How to Be Nice and Cheerful to People
Each time a boat dips its oar into the water, Venice sinks
a little lower. It isn’t the oar’s fault.
It isn’t the crocodile’s fault
that his teeth cross like the fingers of two hands clasped
in prayer. Hunger was Augustine’s sin too, every time
he said, “Not yet, Lord.”
In a museum, someone has collected
of lynchings. In one, the body is so small
among the gathered crowd
that someone has scrawled an arrow
pointing to it. In another, a man stands
just off camera,
propping up the dead man’s head
with a stick.
In the nearly frozen river, the eagles will fish all winter.
At the last instant
before they sweep their claws
through the water,
they look away. But don’t mistake this
for remorse. The regrets of those eagles
can be measured with a teaspoon.
My dog sniffs the air where a tree has been
cut down, and then turns to look at me
as if I am responsible
for the world of missing things.
A spider bites my thigh, but that bite
is a storm on the surface of Jupiter,
and I think of how often
Michelangelo must have stopped his carving
to kiss the thighs of David.
How to Describe Symptoms to Your Doctor
Doctor, my heart is a crumpled
beer can. If you listen at my chest
you can hear the pull-tab
All these years I’ve been holding in the same lungful
of smoke I inhaled behind the 7-Eleven
in seventh grade. When I open
my high school yearbook, everyone
in the pictures turns their backs to me.
Doctor, my childhood was a bomb crater
in the middle of a cornfield.
My mother was a lapsed tornado. My father, an abandoned
oil derrick. That was his name, Derrick. No joke.
All my dreams are Doppler weather maps
of west central Illinois. My love life is a town so small
you’ll miss it
if you blink while driving through.
My mind is a twelve-story
parking garage in which I’ve lost
my car. Doctor, I know that when I find it,
I’ll have locked my keys inside.
Once at a flee market I saw an elephant
chained to a post, and a sign
that said $10 A Ride!
I got in line, but when I saw the way it kneeled
to let each rider climb its back, I walked away.
Doctor, my stereo only plays minstrel songs,
and I’m beginning to think my TV might be
I think my future might be a birdhouse
with mice living in it.
Doctor, when I hear the ice cream truck
I weep heavy cream. My pet rock loves me,
which is a huge comfort. I’m an animal
How to Read a Chest X-Ray
Buy a boat. Christen it The Pathetic Fallacy.
Learn from the barnacle how to surrender
Admire the bitten apple, the way the kingfisher
commits its body to the water like a man falling
in love. When you pass a Laundromat
while walking home from a poetry reading,
stop to look inside at the teenage girl
face down asleep in her math workbook
as the rows of fluorescent lights burn
apocalyptically above her.
The slow ruination of a life is a thin broth
you ladle spoon by spoon
out of a cast iron pot.
Repeat after me: I was born a pushpin in a box
of paperclips, a pointing finger
in a land of bent knees.
You can think open the stones. Think the rain
drop by dizzy drop. Think
the bar of soap bobbing
in the tub. Think the drunken winter sun.
Regret by the gallon, love
by the spoonful. Go sit in some quiet place
and memorize the faces of the passing
ants as they slowly dismantle
a discarded apple core. Be as glad
as the speckled woodpecker
as he bashes his head against the tree. Yes,
some days your mind will come out
matted like the back of a dog that has spent
all day digging through the brambles
and the rain.
But last, and this is important,
you must pour all your sweetest honey
into a shallow bowl and then,
dip your finger into it.