May 7, 2014

To the stranger, my son

You are still little
more than a concept
to me, and I

am no good
at loving
abstract things - God, land, heritage - 
so, forgive me 

if this isn't so much
love, as the inability
to bear the thought
of you not being there.

You are a gray, grainy blur,
and a kick in the gut,

a hundred complaints,
a million possibilities,

the whole of my future,
and the sum of my past.

You are an alien,
a faithful companion,
a thief, and a squatter,
and mine.

I am unprepared,
unsure and unwilling,
and no good at loving
abstract things - 

But there - you stir
and push against me,
unabstracting yourself,
although we've never been introduced,
and I've never really seen your face.

Here, you stir
under my skin
and there, I forget
to think deep thoughts about
what I've never been good at.

8 months pregnant with E.

February 28, 2013

Black Spaghetti, 10 Years On

He slices onions for me
because they make me weep so
my eyes blur till I can't
see what my knife is doing.

He takes over, competent, quick,
dry-eyed as I sniffle and wipe
my eyes across the kitchen.
Distance does little good.
My eyes are as full
as his hands, and I am tired
as the metaphor
of cutting onions.

The kitchen is hot. The oven
is coming to temperature. Broth
bubbles in the pot, waiting
for the grain, the carrots, celery, those
goddamn onions. I grind
peppers, pinch
thyme off
stiff sprigs, chiffonade
basil, sharp, green-smelling,
like an unwashed

picnic blanket. We shall feast
like kings, he says,
depositing the choppings
with a flourish in the pot, and I

smile wanly, overcooked
already, and the roast's
not even in the oven yet.

I remember to season
the meat, take the potatoes
off the fire, I remember

how little all this matters,
how much I love him,
but not why.

Perhaps it's only that
he slices onions for me
because he can't stand to see me cry.

February 1, 2013

ballad of the temp worker

The old, the lame,
the unwashed, the insane,
unemployables on parade.

The manager drones
like a dial tone
and pretends we're here to get trained.

And we'll take it all for the money.
We'll take it all for the check.
We're like cattle in here, but what's funny,
is that cattle get more respect.

January 13, 2013

birds & bees

When a man & a woman
love each other very much
or, anyway, enough

the man plants a seed
inside the lady, and,
nine months later, the lady
gets to drink & smoke again. Also,

there is a baby. The baby
cries & eats &
shits & pukes &
sometimes smiles.

Payment. Then, walks,
then talks, plays,
learns to lie, learns
not to. Goes
to school, learns

life isn't fair, disappoints
the parents, is disappointed
in turn (in its way, life IS fair),
learns to lie
again, better now,

grows up,
grows      up
gr
ow
sup

(when has it EVER made sense?)

picks up bad habits,
wishes it were never born or born,
at least, to different people, or, at least
with thinner thighs,

decides

not to commit suicide. Calls it
progress.

Goes on
trips, retreats, forced
marches in the wrong direction,
finds it is wrong,

keeps going, determined
to get there and build
a city where there isn't one,
gets tired,

hitches a ride
to civilization, complains
it is too crowded and impossible
to meet anyone.

Meets someone,
claims it is love,
plants a seed, nine months later
drinks and smokes again,

empty as a drum and loud,
almost convinced
of having done
something, made
something

out of nothing, something
that might last.

December 11, 2012

Settled

I live in a house in the city
on a street that turns green every spring
with the man who calls me his woman
and the woman that he thinks I am.

I wear his ring on my finger.
I wear her smile on my face.
He keeps me happy and laughing,
and she keeps me in my place.

But at night, when the windows go silent,
when all of the house is asleep,
I can still hear my caravan rolling
somewhere far away from my street.

And I still feel the drums of my jungle.
I still know all the words to the songs.
I still smell the animal on me,
under all my expensive colognes.

I still smell the spray of the ocean
when the wind blows in from the east.
And I yearn, with a nomad's devotion,
for a road rolling under my feet.

I'm a quiet, respectable woman.
All my clothes are dry-cleaned and beige.
But I still have my old scarlet lipstick.
I might wear it again one day.

December 3, 2012

caged bird (with apologies to Ms. Angelou)

I know why the caged bird
doesn't sing. Not because
it misses freedom
or sky, or flight, or inspiration.

Pah to freedom. This cage
is paid for. That noise? Is for
the birds. You're free,

so what, you're young,
you flutter by, you sing,
you get discovered, told

you're something
special, you sing louder,
better, righter, more.
You find yourself

doing it for money,
trilling for trinkets,
cooing for compliments,
chirping for cheese. They

call that freedom. Girl, please.

I know why the caged bird
doesn't sing, and why
it saunters lazy
to its perch, and, there,
from on high, grandly

takes a shit.
Someone will clean it up,

when you're a caged bird,
song, or no song.

August 1, 2012

this city

This city holds me like a lover
In its arms of concrete and glass
Sends me running for cover
Covers my back while I rest.

And I've been running forever
Even when I'm standing still
In my armor of metal and leather
In my armor of laughter and skin.

This city holds me like a hostage
Doesn't leave marks you can see
But underground in the darkness
I go wherever I please

So I've been going all over
Nobody's stopped me yet
They've got no guards at the border
They've got no locks on the gates.

This city holds me like a promise
That I once gave, when I was too young,
When I still believed I was honest
When I still believed I was strong

And I'm doing my best to keep it
I'm doing my best to keep on
Nobody catches me weeping
Nobody catches me down

This city holds me like a story
I'll be hanging on till the end
Though there's nothing waiting there for me
But the chance to start over again.

But I still believe in redemption
And I still believe in relief
I'm still hoping for some kind of meaning
I'm still hoping for some kind of peace

July 14, 2012

self-portrait

I've never been beautiful
and I've never been kind.

I've never gotten anywhere
except by flying blind.

I behave badly,
though I know what comes after.

And I only sleep well
through a disaster.

I've never been calm
and I've sometimes been good,

but good just leaves me grasping
and misunderstood.

But I've never been cruel
except to myself.

And I talk a good game,
but all to myself.

June 29, 2012

thorns of the wild rose

O come with me
to the field of green
at the fading of the light

O follow me
I won't be hard to see
in my gown of maiden white

O lay you down
on the warm summer ground
and rise no more tonight.

O did you ever
come this way before
on a quiet summer night?

O did you go
where the wild roses grow
with a maiden by your side?

O lay you down
on the warm summer ground
and rise no more tonight.

And I will come down
in my sister's gown
that she made to wear as your bride.

O she once came down
and you made her your own
but no vows did she take as she died.

O I'm coming down,
won't be long now
till we're lying side by side.

On a silver blade
I have carved her name,
and I'll carve it once more tonight.

O lay you down
on the warm summer ground
and rise no more, no more.

O I'll lay you down
in the soft summer ground
where you'll lie forever more.





June 2, 2012

immobility

I stand here like a beggar, stunned
with grief at the loss
of all my previous conceits,
singed at the edges
with dissolution and deceit.

I stand here like a drifter, stopped
with wine and forgetfulness.
My hands are dirty and unsteady,
my clothes are old, my heart is ready
to ditch it all, sell up, move out,
try my luck someplace
where they haven't heard of me,
where my name is worth
no less than nothing.

I stand here like a killer, struck
with my own power and possibility,
and there is blood of my soft rubber
soles, and silence
in my gait. I've always been a master
of the neat retreat. But not
today.

I stand here like a banyan, stuck
in strength and immobility, twisted
by my own nature, roots
sinking deeper, deeper, more
warped with
each century's solemn tick.

May 23, 2012

pencil

When they were
passing out the ammo,
I was late -

must have been reading
or afraid of crowd -

and when I got there
all I found
was a pencil.
So I took it. Figured

I could stab somebody with it
if I needed to.

Then we all went fishing.
That was all I had
for bait, that pencil.

I dangled it in the water, bored.
Nothing bit. Then I heard
a whisper from the water:

"Did you see that
strange, unappetizing
morsel? What WAS that,
anyway?"

I thought, hey,
dead or not,
at least I got them
talking about me.

It's not like a pencil isn't useful.
Just not for fishing.

May 17, 2012

Cinnamon Rose

I picked you up
to make somebody love me.
I picked you up because
somebody didn't.

You bit my fingers like
maybe you loved me.
You bit my fingers
like you meant business.

You made me feel
incompetent.
You made me feel
like an eager pupil.

You made my hands feel
insignificant.
You made my hands feel
like they could be useful.

You made me sound
inadequate.
You made me sound
like I was learning language.

You made old words
seem true and eloquent.
You made old words
seem like new magic.

You pulled me out
before a crowd of strangers.
You pulled me out
like a splinter.

You pulled me out
before I knew there was danger.
You pulled me out
of my long winter.



May 11, 2012

Seven Minutes In Heaven

It's a tilt of a head or an eyebrow,
and, hey, somebody, watch my drink.
There's something I got to take care of,
be back soon, don't worry about me.

& the jukebox is singing addiction,
& I hear him follow behind
& I swing like I'm working a strip joint
& the lock on the door works just fine

& the tumblers click like a snicker
& the slam of the door is a cry
& the fluorescent hiss is a whisper
& the knob's digging into my spine

& the tiles are cool as forgiveness
& the light is unblinking as greed
& his mouth is hot as a furnace
& my mouth is hungry as God

& he's watching my face in the mirror
& I'm watching his hands on my thighs
& he's taking me like a prisoner
& I'm taking him like a prize

& my breath is a broken hosanna
& his growl is a groveling beast
& his truth is in every profanity
& my hair is a snarl in his fists

& his skin is my cant and my canvas
& my limbs are his wreath and his ring

& his bones are my cage and my castle

& my flesh is his kill and his king

& my teeth are deep in his shoulder
& his fingers sink in where they're splayed
& I know I'll find bruises tomorrow
& I'll want them back when they fade

Then, we make our way back to normal,
with his echo still combing my blood,
and I wonder if anyone heard us,
but the juke is still playing. Real loud.

May 7, 2012

Perfect Lover

He's never listened to a woman
long enough to conclude
we're all idiots.
Or bitches.
Or gold-diggers.

He still likes us,
just not more than beer.

Maybe that's why
he's never felt the need
to beg for it.
Or play Games for it.
Or pay for it,
one way or another,
like a sucker at the races.

Maybe that's why
he doesn't do it
for revenge.
Or for status.
Or for the cameras
rolling enthusiastically in
his porn-fed imagination.

And maybe that's why
he's so damn good at it.

May 4, 2012

Cavewoman, II


The cavewoman remembers
a time before pornography
was made necessary by
the bowdlerization of the body,

before we needed special words
to be used when ladies were present,
before we needed different words
for sex, romance, and love,

before we needed crib sheets
to pass the pleasure test,
before we counted orgasms
like ducats in a sack.

The cavewoman remembers,
but what's the use, when
everybody's fucking
like they're on web-cam,
like they can't wait
till it's over, so they can tweet about it,
when sexting
is somehow hotter than sex.

"Oh, we're all so well-informed now.
We know all the positions, variations,
stimulation, simulation,
drugs for enhanced duration,
video tutorials, sex toy emporiums,
lectures in auditoriums . . .
To Eros, in memoriam."

She orders another rum.

"Fuck an alcoholic, honey.
They usually have no idea what's going on.
That's how it used to be, you know."

Penitential

I run my hands blindly over
the rosaries you left behind.
They click together softly, whispering
of loss, remembrance and regret.
They seem to fall into
the Braille of your name,
then tangle, like a necklace twisted
by an impatient hand.

I lose count again. I am on my knees
here in the dark, where nobody can touch me
in pity or violence. I am on my knees.
I pray to the master.
I count again, my lips
moving silently, my mouth
dry as my nights.
*     *     *
I still think I had no choice.
If we carried pieces of one another,
it was not all we carried, and those pieces
were not all we lacked.

We built ourselves from spare
parts we found in junkyards, or stole
from the nightstands of the few
we fooled. We held ourselves together
with glue we made by boiling bones
that were much too broken
to be of any other use.
The cloaks we wore were old, stained,
and old-fashioned. We
would have taken them off, but
we had long ago lost our skin.

We were two teetering spectacles
of fabulous catastrophe,
and people came to look at us, believing
there were great truths in our ugliness.
Maybe there were. But how
could two wrecks lean on one another
without falling apart?
*     *     *
I close my eyes. I huddle deeper
into darkness. I earned this ache.

I do not seek escape. I never really did.

I count the beads again. My punishment
is always to lose count before I find the one
you wrote my name on.

I Am/I Miss You

I am the smoke of your secret
cigarette, curling around your
fingers in the dark.

I am the blue of
a hundred country love songs.
I am the silver of
a million wasted coins.
I am the pallor of
a thousand disappointments.

*     *     *

I am the possibility of your sleepless
night, opening somewhere
beyond your vision.

I am the black of
too many scotch-and-sodas.
I am the scream of
somebody's laughter or somebody's brakes.
I am the length of
your hopelessness and your hope.

*     *     *

I am the restlessness of your idle
hands, itching and empty with
nothing to break.

I am the strength
of your willpower.
I am the agility
of your desire.
I am the tenderness
of your brutality.

*     *     *

I am smoking a cigarette.
It is 2:30 in the morning.
I am touching myself.

I miss you.

April 29, 2012

The Siren's Lament

The first time I saw you,
they had tied you to the mast,
and you were raving like a sun-struck lunatic.
Your face was red, and you were sweating,
stripped to the waist,
like a lover
or a slave.

I called out to you.
I couldn't help it,
I cried loneliness.
I cried longing.
I cried lust.

I sang,
as though I'd sing you free,
sing you safe,
sing you to me.

You strained against the ropes
like a madman. The ropes knew better, biting
indifferently into your flesh.
I saw the red drops welling up
on your slick, sunburnt skin.
You roared in pain, and frustrated desire
and I was almost close enough to touch you
but I could only watch

from my sexless perch
on the salty cliffs of solitude.

It was not my choice
to sing such deadly love songs,
such final lullabies.

It is not my fault
that I was made this way,
that every time I weep,
or speak a wish,
men die before
I've finished talking.

I'd rather have a conversation
than a conquest.
I'd rather have a courtship
than another corpse.
All those beautiful boys
made beautiful bones,
not one
a proper lover.

I hear you made it home.

I hear your woman wove you back to her
like a patient spider.
I am patient too.
I sit upon my rocky throne.
I braid my hair and unbraid it.
I claim a kill, still,
now and then.

I wait for you
You will return.




Pearl Grotto v. 3

Our mouths are oysters,
pearls growing inside
as quickly as they can drop from our lips,

catching on our clavicles,
nestling in our navels,
pooling in the gully where we join,
studding our sexes sweetly,
as currants in a cake,
richly as jewels encrusting
a sybarite's crown.

We arc against one another
like tangling stalagmites.
We make a grotto
filled with such
dripping extravagance.

The passage is narrow,
but we are swift
silver fishcreatures, streaking,
flicking, slippery slick & silken
bubble-baubled fingerfins
along the louvering quiver
of opening shells.
We reach the mouth,

and I
am a waterfall,
plummeting,
plunging deep,
exploding hard,
swirling mindless, scattering breathless spume,

and you
are a shuddering precipice,
your knees are mountains,
crushing tectonic, crumbling
around me, a howling
apocalypse of triumph
raining rock and sand,

endless grains of sand.
Each one will become a pearl.

April 25, 2012

Diagnosis

I think I hoped for absolution
Some kind of last-minute reprieve
A strategy or a solution
An exit sign I hadn't seen

I think I wanted affirmation
Or an irrefutable proof
Of one last glorious ovation
For my version of the truth

I think I needed one more morning
Of glory, triumph and success
Or maybe just a word of warning
That this one was to be my last

It took a smile. It took a whisper.
It all took just under a week.
And it was years ago. It's history.
So tell me why the cut still stings.