Sarah

I met you on a Wednesday night
you were twenty one years old

Your flight to school in the Netherlands
was only two days away

We left the bar to play music
and your drumming was perfect
for all the tunes he called

and I saw you smile at him
when you caught him smiling at you

You were bright as a beacon
at the center of a starless desert

You were going to be a neurologist.

He will miss you every day.

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On A Country Road

Rosie was eleven years old
she told us, as the overweight bulldog
began to wheeze near her feet
while a television program murmured
in the living room

A tree had fallen on the property line
so now she was all alone
except for old Rosie here

He was driving their big-wheel tractor
with the mower deck running off PTO
maintaining 28 acres on an August afternoon
when suddenly he succumbed
to a massive skull fracture

She warmed the other’s coffees
but she didn’t need both her mugs anymore
so she sent one out with me

‘No more air piano,’ she said
trying her best to smile
As we bid farewell to Rosie
and left them both
with the upright grand we’d come with

Railing

I dreamed I was a Bangladeshi shipbreaker
toiling in the tropical salt air
with taut muscles and hard callouses
with cuts on hands and shoulders
with burns from oxy-acetylene flames

I worked on the deck of a broken ship
a behemoth with no back half
like a tuna with its tail removed
floating dead in the shallows
in a harbor with a hundred ships like it
on a sandy coast with no end

There were thousands of us working
stretching our rice-fed bodies in the heat
flattening tanks with mallets
taking torch to hull
glancing at the sea a hundred feet below

I was paid in cash each week
enough to buy a bit to eat
and pay for my worker’s flat
a room in a building off the dockyard
where the company provided one bed each
for only two-thirds a month’s wages

My brother died the week before
he was working a few ships down from me
tearing pipe from a plumbing run
pulling copper from rusted conduit
loading pump parts on a limping wagon

I was told it was eleven PM
that a chain had wrapped his ankle
that the other three men faltered
and dropped the bilgepump engine block
off a deck that had no railing

it had long been cut away

lift off

the shower’s a warm blanket
but the cold lives in my spine
if only i could see
then i wouldn’t be so blind

tell me i’m not fine
tell me not to cry

the president’s a virus
and my family is the host
they pull all of their pants down
to get lashed by the holy ghost

castigate my mind
tell me that i lie

my father is a rapist
and my mother cries all day
the sun dances in the window
but has nothing much to say

i’m starting to unwind
i’ve nothing but the time

let up
lift off

Reptile

I would look for frogs near rotting stumps
in the summer evenings of my younger days
collecting them in jars for a few hours
until I set them free
or cast them against the pavement
to be fed to baby snapping turtles
else be let in the tank for the corn snake
to have her way, at her leisure

I was a cruel god then,
my subjects kept nourished
with the blood that I saw fit to spill

Woe are the frogs of the summer evenings
of my younger days, flailing in clenched jaws
or stunned and rent to shreds

I was a cruel god then

Frog that I am now,
I pray my god finds mercy.

Giving Ground

I.

The air was cement
in the afternoon sun

I counted the stains
on the upholstery
on the backs of chairs
until The Law walked in

I was brighter then
I am warmer now


II.

At Eleven O’Clock
the pain set in

I clutched your thigh
through gritted teeth

I’d heard what you said
I never heard you say a word


III.

The Law was restless
pistol hand on grip

I tried to keep my eyes down
as her visage shook my soul

The air in my throat
grew thicker still


IV.

There were just us three,
two tables and a pistol between

You stood to leave with elegance
as I floundered, chair to floor

I spat your name as the door swung


V.

The Law saw my despair
and her pistol hand was mercy;

She shot me twice

and waited

for the light in my eyes to go out

the ant trap

at what point do
you know
that it is poison
that you are
eating?

you stupid bug

that smelled
your way here
as you were born
to do
looking for
something sweet
to take a little
for your
infinitesimal
self

while the lion’s share goes to your master

it was i who put that poison there,
you bastard!

for you and your kin
because it
disturbs me
to see you
i am repulsed
by the
very site
of you

you should know better
than
to be soft
and dumb

and fall for an easy trap
placed
conveniently
within your
reach

we run from the easiest answers

i believe i knew before the dive,
anyway

i knew when i forgot where you were

i mean you know when someone goes
missing

at the bottom of the lake
and at the bottom of everything
you thought you needed to find
and was dead already
with your face,
and your eyes wide,
purple-ish blue
dead long before
you knew it was missing
dead already when
you realized it was gone

so what there is now
left
to hold onto
must endure.

No-One Is Listening

You are a pirate transmitter in an ocean of unauthorized frequencies
that cascade together creating distortion and static

My receiver picks up on a stray, clear transmission every now and again
so I can piece together your path based on your current bearings and location

I know that you have undertaken a grueling course through dangerous waters
without the help of your officer, who left you and your few crew members for another ship

The most of it, though, is hissing noise washed out by other radios with bigger amps
and one day among the swirling interference, your signal will go cold

Maybe I will notice.
Maybe I will not.

But based on my most recent data
I will be forced to understand, unfortunately,
that you have drowned

And that none of us other broadcasters
had taken enough time from our programming blocks
to help you out at all

This is a poem about death

Not about a walkabout skeleton
in a black robe, with a threshing blade
or a plague or a sickness
or a rock-and-roll band

This is about the feeling
that washes over you
as you stand in a room
while another human being
struggles to keep blood pumping
through their veins
even though everyone knows
they should be gone by now

This is that stone in your gut
as you hang up the phone
from hearing the news: someone
whom you loved very dearly
had wrapped a strong rope
about their neck and throat
and tightened it somehow
until they were no longer breathing

Here, now, the dizziness that comes
when you remind yourself
that the phone number you were dialing
no longer connects

Here, the pain of knowing that
nothing you can do can
bring somebody back,
so it’s too late for some things
and all the apologies you owe
will have to go unsaid

This is a poem about death
and it is not romantic
because there is no romance in death

It is not beautiful,
there is no beauty in it either

it is dark and cold
and it is sad

Swear to God

I will fight everything
tooth and nail come
Hell or high water
by pen or sword
or just that laser-point
stare that I get
when the cards are
on the table

Oh, and if I die
in a pool of blood
or a pile of guts
or a floundering heap
of real intention,
I hope I at least
keep my shoulders square
enough

And I hope I always know
that my mother loves me

in cairo

in cairo they throw
rocks in the streets
and are stacking bodies
to rig the death count
to get the air time
and off the cement bullets
ricochet with the words
allah akhbar
young men hurl themselves
towards the crackling streets
looking up at red sky
hoping today is the day
and i hope there is something
for them there
i hope they get lifted off
the streets of cairo in some
bright, elegent light
and horns will play heavenly tunes
while their brothers
pose for the camera
screaming “allah akhbar”
and loosely bandage
the marytrd wounded
with his eyes glazing over
i hope he is floating with
the virgins and his dead
relatives in peaceful content
forever-bliss
and there are no stones to throw
and you will not have to say
anything
and they will write your name among
the dead with an emphasis and
the young souls will look to yours
in awe and say “I want to
go his way:
on a street-corner
for the cameras
as a hail-mary pass.”

In mourning

Everything around me
looks like a children’s picture-book now
and this is how it’s going to be
and this is how it’s going to be seem
until all the Pulitzer’s come back from Hawaii,
with their pens between their lips
and their suitcases bursting like the ocean.
This is how it is, in mourning.

There was a day when you smiled,
with your mouth that had two lips,
two peeled peaches, opening and closing
like the heartbeat of a hotel lobby.
There was a day when you sat perched, quite remarkably,
on a rung of the great wooden ladder,
that stretched upwards, like your arms, to the boardroom of Trinity,
where three wise men sat, and drank red wine very slowly.
There was a moment, quite suddenly,
when you declined their invitation
and stepped down from the slippery-slide to glory
with your hair a dripping mess.

Surely this makes the six o’clock news, I thought
But the novelists had already boarded the plane.

There was a day of endless superlatives,
of Latin and prefix and light.
Half torn now in front of me, the mundane are setting up camp,
so I’ll wait, until the real world that came attached to your hip
calls up its publisher and says, ‘’it’s time, I’m coming home.’’

drastic, offputting, offensive, hurtful

i like the life of a ghost
because often times
i’d wanted to die

skin is overrated,
anyway

and i can’t imagine
with you all here
why i’d want to be,
too. i suppose it’s
lonely,
with no one to
joke around with
about the pictures
that you take,
but the scales are
my gods
and in weighing the
options i find
that the life of a ghost
is far superior.

I Won’t Be Long

An unimportant twilight errand
Against casual entreaties
But a promise wafting in the tresses of mulberry hair
Scented with fresh shampoo
Whispered in a cabled charcoal pullover
I won’t be long, she said.
A garbled moan from the engine outside
The whine ebbing to silence

To screech a thunderous collision unheard
In headlights too rapid for response
Red then ringing then red and white
Powdered glass a fleeting monument
Timidly lingering evidence of the unfulfilled
This is loneliness, I promise.
You have my word, I won’t be long

wally’s world

on the way to the
vee eff double yew
i saw dereks in the
cornfields
and i can see why you’d
not want to be here.
i hear they sent you
in to cash-for-gold
and got a settlement
from a white house,
overnight,
postdated for two years,
and i see what the govern
meant. side-note:
my baby she is a cow in
the pasture,
all four of her stomachs
filtering the asbestos-grass
(have you seen the commercial
for the new tree ants?
delicious, i hear).
my friend denny, see, he lives
on every corner,
he puts syrup on his bread
and sells you awful puns for
10 a piece.
and, i suppose, i’m glad as hell
you finally walked out of wally’s
world, we’re all still unsure
as to why any of us bought
tickets. ’till then it’s midnight
in the living section.

to my dead grandpa rich

while visions of you are still
fresh in my head
i ought write a poem
about how you are dead
about how you let
yourself drift out to sea
when the grim reaper came
to town

i was a commander
underneath you in battle
herdsmen in computer chairs
leading our cattle
i remember the opium
sun on the beach
before wilford brimley
came to town

i don’t much write tributes
to men twice my size
i gave it my best
and we both know that’s a lie
but you were in florida
where they stuff ’em away
before the chariots
came to town

(you were my favorite,
too)

Essence

When considering the final conclusion
The closing stages of a blaze soon to be extinguished
Embers glowing their brightest before at last they fade
Heartbeats ebbing to an even rhythm amidst the hearth
Radiating undulations and ashen remembrances
Furrowing to heights unknown
Trembling to hushed rest unseen
After everything the trajectory revealed
Cremated powder remnants
Charred and stained against time
But the legacy of its warmth still burning
More brilliantly than ever before