That spring the lightning took two trees
From our backyard: one oak, one pine.
They lay for days, each on its spine,
With branches lifted to the breeze.
Their trunks were my bridges until
My father worked from dawn to dark
With saws that screamed to touch the bark.
I watched him from the window sill.
He stacked the trunks and limbs in rings
Onto the rented trailer bed.
The tires snarled when they sped
Away what once held tire swings.
Tree vestiges were left behind:
Twigs, sprigs, and leaves smashed in the ground
Beside a disregarded mound
Of rope and rubber intertwined.
Last spring my father died and he
Left his work boots, his leather chair,
His tools, two paintings, one stray hair,
A teaching job, a wife, and me.
The neighbors baked us pies, sweet things,
While others proffered flowers, cards;
Some came just to give regards.
All carried some small offering.
And while the adults sang a hymn,
I walked with mother down the aisle,
Looked at my father’s lifeless smile,
And thought it did not look like him.
The real remains, unseen, are mine,
Hours swinging, laughing faces;
But humans like to cling to traces,
We buried him inside a pine.
I drive east from Dallas
the trunk of my car laden
with boxes of journals –
I am desperate to hear my own voice again.
How fast can I leave the city behind me?
With each mile words crawl up my throat,
poems push forward – fall over my lips
like a heavy tongue.
God, be an open sky,
be a piney wood,
be a place where my tears can breathe,
where my soul can stretch and run!
Kyrie eleison –
first sung prayer
of the penitent season.
Lord, unshut me with mercy.
Here, among unhurried wild plum trees
blooming in blankets of soft needles –
Here where incense is pollen and
a light rain falls to christen the journey –
Here is the ground on which I will vomit rubies,
sifting them out of the dirt,
turning each over in my fingers
training my mind to remember
the shape and weight of gut treasure.
Here is the place I will sort gemstones
from stomach acid,
wear down sharp edges,
swallow the soft ones back up
and cradle them safe inside me.
Kyrie eleison –
Gore through my mouth,
shaft into my center
release what the body cannot hold.
bless my unrest
*for Ahmaud Arbery, d. 2/23/20
The grey sky
sprouts lightening –
reaching light fingers
— flash —
and then gone.
The wind has quieted now,
the air is all hush
and here —
breathing in honeysuckle,
magnolia blossom, chlorine from
the neighbor’s pool –
am I –
born onto this southern ground,
pale-faced and safe from
the horizon’s flaring.
A female cardinal crouches
low against the speckled eggs
in her nest;
a squirrel scampers
hurriedly up a cedar,
sniffing the air;
a cat slinks sideways across
the shadow of the roof.
— flash —
white herons fly overhead
Where do the black birds go
to weather the storm?
This is a time for signs
This is a time
Another black man shot dead
by white men in Georgia
for no reason. Only
the usual suspects:
suspicion, prejudice, and
generations of pressure
No charges made.
In a cloud, when positive and negative charges
become too great,
an electrical field is formed,
looks for release.
When it strikes, I am told,
it takes the closest and easiest path
— flash —
What happens next is unavoidable:
air expands explosively,
hotter than the sun.
The atmosphere recoils,
The hot air then cools
the column vibrates,
the sky rumbles,
the ground shakes
Flash against the sky
Wait for thunder
Pray for rain
I was made to want this,
To fall into the center of longing,
To acknowledge what is holy in the word:
In Latin the words mean literally
Down from– the stars.
Some scholars suggest
It has to do
with wishing, with waiting,
But I think desire
Has to do with immediacy –
With impulse –
The celestial already born
Within us –
And so desire requires
Not a reaching out toward,
But a sinking down
Into the body
to push against
From the inside,
To set in motion,
Exerting force against a body –
From the same root word
That gives us our word for
Blood pushing against
Cardiac tissue, arteries
Suddenly swelling outward
In rhythm –
The rhythm that keeps you alive
A central point of energy
A regular expansion
Caused by contraction
And so you can see how even our pulse
Is caused by a dynamic flow
Between push and pull
In the pulse
The exile of religion.
That it can be considered
too human and base for
we are made to throb,
to beat our way through.
In a biological sense,
to stop pulsing is the same
as to die,
and so, it seems,
in a spiritual sense
to divorce ourselves from desire
is to smother the fire
of God inside us
the force of cosmos
the power of the heavens
the motion and movement and pulse
that thrums out and in
out and in
out and in
like the sea
like our breath
we are not made
to clutch only
but to dance between
To be alive,
And life is exactly
The gift we – incomprehensibly –
Second by second
Heartbeat by heartbeat
We call God.
I am a small rock in the waves and
you, like the sea, surround me,
tumble over and roll beneath me –
what glory to feel touched
on every side,
what terror to wonder if this is how
I lose myself
Water, over time,
wears away the surface
until it is almost nothing
until it is silt and sand floating
in the water
no longer separate
no longer firm.
Is this dissolution of self
the undoing of all
worked to build,
have known myself to be?
Is this process
an invitation to expand
into a self more vast
than I have given myself
Do I resist? Yes –
As I lose the shape of a rock
What is the human spirit?
What is the human spirit?
So fragile, a whisper can wound it,
So strong the fury of genocides cannot break it,
So delicate, it dims before disappointment,
So resilient, the darkness of grief cannot choke out its light.
Tell me, what is this human spirit
Stretching to touch the length and breadth and height
Of beauty, of mercy, of joy –
Marked by the divine,
But doubting, fearing, doubting
Show me the human spirit
And I’ll show you a place
Where a dream can grow –
Like a vine through a concrete wall,
Where a word can feed –
Like bread expands a famished gut,
Where a heart can resurrect –
Like a body rises from a tomb.
I know this human spirit –
Too often dragged and degraded by shame
But powerful beyond rule or reason, description or death,
When free to be
Look at the sound and see in me
Listen to the soul and hear in you
What is the human spirit.
There is a place I keep making
Furniture made with metaphors
Is over used here – worn from holding
Tired bodies that sag and slump,
Seeking relief in verbal constructs
That will, they hope, somehow
Characters breathe voices here,
Deal in voices – a pound of soprano
For your tenor, please. In the
Marketplace of human echoes –
Currency is used and reused –
In the place I keep making.
You can’t imagine how hard it is to get there,
like trying to break open a bolted door or
turn a photograph into a movie or
force a rod down my throat
hating every second
the taste of the wood,
the rub it makes against my tongue –
Until the reflex is triggered, and
after pleading, praying, pushing, pounding, searching,
stretching, reaching –
his oily skin, his
the scowl he wore
that night, his
breath that smelled of beer
and fried okra and days
the dammits and the "fuck-yous" and the
"you know I hate to do this-es" and
the way his touch felt at once like
fire and ice and sandpaper and
a million other things and
somewhere in the house somebody
screaming, always screaming, and
the news anchor on the television with his
fake hairpiece saying something about
a beautiful day –
I continue to dry-heave.
The neighbors are playing Frank Sinatra again
to cover the sound of yelling
about who’s to blame for
forgetting to water
I flip coins – pennies, nickels, dimes –
(quarters are for soldiers)
to watch metallic glints
against florescent lights –
heads or tails –
the anticipation kills me.
The dress you sent me still smells
of sand and crude oil; it feels
soft against my breasts
at night, and never
speaks of gunfire.
Our olive tree will not die,
though I – jealous of Dido’s
fire – tried to torch it.
My ghost must always
turn to greet you.
To the man across the counter
Dear sir, your uncovered cough in my face is fine
If I can cough in yours. (I have the Swine.)
A woman’s pride
Here stands my man: here let him stand.
I’ll sit: I cannot be unmanned.
In the Museum of Oddities
A portrait labeled The Girl with Two Hearts hangs next to a photograph of a 1,300 pound pumpkin being dropped from the sky. Across from these stands a plastic replica of The World’s Largest Meatball (weighing in with New Hampshire state officials at 225.5 pounds). To the left of the bra that can be converted into two gas masks, is the statue of a cow named Frederica. Her plaque reads, "Cows with names give more milk than nameless cows." At the very end of the hallway, just past the picture of an infant falling from a fifth story window (he survived), are the peculiar objects you’ve come to see. The souls. Pinned crudely to velvet cushions beneath glass casements, they appear as you expected – pristine, but stiffened with formaldehyde. The soul of a woman who adopted 78 orphans: Barely fitting in its large glass box, the first soul on display looks as if it might have belonged to an elephant – like the meatball, its impressiveness is its size. The soul of a child killed in war: The second, though a quarter of the size of the first, is made of beautifully colored shapes ceaselessly crossing and converging like images inside a kaleidoscope. The soul of a monk who spent his entire life in prayer: Bright light emits from this soul in every direction as powerful scents of lavender and jasmine rise from its case into the otherwise stale museum air. You stop finally in front of the fourth soul. Your soul. As you stare, all is silent, but the clicking heels of two women who cross behind you. Letting out a muffled laugh, one whispers to the other, “You’d think they could find one more extraordinary to display.”
In Bluebeard’s Castle
Who has bled to feed your flowers?
These lilies, tall as men, are stained
With secrets hoarded in your towers.
Behind locked doors they are contained.
Who has wept to fill your river?
It’s silver surface, tranquil, still,
Conceals the countless tears that quiver
With substance you cannot distil.
Who has died to build this fortress?
The lifeless bodies, stacked like stones,
Still scream at night; they’re torturous
To you who cannot mute their moans.
Your loves, your loves have bled, wept, died
To build the world you’re trapped inside.
Man has always been drawn to a sphere,
Perhaps because of the sun
In those first hours of creation.
Like the dog who retrieves his ball
From the ends of the earth
And unto death, we return
To orbs of light and fortune,
Glassy eyes that see and speak
Deeper than sound or tongue –
To balls that bounce for children,
And to arenas with millions
Fixated on a pass, a lob, a dribble…
To circles of the body, the roundness
Of a breast, a cheek, a palm
Energy ripples outward…
A sphere. It is the simplest shape.
And so like God. We cannot see
Around it. But it is always the same.
Writing, after the Waste Land
April, pregnant with hope for
Renewal, bled into trenches
Without roofs to hold
A barbaric yawp,
Not after Auschwitz (or No Man’s Land,
Hiroshima, Rwanda, Darfur).
Not even the rain could make
Dead hands grow upward
Like branches reaching for light;
Poets were foolish to plant
Corpses and anticipate lilacs.
April was the cruellest month,
Bleeding rain, dissolving silt and rock
Into the sea of neverminds
Where minds never went,
Loving solids. The sun over shone,
Melting solids into air.
Still born into a world of
Poets raise their palms,
Straining to touch the liquid pillars
Connecting earth and sky.
Living OnLine (a few observations)
Before computers, a mouse was
only ever a rodent.
A mouse had a tail.
Now mice live like bachelors
on pads, or have been evicted
because trackballs and touchpads
take up less
Space is exactly what we can
no longer define.
Is it yours? Mine?
To get in the net, you’ve got to get on a line.
To enter a chat room, use the window, not the door.
We confuse our language,
mix our metaphors,
talk casually about
surfing the web, as if
Youtube depended on
spiders spinning thread
to support bodies on a wave.
Nouns can become verbs in the digital vocabulary.
Lovers don’t goggle, they Google each other.
(Physical scrolls are still used every week
in Jewish religious services.
I Wikipedia-ed it.)
Before computers, cursors were
people – messengers who ran on their feet
delivering news from village to village.
To us cursors are icons that click
on links (not parts of a metal chain).
Three clicks connect
red wine –
The cursor’s aim remains the same:
If I wanted, I could google-map your house
and scroll over the shape of your roof.
I don’t mean to be creepy,