Lines in Late April
April has been characteristically brief,
coming in on a promise, but somehow
always circling the point.
Taconic streams swollen by the melting mountains
push impatiently against matted leaves and fallen
branches that seem to belong somewhere else.
Nightfall is a gentle rushing on the forest floor
and the piercing laughter of predators that slip through shadows
and edge along the lake where moonlight descends.
One day, April is icy, grasping and resolute.
Another time, the impudent, golden reach of forsythia
arches against the likelihood across gunmetal gray skies.
April ice can slip in unexpectedly with the sinking sun
to swallow tender sprouts like a crusty tumor.
Ice lays waste to fragile shoots on old wood.
In the end, the ice in April is every bit as fragile
as those new buds setting out a plan for summer.
These gnarled bones of birches have lasted another winter.
After Twelve Months, Someone Tells Me It’s Time to Join the Living
And I have, or will, I’m not sure which,
but who’s to say how many weeks or months
are called for, because I’ve been there,
deeply there, with you, without you,
winding through the red rock cliffs, say,
in Arizona, a one-laner, all dirt and no guard rail,
driving, perhaps recklessly, the urge
to take my eyes off the road for a second,
strong, look over the edge, stronger,
or at least at the passenger seat,
empty of course, and so if that’s the best
I can do, to drive and hug the inside edges
of the road and not look down so be it—
I am going somewhere, the desert maybe,
and when I get off this road,
the I that I am now will still carry
the you that you were then,
or maybe you will carry me:
a hawk gliding over the cliffs
with something in its claws,
just in my periphery,
and though I want to know
if the thing that’s clutched so tightly,
so randomly, so in fact lovingly,
is dead or alive, there is no need
beyond the need to say this,
because it will not be able
to unbind itself, it will not shake loose.
I imagine its last thoughts,
if it is capable of thinking,
would be of what it’s like to be airborne,
without the constraints of gravity,
free of the thing that fixes us here,
because maybe it’s exactly the thing
we can’t release that keeps us
on this side, among the living.
The opposite of water,
lighter than dried ink, thinner
than a garlic bulb’s paper
skin. The thought before
we think, echo set adrift,
white silk ribbon unraveling
on an unexpected gift.
Cacophony of moths. Fragile
as egg shells-and as strong.
The way we leave this
place. The only grace note
in our only song.
Who was that strange perfecter occasionally
stepping in to give my life a sideways nudge?
Or was it just a series of accidents?
Despite the multiplying data there’s not
necessarily anyone on your case
in a world where biometric differences
can cover up the gulf that is fixed between
darlings of Morpheus and insomniacs
strapped into the home theatres of their thought,
or between people who feel that the real life
is intimated by bare, windswept uplands
and those who want to live where rhinoplasty
is already as normal as filling teeth.
I was the perfect stranger continually
stumbling by chance back into my life to find
it was getting on pretty well without me
in a world where what people wear correlates
poorly with what they’re capable of doing
to someone who’ll never be useful to them,
where some can sing an ache to sleep and others
are quite sure they know what intelligence is.
Letter to an Inmate in Solitary Confinement
We all want to know our worth, the value
of a tin can, a newspaper in the rain.
You must remember the rain—its teeth,
its tongue? Think of what it’s been made
into, how it’s been transformed: solid, liquid,
gone. Sometimes I put my fingers in my mouth
and chew on what they’ve done. Do you ever
do that? Do you count the bricks?
That’s what we do on the outside, too.
We make them, we count them.
I read in the paper they’re closing down the mill,
talking about condos, selling it all off at auction
machine by tired machine. But killing something
can take a long time. I cut down a tree
and it took all day. First an ax, then a saw,
then dragging it up the hill like the dead body it was—
all heavy and already forgotten. I used
some beautiful old blade to strip off the bark in curls.
It smelled like a new house, except I wasn’t
building a house. I left it out in the field
for a year of rain. Try not to ask yourself
what this waiting means or why you’re held inside it.
One an outline: simplest
shape, same dark
as the barn roof, and the horizon
I wanted to walk toward
and not stop.
Much later, the second, among
trees. A quickness,
wordless at first,
from the corner of my eye,
as everything huge arrives
without a name; then
the easy noises I called back,
a child’s lexicon: big, brown,
not there, gone so fast, wings
outside and in—the shocked velvet
of woods pulled over my head
like the blanket you spread
across me, our first weekend
away from school and drunk.
I fell into the haze of wine
like falling from the barn’s peaked hill
of hay, that itch I’d carry
all day beneath my clothes—
straw-slivers and the welter
of stars where nettles
slapped my calves. A child’s
lexicon: love, I, you.
Under knitted squares, the feather and hush
of different skin, I slept until you spoke
and woke me. Almost not there, gone
so fast: your voice, my first face.
To a Snake
I knew you were not poisonous
when I saw you in the side garden;
even your name—milk snake—
sounds harmless, and yet your pattern
of copper splotches outlined in black
frightened me, and the way you were
curled in loops; and it offended me
that you were so close to the house
and clearly living underneath it
if not inside, in the cellar, where I
have found your torn shed skins.
You must have been frightened too
when I caught you in the webbing
of the lacrosse stick and flung you
into the woods, where you landed
dangling from a vine-covered branch,
shamelessly twisted. Now I
am the one who is ashamed, unable
to untangle my feelings,
braided into my DNA or buried
deep in the part of my brain
that is most like yours.
why i feed the birds
i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day
she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character
he jumped into her hand
began to eat
a woman holding
a small god
What to do with Leftovers
When she doesn’t show,
toss out the bread for birds,
freeze the shrimp in Tupperware,
and forget the words—
all that awful sweet-talk
you practiced while you cooked,
the boyish innuendoes
on just how good she looked.
Plug the cork back in the wine
(the fresh whipped cream won’t last);
what was meant to be a feast
has now become a fast.
Take the pills the doctor gave
and try to get some sleep:
what you could not save
was never yours to keep.
Let me give back to God
his jacket, his locket,
his thin slippers,
sunglint, sleetspit, stars.
And here’s my cracked,
my sullen, unstrung
guitar, hung like a rabbit
in the butcher’s window,
a hole in the belly
where a song should be.
emptiness can see—
Let this be my prayer.
Does anything belong to me?
A loop of bone
borne like a noose
around the neck—
forces pitch, makes
the tongue precise.
presses the trachea.
It is a horseshoe,
the shape lucky, self conscious
as anything that cups
the edge of superstition.
Yet the sound
in bone, ligament stretching
from meat not
to meat, but to the ossified
snare more solid.
It does not move, doesn’t
fret. It stops across
To Sew, To Cook
We take the work in hand.
You take it by the hip, to guide it,
you say. You shoot
from the hip, as they
say. The lisping consonants
work themselves, trace
the edges of a lip, laze against
the head of a bed.
The things you say here
gather meaning to meaning,
a ruching, a folding over,
to reveal something
gross or intimate.
A thing built to contain.
We put things inside—
let us jar
sugar, flour, let us
shelve the jars. This is
comforting, the arabesque
of a kitchen. The folding logic
meant to be stored. Once it’s gone
inside, it is gone. Once we eat,
Make it about
containment—what may I hold
with my hands
or otherwise? What may I hold
in my mouth?
You, of whom
I am supposedly made,
tighten your fingers
around a lung.
If you open out
I am splayed,
meant to be
in it there is a justice—
take me away from here,
this filet going to him,
that to her,
everything in pieces.
You told me
you’ve changed your mind—
there’s no such thing as sin,
only the division of a person
from parts of himself,
the organs seceding
one after another,
the thoughts too.
What, then, am I,
what can I contain
by what it holds)—this bone
there, that spleen, heart?
If you take me,
you take me apart.
Letter to an Old Flame
October, darling, you’re impossible:
How early you get dark. And who will
manage to measure the gap between
two animals, curled against your chill?
You wait for me in your woods at dusk.
Up your street, a girl is borrowing fire,
leaning into an idling, unmarked truck.
Got a light? I’ve asked too, for a flint
and firesteel to my fatwood, a cupped
hand so I might tend a spark in wind,
but you gave three men the Nobel Prize
for proof that each day we lose more light,
proof we’re to end not in flame, but ice.
The French still speak of the little death,
but what of your small kindnesses, smaller
deaths? that chipmunk, maimed, I finished
off with a steel shovel? my backyard pyre
of his old letters and your spent leaves?
What of that god who wants back his fire?
All I want: a warm brick for my bed,
to be rid of the gap, that matchstick-
width that separates desire and dread,
to draw hard enough to keep it all lit.
We always measure wrong. October,
what could you know of distance?
Your leaves, past flame, are carpeting
cobblestones’ muted blaze: scarlet, smoke,
and char. Layers. Who I was at fifteen,
how you still smolder. And his sweater,
woolen, over button-down, starched, over
wisp of undershirt over—
What we might make of the embers.