What are you thinking, my girl? Don't marry him. He's a Christian.
I know you're Christian according to the top drawer of your night stand
and that you walk through holy oak doors more than I ever have and believe in more than I do –
But you're still twenty years old and living in your parents' attic.
Is it because they almost divorced that you now want your own marriage?
Or because you're moving away soon to become an adult,
to discover a few more things than the corner of your driveway or
the turn of his steering wheel when pulling into his work at Dunkin' Donuts?
And what about when he does become a preacher – the Southern kind?
While he's down there freshening up on his catechisms and benedictions
and you're studying the muscles wrapped around human bones up where the corn fields grow,
are you going to be husband and wife then? Or just…twenty-something year old students trying to let
No one marries their first love, no one…And even if they do,
then it's after years and years of other marriages and mistakes,
after they've learned how to pay a rent alone and how it feels to sleep in the middle of the bed for a while.
I've slept in the middle of the bed for a while…and I still wouldn't marry my first love.
Of all the hearts in the world, the first one you steal is never the one you get to keep –
but they never taught us that in between the divorce trials and the lawyer bills.
And so, my dear girl, now you have proven the powers of persuasion,
how a girl from a cornered town can assume she's less smart, less savvy, less lustrously brilliant than she
really is - all for a boy who was the first to love her. Did you really think he'd be the last?
Is it because he gave you a ring or because he meant it so much?
It's all the same. So with a clink of my glass I stand up for you.
And the divorce, the donuts, the Book of Deuteronomy, Our Father – Hallowed Be Thy Man…
it all burns on the way down, as subtly as this champagne after somebody else's toast.
Speaking to the Moon on Bergen Street
She blinks at me from a 45 degree angle above the tips of the tangled and dried out dead trees. The craters of her face will move in shifting shadow. Sometimes she laughs. At other times, it looks like she's screaming.
She watches over me at my pillow - one more pale face lifted up to the windowsill and her beam, like a dreaming Juliet who never realized she was dead.
She is chased by the sun; I am chased by the sun. When we sleepwalk during the day, our light is only the reflection of our friends' bright eyes. The ocean reflects us but moves in deep tides of indigo and blue, which look as if they should stain us if they should ever touch our skin.
But I am the only one who would sink. She would circle and gravitate like a good satellite does and I'd be left afloat with no pull of my own. The difference between humans and the celestial sky is the Greek poet who wrote about her seductress powers.
I could be a harpy, but I am no seductress.
I'd like to be Hesiod, exploring the hips of goddesses and watching out the window for the end of the
Instead, I have her silhouetted face outside, blinking slumber from her eyes and daring the morning to
finally come and get her.
Last Call at Zuckermann Bar
A moment is just a moment
and sometimes not our darkest secrets read aloud at the bar over a cold one, out on the docks, or at our work desks. We accept a slow dance from a stranger, buy a round of drinks at the bar, embrace a newname newfamily newlove for one night, before we head back to the homes that our lives have made for us.
Adorable trinkets hang on the walls, cheap frames line the hallway leading up the stairs – just Polaroids of other moments that we had once but then never again. The difference between those moments and the night we've just had are the sandpapered borders – top, bottom, from left to right – that keep the moment closed for reconstruction.
A bar is open for 24 hours (the cheap ones, anyway) and the docks will last as long as the ocean runs. Borders are the trinkets that get washed up on the shore and carried away by toddlers running barefoot away from their mothers.
A moment is just a moment.
Living in it is fine, but you're stuck wherever it drops you when it ends.
Sometimes a breeze is just a breeze
and only conservationists consider it as some breath of new life.
I saw a "breath of life" during a medical channel birth once. It traumatized me.
How do women do that, anyway?
Drugs can make a person do anything, I know (I know, Iknow).
AdiosMio!MonDieu!Aiya, I'm late again!
Oh, I hate that angry line their mouths form right after they tell you that it's all fine,
just come on in, already.
But how at home should I make myself feel in somebody else's home?
I didn't view it. I don't clean it.
I don't shed a tear every time the mortgage bill comes, so I certainly don't own it.
I feel a bit bad that you do, actually – you heard me.
I may fall down a time or two, scrape up my arms and legs,
and acquire other miscellaneous injuries which require disinfectant,
but it's because I enjoy living in my single room,
while you worry away in your big house.
It keeps it easy to go outside to run, just because I feel like it,
and in my own injurious way, to create my own non-conservationist,
breeze. So what's it to you?
When Not a Roman
Highjack a hotel suite balcony when you are sixteen years old.
Don't forget a sleeping bag.
Also remember to bring two practical yet open-minded strangers of the opposite sex
and two lifelong friends. Include their bottle of grocery store brand wine.
Place your body in its proper, full dreaming position.
Gaze at purple clouds over a long loop of early bird cars.
Wonder where they're going, where they have been.
Follow them with your eyes and imagine trailing after their tailpipes as they move along.
Wonder aloud why the air smells the same as in New York
while the black night and purple clouds mix with white mist and shades of buttercup yellow
coming from an unclear source behind the clouds, but they just seem to fit.
Fall asleep more quickly than you planned - there of all places, lying on the concrete of a third story
hotel balcony with four friends beside you, just to feel a little bit bohemian
– even if it means a sore back.
Wake up cold, with allergies and an itchy throat, feeling pretty sure it was worth it.
The shoulders go first, maybe from the book bags,
maybe from the tension.
Either way, they become shot, like blood vessels in the eyes.
Breathing's not hard, it never is. It's usually fast,
a panting, like a dog. But I'm just a human with plenty of air.
The muscle aches, the joint pain -
the joys of getting older and being none the wiser.
Maybe I would have learned something
if I had looked around more. Maybe not.
The legs though, these thighs always kept me standing,
like tall trunks (only slimmer and more attractive,
because it suits my mind to think so).
Here is the body; here are its pieces.
Give it some time, and we all fall down.
What's your favorite flower?
I'll fold these corners into its shape
and set it on the surface of some water to watch.
We'll see if it balances in the bowl, or soaks
just enough to sink.
Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Mouth
She's never seen me in the pale gray
shadow of the moon before dawn -
before the luminescent embers of
fire bugs and night driven cars.
Emerging then are the mirror images
of two paths running beneath my eyes,
their symmetry like that of the scars
running down a butterfly's wings.
As scarred as I feel, they are as a part of
me as the eyes attached; ears, nose, and mouth.
A Lesson in Horticulture
Lotuses grow in India.
Cherry blossoms grow outward.
A pine tree's best in Northern winters.
Peaches grow in Georgia heat.
They say the lotus lifts.
Some silky hand from Vishnu's exposed naval.
And one could rest on a petal, as if
it wouldn't tumble downward.
Lotuses grow in India –
Cherry blossoms, in New York.
Vishnu lives with Buddha, Allah, and the Savior
on petal platforms that never shed.
Lotuses are just flowers.
Cherry blossoms are mostly leaves.
Pine trees shed sharp needles,
and all peaches have bitter pits.
A flower grows in soil and
can't live through violent winds.
A hand has five full fingers and
is never made of silk.
But Vishnu lives with Buddha, Allah, and the Savior
on silky petals, nevertheless.
I'll see it to believe it, like one tends to a flower
just to watch it grow.
Season to Season
Part of it – part of it is the loud and challenging sound of people in the Springtime. So very alive they are. And good for them, to not be quietly alive or coyly alive, but to be robust with great gusts of energy.
Robust, I say, like the seasonings in a fine Italian sauce. Maybe people are like oregano – strong, best in moderation, leaving a lingering memory in their wake.
The problem is that in the absence of such an ingredient, the dish is incomplete – lacking wholeness. To be whole is to be full, to be rich with flavor, feeling, emotion, heart, and aching. But what a toil, to go about the fastidious process of arranging the ingredients to make a complete meal – to create wholeness.
The oddest tastes contribute to the sweetest dishes. For example, salt is in butter tart squares and golden peanut butter cake, as well as most other creamy-sweet things. Nor does the body itself – no nor does the body move without salt.
I cannot get on with summer if I don't have the inconvenience of loudness now in Spring – if I never see how people are boldly and quickly moving all around me, hear them be boisterous and excited, laughing with lungs bursting, or feel how they move shoulder to shoulder, touching, nudging, hugging, gliding, kissing bodily as they are present with each other, and unknowingly present with me.
Maybe people are like oregano – strong, best in moderation, leaving a lingering memory in their wake.
Your eyes overflow with stars
like shields of black diamonds,
diamonds harder than glass and unbreakable.
My eyes are like soft stones,
or so the complaint goes,
like granite or conglomerate.
But diamonds cut stone
like glass making lines through sawdust.
I'm doomed, I think, before I skydive
into the hardest fall.
No Light in the Attic
Today I draw houses. Yesterday I drew refrigerators. I'm against drawing plants, but I put a potted fern on top of the aluminum fridge, 2007 model. It looked leafy and cool there, sitting atop the freezer.
What's this stretching, yawning feeling pulling behind my sternum? Oh. It feels mournful, so I must be in mourning. I killed my art six years ago, or maybe more. I'm unsure because it took so long to fade.
I'm lying and it's funny. Everyone knows you can't kill anything that you can't wrap your hands around! I drew a house this morning with my toast and I saw where my mind lived: a rusty old house with a towering spire. It's more crooked than I thought it'd be, with an awful architect at the heart of its curving ledges and leaning windows. A crazy architect, with strawberry preserve on his lip and hair standing up in spikes.
We're all crazy architects. It depends on how unconventionally crazy you are, how your house will turn out. I think it matters how tall it stands and how wide the walls are – size matters. Show only special people your windows, though. They're the most telling. There's nothing inside to see, of course – this is just a drawing – but the lights, the lights you turn on in the attic or in the basement, those are the most telling. Click.
Strangers Might Be Gods
Poetry might be false.
We're desperate to make things beautiful.
Can't blame us. How can you
after you have trained our eyes
to see the cracks dividing the sidewalk
and showing how roads divert at will?
The Natural Thing
Inspired by Philip Roth
The remnants of the Natural Thing -
the Natural Thing is what when we are taken by the city,
by the costume, by the lust and blood rush of the Brand New Dollar?
There are no activists for the Natural Thing,
they're saving wildlife and dying amphibians while people,
well, they are also speared alive.
But they love the earth so much
they recycle every newspaper rather than read about the war.
The remnants of the Natural Thing:
the remnants of the war?
The grown vote for it, the young get to fight it.
The grandson screams just like the grandfather
after he brings his Brand New Phantoms home.
The remnants of the Natural Thing,
they pass from room to room.
We dug into the ground at first,
used a bomb to dig the hole.
We raced to space to become moon men
when the earth turned black and now,
now there are ice crystals found on Mars!
The remnants of the Natural Thing,
but where did the Natural Thing go?
I want the Thing and not the remnants.
But we'd have to destroy the world for that,
with one loud bang and nothing more.
Chipper, Darling! Isn't our white pitchfork fence lovely, beaming out there in the morning sun? And the precise 90° cut of the lawn accentuates our pretention beautifully.
Would you like Tabasco in your eggs, Dear? Lies on your toast or your cereal? Whatever you wish to have, I shall provide for you on this silver breakfast tray.
I love you! Let's throw ash trays and break chair legs in the breezy evenings, mouthing words of derision to each other under a web of starlight. Hate is love if you say it enough.
Let's go to the movies! Watch movie idols who would look like us if only we had their faces. Hold my hand like a school boy going steady – I'll pawn the wedding ring, first, after I kick you out of my house.
We must go see our children in plays! Our gleaming black eyes will be vacuums of pride from the auditorium seats. Between us, not even the hairs on our arms will be touching. We will tell them about the divorce over Tuesday breakfast. I will make waffles. I would like them every other Christmas.
On your miserable days, I want to see you miserable,
your hard set eyes,
and creased hate lines.
If you are happy, then show me your happiness.
Flash your white teeth
with your laugh like warm butter.
If you one day hate me, slap my face.
We'll fight to the ground,
bleeding in-kind with one another.
If one hour you love me, hold my cheek.
Write terrible ballads
and speak of exploding stars.
It all dies down into what was before,
the absence of knowing
the other exists.
A blank stare for blank stare
waiting at that grey airline gate
(your ticket falls beneath mine).
And we lift,
two wing tips sailing forward
into an imaginary line.
"Plath Me Not"
Air is imperfect in spring, far too clean.
The fresh-linen scent we pay for on shelves during winter is now the smell on laundry lines
And the smell of grass, unbelievably, is only found in grass.
You don't know what this does to me. It resurrects me and then denies me.
Spring doesn't deserve that kind of connotation – and I don't deserve to be Sylvia Plath – but an attempt into the Great Beyond one springtime years ago still happened, like a leap of faith but to get away from faith, not to prove mine.
But fear not, now you may bask in my failure! I am here to charm your clothes off and make you laugh until your hurt from gut to kneecaps! This is what it does, I tell you, when the spring can make you silly and sick enough to forget to feel lucky when breathing in air from the west, and the east again when the weather turns.
All it is, is silly – to forget that four years from now you could be walking in London, drinking in Paris, gasping in Rome – it all takes my breath away, how silly it was to forget.
Air is too clean to forget, even in the smoky city of downtown Manhattan, the side alley to a Parisian hostel, or touring London's East side (Jack-the-Ripper Tour, February 2006: wonderful graffiti, seedy pubs), because British, Roman, or American air is better than no air, better than nothing, better to breathe than to forget.
Passing emblems on Chambers St., making my way there and back again, it occurs to me how swiftly the air will leave my lungs and dawdle coming back to me after today.
The next morning, the inconvenience of removing myself from bed is attributed to this lack of air – my blood sings from the absence of it, like a mournful aria in a sad Italian opera – and I huff and sigh because I know what struggle's already ahead of me for the day.
I'm late for every appointment. I stroll instead of walk. I forget my book about a famous hermaphrodite on a City Hall Park bench and have to weave my way back there to retrieve it – Thank God no one deems books valuable enough to steal, anymore.
By the time I circle back to my bed in the dusty evening, I feel middle-aged and hungry. Too tired to feed myself, I fall into the bed with all my clothes on and stare at the ceiling, exhausted for a few hours. It's late by the time I fall asleep, and during the course of the night the air will return from vacation and pump into my deflated lungs. When I wake in the morning, I will feel cool and awake enough to play catch up with my yesterday.
It isn't ideal. It takes one step backwards and two steps forward to make it anywhere up the roadside, but it's enough.
I was completely on your side until I joined it.
I divined the blue smoke of our imploded world except the apocalypse.
I figured we'd be around for twenty years until we stayed for forty.
And I liked pearls and said I loved you until I married someone else.
You, man! The one who nods his Yankee fitted cap at me outside the Franklin Ave. stop, while my nose is stuffed and blue from all this hellish snow on the ground – you piss me off every day. Holler "China girl" at me one more time and I'll show you that I, too, can yell random and inaccurate racial distinctions to passing strangers - "Jamaican man, Haitian man, Caribbean man," etc.
And lastly, you, the woman on the platform who approaches me within two inches of my face and asks for directions in a language I don't understand. I thought "no" was nearly universal; I feel badly enough when I have to shake my head and repeat it twice. I can't help you. I can't even help myself.
Everybody's a few circumstances away from becoming anyone else.
Maybe three, but sometimes two.
Luck dies, and my neighbors are better people to talk to about fate.
Not I, not I.
You don't want me in hellfire
Or save me in the afternoon
I've read a time or two in poetry.
I wanted to learn how to tie a tie
Not how to grow a flower.
A black root works though, and a milky flower sounds delicious.
I'm fine with it like one puts a wishbone on the table.
In fact, I 'd rather like to have it on my windowsill decorating my new place, next to the mirror and between the window glass, making the ambiance of my new bedroom easier to sleep under.