THE INTRUSION OF OVID
Brother Ovid, my classical leanings run thin
tonight, alone with weepy music and food
less interesting than the politics of mollusks.
Catullus and his exploits in the front yard
with the maid and one of his pale girlfriends
puts me to shame, so it’s to you I turn
for good company. It helps that you’re dead.
Your book shuts without protest
unlike my front door or someone’s mouth
when I’m tired of intrusion. The stars
blur the perfect darkness of the night.
The moon muddies the shore where I go
to think of its distant urgings. The crickets
themselves should learn to dream
in silence, without singing to the large world
of loneliness. You, yourself, trample
the sadness I lushly tend like a garden
and tell me to come in from the rain,
to laugh while I can, to get more sleep,
good advices all, and at this window
in which is framed the world that’s mine
and once was yours, I’m inclined to listen,
to put you down and shut my eyes
because pain is ancient, and therefore classic,
as you are and I am not.
LOVE IN THE SINGULAR
Wanted – rainy day and bed full of woman.
Often lonely, but not greedy. Bavarian twins
needn't respond as fights will ensue.
Must be yea tall to ride this ride.
Given to recitations at dusk, in bed,
of the stippled histories of scars.
The pipe sprouting from the parking lot,
unseen until slicing open the shin.
The scissors thrown across the den
and the wound doused in alcohol.
Wanted – the cat's meow
and the sow's ear to keep in a silk purse.
The lint from the navel, the light
in the orchard, and the ship in the bottle,
slowly sinking in air. The white flag
waved in surrender and the linen
handkerchief let fall to the heart's floor.
The persistence of kudzu in summer
that can only be killed by a toothpick
tipped in poison, one for each wide leaf.
The darkness before thunder
and the rain that hurries me towards no one.
Item wanted, forever missing.
Former cavewight. Former meddling kid.
Seeks same. Seeks long walks
filled with little to no aesthetic distance.
Wanted – what my neighbor has,
the giant lawnmower and addled wife,
his bills and his kidney stone,
the guts and not the glory, the naugahyde blues.
The call of the wild and the call
of Cthulhu. The wrong call
that turned right, then left me on hold.
This couch that sleeps no one.
This tree-lined city and the river I love.
This sky you would applaud
and the air perfumed like a girl.
This and this. A number line starting at six.
A histogram. A heart painted
into a corner. A feather in my cap
and a notch in my belt. This tired story
of which you never tire. This life
that hurts like a son of a bitch. Wanted –
a dandelion with a white pom
larger than my fist. A new way to breathe.
Curtains made of Kevlar
for that dreaded shot in the night.
This one. This night clutching
at my throat like regret. This season
that seeks me where I live.
This song that leads like a road
near to everything I ever wanted
and far from what I once thought I did.
Tonight I would tell you,
if you would believe it,
I am the bouncer of the season.
That, out on its ear,
winter doesn’t stand a chance.
And below us, the river,
a dark glossary of size,
carves the future map I have sketched
without ever telling you,
guided by the one constellation you knew,
that I painted by hand,
that I saw even in the day.
If you would believe it,
tonight I would tell you
I have cornered the market
on air and water
and that the world is my best friend.
That in my basement
whole broods of coelacanths
in saline tanks
practice clever tricks
with balls and hoops
simply because I know each by name.
And if my reputation
has gone before me like a tidal wave,
while you sunned yourself
or waited for the light to change,
then I counsel you
to take with a grain of salt
the ever recurring tale
of how I slew a dragon
in a bright green meadow
when I was little more than a toddler.
In truth, I was nine
and the least lucky of my village.
But, also the bravest.
Tonight, after love,
and what is a night without it
and what is love without this night
but more darkness,
I will sing to you.
I will recite to you
the genealogy of shadows,
revealing the ease of their coupling,
and in turn, our own,
softly attended by
the lustrous choir of fireflies
outside our window
waiting for a word
to rise and take wing
which, if you would believe it,
would be no small wonder.
THE ADVENT OF ZERO
I know that someday you will tire of everything,
as I have already, heavy as the lidless eyes
of God, the father of insomnia, and yes,
I couldn’t sleep again last night, tossing
like a coin some meager fate flips:
what will I eat tonight? Am I hungry?
And which direction will I find kindest
when at last the noise of my leaving blanches
all else out? Even these birds,
in January chirruping warmly from the boughs
here where snow is some manner of mad myth.
And I know the world cares not a whit,
if I may invoke the tongue of a corseted age,
for these few words that run out from me
as though I opened a wound on the blind edge
of something in the dark, impossible
to see, sucked up in the night as though
my heart, yes, my heart, were a black hole.
And maybe it is. Draw nearer, O thousand loves,
to see if you escape me, if from my ribs
a contraption worthy of science fiction
ticks like a bomb, if it is not meshed
with barbed wire and bits of glass from bottles.
With the omniscience of the broken heart,
I claim my future successes and disavow
all that I ever touch that crumples
in the gathering dust of closets and corners and heaps.
To anyone who will take it, I divest
myself of the bike hanging from a hook
that I never rode, given to me
so impossibly long ago that it was not me at all.
Not the me that cannot help
but haunt the mailbox giving back
most days more sadness than I sealed therein,
with a wish, a lock of smoke thin whimsy,
the wet touch of my tongue I know was made to kiss.
And to you, whom these words reach:
know that my apologies were true,
they rang like the bright peal of incredible bells.
Whole days I spent trying on your name
like new clothes —
no, like old, rumpled, patched, familiar, warm —
I was wrong to think of you new.
I have known you since the advent of zero,
since the rain first struck the earth
like a terror, and really, let us admit
we are being modest before the face of time.
To plumb those depths is loss, loss, loss,
to wait forever and in vain to hear
at the strained horizon of the day
for the splash or muffled clank of the pebble
you dropped to gain some notion
of the fall. Let us admit this and more
in our silken descent from the stars
back to separate pillows, the confusion of covers,
and though I cannot believe it,
I have come again to the bed, my own,
of course, for I cannot speak
your world into mine.
on hearing of efforts to declassify Pluto as a planet
Little star, how lost to us you are already
and more to become, so small
that we here, distant and large and not ice
only, would demote you
to bobbin status, unplanet, chink of light
in a sky of major and minor
fire. For all your long orbit, who here cares:
some nights I try my heart at it
but little happens. The trees hoard a music
in them that must be locusts
aching to mate, to make more,
even to die. Clouds scuff the scarred moon
until it’s easy to forget you—
to think of water clotted
with green, where once I read Neruda
and Ovid distracted not by light
skipping off the scalloped lake
but by the memory of lace and sheer and bra—
by whom I loved. In that moment,
and in this one, I could not be
more human, to the dead sky
making apologies heard by no one, by nothing.
CONSOLATION FOR VIRGIL
after receiving one vote to appear on a U.S. stamp
Even the dead must blush with shame
and long to sink deeper in quagmire,
as you must, poor Virgil, clutched
tightly to that one vote, dreaming
of the stamp which will never bear you
up to new life. On our tongues
some good rests. Some sweetness waits
to be opened like an envelope
in deep summer. Maybe in Virgil,
Illinois, you’d have graced
a tentative, five times rewritten
love letter sent across country
between distant friends who swear
on the dust rising everywhere
that life had never felt this
tender. That rain, and its damp patter
on the roof, were blessed.
And there in the heart of that fire
you would be remembered
for leading them up to Paradise,
as you led Dante. To go no further.
And I think of who voted you,
Roman poet, two thousand years dead,
to give safe passage
to cards for his ailing mother in Omaha,
who he knows to be dying
and so does not visit, hoping
never to fall under Death’s sweep.
Sullen angel, lordly in your sedan
at the edge of dead rivers, know
him by his vote, and by his folly.
If any of us here live at all,
we see ourselves in others by the same
signs. On the street, in passing,
we hum as though struck
by lightning from Apollo, god
of divine distance, and draw nearer
to one of a thousand ends,
for which we have practiced nothing
but amazement. No words
can fit our shapes then
and waking lost we look for guides.
NOTES FOR MY BODY DOUBLE
The plot hole by which you must enter in
to the story is a doozy, a real humdinger,
if you will, and it is all made of fire,
the way the stars are made of fire,
though we dream them to be utterly cold
and prickly with a sad light. Nothing
ever stops in my world to hear me
singing to you. I have always loved you,
sweet twin, beloved doppelgänger,
alien lump of word in my mouth,
language I spent three years learning
only to forget when it grew too hard
the phrases that meant something:
Dear, I am your long lost butter cookie;
and, I am sorry, it was accidental,
but I have dipped the poodle in laudanum.
Let us do away with digression
for the night, though to me
it has always seemed the heart’s core,
and think on our motivation
for the lines to follow:
the suddenness of our sorrow is shocking
and the day is hollowed out
and here at this moment,
this crucial hinge of the breaking heart,
I think of the day years ago
when I was a boy and came upon my uncle,
a fish’s tail clamped in his teeth,
tearing the skin from the fish with such force
I could hear it —
and I felt so strange and empty
I have never spoken of it
to anyone, or let myself on a day
whole with sun think of it.
What he was doing, and why,
I never asked; there is never
an answer large enough for a world
so huge with meanness.
And I was pulled from myself
but couldn’t feel a thing,
and this is your motivation,
mirrored self, speaking back
the words I make wrongly,
lifting the heavy, crude lot of anything
I can’t. You must know me
exactly, apart from yourself,
to give back to the world what I can’t.
You must know the angles
of light so well the shadows
will accept you like a brother.
You must not choke back my breath
when the ashes on the wind
blind even the birds in the trees.
In praise of the hermetic sky
which has in all my life never lifted
away to reveal the littered blot of space
like an accusation I can’t bear,
not tonight, not when aspirins
spill like bitter white coins
into my palm for my body, for my blood
to spend. In praise of the never
coming morning and the eternally concussed
bird shattering tree bark
with its face so that it might feed —
in praise of the worms, the grubs,
the insignificant life it pierces like a needle.
In praise of raw need. In praise
of the dream of a severed thumb
made of ice, melting away
on the white sun of a stove’s cooking eye.
In praise of the next world.
In praise of the most distant object
human history has observed,
that galaxy the first frail vintage of light,
reaching us only now,
like a surprise, like spring, like the early spring
in which you and I, love,
feared for the bulbs rising
from the yard’s thawed clod
to the faithless sun of that February.
In praise of the tulip fed swine of Denmark
and their dead ribs that shed
their meat almost primly
when lifted from the plates you served
to people who knew you,
if only for an hour,
before I did. In praise of those hours
that led here to this instant,
to which I am chained
like a dog. In praise of the fat moon, in praise of my howl.