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,
there is 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

November 14, 2016

An Early Thanksgiving

Or: A Brief and Hopefully Not Unwelcome Respite from the Poetry to Which You Are Undoubtedly Accustomed (Unless This Counts as Poetry – Oh No!)

This past month has been one of the hardest I can remember – not for one reason, but for an ever-compounding multitude of reasons. And that’s okay. Because, hey, look at all these things.

Thank you for people who know what they’re talking about, and for the chance to become one of them.

Thank you for people. Thank you for people.

Thank you for walking past brick-circled windows at night and seeing the light on and wondering who else is living instead of sleeping.

Thank you for sleeping and for the cold autumn air from the open window and for how it can’t reach under the blankets.

Thank you that the heater is right next to my bed.

Thank you that the heater isn’t always on.

Thank you for trees that change color and trees that don’t.

Thank you for the bowl of peppermint candy on the way out of the cafeteria.

Thank you for the skill to write good essays when I try to, and good bullshit when I need to.

Thank you for stained glass windows in the practice rooms.

Thank you that when I am tired of homework and slip into a high-pitched cockney accent or some extravagant brogue, my roommate replies in equally exaggerated tones.

Thank you for when the salad bar has apple vinaigrette.

Thank you for the pizza delivery man who happened to be a mechanic.

Thank you for the emptiness of the practice fields beneath the stars, the silhouettes of the hills in the distance, the transmission towers whose lines hum invisibly behind the trees, and the watchful lamps in suburbs asleep below.

Thank you for the smell of sap after climbing pine trees.

Thank you for the old memories that flow around downtown, for the river that flows through it, and for the close-knit buildings.

Thank you for egg nog milkshakes.

Thank you for Friday afternoon Office episodes, for drinking cherry soda on Friday nights, and for generally everything about Fridays.

Thank you that I’ve never gotten soda from the cafeteria.

Thank you for music that gives me chills and warms my spirit.

Thank you for words and silence, and for how we need both of them to empathize with one another.

Thank you for the way things are right now.

Thank you that things won’t always be like this.

Thank you for everything I haven’t thanked you for.

Thank you for your love, and for trusting us with it.