September 24, 2017

i. the front yard

look how far down the driveway I can ride
and still hear you reading aloud. look how
my tire rolls up onto the curb. I can ride
at dusk when the neighbor kids have
a kind of halo from the incandescence in
their garages. the timer for the street lights is
late tonight.
our spokes
whirl up the particles of
dusk and spin them into
pinwheels of lost
sunlight. you have to put away your gardening
tools now, but the night is too warm for sleep.
curses, I say, curses. I shouldn’t say that. I
shouldn’t say that. the sprinkler is cold cold
cold and makes my shirt heavy and makes
the grass well up, and look, look, the droplets
flock up into the understanding breath of the night.
their murmuration evaporates. their vapor
mists my eyes with the kind of mist that belongs
in mountain forests and far-off countries and
beneath the wingtips of storybook dragons.

in daytime the plum tree is good for spying from,
in case the black and white dog got loose again. I can
go faster than you think, even though my tires are
smaller, and I can spread my arms even when I stand
on the pedals. on Thursday mornings I can dodge the
trash cans on the sidewalk, but you can’t even dodge
the garage door. dent. tuck your shoelaces in, or they
might get caught in the chain. when it’s only me, the
street starts to fade out as I circle and circle and the
stories in my head give an unseen color to the sidewalk
and the overcast. the streets are empty except for good
and evil from other worlds. what, I wonder, is on the
other side of the sky? especially when the trees are
red and orange gateways before dusk, what is on the
other side of the sky?

to taste the seasons, I have to pedal down the street
as fast as I can and open my mouth to fill my lungs.
October is the flavor of grey clouds and unlit
jack-o-lanterns and the chilly breeze that must creak
the rafters of haunted houses in some secret neighborhood
nearby. I hear it all when my tires whip over leaves.
on Halloween, candles in paper bags will line the curb
and keep me from swerving into the street. later my
fingers will be numb and I will breathe again and see
frosted lights strung across gutters and eaves. a spaceman
would look and see an LED constellation of many
colors. from the shape of my neighborhood, he might
name it after a horse or even a brontosaurus missing
its tail. but his wonder would not equal mine.

even later summer air
is gentler, and mixed with sunbeams it patches
the cracks between leaves, an invisible mortar. drink the
warm air and the milk of stars, eight minutes old, cooling
fast. drink from the flask of whiskey with the Celtic knot:
just enough to make my chest warm, I say, lying, lying
spreadeagle on the driveway. she smiles. someone laughs.
let’s walk to the bench, then, or the reservoir, and the stars
will shine down all the brighter. let’s walk to the high school
and its lone stadium light that tries to outmatch the stars.
let’s find somewhere better than the neighbor’s garbage can
to hide the bottlecaps. let’s just walk, and the streetlights
will be ailing stars demoted to the service of our neighborhood.
bean bags on the driveway and a blender on the front porch,
a purplish cyclone of frozen fruit and chocolate milk.
manycolored lights in the sky, as if the LED constellation
exploded to celebrate our nation’s birth. the air that was pure
is sulfur and saltpeter now. the fuse
burning. she’s arcing
upside down through
empty space and the
memory of droplets
flocking like birds.
the pressure escaping
a newly lidless bottle
of cider. mint and crimson
fire exploding upward. a broken wrist. the tires brake hard,
and here I am again, on the border between the garage and
the driveway. the threshold between the warmth of comfort
and the warmth of freedom. I dial a number by instinct:
we’ll both walk and meet in the middle, at a different border,
one we may not understand yet. we’ll walk and see how far
these roads will take us or if they’ll just take us home. we’ll
walk, and our words will evaporate in the air
and whatever is left of them will float up
toward nameless stars.

March 17, 2017

An Elegy for My Grandmother's House, at the Occasion of Its Sale

Inside
the hall is warmer and longer than it
ever will be again, and I race, I hide,
I laugh myself into the long memory
of this house. The closet is a coffin
entombing dark coats, and in my fear
I fall asleep with arms around my
knees outside my grandparents’
bedroom. In the day, the kitchen
is small and made for applesauce
and beets and jelly sandwiches.
We ride a horse named Twister
around the world several times
over, only to find that he is a fraying
butterscotch-colored couch and
less prone to galloping than
we originally assumed.

Outside
the ball arcs past the drainage ditch,
and tall grass itches against my legs
as I leap. The sewer tunnel disappears
into unspoken darkness, and our
duskbathed bodies flee from the
warm windows toward the garden
and the locked-up magic of the
shed. The wonder is in our lungs.

Inside
the grown-ups tell old stories
across the dining room table, but
the laughter of the basement is
all for us. The disused bedrooms
are stacked high with everything
we could need, with an unsolved
mystery stored in the cabinets
behind the blue drape. The laundry
room creeps far backward into
shelves of preserved fruit and
canned soup, and we grow up
before we dare to venture all the
way back on our own. I sleep
in the big bed alone, and my
grandfather’s breath passes
through a dark glass in
the next room over.

Outside
the rain floods the yard, and the
bird fountain becomes a waterfall.

Inside
the clock chimes, and I walk past the
dark piano and the dark glass table,
watching the streetlight fringe the
blinds. The desk lamp illuminates
the residue of my grandfather’s
breath in the quiet midnight room,
and the clock chimes. I choose my
favorite mug from the cupboard
and drink a glass of water in the
big night kitchen, smelling the
residue of Thanksgiving turkeys
and chocolate cakes in the gentle
air. Grandmother, you will not
remember this kitchen, but this
kitchen will remember being
nurtured and worked by your
aching and tireless hands.

Inside
the nightlight casts blues and
greens and eerie reds upon the
bathroom walls, and I am
under the covers at last, I am
holding this place in my mind.
Grandfather, I hope you are
smiling to yourself, because
the footsteps of your children
echo in these rooms, falling in
pleasant places, running toward
a good inheritance; and the only
louder sound is laughter.

Outside
fireflies weave through the warm fabric
of storms, and a train whistle is
a lonesome caller dialing an old friend.
A thousand feet above, the bloodshot
eyes of radio towers wink knowingly
at planes. I call my friend from
the driveway, and we talk of
summer freedoms. Later
I stand beneath the window
four feet from the corner where
electric light dyes the concrete
tangerine, and I watch elm trees
play with the flashing jagged fire
of storms. I hope you are sleeping
soundly, grandfather; I hope you
are smiling to yourself, because I
am looking to the heavens, and
even at three-o-clock this morning,
I see nothing there but light.

January 31, 2017

The Thanatos Quartet

Part I: The Spectator
I see the glory
of your blood run dry by circled
sands. This Roman sun is brighter
than fires tended in caves. It must
blister for the hunger in the looker’s
grin. I look too, in my hungry
disguise. Will you bleed for me?
I am a lion too, and I will not
look away. These stones are meant
to bottle your pain, and your death
will fossilize in them even after
the church-makers cart them off
as steeple blocks and cornerstones.
This is a temple to your futile
thrashing in mortal tides, and I
am sick from my wants to worship
in it once again. Will you bleed
for me? I will not look away.
I will be entertained.

Part II: Monsieur de Paris
I see the glory
of your rising up and your falling down.
You play as Jeanne d’Arc in her fire:
you tremor, you ascend, and in your play
you make the cosmos bat its speckled eye.
The people sing, the people reign, the gardens
of the king wither in your sun. I see the
terror of your rise, I see your blood in the
soupy gutters sloping for the river. Two free men
dance in the ruins of your rise; pay them
no mind, for now, but wait your turn. Wait
in cells, in the heart of your executioner
as in the hearts of all men. I am your blade,
I am your death, I will make my own
rivers in the streets. I will make you remember
the boils and sprays. I will leave those
who raised me looking for their heads.
I will divide you. You will see the glory
of my rising up and my falling down.

Part III: The Star-Givers
I see the glory
of our realm and of our furnaces.
Into these chambers we welcome
the hungry and the weak. Into these
dens we invite young and old.
A million of your names inscribed
on pitied walls – I tell you, not a
million, but seven times a million.
We make infant eyes churn and
crisp and sweat little tears for their
truncated sliver of history. Go forward,
inscribe these unflowered stares on
the wall with the rest: a mausoleum
for the generation stitched with the
thread of stars. The charnel needle
must not yield, and your ash rises.
Your smoke tastes like an ivory
palace in our lungs, like a new
kingdom under a white sun.

Part IV: The Angel of Death
I see the glory
of none of you. I see the lions’ walls
crumble and the rising blades dull. I see
those who sew stars embalmed in lakes
much hotter than star-fire. I see their
kingdom perish while the names on the
walls live on like unquenchable suns.
I bend my wings through cathedral
alcoves and mud-pits marshy with blood
rills and pulped bones, and you will feel
my feathers sing, you will hear the triumph
of my keeper’s return; you will see the glory
of his rising up and his rising up. You will hear
the chords of seraphim, the voice of dreams,
the arcing aching song from the oldest
dream, the slumbering vision that rhymes
with the wind and the sea and the mountains:
Joseph and Mary will look for their child
among the dead, and he will not be found.

December 8, 2016

On Gratitude (and the Cultured River Horse)

Yesterday a man told me that anxiety
and depression atrophy the brain’s
hippocampus, and now I wonder if
hippocampus could refer to those
higher learning institutions which service
the well-adjusted hippopotamus.
In any case: the surest words to
re-inflate these shriveled ridges,
the man said, are words of thanksgiving.

Today I feel gratitude coursing upward
from my tongue to brim in these
deadened fibers once more. When I
smile at someone and they smile back,
they have expanded my mind. I assemble
my smiles from threadbare fossils of
laughter, but there is some truth in the
corners of my mouth, and it is enough
to dislodge me from the world briefly.

I am not better but I am no worse, and today
I said my thanks for the trombone choir and
fruit leather and even the alarm clock.
The winter has tilted the sun low enough
to brisken these days, and I am fortunate
to have the instantaneity of walking into a
warm building infused with Christmas
lights, for it froths up inside me like the
first swallow of brandy, and my mind grows.

November 27, 2016

ctrl + T (multiple tabs)

(In my creative writing class, one of the assignments was to write a science fiction short story. What follows is the result. The essential scenario here is what would happen if we humans - with our attention spans severely diminished by the internet and other forms of technology - developed teleportation devices. However, the central character's struggles, which are perhaps more glanced at than elaborated upon, are certainly more the focus here than the technology itself. My apologies if it's super depressing.)

click

I am in her room again, by her bed, and the red-draped light oppresses my senses and casts her in shades of cherry on her mattress, and I rise to sit with her again, but she fends me off with the eyes of pity. I tell her I forgot the flour for my mother, as an excuse to withdraw for a minute or more, and she tells me I had better come back. I had better come back.

click

I pick the cheapest bag of flour, and it freights my hand with the future of a dozen unbaked loaves. The cashier smiles. I fumble through crumpled bills and curse the solitary George Washington.

click

I hand the flour to my mother, and she asks where I’m off to next. Back to Natalie’s, I say. She doesn’t want me to go; she wants me to stay and knead the dough and tend to Sadie in her high chair. But I am already raising my hand to my neck, and I press the switch no matter what she says. Don’t make me follow you, I hear her say before I go.

click

I switch straight onto Natalie’s bed to avoid the tension of sitting down, and she looks at me with those same pitying eyes that glimmer and grow in the firebrick light. I tell her about my mother. Natalie says she doesn’t think I should be here, no, I should be kneading dough and tending to Sadie. Don’t you want to finish talking? I ask. What’s there to talk about, she says.

click

I stand in my kitchen for a moment, but no, the walls are too close and Sadie’s cries are too loud, and I don’t care if I’m the man of this house now; I raise my hand to my neck before my mother can turn to bait me with her helpless gaze.

click

I try to switch into the pub, but the sensors read my age coding, as I knew they would, and I land by the curb outside. I feel sick with the weight of it all. I walk under street lamps and wonder if I should switch to San Francisco again, maybe, to walk in on my father with another woman. Or Omaha, perhaps, to ask Terry if Nebraska is healing his wrists any faster than Oregon was. Terry made the classic mistake, he cut horizontal.

click

Instead I switch to the coast, to a gusty twilight shore, and as with any other place, I don’t want to stay here longer than five minutes. The wind riles up the sand around my feet, and whirling grains of it flog my bare calves. I kneel in penance, I say my thanks for the solitude. I begin to feel awful for leaving, but I fear staying would have made me feel worse. I look out at the shaded pitching sea, and the saltwater

click

grinds gelid against me, and I regret leaving even more, I am ready to fade, I imagine floundering and sinking. I look to the shore for the crepuscular animals that might emerge from the gloom to feed on me, if I washed up with the tide. I wonder if there’s any place in this tuneless twisting world where I would want to spend more than five minutes, and I am sickened by the cold, so I switch to

click

my kitchen, where the bread smells warm in the oven. I dribble saltwater on the floor and retreat into the bathroom, where I towel myself dry and change clothes and turn on the shower. I stand outside the shower in my dry clothes and hear my mother yell, asking me to come help. I love her, I love Sadie, I do, I want to help them, but this house is so small, and the world is not. I wonder if this house is in truth much bigger than the world, but I cannot dwell on this long enough to care. I call to my mother that I am in the shower, but I am not, I am in

click

Natalie’s room again, where the crimson light is fading to dark nothing, and she is on her bed crying and crying. I am surprised she is still here. She looks up at me with futile eyes, and her eyes ask me to go. I wonder where to go. I look at the texture of the drywall above me, and I remember lying on my back with Natalie on top of me and letting that same texture impress itself upon my eyes until I felt the memory and gravity of the house swilling out the duskiness in my head and replacing it with something pure and lovely. At that moment, perhaps I could have stayed longer than five minutes, perhaps I could have stayed for lives and lives. But I had not. I hadn’t even kissed her goodbye. I regret that all the more now, and her eyes still ask me to leave, and – fuck me, I’m bleeding apart inside, so I obey.

click

The trees waver in the wind, and they will remain on this hill much longer than I will. Maybe I should wait with them; I don’t know where else to go, but I will go somewhere, I will.

click

Downtown, maybe, with the leering cars and sandstone buildings, or

click

the quarry, with its crumbled walls, or

click

anywhere I can bleed inside,

click

anywhere I can fade.

click

click

click

click

click