, unscrewed the barrel
of a gold fountain pen, dropping each item
onto the growing heap.

They spoke, and he removed his hat. They slit the hatband
neatly as surgeons. I saw him breathe in
when they cut the cord that held the large hammock,
pulling the ornate poles from the grip
of knotted white loops, leaving them stretched and dangling,
close-parentheses in a tight row.
They pried off the ends of the poles and peered inside,
tilting them like telescopes toward the fluorescent lights above.

The agents closed the line and went away with the man
for half an hour. The rest of us waited, assembling our faces into
nothing. He was buttoning his white shirt as they returned.

After the agents turned to the next person in line, the man labored
to assemble the hammock but gave up, wrapping the pieces
in the stretched body. He worked over his clothes, moving
his large hands through the wrinkled heap of shirts,
pants, envelopes, camera, underwear. Just before I was called
I saw him wrap a belt around his hand and jab it into the solar plexus
of his bathrobe. He stood a moment, hand buried, then went on,
folding a towel, blue with a white monogram.

Roots and Branches: 42nd Post

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THE LANDSCAPER

He feels for the roots
pushing cracked, lined hands through the soft dirt.
He removes the intruding hedge’s dark knots
to spare the thin struggle of a tree.

He wants assurance
that his new lady is the right choice.
He rolls a stone into place while
the earth turns on its axis.

I think of the farm my partner and I didn’t buy,
how we came to this house with no curtains instead.
The landscaper wants to know
if he will be a good parent.

The air smells of dislodged spearmint
and crushed lavender.
The blood blister on his palm swings skyward
as he cups a drooping branch and clips it off.

He does it over and over, the swinging and cupping.
What would mean “I don’t know” in my hands
is a pruning ballet in his,
the tall tree an answer.

I think of the child we didn’t adopt,
of her photo in the book: Kristy.
She had so many letters: ADHD, ODD, PTSD.
My lover couldn’t see the girl

in the forest of letters.
Next spring’s seed catalog lies on the seat
of the landscaper’s truck in the driveway;
a diagram of next year’s garden takes shape in his mind.

He hurries to lay gravel and sand
but loses to the rotation of the earth.
“Want to save this nest for your daughter?” he asks,
laying it carefully on the porch steps.

The daughter we did adopt.
The one to whom I am a good parent
most of the time,
alone in this house.

“Yes,” I say.  Yes to the lady, the good
parenthood, the nest.  Yes to the removal of roots
that held nothing so strongly that a mistake
couldn’t make it all fall down.

Some Give Up: 39th Post

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THE WOMAN WHO GAVE UP SPEAKING

has heard enough.

The enterprise is not loyalty.
Daggers.  Blood.  Mermaids.

She has seen
best intentions

fall like the snapped bodies
of cedar
waxwings beneath
unimpressed windows.

The enterprise is stolen words.
Death Before Dishonor.
Jesus.  Mother.  Semper Fi.

She has tried to pull the no-trick
ponies from their sunken
groove.

The enterprise is cold so
bitter the tears
crystallize
before they’ve left your eyes.

She is not
a symbol-dove
nor a
symbol-donkey.

Along twisted pathways
leaves reach for
the back of something
that ran by
centuries ago.

Her anger
hunches close,

a staring ape.

 

Avian Mythologue: 38th Post

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ORPHEUS, EURYDICE, AND HERMES

I.

She remembers she was keen, vigilant, and efficient.

She remembers that the kill was quick,

that hushed bones cracked deep inside the body.

 

Hovering, she was All gliding, All diving,

All futures soon to shriek

kee-ahrrr     down     down,     kee-ahrrr!

 

She remembers a sting, and trying to focus

in this dark place.  She whose electric glance

could track the wild tracings

 

of a fly two worlds away,

dazed, injured, unfocused.

She is in the dark for many futures.

 

Then Who-is-larger comes beside her

and pulls on her feet,

makes her feet go to him.

 

Pulling air with her wings she tries to escape

but Who-is-larger holds fast,

murmuring like leaves in autumn.

 

Together, for her feet seem fastened

to Who-is-larger now,

they move through the darkness.

 

 

II.

The sun puts its rats through their mazes,

sucks the waves from the sea,

forces open the reluctant lilies.

 

Its grief a white light on all it can reach,

the sun can do nothing

without looking.

 

III.

Stepping from the darkness

Who-is-larger closes his eyes against the bright light.

The sun, ecstatic, covers everything instantly.

 

She, tilting her head, with one eye glares skyward

then turns away

blinded, focused on nothing.

 

Powerless, now, to reach her,

the sun, severed, floats on, grieving

blood-red at the last.

 

Wishing for Harmony: 37th Post

Woman 3

How nice it would be if both one’s internal and external dialogues could be peaceful…

 

REHEARSAL FOR AN ARGUMENT

I am a square-shouldered
decision, a kite
snagged long ago,
my tedious semaphore
unrelieved.

It’s snowing, but
I cut the sound:
everyone’s already heard
bloodthirsty barking,
the scrape of claws

on tree bark.
Let them imagine
the tap
of each crystal flake
shattering on impact.

Placing my ear
to a rock,
I wait patiently
for the translation.
A thousand frosts later

the answer is
mine in a
mound
of sturdy flour.
I spit

and knead:
a lunge of knuckles
and there’s bread
and blood
all over.

Stopwatches of Desire: 34th Post

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I’m sorry so many of the poems come out of the dark side. I’m trying to keep myself in the light, but that’s not when writing occurs.

 

The Word “Are,” for Example

Raised to be frugal with self pity,
I hesitate to complain.
Alibis run from my mouth
like ants from a flooded hill.
I went there directly from the funeral,
weary of the mourners, severe,
time-spotted, hunched like flowers graveside.
I went there wanting to speak in tongues.
I went there, where attraction divides itself
into hungry collisions and sweaty testimonials.

I met a charismatic,
pierced his ear with a sewing needle,
scrubbed his stubble with my gums,
licked his sagging pockets every one.
He said what we need is sleeping pills,
stopwatches of desire,
cheap insurance.
I killed him for his assumptions
scratched on tabs of paper in his insoles:
“all” and “never” were some of his claims.

The Good Girl: 33rd Post

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While the meaning of words can and often does shift over time, there is often an echo of the original meaning that lingers.

 

Urtext

The Good Girl sleeps quietly
with other women’s husbands.
Dimples cast in concrete,
she cleaves a breast of white meat;
a potato bursts in the oven.

At first, the word ‘win’ meant merely to struggle.

Homeostasis: maintaining a couch,
a fire, a coffee table behind your ribs,
fine art on your turbulent heart.

At first, ‘attack’ meant to stick a tack into.

The Good Girl has forgiven music
for the pain it has caused her.
Bathing herself in vanilla and almonds,
she gets a job and keeps it,
collecting her pay like rainwater
in clean pools and pockets.

Here are the morning, the noon, and the night,
her silent partners, investors
in waiting, their solar and lunar coins
strung out like a dazzling bracelet
shimmering a dance of lust.

 

 

 

We Eat the Seeds: 31st Post

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This poem first appeared in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2.

 

FIVE PEOPLE (HOMELESS)

  1. Sally, Inauguration Eve

This dirt gone?—white.  I am
and Everyone says He’ll do the job
Give us hope but I was
wearing wool A-line skirts with
the very clouds above for shirts
last time, when my opinion
meant something.  Click click
my tiny Italians on polished
boardroom floors Gentlemen,
I said I fail to see I
did fail to imagine this cardboard
throwing its brown cast on me.

 

  1. This Red Scarf

White clothes mean sticks in the arm
but if you stay clean sheets
one night or two.  On the lake bank there were
white trees!  I had ice skates.
They had no leaves so the light came through.
The Polish girls wore scarves tied under their chins.
I was no Polack but see, I tie this scarf
tight and keep my head down
watching for ice.  You fall here
no boys laugh or help you up.
But if they stick you
they help you up real nice.

 

  1. Richard

I’m used to being in charge
so this will be about you.
I want you to know I appreciate the aluminum cans
so neatly stacked beside the trash can.
I see you see me take them, see you hurrying
to meet my six o’clock pickup daily.
I admire your scheduling abilities:
kitchen scraps to the chickens before work,
the soft globs of their droppings to the compost heap
before dark; the garden weeded Saturday mornings,
fruit plucked and distributed to neighbors in the afternoon.
I would have hired you in the old days—
kept an eye on you, as they say—
recommended you.
I keep you a secret now,
for the cans.

 

  1. K.L.

What’s left of this planet is my home.
Birds are not afraid of me, curled in this bush,
unless I jerk my legs, dreaming
I fly with them over the roofs
and across the highways.
We eat the seeds that drop
and peck at the not-ripe pears,
scattering when the farmer comes
to nail his straw-filled savior to a post.

 

  1. When I Was One of the People

All these things I shall tell you are true.

When I was a warrior my skin flowed yellow, red and green

like the sashes of the old ones.

When I was a warrior I devoured the night

and spit stars at the immaculate moon.

When I was a warrior my courage rode in front of me,

a blind slave stolen from an enemy camp.

When I was a warrior the wind and I embraced with great joy

and we brought forth spring, summer, fall

and the weaver child, winter.

When I was a warrior I kept sadness behind my eyes, mute as light.

When I was a warrior I could swell until the earth was inside me,

feverish and bloody,

and I could sweat until the earth was healed

and I could bleed until the earth was whole.

I am the owl and the darkness now.

I am the hawk and the light.

I am the crack in the clouds now.

I am the wind in the night.

 

Wanting to Shout: 24th Post

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Being quiet has its advantages as well as its ability to kill one.

 

I Want to Shout that My Hurt Is Greater than Yours but I Mustn’t

Locked in the apartment she rented this morning
she wrote on a calendar cover: This is because,
She could smell the last tenants in the flattened areas of the carpet,
in the air in the nightstand drawer.

In the Central Valley a foreman hands out long hoes.
Drive by: look to see if workers bend to the cabbages and garlic.
Imagine the turnips’ moist bodies, soothed in dirt.
Drive by: crop dusters rise and dip and roll away just behind you.

The body stretched, running away.
The body shapely against angular gravel.
The body in the center of my memory.

In the Central Valley rows of stakes
with seedlings lashed to them. You drive and drive,
relieved to see the quick curve in the rows where you think
a tractor driver may have swerved to miss a rabbit.

Cupping a two-month supply of Prozac in her left hand
she walked from bed to couch
and back to bed. No, I would do that.
I imagine she does it.

The body tossed in the field for owls or coyotes.
I suppose that’s where you put it.
The body still on the gravel in my memory.

In the Central Valley almond trees seem neat and classic as penny loafers.
I hit a hawk, even after swerving.
A hundred miles later when I had to stop for gas
its body and wings were still there, fanned out across the truck grill.

I drove past parked trucks: TNT Reddaway, Dole, Reliance,
CWX, U-Haul. She was my lover’s most recent ex-lover.
I let the 5 a.m. red sun burn a hole in my sight,
only to see I’d made a perfect black backdrop for my thoughts.

I pried the bird off with sticks
and carried it to a row of bushes. Those stiff
angry-looking hedges they force to grow behind some gas stations.