not infer no

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mary Celeste

Between my tent and the campground's bathroom
under the stand of pine trees, there is a step in darkness,
when I move no farther from one
or closer to the other,
and everything that used to be miraculous
is still miraculous.
The ground is as soft as an unthreatenable thing,
trading pitch and dust for footsteps.

In the abrupt light of the bathroom, graffiti
is the log of a deserted space ship,
tethered by power lines to the human world.
The daddy longlegs jostle and are still near the light;
the spiders fight to build webs near the light;
the moths and flies crowd the light.

The way I have always moved is: place, place.
This is different.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Of course and fall.

The soles of my feet.
The rain this evening, big drops.

The rain is a symbol
for the capacity of even small things

to fall from the sky over and over.
Of course the past. Of course millennia

with nothing alive but rain,
with no rain. Of course Mars.

Of course the round red of the sky tonight:
what the skin would look like

to a watered bone beneath it.
Of course the rain

is a symbol, of course the sky
is an illuminated symbol.

The soles
of my feet, their ancient shape.

Of course I'm primate, biped,
two hands free for failure, for grasping

Of course my eyes,
their raindrop shape

how the optic nerves pull them back into the skull
the eyes and photons both, as if to stop them falling.

Monday, July 2, 2012


In the place where the road pulls itself over the train tracks
like a diaphragm teasing lungs open

as the sun goes down over the train tracks
and they both leave the city,

a motorcycle makes a frantic heartbeat sound
which I interpret as the arrival of the beloved
to dispel my earnest confusions.

It leads me through the catechism
I learned when I was young:

'Are you good?'
'I don't know.'

'What do you want?'
'I don't know.'

'When you hear the motorcycle make its sound
and the sun goes down behind the train tracks
where the road lifts up over them, do you think
what a person thinks
about that?'
'I don't know.'

There is enough don't-know for clothes
and food and fuel. Enough to make light
and block it out, for sleeping and waking.
Enough for now and enough for later. How long?
Don't know, don't know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Letter to a friend living on the moon

When I imagine you it is always
those boots only a rapper could love
poised over dusty regolith,
your whole self suspended,
waiting patiently to fall.

I hear you have a greenhouse there.
Do you grow tomatoes? Do they claw up
the way they do here, with fibrous stems
gripping frames with tiny runners,
their fruit heavy, bulbous, demanding?
I can only picture soft things growing--
seaweed, Spanish moss--
and bromeliads in the crevices of landing gear.

I should not take such liberties
with the thought of you as:
to see you in the morning, tying your hammock
to the wall,
yawning at the earth beyond a tiny porthole,
making faces at instant coffee.

And the truth is that I don't--
don't imagine you, I mean--
except in moments like this, when,
the water in a round bowl in the sink
reflecting the white of an overhead fluorescent,
it occurs to me that our orbit
has never been so well-defined.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

winter, again

If you sped winter up
in the city,

it would make the joint-cracking sound
of a pomegranate

torn open for its seeds.
The reedy sunlight

lies down along the sidewalk,
resting in constellations of salt.

The undressed air, for a season,
carries only itself.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


A 26-year-old stands by the door of a dark coffeeshop
half an hour after closing, one hand on the alarm pad,

calls back into the place to coworkers, to stop them moving.
They are collecting sweaters, bags; they are going home now.

After momentary stillness the alarm beeps, they go outside.
It is warm or it is cold.

70 years later, looking at the trees beyond the window
the 26-year-old thinks, "yes--that.
that exactly."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Winter is a scent-mark
left by ghosts on every sidewalk

to attract mates. The sweater
I unpack from the closet

is dry with the stuff, over-
clean. It says, "you have

still not been on the wrong
side of a gun this year, have

you?" and points to the babyfat
flags in my cheeks, citizenship

papers to the island nation
of privilege and self-doubt.

On TV, David Attenborough
watches the huge pink shapes

of walruses molting in the arctic
like giant snorting babies,

scraping off skin against rocks
in a slate-colored bay.

It was summer when
they did that. Now

they are on pack ice, drifting.
In weeks the ghosts will come

and it will be impossible to move
without moving through them.

They will speak in return for blood:
nonsense syllables, bits about

the difference between air and wind.
By March I'll know that dialect

say, "excuse me," take shallow breaths.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Inventory of the city

The streetlight peels night back for a closer look inside.
The bricks fish-scale themselves under the rain.

The pavement, the new pavement, is the smooth,
rounded side of a sailfish lancing into a school of mackerel.

The rain jumps up out of falling, then returns to falling.
The puddles bead together along the edges of the roads.

The air field strips itself like a rifle, discards everything.
In the day, each thing reflects some colors of the spectrum

to anyone looking; at night they buzz the presence of the beloved
by themselves. This place is live as nightcrawlers for bait

in the basement refrigerator, tangled beneath cool loam.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The last drop of water in the wok bursts
into bubbles on the stove; it is morning

and I have lost the skill of doing dishes
when I should. At night, when the windows

turn obsidian and this apartment might be
a container inside a larger container or in

the belly of a cargo plane with a name like
"Galaxy" or "Dreamlifter," it is possible

to stare into the water in an unwashed pot,
flecked with soap and cooked rice, and see

the unmarked endings of things stacked up
with half-submerged utensils in the sink. Then,

the skilled mind becomes a mirror or a tree,
puts on the look appropriate to the season

waits patiently without receding, returns
undiminished to its place- the empty room,

the quiet grove. There are no stakes here;
the worst that can happen in the morning

is the dishes, but the green stem of a pepper
will slide into the trash like a snake without

a face; like something that shouldn't exist
in daylight, making a noise between a whisper

and a bang.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The census-taker crosses the desert

"We are practical," he says,
"for each thing there is a reasonable measure.
Take the desert--of sand
so many square miles; of sky
so many degrees;
the winds, arriving in the cities
at the end of the day can be recorded.
When we stop moving
after the animals have fed and watered
and it grows cool, we are still
taking stock: in the darkness we find the edges of a raft
we lie down on, looking up
or we imagine driftwood, or movement, the pitch and roll
of the dunes we'll walk tomorrow
beside the camels."

He sleeps, and this imagined journey
becomes mine: what I have
walled up in bone, the future's
ruins of oddly-shaped calcium and optimism:

A thousand incidental moments; stuck
at work; saying "thank you"
and being handed a receipt;
opening a door in the morning,
seeing light.

a handful of things I return to:
the arc I traced daily
between the top step of the porch
and the packed dirt my bare feet landed on;
the ride home at night from a lover's house,
skin buzzing like it wasn't sure where to be;
my father practicing Torah after dinner
the smell of bread and candles lingering
in the room.

Now, when I think of him, the census-taker
is an abstraction, an abacus made flesh,
clicking beads from side to side
for grains of sand, for animals,
for my father and me--for everything
of the same stock.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


And he finished the measurements of the innermost house, and he took me out by way of the gate facing eastward, and he measured it round about.
Ezekiel 42:15

Of skin, from the thin veils
covering the bones of my ears
to the calluses at the bases of my fingers:
two thousand seven hundred ninety square inches.

Of bone, leached clean
of marrow, displacing water
in a container:
two hundred sixteen cubic inches.

Of muscle, from my voluntary
muscles even to my ligaments
and cartilage:
seventy pounds.

Of viscera, from my cardiac
muscles to my meninges
and their contents:
ten pounds.

Of my body
height, weight, volume:
sixty-eight inches, one hundred
fifty pounds,
four thousand one hundred fifty cubic inches.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Prayer For The Circulatory System

Whose is this cathedral, aorta,
this sinewy carapace, empty fruit?

The hauled marble breaks slowly
from spine, tombstoning over lungs

hooked through with turnings
waving cilia like fields of kelp.

There are no places here, only
the constant on-and-off ramps

of blood vessels, capillary
walkways where leukocytes

mutter short prayers to pressure
and are washed away.

It is the cosmopolitan
self, where parasites

hawk their counterfeit proteins
between long lines of red cells

without a nucleus among them
but so much iron. The iamb

at the heart of it pulls, pushes,
forms syllables:

"How goodly are thy calories, body,
thy frantic life, O human."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ants (Brighton Writer's Workshop Poem #1)

If you smash an ant
in a specific way and drag
its scent-organ along a surface
other ants will follow
looking for food.
If you find a child
who does not wince to tear
an ant apart under a microscope
you can guide its hand in swoops
along a surface, until
a river the color of pupils navigates
the labyrinth of its name.

Monday, September 20, 2010


In the long curl of a tentacle:
a kind of laziness,
an understanding of currents.

At the edge, where the bell sweeps in
the way a person holds herself to herself in a crowd:
an understanding of space.

In the crush of a large bloom, and in its quiet:
an understanding of going-and-returning.


Jellyfish have no mythology
and leave few fossils.

They have no lungs or gills
and cannot lie.

They can sometimes perceive light
and sometimes make it.


Jellyfish are not really fish; they are
a language, at least

if I had made them; and if love
is every frustrating, terrible thing
I sometimes think it is

then its vocabulary would live in seawater
and understand currents,
and space, and going-and-returning;

and it wouldn't breathe, or lie,
or believe in anything but itself;

and if you wanted
when things began or ended, or at other times
all of that soft, close language would be there, luminous and solid
the quietest of paper lanterns.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010



The light hit Xsphthl first.
The ants poured into the nest
clicking their mandibles.
Xsphthl was disemboweled.

Lkmnstf thrust his big head
out of a broken tunnel,
stabbed and stabbed the blind
weight of it into the ants.

Kmtynnn, the soldier
split himself open
entangling the leader ant
in the sticky stuff within.

More soldiers came.
The shouted chemicals
made them furious.
They attacked everything.

The ants stacked the fallen
in mounds, to be carried back
and eaten. Tonight they'll return
and hide, and wait to kill us.

This is the history
of the Rdskld Colony
from the dense heartwood
to the shelter tunnels.


Small fingers pull and pull
the branch free. Above,
a voice says, "Mom,
it looks like writing."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Prayer for waking

This. and then/
humming from beneath--
no more water--

Check temperature.
Look for hands, for only hands, for both hands.

With the skin's vision, see
the bundle of self
sockmonkeyed among sheets.

where the air gets in it makes
the self of interior surfaces
from the leavened matrix of lungs.

The first movement is always forgetting.
Then some sort of roll or curl.

Like two untended aquariums
the eyes pull the light in
the body resolves:

In front of the mirror, fingers;
after a shower, mouth.
There's time for one last question
but it already seems not to make sense.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prayer for the city

For the surface of it,
the palm-read waters and smoothnesses of streets

For the clear light,
when it is clear, and for all the light

For the lines that draw
the cars along 'em, the buses'

airy wail down avenues
heard from an upstairs window

For their roaring
and straining at green lights

For the flesh slips out in August,
glistens, then turtlenecks away for winter

For the virtue of sleep surrounded by humans
For waking, being among them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prayer for summer nights

As if my mouth opened.
As if there pulsed from it a sound,

like an unwound thread
curling over the waters in this city

and in the air, in the waters
suspended in the air.

As if that sound crashed, receded,
crashed among sleepers

like the first sign of the beloved,
sharpening their dreams to hungry points

waking them openmouthed and grasping.
As if they rose onto their elbows,

then their hands, lips aching forward,
as if that was the way humans

had always recognized each other
in the dark. As if the air disturbed

by that collective gesture, the outlines
of all those rising faces, produced an echo

that I could hear under sweat-soaked covers
and over the buzz of air conditioners in other windows

and all the paraphernalia of sleeplessness
in summer. As if the echo would wrap me up

in the contents of those myriad desires,
like the strange clothes of a returning explorer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ocean Poem #2454678, or Yes, I Did Check Wikipedia To Make Sure "Binnacle" Meant What I Thought It Did

(I don't want to look at you.)
I want to talk about a ship
with all the rigging, and
another without
how on the first, the salt
gets in the lines, and they get stiff,
a little green. The sheets start to tear along the reef bands
no matter what I do. It all goes
side to side, side to side
and does not sink, so it must be sea

On the other ship, the one
without the rigging, Satcom
signals bend crazily off the bridge
but keep hitting the same spots
in the sky, like someone waving one end
of a jump rope tied to a fence.

In this wet
moment I can haul
them both up, find edges
separate each thing from each other thing
float them apart: from the first
a kind of body, ribs, spine,
so much diffused skin and line.
From the second, a universe:
plumbing fixtures, tight systems of bolts and nuts
an engine-galaxy, twitching and impatient.
And it gets bigger, by a hundred hundred things:
the binnacle flies apart, compass needle wheeling
and I'm keeping track of every atom, like iron filings,
like I could write your name in them
and it would always point to you.

But I don't need a compass. I need a translator.
or whatever manual explains how to collapse elaborate
nautical fantasies into, "hi, it's good
to see you," which is the language
I speak when you're around,
cool and receding, an incoherent tide.

Better Human Trap

The better human trap
would be something like a zoo,
a place to go and look at others’ misfortunes
a place to consider the boundary between one’s
self and those misfortunes--bars
or glass? Thick or thin? In this human trap
there’s one door between in and out
and everyone, on both sides, crowds it.

The better human trap
would be a curtain in the evening,
puffing out of a window, as behind it, a person
makes dinner alone
waiting for you, just you. Bench tests have determined
that this is the least-effective human trap; once inside
you will try to escape.

The better human trap
would be a city or another place
where humans live, where they would feel
un-trapped enough to use resources
on raising children, with a horizon all
around, ready to be cinched tight.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

unconventional entrants (miniature #6)

If we are talking about vulnerability
the pads attached to wires and the windows
of the first floor
of the building next to this one
are yellowed and dusty.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Experiment with short line/long line/short line and no punctuation

Two years ago
while I sat on the fire escape of the red building
where I lived

the fire escape thought
platform stairs platform stairs platform mechanism
for lowering stairs

Two nights ago
I sat at a table that thought ashtray slurpee cup water pistol
freeze pop wrappers

under a sky
that was seriously considering heat lightning as something to do for a while
after college maybe

The electricity
in my nervous system has always kept this inventory as a levee system for the regulation
of certain impulses

Thursday, July 8, 2010

MGH nurse

She said she would have
someone bring a new sheet in,
then brought it herself.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer poem #2

The couple painting the next-door apartment knocks off
at two AM, squalling out the door, disrupting
the ambiguous domestic scene of them painting
through midnight, with all the windows open.

She has tattoos on her upper arms.
When the pizza guy came, she called back
into the place, "Do you want lemonade
or ginger ale?" I take it on faith he answered
and his answer balances her
tattoos: She has tattoos
on her upper arms, and he has an opinion
about whether he wants lemonade
or ginger ale. Both of them have masks
for painting, both of them wake me up
with raised voices on the way out,

and I imagine it is me
with my father for the last time
before the things we have in common
compel us to mutual silence:

"Why are so many easy things
not easy? Why is it that for a thing
to not be easy requires a sort of whole-world
involvement, a weighing and comparison?"

They are making some sort of decision,
carrying paint cans that will never
say "thank you" or wash dishes. Their hands full,
an almost-empty pizza box thuds
on the porch. He says, "Are you going
to eat the last piece?"

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