Ports are made for entering and leaving,
thus this city redolent of sadness:
like walking off alone to cry, triste;
or, tryst, the lover’s short-lived entanglement,
almost foreboding happiness, but only for a moment.
Two people giggling temporarily on sunlight and Chianti—
like that joy, it doesn’t last long.
We drove here, our last stop, from Slovenia
in a banged-up communist-era two-door car.
This former center of industry and ships,
its harbor filled with cranes and metal works,
seemed too ugly to be Italy almost,
except for the chatter of girls
clattering on heels, the leather stores,
and baby cappuccinos, the women’s tiny waists
and dark hair, their hands swirling
with furious significance, their words rolling,
glamorous and vowel-rich. Ahhhhh.
We saw an amphitheater in ruins,
climbed the hill that overlooks the city.
The Adriatic stretched meaningless before us
yawning a great blue, speckled with boats stalled with their cargo
and cruise ships drifting off to Venice. To the left
the land melted toward the Croatian coast.
Our backs dripped, we squinted through sunglasses,
and wandered into Indian import shops,
fingering cool silk saris and batik shirts,
eyeing bangles and semiprecious stones.
Flip-flopping down the sidewalk, we watched
men push up the shirtsleeves of their light shirts
and frown into folded gazettes beneath the awnings,
impatient for the news from elsewhere.
The gelato stands were still beneath the noise of flies,
their abandoned colors dripping, sickly bright.
It was a hot July. We sat sticky-legged at the station,
bored voyeurs with our lives on pause,
watching other people idle away the morning,
stir lukewarm café con leche, one man running for his train,
another pleading, face to the sky, as his girlfriend left him.
We saw him cry, not even wiping off his tears:
an ancient taste, and Trieste, an ancient city
with its centuries’ accumulation
Trying To Raise the Dead
Look at me. I’m standing on a deck
in the middle of Oregon. There are
friends inside the house. It’s not my
house, you don’t know them.
They’re drinking and singing
and playing guitars. You love
this song, remember, “Ophelia,”
Boards on the windows, mail
by the door. I’m whispering
so they won’t think I’m crazy.
They don’t know me that well.
Where are you now? I feel stupid.
I’m talking to trees, to leaves
swarming on the black air, stars
blinking in and out of heart-
shaped shadows, to the moon, half-
lit and barren, stuck like an axe
between the branches. What are you
now? Air? Mist? Dust? Light?
What? Give me something. I have
to know where to send my voice.
A direction. An object. My love, it needs
a place to rest. Say anything. I’m listening.
I’m ready to believe. Even lies, I don’t care.
Say burning bush. Say stone. They’ve
stopped singing now and I really should go.
So tell me, quickly. It’s April. I’m
on Spring Street. That’s my gray car
in the driveway. They’re laughing
and dancing. Someone’s bound
to show up soon. I’m waving.
Give me a sign if you can see me.
I’m the only one here on my knees.
The Weight of Fronds Over Body Knots
There is nothing left in the bed
but great long sheets of light covered over
by what night lets in; here is nothing.
No words flame,
we come illiterate,
we come apart-
We come inside each other, separate.
I don’t know how touch becomes a boundary.
The stars peer down.
My mirror waits for morning.
In my head I make a list of the colors of flowers-
I make a list, all night long, of every lost thing.
Where We Are Most Tender
Mostly love is about grunt work,
heaving unwieldy pieces of furniture
up a trackless mountain,
the heat and humidity punishing,
mosquitoes ravenous. They bite
where we are most tender
and can’t slap with our full hands.
We love with our restraint, lying
silent through bitter nights,
doing the left-foot right-foot trudge
our hearts like Indian guides
leading stupid white settlers
They don’t even turn
to check if we’re there—
they know we’ll follow.
Because We’ve Landed on the Moon but Nobody Wants to Live There
Someone’s got to stand at the door waving,
then busy up the empty house, clear the table, dishes,
her face. Someone’s got to wash away
that smear of relief and regret,
keep the birds in check,
break a few speckled eggs, then cry
as if it were all a cruel mistake. Because the eggs
are ruined. Because we never get back
that feeling of lying in the grass, breathing in
the soft earth and the whole of summer before us.
We love celebration, the smell of fireworks,
but we work too long and forget to pick up milk.
We don’t notice or agree. And it’s too easy
to hit someone’s hand with a ruler. And a hundred times
is too many. We need to forge a different taste,
give it a name and shape,
then send an arrow through it. So we can hold
each other. So the phoebe can re-use its nest.
So flowers can bloom. So the loyal dog
can travel half a continent and return home,
limping and proud. So conversation can be more
palatable than absence—like cotton candy—
sweet, and then nothing. Even so, it anchors us
when we think we might blow away.
Colors to a Blind Lover
A snarling dog hitting the end of his chain.
Bullfrogs, the groan of a frozen lake splitting
open. The ache of blood that can’t drain, the shard
of wisdom tooth left in. Circles rubbed in carpet,
earlobes in winter, the scratch of saltine
cracker in a spoonful of chili, wine after you swallow,
the shock you almost feel when you lick a battery.
A above middle C at the base of your spine, the ghost
of my heat on polyester after I leave your bed.
The moment between stubbing
your toe and the pain. Broken glass, breath
escaping between a flutist’s fingers.
Marbles, hardboiled egg, ice packed
in a horse’s hoof, a necklace just put on.
Guinea pig vibrations, pottery wobbling on the wheel.
Eucalyptus, Woolite, sour cream, Chap Stick,
propane, what makes your warm back
not turn away from my cold hands.
White grapes, thermometers, the grit
inside a clam, sucking a Cool Pop
from its plastic. The ingredient you don’t
taste until you leave it out. The breeze of a passing
car, of wet flannel whipping on the line.
Burlap, yucca leaves, the teeth on a computer chip,
kneeling on glass beads. Sage, Neatsfoot oil, woad,
a cracked fluorescent light bulb. Migrating geese,
a spent cartridge falling on cement, aluminum
foil torn from the roll, the noise I make
when I think and the silence you give when I speak.
The pressure that will almost
straighten a paperclip but never
return it to its shape. Carwashes, gravy
in hospital corridors, a microwave
the day after burnt popcorn.
A flicked lighter, a dog scratching a screen door,
one scissor blade against the other. The difference
between the flesh of a jalapeno and the seeds.
The heat from computers and Christmas
tree lights. The part of a Band-Aid
that stays behind. Why I always
come before you do.
Aloe on a burn, oatmeal
on chicken pox, creases of skin
on knuckles, quills on a sleeping
hedgehog. Wind chimes, dripping faucets,
Slinkies, a goldfish leaping from its bowl.
Cool as a wooden conference table, a laminated
library book. Alfalfa pellets, cedar chips, concrete,
film canisters. Where you go when you hear
or smell something I can’t.
Poem: Laura Thompson
Collage: Melinda Tidwell, ‘Platitudes’ 2013
I Looked Up
I looked up and there it was
among the green branches of the pitch pines—
a ruffle of fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back—
color of copper, iron, bronze—
lighting up the dark branches of the pine.
What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.
When I made a little sound
it looked at me, then it looked past me.
Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,
and, as I said, wreathed in fire.
When my body had forgotten its purpose,
when it just hung off my brainstem like a whipped mule.
When my hands only wrote. When my teeth only ate.
When my ass sat, my eyes read, when my reflexes
were answers to questions we all already knew.
Remember how it was then that you slid your hand
into me, a fork in the electric toaster of my body. Jesus,
where did all these sparks come from? Where was all
this heat? Remember what this mouth did last night?
And still, this morning I answer the phone like normal,
still I drink an hour’s worth of strong coffee. And now
I file. And now I send an email. And remember how
my lungs filled with all that everything? Remember
how my heart was an animal you released from its cage?
Remember how we unhinged? Remember all the names
our bodies called each other? Remember how afterwards,
the steam rose from us like a pair of ghosts?
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Thank you, youcanhaveit.
Coral-bells purpled the fallen sycamore leaves, dead, the dead
versus those who attempted death, versus those who effectively
fashioned out of such attempts a style akin to electric guitar
shimmer swelling and unswelling like starlings when they first
lift off, or like stars when, from their fixed sway, they come
suddenly loose, any man letting at last go of a career spent
swallowing—trying to—catastrophe’s jewel-studded tail, un-
holy, in the way of fanfare, its gift for
persuasion, how it can make of what’s ordinary, and therefore
flawed of course, a thing that’s holy, for a time it seemed so,
didn’t restlessness seem to be, little god of making, no less
impossible in the end than any of the gods, where’s the holiness,
they sleep never, they tire infrequently, to be tired bores them,
distraction refined by damage would be their drug of choice
hands down, if they could choose, even they don’t get to.
Late August, Dog Days
I have plans for a dozen dogs,
winter fires, rain storms, and pock
marked rivers as quiet as November
with the world off to work.
One dog first, maybe a year
to find its place near the back door,
in the truck, a year for us to settle
into a name it can wear,
and I can whisper as the coffee drips
in the dark. Plans call for cold
weather, for books mapping a course
in various corners of the house.
When daylight is more answer
than question, we walk an hour out,
an hour back. Pace means nothing
with a dog and a day. On the way out,
I’ll chant the names of those away.
The way back, I’ll list what they left
and assign it to the living.
Afternoon winks its way to dark,
a whiskey neat and a letter,
a few lines to know by heart,
a walk for the mail. One day
closer to the second dog.
Skinny dirt road
In the middle of the ocean.
That led to the house of art.
I took it. The engine nearly
Drowned. I lied that it was fun
That I’d do it again. When I got to
The house was gone and when
I looked back, so was the path.
Now I’m old. Drown in my bed
A thousand miles inland.
For years I thought
Art my way back. Cats sing
Of rose dawns. This country’s a
Of the one I left, except
I’ve bad dreams. And
You’re the only
Person who’s not here.
Is it the same
Coming and Going
My marriage ended in an airport long ago.
I was not wise enough to cry while looking for my car,
walking through the underground garage;
jets were roaring overhead, and if I had been wise
I would have looked up at those heavy-bellied cylinders
and seen the wheelchairs and the frightened dogs inside;
the kidneys bedded in dry ice and Styrofoam containers.
I would have known that in synagogues and churches all over town
couples were gathering like flocks of geese
getting ready to take off, while here the jets were putting down
their gear, getting ready for the jolt, the giant tires
shrieking and scraping off two
long streaks of rubber molecules,
that might have been my wife and I, screaming in our fear.
It is a matter of amusement to me now,
me staggering around that underground garage,
trying to remember the color of my vehicle,
unable to recall that I had come by cab—
eventually gathering myself and going back inside,
to get the luggage
I would be carrying for the rest of my life.