Rough as a dog’s embarrassed cough,
the catch in his throat is his name.
His love, at eighteen already botched by time,
flimsy talk, street-smart posture,
her name is song, arpeggio
declined. We peep around the pages
for an entry point, with eyebrows raised
in prurient curiosity, compromised
just in looking, no longer free to judge.
Beauty and sorrow joined – they’re not what you think.
He can’t fake monstrous
salacity well enough to convince even himself.
Pedestrian lover, salvaging the moment
he lost to narrative inevitability, to art,
despite unworthy objects, in the end
admits he is only, and lately,
We stand at the river, honeyed land before us,
half listening to promises
and threats from our ventriloquist hatchet-god.
Those who remember shoulder to stone,
tumble of horses under the flood –
these ones are dead.
Manna grows from their bones.
We, first to hear, must rout
golden cities of the plain,
empty the land of them, claim
home we yearn for above all things,
home we have never known,
say to those cringing under our swords
your hectares are mine because they are mine,
given to me
lest desire become contagion.
But we prove stiff-necked
and argumentative, trade in feeling,
know pity – how one loss ravages community –
crave human faces, human
hearts, human company, cups raised together,
touch of hands,
and in this choice, we are ruined.
Late afternoon, dry leaves on the hustle,
sky like newspaper bleached
of language, clouds heavy as message bubbles
from an unfinished
conversation, its author dead, she who rang
a bell for supper, steam rising
from wash on the line, home-sewn dresses gone stiff there
among the diapers, rags that must be used
and used again,
if, indeed, we can say, with ourselves
as less-hampered evidence,
she – buried in the scents of house and field,
child-rearing, petty dictates – perhaps well-intentioned,
perhaps a a hoof in the small of the back – one
reading of the world and its meanings
untried, in a workroom that never was,
with pennies earned, but not remunerated,
may or may not have owned
in silence, a construct.
He was the pearl she boasted, whom she lifted from clay
with a word, like God, from evidence of worms,
his beauty got neither for work, nor trade,
gift from the reach of a hand.
Had she powers, she would have sung
enchantments to the hole in the bottom of the sea,
seen all the ocean sunk, if only he
were sheltered in the sawdust of her palm –
in time, made coral of his bones, a spotless pearl
of that one eye, of his contours, cells – caskets
where we dwell – seen not
the pearl is also shell, mere stuff,
coffer we hold, jewel we mourn, account its center lost
when its roundness rolls away from us in the grass,
vanishes in the ground.
Each of them has his own room, here, his own cardboard pallet,
drawer. A mirror above a row of pipes reflects disorder’s emptiness.
Ideal Music, the shop next door, has electricity.
Sometimes late at night they can get inside, turn on lights, play records.
Once in a fit of drunken nostalgia for childhood,
for bottomless night and stars, Reggie busted out
a window over the enclosed alley between stores,
while Goose, weeping in Spanish for the cuts on Reggie’s hands,
leaned against the rain-soaked wall eaten with black mold,
a man in love. He pisses into empty beer bottles, sets
his good boots in a corner, still brushes his teeth. For him, their abandoned beauty
shop is World Navel, Jerusalem, their threesome a Sartre play – book
she’s never read – and the rooms are drawers. His mother lay him down
to sleep in a drawer, he’d told her once.
When she was a little girl she imagined a found life in household drawers,
their low ceilings, landscapes within them shut. She conquers her fear,
now, by opening, emptying. Reggie and Goose make cushions
from the contents: shreds of wallpaper, palm- size flecks of lead paint, leaking color bottles,
Styrofoam crusted with dried Chinese take-out, clothes or a lone shoe
discovered in the streets and carried back. On rainy nights they rip up these beds
for toilet paper, or shit out that broken window. Reggie’s vomit
stinks and then dries like a jack-less
telephone. These are toxins of particularity, poisons within the self.
Beyond these walls, it’s a nightmare staying alive, toxins of survival.
Goose is next door playing records. Music leaches through the walls:
Partridge Family’s Greatest Hits, Jerusalem of Gold.
An ice storm is coming.
They park near Oakland Cemetery and set out walking
toward the old, dead railroad,
embracing there, in the cold,
and she remembers a first snowflake,
a wheel, lit upon the sleeve
of her father’s overcoat, Indiana in winter.
This man’s beard is red, not gray. His mind is
not content, like her father’s, but a head beam, tearing
over tire lots and boarded up grocers,
unflagging in its search, dissatisfied with everything,
dreading what’s mechanical in human touch, un-oiled squeal
of forward movement, howling for comfort.
They baffle the rim of the buried rails with their boots,
hint of moss in the falling snow, like postcard lovers daring
the edge of a summer sea, eager
for heat to wash over them,
but heedful, also, to warning,
carriage too far, too fast, alone.
Come get your things before I put them out
in the rain, you want to say, your face
in the mirror white enough to frighten milk.
But every time you touch the phone your capillaries shrivel.
Last night the witch almost got away
clutching your daughter, sliver of silver, white-armed,
It’s too late, anymore, for latches or key codes.
You strike him to stone with a glass of hurled milk,
poke the shards, grown doughy
with so much water, through a grate under the street,
but they cling to your wet fingers like resin.
You have to shake them, shake them loose.
Now, perhaps he’ll rise severally from the sewer,
tear through the countryside with his brothers, stomp villagers.
Your shilly-shallying carries off everyone.
You clasp the phone, tell him: Don’t lie.
Your skin pricks in the super-heated air.
Her lips are white.
She’s so gullible.
where them tights with the hole? this skirt
too toile. someone might think I effort,
tangle hair on purpose. no one even know
I wake up like six thirty bank account got money.
tuck it in before I get mistake.
your eyes, they tiny round and silver like eyes
one of those dolls people stick over the toilet paper way back
in the fifties before I was born you better believe
it. I seen those old, old movie. those hippie. them trailer-park
grandma face tape. I put my birt-tay right in my email.
mother fucker don’t tell me it’s semantics.
you got great big hair pony over your bald spot.
you camouflage, but I still recognize you, saggy
chin since you got marry, little soft
under arm. me, I stay single cinder-block bookcase
paint up myself, Goodwill cup, so much cooler than you.
we sit on the floor, make Kaballah and stuff.
my hip don’t hurt at all.
how about I wear little green dress linen always look wrinkle?
anyone can see I try (not), I care (not).
I forget what you even said when you came over