September 17, 2007

Unstrung

I walk these concrete footpaths
like a homesick tourist,
picking out street names
that remind me of you.

I walk a mile each night
only to hear Manhattan's breezes
trickle through an imported meadow
because it sounds almost
like the whisper of your hills.

I walk the vanishing streets,
searching for a harbour -
a laden vessel, masterless -
a violin, unstrung.

Fiddle

The room worked itself up
into a churn of joy and agitation,
smelling of spilt beer
and soaking earth.
The electric lights slid
across sweating collarbones

and curved around a
flesh-warm, rain-soft sound.
It shiverdanced
like a lost ribbon tangled
in tall cordgrass
or dandelions unraveling in a wind,

then rolled away like hills
behind a train window, or
sentimental tears.

August 14, 2007

Seaglass

The hotel room
is rented for one night.
Smoke paints unfinished
thoughts in the air

like moonlight on seaglass.

The cigarette's insomniac
flicker
is a long-defunct lighthouse
in an ocean of longing.

The bedsheets rise
and fall, anonymous
but warm.

July 2, 2007

Boy from Queens

He was a boy from Queens.
Smoked red Marlboros, talked
out the side of his mouth,
and kissed like a demon.

His mother would call him,
and I'd hear
her wet staccato voice.
He would say, patiently,
"Ma, Ma, I'm fine, I'm all right. Be home soon."

He handled me clumsily but well. He would say
"God, you are fuckin' pretty,"
while I melted all over
his leather coat.

Right now, he's probably telling
some other eighteen-year-old
she's so fuckin' pretty,
and when his wife calls, says,
"I'm fine, I'm all right. Be home soon."

Crossed

The night we met,
you told me you were a tourist
and laughed your way into my bed.

Everything happened
as everything always
happens.

Last month, I heard
you were getting restless again,
that you were trying to build a boat.

Streaking New York to London,
over fish-silver ocean,
I have to look down.

Party on Poetry Planet

So we closed our eyes,
smashed all the mirrors
and danced
among the shards
and fell.

Our blood was beautiful,
pain was pleasure,
and scars were pride.

We kissed
and mumbled through the wine.
We said,

"If all the world's a stage,
the poet operates the spotlight,"

but yearned for glamour
far too much
to remain poets for long.

May 27, 2007

Hotcold

Ice cube sliding wet.
Shivers, a slick trail
opening in the light
spilled
from a streetlamp
outside.

Laughter. Ice
melting on tongue. Mouth
frozen. Laughter. Warmed.

Touches, like snowflakes
on water. Floating, swimming,
drowning, sputtering. Grabbing
breath, at last,
out of the white sky. A breath
like a throatful of ice,
smashing sharp. Rocks in the water. Please, please -

and safety. The gulls cry
me to sleep.

April 8, 2007

Of the Potato

After Erica Jong's "Fruits & Vegetables."

Nobody ever writes in praise of
the potato. The potato lacks
the firm, jewel-skinned, sweet-fleshed allure
of the apple - wholesome, like
a sleeping virgin, all ripe & waxed & shiny.

Nor does the potato have
the slick, green sex appeal
of the avocado, like
a pneumatic Martian pin-up
with a Californian accent.

Even among the vegetables,
the potato's rank is humble. How can it compete
with the richly colored, musically named
broccoli & zucchini,
or the fleshy, glossy aubergine,
or even lettuce, when it is freshly washed,
glittering smugly in the background
like a society wife,
and never mind the wilted edges.

No one has ever seduced a well-dressed man
by feeding him potatoes. The potato looks
like a peasant woman, lumpy,
with potato-brown hands
and dirt on her apron. It is
quietly ushered from polite tables
and pointed in the direction
of immigrants and the poor. And

when have the poor ever had time
to write in praise
of the potato?

March 29, 2007

Springtime in New York

It is springtime
in New York, and the noise
of traffic and construction
keep getting interrupted

by the catcalls of the men in shirtsleeves
and the pleased giggles of the young girls,
who have spilled onto the streets
like brightly colored marbles
from the pocket of a black pea coat,
clattering
with the joy of miniskirts and sandals.

The hotdog vendors smile
for no reason,
and squeeze the giant mustard bottles
like tubes of yellow cupcake frosting,

and over on Wall Street,
the air has stopped smelling of money.

The winking weatherman warns
of chilly evenings and scattered showers,

but we in the street,
we know better. We know,
even through jackets and umbrellas,

it is springtime in New York.

March 25, 2007

sub text

Open your mouth.
Tell me everything.
Tell me you will be silent.

Hold out your hands.
I have brought you gifts
you never asked for.

i can't see.

You aren't supposed to.
Love is supposed to be blind.
This is supposed to be love.

Keep it open. Wider.
Palms up.
You are the goddess
of ruined temples.

Tell me if it starts to hurt.

what if i can't?

Then don't. Open your mouth.

Tell me if it hurts.
Why aren't you speaking?
Doesn't it hurt

enough?

March 21, 2007

Sisters, Fair And Dark

The sky had two daughters
and said to the first,

"I shall call you Sun,
and sprinkle golden sunlight in your hair.
Your eyes will be light
coming through the first spring leaves.
When you smile,
people will smile because of it,
and your laughter
will be the sound of birds just out of the nest."

The sky had two daughters,
and said to the second,

"I shall call you Shade,
and weave blue and copper shadows through your hair.
Your eyes will be cooling magma
pooling up from deep within the earth.
When you smile,
people will wonder what you are thinking,
and your laughter
will be the sound of the ocean at night."

When the sky's two daughters
were old enough to know the temptation
of feminine comparison,
the first said to the second,

"You must admit, I am superior, sister.
See how the people seek me out
for warmth and sustenance.
See how the flowers stretch their heads
to look at me."

The second said,
"No, sister, you are wrong.
See how the people yield to me
their secrets.
See how the flowers trust me
to guard them in their sleep."

And on they argued
for millennia,
sometimes one dominating,
sometimes another.

And on they argue

still.

March 19, 2007

When You Are Sleeping

"Unseen by them, she kissed the bride's forehead, smiled upon the Prince, and rose up with the other daughters of the air to the rose-red clouds that sailed on high." - Hans Christian Andersen, "The Little Mermaid"

I like to visit you
when you are sleeping,
and putter comfortably
around your home,
drinking tea
from your old scratched coffee mug,
touching everything
you've touched that day.

I like to come to you
when you are sleeping,
and blow softly on your forehead,
as though you are a restless child,
to make you dream of lovely things -
mermaids, and flying horses
and monsters you've already slain.

Sometimes, when your face has gone smooth
and I know that you will sleep till morning,
I slip beneath your blanket
like an errant shadow. Sometimes,
you smile in your sleep,
and I pretend it's because you know I'm there.

I watch the sun appear outside
your window. Its rays absorb me slowly.
I can see my flesh and blood and skin
trickling up, like dust motes, toward the rose-red light.
When I am nothing more
than pulse and morning mist and vaguest recollections,
I press myself closer against you
and melt away between your breaths.

It's bittersweet to watch you wake from outside
your window. But do you know
that shimmer on your eyelashes, that makes you blink
just before you open your eyes?
Those are the fading particles
of my kiss.

March 17, 2007

Ballad of Two Valentine's Days (lyric)

The snow was falling in SoHo
on an ordinary winter night,
stringing diamonds along your lashes.
There were starbursts in your eyes.

It was February in SoHo,
there were roses in your cheeks,
and I thought about saying "I love you,"
but suddenly, I couldn't speak.

You looked up at me, and you smiled
before you let go of my hand,
and, in too many words, in a voice made of glass,
you told me about the other man.

The next day, they asked me some questions.
Armed men came to take me away.
And the whole time, I couldn't help but wonder
if they'd found you with snow in your hair.

Now it's February, but where I am,
it's just another weatherless night.
And it's probably snowing in SoHo,
but I'm nowhere near SoHo tonight.

Unlike most of my poems, this is not written from a woman's perspective. I should also note that it was written after a few hours of listening to songs by Nick Cave and The Pogues.



February 2007.

Of Men And Poets

He was a poet, and he had a way
with metaphor and simile
that made me think
he would probably be a great fuck.

I turned my open
notebook toward him
flirtatiously, and let him rifle
through its pages, peeking
at him over the rim of my cappuccino cup.

What do you think? I asked,
and licked milk foam from my upper lip,
wondering whether his skin would smell like
cream-colored acid-free paper.

He put his chin in his hand,
and rubbed his jaw. The sound
of his seven-o'clock shadow
made me think of pencils scratching.
My fingers itched
and drummed impatiently against

the plastic place mat. He said
something that was probably quite
brilliant. But by then, I wasn't
interested, because I'd noticed his
elbow was in the coleslaw.
It never would have happened
to Byron.



Fall 2006.

From The Lost

Do not seek me in the cracks between
the floorboards. Do not grope for me
behind the couch. Do not look beneath
the bed, I am not hiding there, nor
in the closet, breathing in mothballs and
stale winters.

Do not look for me inside
your mother's wrinkles, or your lover's
open mouth. Do not search the gaps
between your fingers, I am no longer there
shivering for you to
find me.

Do not try to shake me
out of trees, or dig me out of
buried sand castles. Do not
fish the turtle pond in Central Park. Do not
dissect anything, don't bother
splitting the atom, it has been done, it won't

make you find anything
you have not already found
(and lost).


February 2007.

Émigrée (lyric)

Farewell, from a distance
of two decades or so.
Though I cannot see you,
I cry farewell to you,

to you, land of a thousand
chances or more,
that, taken together,
have carried and brought me here,

to a place you'd only heard whispers of.

Oh, the streets here,
they aren't paved with gold.
But the sidewalks,
they do shine in the rain.

And, sometimes, when I stand there,
hearing this city's song,
I think I hear you sing the refrain. And

with a strange intonation,
in the accents of ghosts,
in the uncertain tones of
the dispossessed and the lost,

I think I hear you whisper my name.

Sometimes, when I stand
under New York's neon skies,
I remember your skies too. And your grasses, so green,
so tall they reached my head,
and wildflowers, bright, tightly clutched
in my hand. I remember,
you see, I remember.

So farewell, from a distance
measured in passport stamps,
farewell from a distant
foreign citizen,

who'd once been a child on a fast-moving train,
with a wonderstruck face glued to a fogged windowpane,
and it never occurred to her to whisper, then

"Farewell, farewell
my country."

Overly Cerebral

His kisses fall on my face
like tear drops in the dark
or snow upon water.

I cannot tell where they land, or
what happens to them
afterward. Do they disappear? Do I

absorb them, take them into myself?
And, if so, whose kisses are they, after all,
and falling on whose face? And were they ever

really there? Nights
when you think this way,
there's not much use for kisses.



January 2007.

The Storyteller

His body told me the same stories
that have been gouged into ancient stones
and whispered over swaying grasses -

old and brutal tales
of unquiet hills
and silent footpaths traced
lightly, by long-dead lovers.

Behind his collarbones,
I found echoes of songs
in a strange, half-forgotten language,
and careful, monkish illustrations
in the lines of his thumbprint.

The rustling darkness illuminated
the roads the evening traveled,
and his cool, mobile mouth
filled the air with mist.

Just before the sunrise,
I asked for one more story.
It fluttered through my bloodstream,
and, afterwards, he left.

Some say I am well-traveled.
I have seen many countries,
lit fires on many beaches,
and sailed through many seas.
But, though I've seen much of the world,
and stopped at many islands,
I'm sure I've never found one
as magical as his.

March 16, 2007

Girl With Dirty Fingernails

I often see her,
the girl
with prickly eyes
and smudged black eyeliner around them.

She takes the same train as me.
She opens a book
and stares at it.
She moves her head
so that her hair falls
to cover her face.

She has not yet learned to dress.
Her metallic nail polish is chipped
and there is dirt
under her fingernails.

Sometimes, I look at her, and
when she knows I'm looking,
her mouth hardens
like a streak of pink clay.

I want to tell her
it will be OK. I want
to lie to her,
but I know, if I speak, she will only
noisily turn a page,
and burrow deeper
into her own space.

I'd like to touch her,
to tell her,
it will be OK,
and beauty isn't everything,
and love is only chemical anyway,

but she would not believe me.
She is smarter than I think,
and she knows better
than to speak to strangers
and time-travelers.



Fall 2006.

March 5, 2007

Writing for an Audience

My pen dithers like the needle
of a polygraph and scribbles shaky
shapes that tell a story
with no corroborating evidence.
But everyone believes it,
or maybe not, but everyone
knows this is the hot part.

The jury, faceless, Argus-eyed, squirms
in their hard chairs, like an audience
at a porn movie, or an
execution. This is

what they came to see -
this helpless, involuntary twisting
of the truth into
something they might believe.



Summer 2006.

I [heart] NY

They found him on the corner
of 40th and Madison,
still clutching a suspicious-looking bottle,
and the women
averted their expensively contoured eyes
and would have frowned, if they could have.

He wore an army surplus jacket
and a T-shirt that read,
optimistically,
"I [heart] NY".



Summer 2006.

Market Day, New York City (summer 2006)

This is why I so adore my city. A step or two through the concrete jungle, and it’s market day in Union Square, the kind that truly merits the phrase “market day,” with all the connotations it carries.

Market Day is a scene out of a romantic’s afternoon with a good (or not so good), old (or, at least, old-fashioned) book. The kind of book you read on the fire escape, or in the corner of a crowded schoolyard; the kind you are loath to be seen with and can't pull away from.

There are the colors, first of all – the bold, primary colors that spill over the produce stands, the rich browns and creams of the artisan breads and fresh cheeses, the fantastic rainbow bursts gleaming from the tables of the craftsmakers – some young and a-jangle with piercings, others older and a-jingle with beads – selling everything that might dazzle the eye and tickle the purse. The tables are piled with posters, painted canvases, silver jewelry, candles, tie-dyed T-shirts, vivid fabrics, all of it flashing temptingly in the sunshine as prospective buyers’ hands pass experimentally over each item. And then, there are the hot pinks and turquoises and kelly greens that the summer season has unleashed from the closets of countless girls and women. The men – with a few notable exceptions – remain in their uniforms, but even their khaki and beige shades seem a bit brighter today.

Then, there are the sounds. The chatter of passersby, in dozens of different languages. A symphony being played at an outdoor concert far in the distance. The laughter of children playing at a nearby playground. The bark of dogs at the dog run. A thread of guitar music appears at the edge of my hearing and weaves into the tapestry, and a look around finds a busker quietly but skillfully playing a jazz tune. A few notes from someone’s too-loud headphones penetrate, and then, there is the distant sound of sirens to remind you that you are still in New York.

A few stops at some vendors’ stalls adds smell, texture and taste. The hard, brown crust of fresh sourdough bread that leaves traces of flour on your fingers and reminds you of long-forgotten kitchens. The small, creamy lump of cave-aged cheddar cheese that smells almost too strong – and then unlocks its particular bouquet of ripe, heavy flavors inside your mouth. The crisp grapeness of the homemade wine washes it down perfectly. And the friendly smiles of the people who hand these to you, who actually made them for you, are a wonderful finishing note of happy flavors.

I collect these sensations like raindrops in the palm of my hand. I swirl them around in my consciousness – each pleasant enough on its own, but blending into a thing of marvel when mixed together.

In a way, it’s even more touching that all this is happening here, amid the unnaturally tall buildings and the corporate logos. Union Square, so fast-moving and commercial in mid-day, grows soft near sunset. Turn your head away from the grey residential boxes on one side, and you will see some lovely old buildings in shades of brown, red, green and ash – hearth colors, soft against the soft purpling sky. If you don’t focus too much on the bright posters advertising everything from a new Broadway musical to underwear, it’s easy to convert the scene to sepia.

But I do not convert it to sepia, because it is easy to enjoy it just the way it is. I do not pine for 1950s Paris when I truly possess 2000s New York. I drink it in, I sip it slowly, sometimes I gulp it down for the feeling of warmth and fullness and the promise of intoxication it burns down my throat. It is a bottomless cup of joy and beauty.

For the first time, the yellow of the taxi cabs reminds me of goldenrods. In their own way, the taxi cabs, too, are beautiful.

Homecoming

Her arms flew up around his body
like two white flags
surrendering, her legs
convulsed, as though she was dying,
her breasts looked
like two unblinking eyes,
and her skin, though clean
and smelling of harmless things,
was like miles of blinding sand.

His hands opened helplessly.
He wept. She did not know what to say,

and in the other room,
the television muttered
like a shell-shocked Greek chorus,

"106 more killed this month,
bringing the total to . . ."



Fall 2006.