You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.
You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely
If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns’ first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep
If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.
At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.
Someone tell him he should sleep now.
My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.
At this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.
Someone tell him he should sleep now.
God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.
At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.
Someone tell the Lord the leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.
If you were made of stone,
your kiss a fossil sealed up in your lips,
your eyes a sightless marble to my touch,
your grey hands pooling raindrops for the birds,
your long legs cold as rivers locked in ice,
if you were stone, if you were made of stone, yes, yes.
If you were made of fire,
your head a wild Medusa hissing flame,
your tongue a red-hot poker in your throat,
your heart a small coal glowing in your chest,
your fingers burning pungent brands on flesh,
if you were fire, if you were made of fire, yes, yes.
If you were made of water,
your voice a roaring, foaming waterfall,
your arms a whirlpool spinning me around,
your breast a deep, dark lake nursing the drowned,
your mouth an ocean, waves torn from your breath,
if you were water, if you were made of water, yes, yes.
If you were made of air,
your face empty and infinite as sky,
your words a wind with litter for its nouns,
your movements sudden gusts among the clouds,
your body only breeze against my dress,
if you were air, if you were made of air, yes, yes.
If you were made of air, if you were air,
if you were made of water, if you were water,
if you were made of fire, if you were fire,
if you were made of stone, if you were stone,
or if you were none of these, but really death,
the answer is yes, yes.
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
I move to keep things whole.
close to the ground
but when you fly
redden the sky with bright wings
to the cover of dark branches
alert to danger
but not afraid
with small chickadees and sparrows
content with crumbs
the world provides
when the jay comes
hungry and screaming
like a flame
extinguished in the wind
and in the cold
in the days of iron frost
do not complain
but stuff your belly with the seeds
of your own burning
and fluff up your feathers
to hold in heat
even with your thin feet
deep in snow
We flame the river
to keep the boat paths open
your eyes eat my shadow
at the light line
completing each other’s need
to settle into hunger
a waning moon.
from my palms
like the firehairs of a cactus
I know this appetite
the greed of a poet
or an empty woman
trying to touch
225 days under grass
and you know more than I.
they have long taken your blood,
you are a dry stick in a basket.
is this how it works?
in this room
the hours of love
still make shadows.
when you left
you took almost
I kneel in the nights
that will not let me be.
what you were
will not happen again.
the tigers have found me
and I do not care.
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course
you’re tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.
Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance
inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.
Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch
by inch America is giving itself
to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness
lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch.
You aren’t alone. All of the continents used to be
one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep.
Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow,
Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle,
Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so
Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town
History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.
when it’s behind my knees
you’d have to fall to the
floor, lower your whole
body like horses in a field
to smell it. White Rose,
Bulgarian rose. I think of
sheets I’ve left my scent in
as if to stake a claim for
someone who could never
care for anything alive.
This Bulgarian rose,
spicy, pungent, rose as my
16th birthday party dress,
rose lips, nipples. If you
won’t fall to your knees, at
least, please, nuzzle like those
horses, these roses, somewhere
I don’t know when the boys
began to walk away with parts of myself
in their sticky hands; when loving
became a process of subtraction. Or why,
having given up what seems so much,
I’m willing to lose even more — erasing
all this body’s known, relearning it with you.
Because I miss
you I run my hand
along the flat of my thigh
curve of the hip
mango of the ass Imagine
it your hand across
the thrum of ribs
arpeggio of breasts
collarbones you adore
that I don’t
My neck is thin
You could cup
it with one hand
Yank the life from me
if you wanted
I’ve cut my hair
You can’t tug
my hair anymore
A jet of black
through the fingers now
Your hands cool
along the jaw
skin of the eyelids
nape of the neck
soft as a mouth
And when we open like apple
split each other in half and
have seen the heart
of the heart
of the heart that part
you don’t I don’t
show anyone the part
we want to reel
back as soon as it
is suddenly unreeled like silk
flag or the prayer call
of a Mohammed we won’t
have a word for this except
my fire-eating career came to an end
when i could no longer tell
when to spit and when
last night in amsterdam,
1,000 tulips burned to death.
i have an alibi. when i walked by
your garden, your hand
grenades were in bloom.
you caught me playing
loves me, loves me
not, metal pins between my teeth.
i forget the difference
ignition and cognition. i am a girl
vices and you have a filthy never
mind. if you say no, twice,
it’s a four-letter word.
you are so dirty, people have planted
flowers on you: heliotropes. sun-
flowers. you’ll take
anything. loves me,
loves me not.
i want to bend you over
and whisper: “potting soil,” “fresh
cut.” when you made
the urgent fists of peonies
a proposition, i stole a pair of botanists’
hands. green. confident. all thumbs.
i look sharp in garden
shears and it rained spring
all night. 1,000 tulips
burned to death
we didn’t hear the sirens.
all night, you held my alibis
so softly, like taboos
You’re sad because you’re sad.
It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.
Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favourite child.
My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.
My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think
praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,
it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different
theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook
of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,
your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb
but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.
Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,
in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
I cannot tell you that last night in the exhaust-
fume impatience of nearly-stopped traffic
through which cars crept, linked
with short chains of light,
the driver at my front failed for whole minutes
to follow closely the blue Buick in front of him,
stopped, in fact, entirely, while a thousand
engines idled in molasses-sticky Virginia heat.
I caught the fine, still cut-out of his face
as he leaned a little out the window, looking,
so I turned, too, and saw what I had missed in long
minutes of waiting: a bank of cloud like descending
birds, a great, bright raspberry moon,
and I was surprised into loving this man as I
have loved others—ancient-eyed boys reading on benches,
crossing guards in white gloves,
businessmen sleeping on trains—easily,
as I have never loved you.
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south:
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only ever be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.
Beauty makes me hopeless. I don’t care why anymore I just want to get away. When I look at the city of Paris I long to wrap my legs around it. When I watch you dancing there is a heartless immensity like a sailor in a dead calm sea. Desires as round as peaches bloom in me all night, I no longer gather what falls.
When I heard he had entered the harbor,
and circled the wharf for days,
I expected the worst: shallow water,
confusion, some accident to bring
the young humpback to grief.
Don’t they depend on a compass
lodged in the salt-flooded folds
of the brain, some delicate
musical mechanism to navigate
their true course? How many ways,
in our century’s late iron hours,
might we have led him to disaster?
That, in those days, was how
I’d come to see the world:
dark upon dark, any sense
of spirit an embattled flame
sparked against wind-driven rain
till pain snuffed it out. I thought,
This is what experience gives us ,
and I moved carefully through my life
while I waited… Enough,
it wasn’t that way at all. The whale
—exuberant, proud maybe, playful,
like the early music of Beethoven—
cruised the footings for smelts
clustered near the pylons
in mercury flocks. He
(do I have the gender right?)
would negotiate the rusty hulls
of the Portuguese fishing boats
—Holy Infant, Little Marie—
with what could only be read
as pleasure, coming close
then diving, trailing on the surface
big spreading circles
until he’d breach, thrilling us
with the release of pressured breath,
and the bulk of his sleek young head
—a wet black leather sofa
already barnacled with ghostly lice—
and his elegant and unlikely mouth,
and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes,
and the way his broad flippers
resembled a pair of clownish gloves
or puppet hands, looming greenish white
beneath the bay’s clouded sheen.
When he had consumed his pleasure
of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps,
in his own admired performance,
he swam out the harbor mouth,
into the Atlantic. And though grief
has seemed to me itself a dim,
salt suspension in which I’ve moved,
blind thing, day by day,
through the wreckage, barely aware
of what I stumbled toward, even I
couldn’t help but look
at the way this immense figure
graces the dark medium,
and shines so: heaviness
which is no burden to itself.
What did you think, that joy
was some slight thing?
If you have taken this rubble for my past
raking through it for fragments you could sell
know that I long ago moved on
deeper into the heart of the matter
If you think you can grasp me, think again:
my story flows in more than one direction
a delta springing from the riverbed
with its five fingers spread