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
In a green world where nothing changes but the light,
Thumbelina and her naked Prince,
tangles of reeds matting their wild hair,
trace each other’s limbs in sunshine
with garden constellations, in moonlight
with glowing paper lanterns,
a tableau upon a leaf floating in the current,
sweetness of summer past dreaming.
Then the sky opens, a tumult of waterfall appears;
the fragile raft founders unsurprised, in shallows,
a timeless stage piece shining still, a sacred present,
constant and luminous even in its drowning.
No wish nor will can force the years to swell
until you grow into this crown,
no stories, no bellying up, no bed time.
We build antipathies, rock on bitter rock:
who asks and who keeps silence,
who heaps up expectation upon hours and days lost
of love too short, too spotty, too querulous,
In a circle of stones we don’t intend to gather,
cannot stop gathering, Pierrot and Judy
– the punch line long delivered –
sit apart among the empty chairs.
This wreckage is a dream, too, you know:
the idea that we will awaken, find footing
in the downpour, or clarity, reason,
or even that there is a wavering, lineal truth,
a tiny crown to scoop out, gleaming, from the tranquil muck.
The night I leaned into your lap and felt your stiffening
against the back of my neck is now
accounting in the ether. Still –
in bed alone, dreaming of rain, I know suddenly this present stasis
is a shadow of our green masque
and not much different from it,
no less nor more a story to tell myself.
Homespun trickster, he came to us hunted, humbled, a robber robbed,
determined, in the beginning, to acquit. He rolled the well-stone
from the water, called me his little ewe, teased me like a brother,
then wept with me when I cried. “A few days,” he said
of seven bilked years – my bride price – then gave me to my sister
to wife in earnest, in bitterness, her mete.
In time, he pocketed the household gods and paired off with the servants,
substitutes, to satisfy me. He knew the dreams of that country.
He knew my worth, I, a callow girl and a dead woman. I bathed
my thighs in water, uncovering with strange exactness
how fertile is betrayal, how lie begets lie, how quickly
he would close my mouth with a pile of rocks.
Ravine #2 Reprinted from The Camel Saloon, June 2014
You, my veiled rivals, show up on camel back
just before the time of candle lighting,
before the time of fire.
Your gift of speckled sheep and your flocks of children
straggle behind with their slave maid.
She is not thinking about you.
I offer well water and bread, the scent of leaven rising
from the oven to the sky,
and honey, bury my face in your throats, weep
for blood and for bone,
for flesh I remember, for the mandrake
you carry. Its gaping mouth is my womb’s opening
after too many hollow years, a time deeper than dreaming.
Now I lie down with you – my seconds and thirds, together in sorrow –
break my heart thrice upon the hard edge of love.
He shades his eyes with his prayer shawl,
rocking upon his heels and chanting
to his ruthless god.
They are in this together
Our shared pillow is stone.
I take your babes upon my knee and name them.