Across the street, Death
was leaning over the fire
escape. On the gutter
the pigeons gathered,
rehearsing the same old
argument about flight,
whether to go, to stay.
We weren’t sure what
to make of it: the pigeons
squabbling like pigeons,
the heap of wire burning
on the corner, casual passers-
by capturing the blaze
on their phones. Sitting
in a circle on the grass,
we went on talking
as usual about our dreams:
teeth falling out, horses
with wings, our mothers
growing antlers. Later,
matching up socks alone
in my studio apartment,
I wondered what it meant—
the pigeons, the people
taking pictures of the fire
and Death just standing there
in full view. My blinds
were drawn. Moving on
to my shirts, I hummed
a holiday song. Hoping
Death didn’t see me.
Hoping Death did.
Beloit College, 2004
The professor turns off the projector,
and the students file out.
A Spruce Grouse’s
double clap sounds
from the river,
but this Wisconsin town
is disappeared now.
The campus’s conical mounds
replaced by Siberian slopes
in a cinereal palate.
the color of starvation,
intense enough to make a man
kill his friend.
You are there
in the library window
when they pass, some rubbing
some bartering cigarettes.
One hums, one runs
a nervous hand across a shoulder.
Where to go
but back to the bunks?
Stars with the sheen of frostbite
prick the sorority roof,
too famished to point.
Students pass ditches
glutted with cadaverous
silver, but you are busy
watching your visage
in library glass, backing up until,
like Vertov, you’re an image
recording an image, dredging
the lakes of your pupils.
What dead you find there
you cannot save.
Your friend Sarah dies days after we move in together. I imagine her in a room full of windows overcome by the sun, like a lemon chess pie on a glass diner stand. When she ends every molecule present ceases to move for a minute or more before the living turn their heads away from her to look for the nurse or a sign of what to do. The room must feel all wrong, gleaming silent until sobbing begins to plant itself in that place where older grief has gone to seed. Or maybe the silence stays, the thick kind that wraps tongues in a cocoon of sleep even when there are a million things to say to Sarah, good things she should be able to hear about herself but can’t. Unless. My empathy is guesswork, a spectator sadness. You’re the one with the knowledge, the full tragic scope. I watch you turn into Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’ve never seen you self-destruct before. I should have known how gentle it would be, how like the rest of you. The city never stops moving. By the start of nightfall you and I are driving through it again, the buildings glinting copper and neon against the darkening blue. On the interstate, the traffic splits up and down. We choose the flyover, to rush the skyline. Another river of cars rumbles beneath us, a world of friction and screech.
after Then She Fell
When I sit before the empty frame I face a man. We are the audience
as the Alices come between us. They lie back against each other like pages,
blue touching blue. The dark-haired one approaches me, intent, almost writhing,
but looks past me, moving like a ribbon and staring off at something unnameable.
In the office, we paint the roses harlot red. The White Rabbit crawls across
cabinets and swings the lamp tick tock, tick tock. He exits and shuts me in,
my cue to leap and yank drawers locked, locked, white rose, white rose—
At his desk, Lewis says, “‘You have split me in two’. . .are you getting this?”
I glance down at my ink sworls and scratches. “Yes,” I say, because I am
loathe to ruin illusions. Before we dress up, the Mad Hatter asks about
my history of analysis. I play my part as if I'm as clean as an apron. "Not all hatters
are mad, you know." He asks, “How is a writing desk like a raven?” “Feathers,”
I reply, and it is his turn to be silent. Lewis and Alice sway in the stairwell.
She walks the banister and collapses into his arms again and again
like the stumbling of the resolute or the damned. We watch, caught in the steps,
in a threshold interlude we can't cross.
The caller ID read GOLF MAGAZINE and from the doorway
I watched her answer. Golf Magazine doesn’t know
they are trying to renew the subscription
of a dead man. A loyal subscriber, organized packrat,
he stacked back issues between the wall and the bed
in the guest room certain someone—my brother,
my uncle—might want them someday. He never allowed
a subscription to lapse; now, they arrive with the paper
around the glossy cover that reads: FINAL ISSUE!
RENEW HERE! And my grandmother just wants
them to run out, to stop filling the mailbox she dreads checking.
He must have renewed them when he got sick, one more thing
he knew to take care of. To her, they are clutter—weekly and monthly
reminders of his absence, magazines lacking their reader.
She answers the phone, No, this is Mrs. Stearns,
and spreads her fingers out on his nightstand.
He is unable to come to the phone right now.
She assures them she’ll pass on the message.
from the fever in your sleeping body, crossing yourself again and again as you turn away from me in the dark, as I say tell me what’s wrong, your shape marbled cold and soft in the damp light from the streets below, light enough for me to see the swallows tattooed along your ribs, the stars across your neck, the anchor at your back, the stories of the life you built at sea, stories that you wanted to tell him by showing him, stories stretched and shivering white as you pray into the mattress, twist the sheets into knots the size of fists, forgive me for not reaching you in time, I’ll row harder next time, I promise. You were seven, you once said to me, and he saved you when you fell out of the boat. You were seventeen, and you couldn’t warm him fast enough after you pulled him from the fishing lake behind your house the winter he said if you consecrate yourself to the water, the earth will never let you forget it. And again, you turn away, pray Caspian Arabian Indian Mediterranean, tell me how they removed an island from the South Pacific maps for never having been an island, only a dream, only ink, only story across void blue and bare and barren, only icon. And when I touch you, trace the swallows as through window panes, ask if I can turn the light on, you tell me please don’t, call out to him through the black, please, if you wake the storm, neither of us will ever find our way home.
My mom told the therapist how I played with Barbies
as a child, pulling on tiny tights over their plastic hips and hacking
away hair that never grew back. She sat
on the worn leather sofa, her legs tightly
crossed and shaky fingers desperate for a cigarette
to soothe her knuckles, and said,
“It’s not about the boy thing.” – Thing,
like the old desk chair, whose puke
green cushion felt deflated and lumpy.
Outside, just before taking another drag,
she said, “You’ll never really be a boy.” In one long
exhale, she stared at me until I turned away.
Sometimes, when I’m in the bathroom, forced
to look down at the fake dick
pissing into a urinal, I believe her.
There is really no such thing as me:
gorilla-whale. My suit, my skin, is fireproof,
I think. I am happy, here inside, unseen.
Keiko adjusts my mask, peers, asks, “Can you see?”
I move like chains across a bed. I am the room.
In here, there is no such thing as me.
Rubber face, glue, hair like shroud, feels
big big big. I have no lines, but lots to do.
I am happy though, here inside unseen.
I am better than the men. I fit inside. I barely breathe.
Hell is shapeless inside shape. Hell is watching others move . . .
But no, there is no such thing. Me
and mine, shoulders feet neurons spit, we
steep, conspire inside. I cannot sit. I hear no cue.
I am happiest to be here, Gojira. Unseen.
Sunset over cardboard city. Keiko dismantles body
each limb by limb. The suit will not remove:
there is no such thing. I am not me.
I am happy happy happy I am happy here unseen.