We left the Christmas party and you said,
It’s cold as a witch’s tit,
and I promised to use it in a poem. Here it is.
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t thinking
of your nipples then, iced erect under your blouse.
I am not flirting with you. I tried that once. Now
I am only being human. You drove me home
and I wondered if friendship is a type of love
separate from desire.-For my students
I tried explaining that we are just another set of animals
with needs. Dying is what we do best,
when we are least shy; alone.
I said, “We bury each other with our hands,
mourn with our eyes.” Our voices
grow soft in fire—
I cannot teach you this.
What you put on the page is not
what you feel in your heart, it is
filtered through words—
that might be too much
to start with.
Neruda wrote, “Love is short, forgetting is so long.”
If nothing else, I want you all to know
Gin is not the same as blood. A poem
about cocktails and ovaries is not an elegy,
nor is it funny.
I once loved a girl
I met in a hospital.
For a while we had matching pirate tattoos
and when the nurses weren’t looking
I inked a promise ring on her pinky,
told her I’d buy her a horse to replace
the one her parents owned when it died.
On a Thursday she hung herself
with a bed sheet, broke every capillary in her neck,
and for two weeks could not talk, and so wrote
letters to me on playing cards.
Her face was a kind of blue you don’t see
in nature. She thought it was funny,
wrote: I look like the last berry
on a juniper tree.-For my sister
It may be years before you read this,
decades before you understand. One day,
little sister, I might be your only friend.
This is in our blood.
I wish I had known sooner
that Mom’s back ached for months
before our grandmother died.
Before I left for college,
when you were too small
to help, we lifted her up the stairs
because she could not walk,
though her ghost leg said touch to her brain,
itch to the few fingers she could still move.
I saw her naked, bathed her, and I am not ashamed.
In Thailand, little sister, workers take ya ba
and stay up for days, knowing how it ruins the body,
so that they can make money for their families.
This is sacrifice. I cannot say it any other way.
For my birthday, Scott brought me a boomerang
he found in an alley, and I tucked it into my belt,
strutted around the bar until they kicked me out
for having a weapon in my pants.
At home I hung it on the wall,
thought of the little girl who might have thrown it
sitting at the window every night, waiting
for it to return, like her father, who told her before leaving
that accidents only happen to the careless and ignorant.
I once slammed my sister’s finger in the car door.
Maybe I meant to. During last month’s storm
an oak fell into my high school English teacher’s living room.
No one pointed a finger at the tree. A neighbor told his daughter
the tree got tired and needed to lie down.
That night she dreamed of being knocked over
and not getting back up—
of being swallowed into the earth.
I miss the hills of the graveyard, swollen with gravestones that were never made
because the families of the dead couldn’t afford them.
I say this to my mother and I know
there is nothing to do but pace the room
until I have caught up with my shadow and the feedback
on the phone is the sound of my first girlfriend singing
in the shower. Tonight, I’ll take any distraction.
I’ll listen for any creature that cries because of the sunset,
to any drop of water that thinks it is independent
enough to leave its mother
in search of the river. We make our own canyons
if we drag our feet long enough, and if we refuse to move
and are impaired by depression, death sneaks up
on its four spindly legs and rips us from our body
like a sheet of notebook paper. Little girl,
we know each other only by this chunk of wood, but I still imagine
you waking, your hair folded over your shoulders
like the wings of bats, crying because you are afraid of the future,
its toenails growing beneath your bed.
If we ever meet I’ll confess that I’ve been having the same dream
for the last ten years: a friend falls asleep and has a seizure,
chokes on his vomit. His mother holds my hand—
that drop of water makes its way to the ocean,
leaves its trail on the beaches of Sierra Leone, into Koidu
where the rain is good luck, and the amputees walk
with their heads down to find the diamonds in the mud.
My Girlfriend Recaps the News While I Try to Write a Poem about Loss
—For James Craig Anderson
When she says Ohio, I don’t think
of the animal ownership regulations,
of the farmer who sets his 49 exotics free
then shoots himself in the barn.
18 tigers, 9 lions, 8 bears, 2 wolves,
and most of them so afraid they don’t move
towards freedom, and are shot
where they stand. The schools are closed.
The cops tell everyone to stay
off the streets—and when she says Nebraska,
I am flipping through my notepads,
intent on writing a poem about lynching. She says,
two girls were found
locked in a kennel, in a trailer home.
There was a mattress…animal feces…four adults
watching Jeopardy in the front…
…a pumpkin shortage in Illinois—page 37, 2010—
cancer spreading because of planes dropping poison
over farming fields. Pumpkin-in-a-can.
Hoarders stocking up on ebay.
A quote from a friend: “This has jalapeños.
This is Southwest Cornbread” (page 23).
Then a call from Jonathan, who taught me how to fly fish
and set a lure, and is always concerned about me being eaten
by bears, even way out here in the desert. Jonathan,
whose house in Kalamazoo is surrounded by coyotes in winter,
and whose book is always about to be done, as if it were
a murder, and he needed encouragement to follow through.
Note: drink from the beach, your mouth full of kelp and foam,
glass of iced tea, cherry stem, lemon zest, pearl (page 10).
Drawing of a friend as a robot, dog-eared pages with just my name—
and she says every 15 seconds a burglary happens in the U.S.
and a man grows a 200 pound watermelon that won’t ripen
and is green all the way through,
and cocaine increases dopamine
related to creativity, which is why
I fold bits of paper into footballs, the way we did in middle school,
and my cats chase them around the room like lions after some little boy
in a B Level horror movie, where you can see the zippers under their manes.
And it’s midnight now, and rescuers pull
a 14-day-old baby from the wreckage of an earthquake
in Turkey. And I start my poem:
Sunday, June 6th in Brandon, Mississippi…
Photo credit: Teresa Simone