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.