Love Poem for What It Is
There’s nothing in the world that loves you
more than the space you already take up.
There’s nothing in the world that won’t
forget you faster than you forgot
the last person that stepped out from your life.
When the cat reaches up
one needled paw to drag down a book
from your desk, then another,
that’s not love—that’s dominance.
When you reach up your hand and try to wheedle
someone else’s to hold it, that’s love
dominating you. There’s no word for loving more
than you should, just the feeling of excess,
as if your tongue burst in a rash of red sequins,
as if everyone can see your stutter in the air,
staccato love you, love you, and nothing in the world
standing in that space to receive it.
from The Southeast Review
Thanks to fluttering-slips.
Errata Corrige, 2012; libri antichi e non, inchiostro, chiodi, legno, cm 130x110
Father, you would not be surprised that I lose
at cards. I get very drunk, and I lose at cards.
You are not dead and you would not be surprised.
I also make many modern mistakes. I know that I am
in love with the idea of love and not with someone.
I make mountains into molehills and then regret
the loss of mountains. I deny the sexual potency of ambition.
I remember calling you while we were both boiling
eggs at night in our kitchens to tell you about this.
You said, Son, we have both been clouds
in the rooms of undressing women. I found
a photograph in your dresser of an unfamiliar
woman wearing a grey t-shirt standing
beside a newly asphalted road bordering unmown
Midwestern grasses, and I ached for dull,
hometowny spring. You are not dead
or clearly dying, but I am going through your stuff.
I want your leather-bound Superman comics, your Kingston Trio,
your bamboo Buddha. I have been in love
with two women who look like the one in your photograph.
I think I have only seen you three hundred times.
I am twenty-four and you are sixty-five. I need
a box spring and a bed frame if I’m to be at all
comfortable in the coming years. Suddenly, it is embarrassing
not to own a table. Today I replaced the burnt-out light bulb
in the bathroom with the light bulb from the hallway,
which used to be the light bulb from the bedroom,
which used to be the porch light. To what extent,
father, does this sound familiar?
from The Southeast Review
You will never be let down by anyone
more than you will be let down
by the one you love most in the world
it’s how gravity works
it’s why they call it “falling”
it’s why the truth is harder to tell
you have more to lose
but you can choose to bury your past
in the garden
beside the tulips
until it’s so alive
it lets go
and you belong to yourself
When you belong to yourself again
is not a tidy grave
It is a ready loyal knight kneeling before your royal heart
Call in your royal heart
Tell it bravery cannot be measured by a lack of fear
It takes guts to tremble
It takes so much tremble to love
Every first date is a fucking earth quake
Sweetheart, on our first date
I showed off all my therapy
I flaunted the couch
Where I finally sweat out my history
Pulled out the photo album from the last time I wore a lie to the school dance
I smiled and said “that was never my style
Look how fixed I am
Look how there’s no more drywall on my fist
Look at the stilts I’ve carved for my short temper
Look how my wrist is not something I have to hide” I said
Well I was hiding it
The telephone pole still down from the storm
By our third date I had fixed the line
I said listen,
I have a hard time
I mean I cry as often as most people pee and I don’t shut the door behind me
I’ll be up in your face screaming “SEATTLE IS TOO RAINY SEATTLE IS TOO RAINY
I’M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO LIVE HERE.”
I sobbed on our fourth date
I can’t live here
In my body, I mean
I can’t live in my body all the time it feels too much
So if I ever feel far away know I am not gone
I am just underneath my grief
Adjusting the dial on my radio face so I can take this life with all
of it’s love and all of it’s loss
See I already know that you are the place where I am finally going to
sing without any static meaning
I’m never gonna wait
that extra twenty minutes
to text you back,
and I’m never gonna play
hard to get
when I know your life
has been hard enough already.
When we all know everyone’s life
has been hard enough already
it’s hard to watch
the game we make of love,
like everyone’s playing checkers
with their scars,
whenever they get out
without a broken heart.
Just to be clear
I don’t want to get out
without a broken heart.
I intend to leave this life
there’s gonna have to be
a thousand separate heavens
for all of my separate parts
And none of those parts are going to be wearing the romance from the
overpriced vintage rack
That is to say I am not going to get a single speed bike if I can’t
make it up the hill
I know exactly how many gears I’m going to need to love you well
And none of them look hip at the hot coffee shop
They all have God saying “good job you’re finally not full of bullshit”
You finally met someone who’s going to flatten your knee caps into
Baby, throw me
Throw me as far as I can go
I don’t want to leave this life without ever having come home
And I want to come home to you
I can figure out the rain
Thanks to exceptindreams.
Ode to my Toyota
Through floorboard holes like open windows
on the road beneath my feet, through the back
seat windows that constantly slid down
as if cranked by invisible children, they came
for the mushrooms that grew in the carpet
lush from all the unrestricted rain, the diet of pink
liquid drizzle at the bottom of Pep Power cups
collected on the passenger side: roaches arriving
on their soundless fast feet, glossy palmetto
bugs big as a hand, and in the dark,
I always drove twitching, shaking my hair,
the overhead light burned out, music
stopped inside the radio of my 1974 Toyota,
and still she ran, the world’s longest lasting car,
finally sold for a hundred dollars to a friend’s husband
after he’d become lost in addiction to sex, contracted
AIDS, a beautiful man with blue jewel eyes, faceted
and cracked like ice, but perfect, a kind of sun dial,
with a brightness that made it hard to hear his words,
to do anything but nod. He drove my car so far north,
everything froze, and covered in ice, in Minnesota
or Michigan, after years, the radio came on
like a person materializing beside him, and he called
his wife to tell her how he’d been driving, and someone
started to sing. He’d been scared at first, in the dark,
gone now, wherever the car has taken him.
Originally appeared in Poetry; forthcoming in Five Kingdoms, Anhinga Press, 2009.
The light on upstairs
before four every morning. The man
asleep every night before eight.
What programs they watch. Who
traded cars, what keeps the town
The town knows. You
know. You’ve known for years over
drugstore coffee. Who hurts, who
Why, today, in the house
two down from the church, people
you know cannot stop weeping.
Frightful Consequences of Doing This
Whenever I have an appointment with a poet
the state punishes me
I get a ticket for illegal parking
or something even more stupid
I do not know what I do wrong
we sit down at a wide table 2 meters apart from each other
we talk about reading Kavafy
about frightful consequences of doing this
about southerners’ cuisine
about women’s masturbation, about the sea
we drink schweppes and beer
exchange opinions about literature workshops
get up and leave
my parking is impeccable
I stop precisely parallel with a curb
2.5 to 4 inches away
I do this with male elegance
but I prefer it when nobody watches me
my car is full of abrasions and punches
not my fault
some men, you know, are really bad drivers
Naming the Stars
This present tragedy will eventually
turn into myth, and in the mist
of that later telling the bell tolling
now will be a symbol, or, at least,
a sign of something long since lost.
This will be another one of those
loose changes, the rearrangement of
hearts, just parts of old lives
patched together, gathered into
a dim constellation, small consolation.
Look, we will say, you can almost see
the outline there: her fingertips
touching his, the faint fusion
of two bodies breaking into light.
POETRY July 2000
Learning to Live with Stone
A shore of washed stones
A sky the color of stone
A stone cliff
Stony face, stony heart
There is nothing here,
Twisted roots, sea taking the land
Back. Sea wrack
There is nothing
Here between us but stone.
One must learn to live with stone,
Make it a bed to lie on
A step to climb.
from: The Life and Death of Poetry
(Louisiana State University Press)
This is the declaration, which is what
I have wanted to say for a long time, and is what
you have wanted to hear
for a long time. It smears an
indescribable color of calm
across our minds.
In a city plaza, a hundred black birds break
at its sound.
My feet are made of bronze. I am able
to look at my defects in a way that is less ugly,
to look at them like the defects I always
wanted them to be. There is a man
whose belly is like a warhead, or like a helmet
when the navel
goes pith. I am suddenly that man.
Scars like sweetbriar on my body. If you run
a finger across them today they make
the music of wineglasses.
I am suddenly that man.
Listen to these thousand bedrooms divulging
their swollen oh. Up every hidden corner
the building has. Up all the corners
where gossip cannot go. Crooking
the throat, the thighs—
singing everyone else that is
not you. Instead of being ashamed,
I am able to say that I would do it
and not do it.
Let them say this is bad art and not
original. If that is what they will say, let them say it now.
This is not going to end in self-deprecation.
This is not going to end in a whip-retort
or a trapdoor simile. (Wind, like a man
in a gray bathrobe, I could say.) (A yawn, like a gray
rainbow, I could say.) For this statement,
I am going to end where I began,
sure-footed, making whatever profound
errors I make. To be
committed—to be the thing that I always aspired
to be. This is not going to end in irony.
Socrates will not dominate my hand or let
slip some pithy clover.
This is not going to end in indignation. I fall
to my knees and take in deep
inhalations from the tiny wildflower
of his navel. I drink in the hem of his robe,
which smells white, but has a color
and disposition toward leisure.
I am making the statement. This is not
going to end.
from the current issue of H_NGM_N
The Nude that Stays Nude
Don’t do what all the other little buggers are doing.
Don’t try to make the poem look pretty. You’re not decorating cupcakes, Cupcake.
Don’t think you’re the only bastard who ever suffered — just write as if you were.
Don’t eat someone else’s lunch. For eat read steal. For lunch read wife. For wife read style.
Don’t be any form’s bitch.
Don’t think if you cheat on form or slip the meter, no one will notice. They’ll know and think you a fool. Don’t think it impossible to cheat on form. If you do it well, they’ll think you a genius.
Don’t think if you declare yourself avant-garde, your sins will be forgiven.
Don’t blubber if you never receive prizes. Look at the poets who won the Pulitzer fifty years ago. See who’s there. See who’s not.
Don’t think you’re special. Stand in a library amid all those poets who thought they were every inch the genius you think you are.
Don’t double-space your lines and think the poem better. It just takes up more room.
Don’t think regret is 20/20. Regret is myopic. Hope is astigmatic. Trust is blind.
Don’t think what you have to say is important. The way you say it is what’s important. What you have to say is rubbish.
Don’t think you don’t have to read. You read in order to steal. Read more, steal better.
Don’t think your poems are good because they sound good read aloud. Get your hearing checked.
Never write poems about poetry.
Don’t play to the audience. Your audience is full of dopes, cheeseballs, and Johnny-come-latelies — besides, they’re laughing at you all the way home.
Don’t think you’ve been anointed by early success. Look at the critical darlings of a hundred years ago. Look at the darlings of twenty years ago.
Never wish you were there. Wish you were here.
Don’t think you can ignore grammar. You need grammar more than grammar needs you.
Never eat the pie if you can own the fork.
Don’t think new is better. Don’t think new is not better. Don’t think, read. Don’t think, ink.
Poetry is the nude that stays nude.
Never write the first line if you already know the last. The best poem is the unwritten poem.
Don’t break the window before you look at the view.
Don’t think that if you have two manuscripts, you have two manuscripts. You have one manuscript.
Don’t eat jargon, because you’ll shit jargon.
Don’t think poetry is a religion. It’s more important than religion.
POETRY magazine April 2013
What Befalls You
I could no longer stand the trees
when a stand of them began to blossom.
That summer was one of the best.
We were ourselves, miraculously.
All of a sudden fall fell, as fall always does.
Rolls of film went missing, and with them
something less detectable.
Say it was a severe season with the children rushing in
in great strokes of clarity, then years of canceling fog.
go outside, maybe
move a rosebush
to the back yard or
clean a window.
under a maple
or in a snowfall.
And this is often
when they see
a nuthatch on its
dizzy route down
a trunk, or
the quick flick
of a chickadee
across the yard
and onto a branch.
They don’t do
much. That’s for
others. They know
how to take things
for granted, know
what to miss.
they make breakfast.
And when the sun
sets, they let it go.
Something new in the air today, perhaps the struggle of the bud
to become a leaf. Nearly two weeks late it invaded the air but
then what is two weeks to life herself? On a cool night there is
a break from the struggle of becoming. I suppose that’s why we
sleep. In a childhood story they spoke of the land of enchant-
ment.” We crawl to it, we short-lived mammals, not realizing that
we are already there. To the gods the moon is the entire moon
but to us it changes second by second because we are always fish
in the belly of the whale of earth. We are encased and can’t stray
from the house of our bodies. I could say that we are released,
but I don’t know, in our private night when our souls explode
into a billion fragments then calmly regather in a black pool in
the forest, far from the cage of flesh, the unremitting “I.” This was
a dream and in dreams we are forever alone walking the ghost
road beyond our lives. Of late I see waking as another chance at
from Songs of Unreason