Wednesday, November 17, 2010

winter

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

Dishes

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

Inventories:

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

Jellyfish

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

Termites

....

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
it.
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
worthy.

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
ship
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
arguing
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?"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

summer poem #1

In summer the earth
fills up with meat.
Squirrels wait
until the midnight of eight PM
and even then
find themselves
fucking with the lights on.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How the self gets in (miniature #5)

His wide mouth pursed,
spat ochre over his hands
against a cave wall in France.

If he will let you,
touch him
on the squarish divot of a trepanation
scar over his brown eye.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

More love for WCW #2

I would like nothing
better

than to place a small,
flat stone on the corner

of this note,
on the table

for you to find
there.

LSPWVT #3, Body Poem #4

I need you to stop leaving body parts in my apartment.
I opened the odd-shaped cabinet
where I keep old T-shirts
and there was something thin and slick
in there. I think it was a spinal cord.

I've gotten used to the teeth
clicking around in the sink
when I run the disposal,
the flash and smell of hair
when I turn on the range.

I'm reasonably certain these things aren't yours
but something about them feels human,
as if the dowsing rod of my DNA could vibrate
with strange pulp and keratin.

How do you choose them? I have yet to see
anything straightforward, like a leg
severed at the thigh; instead,
you placed the tight, unreadable scroll
of an achilles tendon at my pillow.

I should be, but am not worried about the gore.
I always expect an optic nerve
with a little invitation
to plug in, see what a corpse sees
but you're more subtle than that. You know
my fixation on sounds,
and indulge it with good words:
orbital, tympanum, neuron.
When you left me a nervous system,
it was beautiful. I turned the lights off
and watched it flicker in the dark.

Still, I dread the point you're making
about my language of self and other, the literal way it
looks in,
stripping off skin to unlock the jaw for speech,
uncovering dull, wet muscles.
This can only end one way; you bringing me
a particular nothing, the sum of all these parts
for which I will have no name.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

More love for WCW

Over the tree behind the neighbor's house
there is a star or
a planet or a very, very slow
airplane.

I've felt for weeks
like something is going
to happen
to upend my most careful plans, and
this is
it;
this is what is happening.

Friday, July 2, 2010

generic breakup poem #4356, Body Poem #3

do not mention blood
or if you do, assume I understand
the way the iron in hemoglobin
hoists oxygen in your lungs and moves
and shrugs it off in your cells.

Don't mention "hurt" without including
the way that platelets, feeling air or collagen
clump together and rattle through veins
into a pump that tears
with pulling against itself.

The rest of your words for "victim" you may have.
I am intimate with the idea
that the skin-house of a body can close its door
around an incorrect shape, or that time
might build a roof that keeps out possibility.

I likewise know
this is the coward's way, that I've closed off
all but a small area:
a garden rimmed with stones, where at the edges
grows the purple and yellow of nightshade, the hard shine
of the wrong kind of ivy, the woody stems
of sumac biting out space.

In the center, that little patch of sun,
I have hope of something small
and beautiful, the helicopters of a neighbor's japanese
maple, a well-behaved evergreen.
when you ask for that
you ask everything.

I won't give you everything.

It may be that all I'll ever have
is whatever plant has wrecked TVs for seeds,
whatever in a cathode ray tube looks
up from the grass and glints back at the moon
and asks for it to stay. As I said,
it's cowardly
but when you push on it it's tough
as a keloid, the fibrous braille
your hands read from my skin.

It's a question of what we build on (Geology #1)

Some nights this is geology.
I have just woken up, and it is dark. You’re
next to me, breath quiet, eyes closed. The night is limestone
shot through with caves, and I'm wandering where I shouldn't again.

There was a girl who was like three deer crossing a road
under a streetlight: one, two, three.
There was another like a raven’s wing, iridescent and permanent in memory.
There was the first, who was the heron rising from the lake and its reflection,
while everything else stood still.
Somehow, no matter where I’ve been,
going home at three a.m. always smells the same.
The orange lines
spraypainted on the road
are like instructions for folding, for laying pipe, for moving.

I know what the air will feel like.
I know the click the latch on the door will make
quietly enough.
I am sandstone, only worn more rough
by staying.

And then your breathing changes. The slim
river of your spine rearranges itself against the mattress,
and you look over and ask me what I’m thinking.

The Snake, Cool Animals Poem #2

The snake sticks out of the water like a finger
waiting to tap on a desk. It looks at me, in to my waist:
the Worst Amphibian Ever,
strikes lazily.
Suddenly there is a frog between us. The snake
kind of crunches it--the frog's body actually shortens
between its jaws, dying
only as much as I would.

I am some distance back.
I didn't do that; my body did it, kept me safe.
"What would you do
without me, eyeless fish?" it asks. I don't know,
don't know. The snake says nothing, turns a nonchalant arc,
dragging its frog-leg beard.

True or False, pretentious page poem #1 (not to be confused with the rest, which are pretentious sound poems)

Wolves howl because they can't make rope;
the sound of it is a sound-rope.

In August 1846 the moon
skipped one of its phases.

I have touched every object
on your bedside table.

The comb and mirror
represent the moon.

when the moon forgets you in the city
it is for lack of wolves, to shout their rope and haul.

The Anglerfish Speaks, Cool Animals #1 (xpost from deeppapercuts)

I have become very tired.
I remember when I stopped eating,
when I smelled you in the dark and gave chase.
I remember the feeling of my small teeth, when I had teeth, on the skin of your belly,
the way the tiny dark blood vessels rose up and joined.
Did our hearts synchronize, or was mine overpowered?
After that first, arrhythmic rush I never left you, but now I feel something like regret.
There is a light in the water just ahead. I would like to see what it is.

I, uh. (Miniature #4)

I can rehearse "good morning" up three flights of stairs
and still manage to fuck it up when I see you.

(unnumbered)

Some nights I just run downstairs
to the vending machine
of wrong choices, and keep myself up
pushing button after button.

Holmes' Love-Song to Watson, Miniature #3

my dear friend, I do not need London
's yellow light at evening, my violin,
my syringe, a hundred kinds
of tobacco-ash, the strangenesses that cross
my doorstep, my glass, my hat, or any thing
like I need your energetic
amazement.

Grocery shopping in December

Unguided, I see the only side
of your eyelids that I’ll ever see,
(their lashes in the kind of tiny disarray
that always leaves you sweetly and unnecessarily embarrassed)
your lips, and the even perceptible movement of your diaphragm,
rocking softly against your breath. I know I return to these details
too often. Forgive me—
my mind, itself a piece of flesh takes what it will.

I spent today sliding from one nowhere to the next. I couldn’t
even say where I’ve been if you asked me, except to murmur
about passing buses like strange cetaceans on the road,
people nodding off in their broad eyes, the whole of them bulky,
terrifying, peaceful.

But you won’t ask, and I wonder what you’d think to see me
composing this in the supermarket as I try to decide between
saifun, bean noodles, and maifun, rice noodles. I think it would make you sad.
I think you never meant to hurt me and if you did the extent of it absolves you;
this simply cannot all be your fault.

You’d know to read this that this isn’t what I’m like. I get through the day.
I laugh frequently. It’s a statement about the quality
of memory, those unabandonable keepsakes waiting for the correct light,
the special placelessness of an aisle in a supermarket on the way home
to stage their bloodless ambush and retreat.

I make some decision, pay, and walk outside. I take a long time
unlocking my bike and putting the lights on before slipping away
through the tectonic stillness of city traffic.

Miniature #2, untitled

It’s like holding a small animal
in my chest; the feeling of a tiny heart beating
furiously, or what a tree feels like
in a thunderstorm, something that
was just supposed to think, really
and not-move, and is now trying
to do both of those things
very
quickly.

Body Poem #2 (hands) (also "Sorry, what?")

I am too interested in my hands.
They are the top of me, the builders I rely on, alone
useless as the idea of specificity. When you speak it’s them
I look to for a response—one raw
material, the other loom
and shuttle. Their counterpoints are your eyes
and lips. If I see them when awake,
then I am speaking. If I'm asleep I see myself there,
in their shape and decay.

But this is just a dream-diary of our conversations—
what I saw, laid out like sea-glass on a towel, separate from context—
a clumsy renegotiation of cause and effect.
For once there has been no misunderstanding; my hands, two hermit crabs
live where they find space.

People are amazing, miniature #1

It is something I remember about them—
lying next to one, its breath
teeming,
its back
coral, varied and strange. With close-
ness it signifies
trust.
Watch the lips; they are so like eyelids, so like
stones.

that boy, unnumbered

What he did was put his hands on my shoulders
while I was reading. Even people who touch me--

My words for what his hands touched go to strength:
to cable, to furrowed trunk, but I mean sheath, mantle,
bark--the outer part, rough, under tension
constantly sloughed, renewed. It was so unexpected
he must have felt it, like it came away in his hands,
it all did. He backed off, asked how I was.
My "Good!" was trumpet-trill-y bright,
forward, unmanageable.

as this refers to "him," so:
other straight boy, slim, not taut, expansive
a slight inverted rural comma
in his esses, curling them to his teeth.

I am, again, hilariously ill-equipped
and so dive in, parsing like a madman
side-splicing narrative into improbability--
"If we were together, whose arm
would go on the shoulder, whose hand
in whose back pocket? What does this mean
in the supermarket, all those arms
and asses, what to look at, what to avoid
looking at? After all, a person is a person; everything else
is just a preoccupation with the shape of flesh.

I'm orbiting at a geosynchronous height of frustration
over reality--my heart a silent stand-in for my cock
my mind an engine of obstacles,
chronic mis-speller of "now" as "later."

He's just standing there
on the way into the kitchen. My forward "Good!"
has navigated the labyrinth of his ears.
I can't tell if he's unsettled.
It would be something behind his eardrum
one of those tiny bones that touch nothing but tiny muscles
its only job is in moments like this one,
to hijack the stream of electrons on the acoustic nerve,
spin decoder wheels to today's combination, say
"behind this vowel, this unnecessary pitch
and buzz is a straight boy's artless, deniable question."

This is too complicated a way
for me to be quiet, but I am

watching his hands
the weightless thing in them
sheath, mantle, bark.

LSPWVT #2, Body poem #1

the small tracks of my days are now worn smooth,
as the tracks of water-shrews,
that work out once how to get somewhere
and never deviate.

for two years I've lived in my in-breath
and my out-breath
the space between one creation and the next,
a building made of elements, a city
or a circus, rich, exuberant.

In the mornings I taste the air and feel joy;
at night I sleep with the windows open.

All that, and I still self-dissect for you
pulling my nervous system out
its sparking wires and its high sound.
My bones are lattices that contain things;
my tendons and viscera knit me to myself.

What I want is for you to see this mechanical wholeness,
and under it my honest quiet.
But when I see you things happen in my cells,
in my actual brain: a mundanity of chemicals
ribbon themselves into my blood and I go off
like a flooded fuse box.

Later I just go running
leave the part of me that wants you behind
in a bet against myself--if I make this difficult enough
I'll just forget you.
When I get back everything is quiet and I collapse
like a grunting animal. It never works.

So welcome to the circus. This is my favorite act.
the bewildered beast is trying to walk the high wire.
I saved you a seat in my clavicle
and these ridiculous flags, my blunt palms.

Love song for people without a vocabulary of tenderness #1

1
You're beautiful, and you're ignoring me
sleeping, or pretending to sleep or trying to sleep on a bus from Boston to Hartford.
I am all awake with wanting, looking across you out the window

I am aware of what this is doing to me,
how ugly it makes me. I am turning into coral: brittle, irregular.
forward, backward I leave a trail of brine, my eyes two darting fish
a leering moray mouth, ridged skull. There is a risk I'll stay this way.

I curl up,
close my eyes, think suddenly that I'm sleeping with you,
feel my hair turn that much more to kelp.

At the smallest level things don't really change.
Depending on where one is and how one looks
things just are a certain way.

We get off the bus. Neither of us says anything
Sometimes looking is a prayer I don't have the faith for
we might both be catfish now, or sharks, or us.
2
I wake up in the shower in my parents' house,
fingernails digging in two-day stubble as if I'm looking for something.
All my scars itch.

I have come to clear out my things; they're moving again
I haven't seen this stuff in years; it is someone else's.

The stinging cells of jellyfish are some of the fastest things there are;
scientists think they can reach 5.4 million gs
like tiny crossbows. Yesterday I surprised myself like that,
the acceleration into wanting.

This morning I am whole and oddly hollow
skin covering an echo-y hum.
3
On the bus ride home I read,
and spend some time as a river.

On my banks, all the fireflies light up
at once to see my city rise
over the road, strange and intimate.

At the smallest level things don't go away;
I have been seawater my whole life and may be so forever.

the jellyfish in my chest flashes redly
tentacles dragging half-digested fish
still here, still here.

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