AshesThink of the letters that we write our dead.
- Dana Gioia
Mother, you are a bowl of soot. It's sad I wasn't there,
but I did remember to weep
and your yellow hair, that your eyes
were the strange, exhausted blue of certain leaves.
You buried your husband young and went on,
in a way, though I think the Mother who carried me
died the same day - I barely recall
her being in our house.
There was a woman who did laundry, made the beds.
Now she is dead, and in this bowl her ashes
are all mixed up with yours.
She used to call me 'daughter', but I was never hers.
ThirteenOne day I'll let her go -
my balloon child,
made of air and stuff so thin
I don't know how it holds her in.
Nor what I'm to do then,
but watch her go, with her string
still attached like a doubt
she's not cast off yet. Not today,
but soon. For now,
she's still my child balloon.
Hangs from your pelvis
like an incomplete, conjoined sibling
with no mind of its own
but enough of yours to make you fear it.
Comes when you are sleeping
to perch on your face and dip its beak
redly into your dreams.
Shucks its claws
on the upholstery of your flesh.
Is a fog-eyed poet, reading aloud to you
endless reams of his own passionate,
Squats in the waste it has made of you,
you dare not look in the eye.
Remembers the body when it moved
with the ease of light across a lakes delicate skin.
Watches your babies grow
skins so thick they cant feel you.
Is an illusion
overcome by mastery of the mind,
an ascetic life, a clean colon, eighteen
valium and a quart of Scotch, a bullet
or all of the above.
SloughIt starts with a metronomic
drip-splat, each drop a bastinado
blow on the feet of sleep.
Floundering from our half-
cold bed, I navigate the room
like a blind albatross until the bitch
of a stubbed toe stops me.
deep in the house. Rust runnels
down walls we painted ivory.
I find the sink choking,
the refrigerator dead, puddles
rising, like stigmata, on the lino.
The kettle boils itself.
It's been three weeks since you left
this house. I thought by now
it would have stopped grieving.
On my mother's shadowSeeing her now, she's always in yellow:
buttercup, lemon, ripe wheat
in the sun as observed from the screen
of an oncoming car; her hems always
swaying, as if a dress
could capture life. I'd left her, blue
and lost, in the wilderness, far gone
but not far enough to keep her
from tracking a path back to old haunts
with a few jaundiced dreams
and her pockets stuffed with crumbs.
If You WishI shall speak to you as cats do, in sulphur
and green slivers
from the back fence of night. I will call
to you in comet-tails, in stars,
not aloof but only distant; swing by you
in a wild, wide ellipse, now and then
close enough to catch. The cat abroad
on the fence at night wears a hair shirt.
I am not her. I am nothing like her -
my heart is less ephemeral, my shadow
not so blue. If you wish, you may smooth
the frost from my spine
with your big, warm hand and I will arch.
The Hard Work of PoetryPoets are constantly crippled, creatively. It's the way it works. You write a line and, just now, right now, it seems like it's the best line in the world to date. It's a shiny, beautiful line, a thought, an image so remarkably profound that you are in awe of yourself, or (if you are a seasoned poet) in awe of that angelic being which sits on high in your mind and occasionally drops little scraps of poetic manna into your head. Now, you only need to write a poem around it.
Because the poem takes over, sprouts a million legs and scurries in directions you had no real intention of it going and now the Wondrous Line of Glory and Poetic Win doesn't fit. You have to either change it or take it out and save it for another poem. Or make it a haiku-like short poem on its own, so all those other words don't assault it again. If you're an experienced poet, you'll probably just store it in a .txt file or on a post-it note somewhere and lament it until you're old and nothing matte
Attachment Theory"Harlow used .... an isolation chamber he called the "pit of despair" (in which) baby monkeys were left alone in darkness for up to one year from birth, or repetitively separated from their peers and isolated in the chamber. These procedures quickly produced monkeys that were severely psychologically disturbed and declared to be valuable models of human depression."
His face crumpled like a furry walnut, the infant Rhesus mews for his rubber teat. For mental stimulation, we offer the subject wooden blocks in various geometric shapes. His reactions are notable: at first he favours the circle, but in time shows a preference for triangles and squares. His first attempt at building stuns the scientific world; he reconstructs the Vatican. Thus we learn: deprivation fosters genius.
Soon, however, he exhibits more aggressive tendencies and symptoms of deep depression. He unravels the frame of his surrogate and uses the wire to build a crude stringed instrument, electrically powered by the nod
The AmmoniteI follow its inward curl - not with eyes, for the vertigo, but half-
imagining a path from here to... where? Its spiral reaches vanishing
point in the bowels of a long-extinct squid, in atoms of sea-silt
which replaced its flesh, gaining perhaps one degree of hardness
every hundred thousand years.
In my hand, I cradle its mineral echo.
This squid reached its vanishing point while the first fish gawped
at the second fish, and unhinged its bony jaw. Once,these creatures
numbered in their billions. A Devonian master species, the kings
of liquid displacement.
This stone is a testament to biological success.
Saw a man on the train this morning, one of a hundred thousand
commuters. He stood out for his lack of standing out. I don't know
why he drew my eye; he looked like everybody, nobody, the way
things tend to appear identical when reckoned as a unit, en masse.
The numbers, and the weight of us
The SiegeThe first mile is always the easiest.
—Kyle Lynn to me, circa 2006
Tell that to the ghosts,
men soaked in sand and blood spray,
storming the shores of Normandy.
First Infantry's sprint through coastal
trenches, up bluffs, under ruptured drays.
Tell that to the ghosts
huddled in half-channeled holes,
a captain's dash through shrapnel, gray
storm on the shores of Normandy.
A German boy adrift in the compost
of his legs, his elbows' grand flail.
Tell that to the ghosts
ripped in four by mortars posted
over Omaha. Dawn's evenly keeled decay
storming the shores of Normandy.
How quickly the lung forgets to oust
its breath. Be wary of the sea's affray.
Tell that to the ghosts
storming the shores of Normandy.
ConfessionLips met in clumsy haiku,
against each other, pressed,
the way the earth touches the sky,
soft and whimsy as the dusk.
Tongues painted passion-
halcyon atmosphere, infused,
-upon every awaiting space offered.
Metaphors dotted the hallows of limbs and tasted like the seasons-
a bursting and vibrant spring,
a hot and passionate summer,
an adventurous and teasing autumn,
a cozy and comfortable winter,
-all at once.
Skin smelled like Frangipani, an offering-
blossoming with intensity as the sun draped itself in twilight's shawl,
-and felt like a brick wall crumbl
Of Half-Filled WordsShe is not a flutterbird.
Her fingers are skittish,
her smile is not.
Do not fear that you will
drive it away.
Sadness is her fumbling limb.
It is unwanted, yet
When it is January
she will tell you,
"I am still struggling.
And I am becoming so many people
all at once.
A conglomeration of beauty that
I have managed to mangle.
Please, do not be sad for me."
Sometimes her sorrow is
meant for you. But mostly her.
Those specks and spots
of ocean storm lulls
reveal her truths:
ones she does not want
to extract from herself.
Her heart is not a rabbit.
When it beats
faster, faster, faster,
you need not
run harder to catch it.
The Thin HoursI.
Those of us here in this skeleton time,
this time of the year when the nights are thin
and dark, and dark with anxiety, peeling
as layers of an oyster shell, brittle and effaced
and somehow iridescent.
When the bell tolls out the time the sound is thin
and reaches into fractured air and softly
seeks the spaces between the atoms and
misses the vital Os and CO2s in a lasting,
failed pinball. The bell sound dies in
some space between midnight and thereafter,
and each tock tock of slipping cogs is
a repeat and not a moving on.
The air is filled with each dull sound,
each tock a repeat and a repeat again. And the
slip between this old year and the new is the
slip of ice on ice, a thing that will melt and
lose its meaning before the sun can rise.
These dead hours can spin out with
no regard for time, and
no regard for the drub of a beating heart
and no regard
none at all.
The moth at the window is a silent ghost, but
the wind has
gold scattered rough across
cracked earth and the last
remains of summer - they fell
like leaves in the arms of the wind.
some scents cannot be captured.
the gods bleed onto rock,
and the stone sends her prayers
in return: petrichor.
listen - the heavy thud of
rain on parched ground;
the monsoon sealing life back in;
the sky bows and kisses earth.
BrackishAfter the wet season, before
the midsummer night's drought,
I flight for the floodplains, where
the northern downpour bleeds out
and sweeps its love to the mouth
of my lungs. I sleep in the crux
of an oxbow, let my dreams flux
and flow fractured, deltaic. For this
is the way I piece myself apart,
a resolution, my absolution
in a new avulsion.
During the day, I move south
towards the river mouth, picking
pebbles, coral fangs from the riverbed.
A loose tooth is a common truth
in these parts. Bones are febrile,
eyelashes are made of chalk, salt.
Tears turn brackish. They cake
and crack on the flats of my hands.
This is my Pangaea,
this swollen geography,
this slacken land.
The point of no return.
Here, all else ends.
By dusk I meet the saltmarsh
and dehusk, grow halophytic
in the nightlight. I pull out
my hair, my fingernails, and
fill the gaps in my spine
with reed rhythms, saline.
The final rite: turning flesh to grass.
Tomorrow, morning mist
will drag the whitewash back,
ashes to ash.
It's not Rocket Science a poem for Jack Parsons
Lucifer took a hit, landed
face-down & flat-broke
back in the 40s
out on the West Coast
eyes the colour of Swarfega
teeth rotting, shoes worn through,
and dying for another high
too early for acid he takes
the mescaline trail
down into the Mojave
where the rattlesnakes are
locked in their kundalini and the
stillness flickers like god
across a lizard's eye
Lucifer hitched a ride
over to Pasadena
to see Jack and the Rocket Boys
see what they can do
to put him back in heaven
too long in the desert
Jack's already on the last reel
magnolia nights and ivory starsi.
i threw the stars out into the cosmos & used my fish hooks to hang the moon too; hide the sun from wanting eyes beneath the zaffre mountains (look how they sleep) painting the night (wisteria) with such grace.
for who could know the wonder growing a pair of antlers can bring for a small child. time to decorate [find what you can]: shattered compasses, gears [never do they turn], maybe glitter. look how pretty she is with her elegant horns- all isabelline white & with its specks of fallow & teeth splashed with honeydew [no makeup] & a compass too many to show her the many ways to make mistakes.
has anyone ever wondered how a butterfly sleeps? does it keep flapping its wings in the night until its lull brings it to dreams? only to create a cosmic latte, for all the world to see. does it hide among the twist & turns of the yellowing tule trees, waiting for the sun to rise? only to close its eyes again, slowly. waking in the dead of night to create cosmic cream of vanilla sta
crystallophonethere is a punchcard sin
like a queen of spades smoldering in an alley.
you hear how the gears churn,
singing faster than we did before
back when black magic dropped like a
pair of socks from the sky with supplies
taped to a note that said
(oh, look at you now)
such a beautiful brain:
runs on gasoline?
have a gallon
or we can call it a balloon,
and a new pair of glasses
for your tapered eyes
(you peel the bark back on the logs,
but you're not sure what you see),
and life says,
either nail jello to a tree,
or keep your
icicles hanging from the eaves,
caterpillars frolicking in the ashes,
your 'Sam, I still don't have your number,'
and your totaled passion:
someone to hang inside out with,
string you up like a steak with.
what the hunger
is trying to tell me
my brain churns like butter,
my insides aflare, my chakras combusting,
Old hauntsNumb fingers fumble at coppers
and a dodgy purple lighter which is unfit for purpose.
Giant splodges of stars
as if God - in a frolic of youthful exuberance
went wild with a paintbrush.
Granite delicately held by shape and contour alone.
Slotted together: a melee of ankles, hips, spontaneous larynx.
Careless hopes, dreams wide, menthol cigarettes.
Thoughts all quiet.
city drowned cleanbirds fly bluer before a hurricane,
wings sharper, the bricks neater.
one train is always longer than the
other. i cried about it. the saturated
city, droplets of colour caught on
tape & rewinding, cups me in its
palms, i am a bug on its window,
imagining all of it underwater &
people clapping in a silent film,
the last dying bubbles curtsying
on their lips, for their marble town
the white skied & terrible atlantis.
orthography and the right to remain silenti know just how i left you,
and i pray to god,
the same one you do each day,
that you're still as
as you were
when you fled
the pile of unread books
still sit on the righthand side
of the coffee table.
but i can't be sure.
maybe they're on the left;
or even worse,
maybe they're on the shelf
over your television.
i don't know how fast
you've been sitting here
or how long you've been moving,
but i have places to go
and people to be,
warming the ache
in my stomach.
it's times like these
i pray to the god,
the same one you do each day,
that i can forget you
and your unread literature
and unwritten poems
and scrapped promises,
for just long enough
that i can
A Flowerwould I, I would
walk in Hiroshima, a flower
cannot say much
underneath cypress trees
we can believe
pyramid builders used stars
to map something there
sand in my hand, sand
back to where I gathered it
the cypress branches at
night canvas us like a pyramid
as it should be, with light
coming down in shafts
I'd have a flower for every
thing we ever did that needs one
that is an uncountable amount
of flowers and we
cannot count the stars
in a universe we do not understand
The Broken WallMilo woke up one morning in a different bed than the one he had gone to sleep in. Even so, the bed he was in now was still his own. He looked up at the ceiling and saw patterns there that he had never seen before and yet he knew they would be there. Sunlight slanted through the window in a line different from what he had expected.
He spent the rest of the late morning wandering through the house. It was full of knick-knacks from places he was sure he had been. Every thing that he found there was his. Every thing that he found there was new to him.
In a daze, he sat down at the kitchen table. His mind was running, but it was buzzing, too. He couldn't keep his thoughts straight or even pick them out of the eternal hum. It was as if his mind was deliberately keeping him from thinking too much.
Outside he found a garden, full of plants he loved. Down a path he found a bench around a huge oak tree. He suddenly had a vague memory of having planted it, but that could not be possible. He sat d
Even ThoughThere will be no caged fingers,
no tendons finely tuned to A from tension.
There will be no clenched teeth, gritting rosin,
to make the final singing note growl.
There will be unwinding bed-sheets,
hands slowly releasing the tuning pegs.
There will be slowly sliding scales
as the four limbs loosen past playing.
There will be a simple, quiet exit,
not to ovation, but to a hushed audience
who anticipate an encore,
even though it is uncertain.
a derelict building shifts its swollen form
wire cage elevators moving carefully as it swallows
nestled in a womb of fragile concrete fibres
the child of paint and pastel colours stirs
searching blindly for that energetic outside world
it stretches its delicate arms like an earthquake
Tell me where you come from, what you remember
of the black ground. Talk in riddles only your kind
understands, talk in flowers, talk in thorny branches.
You crack the foundations in starlike patterns, and
you stretch the heart of you for the concrete above,
longing to carry the sky as a bed for the Sun.
the twisting flesh of the whistling tree
blankets the screaming mud with salt
in a lush park tended by arthritic backs
an old man sits with a young girl
as devils arc their spines within smiles
they discuss the taste of snow
They know the end grows high, grows nigh,
outgrows the star dome like parasite patchwork.
The invaders never came, they were the ground stones,
Romancing CottonSomeone told me that the balled-up almost was growing inside her like
a sapling, that soon the girl would be all swell and wet. What she said
was, "don't leave". Her ego was a white sheet caught on a branch, the
type of fabric my mother treated with contempt. Frippery, beautiful
but impractical: keeping it alive was like trying to catch a bubble with
The wind carried the sickly smell of opium and morning sickness,
signals of a spring in which fingers like white spiders cradled
the beginning of bloom. Hope seemed at once skin-near and star-far.
What I offered her was not a marriage proposal, it was a murder
of crows slipping across the sheet of day. Union makes for ardour
and sweat. We were trying to build a body bereft of bones, with
phrases shaped like small sharp pins, like dove-fletched
arrows, like abandoned godsrelatively, you're
beautiful and there are always greater pains.
I assembled cribs, prayed to the god of broken things.
the world is brighter where
dregs of strangers' revels remain --
i keep this half-light for my own.
i'll stay until the wind sighs a scotch-and-smoke
cliché, til the Muscadet's slipped from the lip
of my wayward
hello.(i know you're there before you do.)
your night is told in
patchouli-pulse wanders; mine,
in whorls of liqueur-breath. come
close and i'll find the warp
through the weft, the trails telling tales
in synaesthesia --
Platinum Blonde's been 'round and gone.
(-- closer, find syllables strewn
in an exhale's wake; stolen from my throat-
ful of careless farewells, spin and sway
and beg you stay.)
time enough for a kiss-
and-never-tell, for a stumbling waltz
to the dissonance of crystal-shatter odes
to the summerlong i knew you --
we were(n't) meant for more than this.
morning goes right through you,
and breathes a thousand fortunes in-
to shards of (our) stranger starfall.