for irene, august 2011
she told me to build an ark, and since she was the size
of a continent who was i to argue. there was a prize
inside if you could reproduce, because after all,
it was the reason for pairs. i made a phone call
and we were off. i gathered pine and oak and beech,
and though i knew nothing about ship building as such
i was confident i could build a vessel worthy
of weathering the hurricane’s flood with surety.
the rain began to come down and the parade moved forth
in went the giraffes and elephants all ready to give birth
followed by the two cockatiels with clipped wings
and the duo of raccoons with their eyes all ringed
in went the wolves, the frogs, and the domestic
animals, the cats and the dogs and ferrets, the pick
of the litters, and we were just about to close
the door when in some others came poking their nose
in came the alcoholics with their huge packs of beer
followed by the depressed pair practically in tears
in came the drug addicts with their needles and pipes
and the hookers with herpes and vaginal wipes
in came the catholics demanding seats at the front
and so the homophobics moved over with a grunt
but not before making sure of the gender of the former
when it finally was settled and everyone seemed to concur
i closed the portal and we settled in for a long night.
with all this cargo i knew everything would be alright
and everything would be back to normal at first light.
realign your spine, count the red cells, hold fingertip to
fingertip because you could chew out the side of your mouth
but i heard every word you said and i’m holding you to it.
measure out your inconsistencies, all the feigned innocence,
measure yourself out like flour but don’t forget to sift.
i made you a cake with a dull saw inside, i used a spoon
to slit my wrists, measuring out blood by how strong you
like your coffee. sugar dissolves inside us but doesn’t
make our words any sweeter. i string your words together
but rearrange them how i want. rearrange how these events
happened and you might have a different opinion. rearrange
these tangram pasts and connect these thoughts with the vein
i ripped out of my arm. check the pressure of your stare
and recalibrate your heart. it’s always so inaccurate.
boil your heart down to the stone. line them up between
the hedges. for you i called down the moon. the foam-
ringed shoulders of the sea did more than shiver.
the silver lining of your mouth glinted in the light,
shed its lips and what was shadow went unseen
i wandered your coast filled with white shells and loam
where i buried my journal and ink in a watery blur
there were too many prophecies hinging on what might
happen, how just the flick of your wrist could clean
the shore of debris and i couldn’t go beachcomb
for moonlight anymore, drunk on frankincense and myrrh
looking for something hidden like a pearl so bright
and how many times must i be held and submerged beneath
and how many hearts must i pluck from between your teeth
dark comes like a pinhole opening from underneath
into a gaping abyss lined with red clover and heath
i have grown to love the feeling of being beneath
i like the way your spine feels between my teeth
we do not fly, we do not float
where we end up will be some place remote
this poem was for you, that’s why i wrote
so take my hand but don’t forget your coat
it’s not a rabbit hole, it’s a wormhole
the truth is written on an already-burned scroll
and though i am fallen, at least i am still whole
and i’m never giving back the heart i stole
it’s the best kind of falling
inscribed stellar messages scrawling
through endless space we are sprawling
so tell me you love me and stop fucking stalling
we meet together below a digital sea
a universe is handed from you to me
you breed thoughts that spiral into infinity
what will come of this, we shall see.
what if no one held you for the first three months of your life. what if the back of your head was so flat from days and nights spent lying in a crib, with no one to cradle you, no one to hold you close and sing softly in the delicate shell of your ear. what if the artificial peppermint flavor from your first kiss never washed from your mouth and now every day you eat mint flavored steak and mint flavored bread and mint flavored dick. what if you had to take ten (sometimes eleven) pills a day just to convince yourself that you aren’t on the precipice of madness, that all that therapy and all that time spent in the hospitals was for your own good, so you wouldn’t hurt yourself, they said.
what if you’re damaged. what if everybody is damaged. you can’t change what happened but you can change what’s going to happen. what if there were no boundaries, what if you spilled yourself out all over the place, holding your nerve endings up in case someone wanted to tease and twang them, what if you decide to stop replaying the past over and over again in your head and cut the reel of all the bad clips, what if you stood beneath this shock of sky and realized that you’ll never truly be okay, and you’re okay with that. what if you lived your life as more than just a metaphor. what if nothing happened for a reason and that was reason enough. what if you were stronger than they said.
draw me into the conspiracy of your arms and i will tell
you everything, how closely i listened to that shell
for the sound of your voice calmly telling me everything
would be okay, back when my only belief was nothing
that ever set foot upon the soft muscle of the heart
planting a flag, one giant leap that made my body start
to know what it felt like to be encapsulated in the fur
of your mind that wrapped itself around me, that would stir
within me something heavy and scarred, something old
that had been lying dormant waiting to be told
that we must take a break from suffering, at least for
a while, that in fact there is something more
to be discovered, to be fought for, that the universe
is held within a drop of dew and that while i may converse
about death, at the end, everything goes in reverse
and you’ll see me waving with a smile from my hearse.
i want to grow a beard. i want lush, curly hair growing on my
cheeks and my chin, which i’d stroke when deep in thought,
which would be all the time. this is not to say i wish to be
a man. i would like to be a feminine lady with a dark-colored
beard, long eyelashes, and curls at my forehead. annie jones
was born in 1860 and by the time she was five she had sideburns
and a mustache. annie, tell me, did your husband love to stroke
your beard as he stroked your long brown hair at the same time?
did he pull you by the beard when you were being difficult, or
give you oils to massage into your cheeks and chin? did you sing
in the bath as you lathered, did you feel bad when people came
to point and stare? your beard lay nestled between your breasts
as you slept, and i am jealous as i look at your picture, your
heavy lidded eyes and all that dark hair flowing from your face,
and when they buried you they threaded gold in the soft locks,
queen of the circus, king of them all.
purple bruised plum heart stops and starts and the needle jumps
and stays, jumps and stays, and there is only so much of this you
can take before you end up splayed out in the street just before
dawn wiping your eyes with your sleeve and wishing they would just
quit it with the damn paddles. you were just learning how to drown
in dry air when they came along and heaved you up to your feet,
brushed you off, and sent you out into the streets armed with
nothing but a half-crushed cigarette and a waterlogged notebook.
you can’t remember more than half of what was written and think
it’s probably better that way. the city spits you out and you
stumble on, coated with the phlegm of neon lights and sidewalk
conversation the color of crisis and ink is running from your nose
and your eyes are streaming but on the back of your hand there’s
some purpose written and you can’t always live for other people,
but sometimes it’s all that you can scrape by on.
there was a lobster, bright red, like it had already
been thrown in the pot, but at the time she didn’t know
how they cooked lobsters, didn’t know they had to boil
them alive, didn’t know if crustaceans screamed.
there was also an iguana, a moose, a pelican. she was
fastidious about keeping their tags intact at first
but didn’t know much about market value and gradually
they became bent and worn, water-washed and smudged.
she still loved them all as best she could, a shepherd
among a flock of beanie animals lined up along the bed.
she scoured the books because she collected quotes so
she would always know what to say and when to say it.
there were death quotes, which she used at funerals,
uplifting or depressing depending on how she felt
about the deceased, there were quotes about love that
she didn’t even need to feel while she were saying them.
the best were the holiday quotes, because they were
so easy: she just inserted the holiday with the same
phrases like ‘time for giving’ and ‘time for family’
and everyone smiled at her and she smiled back.
it happened first almost by sheer luck–she had been driving
and witnessed a collision. getting out of the car, there
was nothing but the sound of a hubcap spinning to a stop
on the ground, and someone’s wrist with a silver watch on it.
there was no question in mind that it now belonged to her.
she began hanging around the streets waiting for an accident
to occur. she acquired a baby rattle, a pair of smashed glasses,
a scuffed tube of lipstick. she would take them home and put
them next to the faded iguana and the yellowed books. she was,
after all, a collector of things no one would miss.
i kept your memory beneath my pillow, took it out when i needed
to feel bad about myself which was every day that ended with a y
y was that you i saw on the two of swords, amber eyes hidden by
a blindfold that i myself had tied around your head, your head
that i held in my fool’s hands and wrapped in silk for safe-
keeping. i lit candles for all everything that had been ravaged,
i lit a candle but it would not catch and you sucked in your
breath and shook your head. a bad omen, you whispered. but we
were no seers. we could not have seen what they would find when
they discovered the remnants of dreams in the morning, but they
would know that you had stolen one because you had promised me
we would be lovers, you had promised me the world. why couldn’t
i shake out the image of your face from my quartz crystal ball,
why did i keep smelling you in the incense smoke that settled
in my sheets, where i lay the high priestess of loss waiting
for death to take me upon his white horse. now there are three
swords pierced through me, one for each time you called me your
love, the cards have been cast and my heart knows no temperance.
and though we walk
in leafy shadow
we prefer to talk
about the low
sound of the bell
that lifted us up
from the floor of the cell-
ar and spun us like a cup
thrown into the air
patterned green and brown
of the ground.
pull me up
out of this twist of blackness
i feel myself lit within
with the dark spark of madness
my flesh hangs on my bones
as i near the day of my birth
when i was coughed out
of an unknown woman’s girth
the summer burns red
a time for dying
if i said i loved august
i’d be lying
it feels something akin to
drowning in dry air
i write my epitaph
on a strand of my hair
i ask only this
in a voice so low:
forget you knew me
and let me go.