Thursday, May 7, 2020


~Dust Lamp

Armored poems are fainting poems.
Uncorseted poems will weep.
The readers who approve tears
May not approve their reasons.
I’m feeling a little faint.

I’ve never been good at tears,
And not for manly reasons.
The sweet reasons people cry,
For themselves or for others,
Make it difficult to breathe.

I well up for what stirs me,
Mainly fictions of losers
Rescuing losers who win.
“Hmm,” you laugh, “I wonder why.”
I hear you, so I don’t cry.

I strap into my armor.
Bones evolved to hold the flesh
Together and armored plates
To fend off predators’ jaws.
Keeping out means keeping in.

I’ve never been good at bones.
The best corset, best armor,
Was the whalebone of Jonah’s
Leviathan, so giant
He could have, should have, stayed in.

Build my own leviathan—
Brobdingnagian dragon
Corset armor—if I faint
Or if I weep within it,
At worst this monster might cough.

And I’ll sit beside my lamp
And write to myself of dust
And quiet and viscera
On this scrimshaw of the fish
Bones leviathan swallows.

“In the end,” writes Gabrielle
Bellot, most luminous girl,
Of her own blue lamp of grief,
“I don’t think it matters if
We cry.” Selkie. I owe her.

~Lined Pockets

I find beautiful but don’t 

Understand daughter-mother
Dyads, their relationships

The most subtle and complex
Of all human vortices,

Deep pouches of emotions
“Goitering the shape of grace,”

As Karen Swenson once wrote
Of the pockets of her clothes

Her mother sewed and then stitched
Closed to keep her childish hands

And treasured gifts out of them,
“Forbidding all but the line.”

Mothers making openings
And mothers sewing them shut,

Daughters loving their mothers
To pieces they pull apart,

A single sewing circle
Their males may hardly notice—

I never noticed growing
Among daughters and mothers—

It was only among friends,
Partners, and writers later

My male brain began to wake
To the complicated cuts

And patterns whose ancestry
Was old when needles were bone

And fire was women’s business,
Chewing leather to lace hides,

Talking and passing children
Arm to arm around a hearth—

The ways that need and caring 
And resentment can align,

The intimacy that’s not

A game like our other games’
Rules, boundaries, and pretend,

Although it shapes a shushing
Chorus concerning those games

And how mothers and daughters
Should play them among themselves

And intersecting with men.
It’s a negotiation 

And an evaluation
And a murmur in a cave

About oceans and mermen
And dragons and the dangers

That come from not listening—
Not a tale, not one that ends—

Unspooling conversations
About debt and repayment

But hemmed in between the two
Of them, the original 

Couple, Eve and her daughter
Long before adding Adam,

Talk, as these lines get tangled
In this telling, you can tell

He still can’t quite understand.

~Brute Center

New, I know. No, I never knew.
More defense, more risk. That’s the trade,
From immune systems to armies.

“God’s back is black fog,” wrote Molly
Brodak, just a decade before
She entered the black fog for good.

Can a father be consistent
In a way consistently good?
There’s good reason God was a man.

Gods could be female, gods could be
Everything women want or fear
To be. But God? Theodicy.

Anything as inconsistent
As the glories of this planet
That brought into existence males

In forms as stolid as penguins,
As rapine as langur monkeys,
As motile as floating gonads,

Early life stage of all bone worms,
Who will grow female if they find
A source of nourishment, a bone,

But if they find a female, locked
On a bone already, stay male
(Don’t let us get started on fish)—

Surely they knew their own image.
Now, I never know. Words are bones,
Words are bone worms, females and males.

God is a heavy word that sinks
Out of the prayers of believers,
Through the fingers of atheists,

To settle down in the black fog
Near the vents where life got started
And waits and is hungry. You knew.

~Thin Places

Constantly counterfeiting
The universe by number,
Description, simulation,

We make ourselves too nervous,
Retreat to our traditions.
What could be common to all?

Language broke the subjective
Experience long ago,
Or breached it, at least, and since,

All’s common to some, none all.
Ein Narr wartet auf Antwort.
The best fools enjoy the wait,

And are not so much waiting
As savoring constant waves.
Without anticipation,

Waiting is meditation,
Or at least rumination
Encircling a contentment.

The good fool keeps an eye out
For bones coughed up by the waves,
For driftwood worn to a scrim,

For signs of the digestive
Habits of leviathan.
Distinctions are always thin,

And if observers begin
And observers reach an end,
That’s just an observation.

Maybe it’s language itself
That’s lonely, human not flesh,
No voice like it in the waves.

What would these words love to hear?
An answer from somewhere thin,
A stony, northwestern coast.

Why? The words confer. You see,
They whisper, it wasn’t flesh
Made your human rituals.

Oh, longing, yes, and sorrow
Got the burials started,
In a sense, but the symbols,

You know those were ours, were us,
Our kind. If your tradition
Has a sacred place souls left,

We were what named it as such,
And it more belongs to us.
When Leila Aboulela 

Writes of women in a skiff—
Salma, Moni, and Iman
Dressed in her floating turquoise 

Costume as an abandoned 
Mermaid—who saw the shadow
Of shimmering wings, the bird 

Returning with Solomon’s 
Royal Mail from Paradise
Straight to the Scottish Highlands,

Who but the words in the mail
Could convey such a message
Out to where both worlds grow thin?

And then? When the book is done,
The message delivered, read,
Set aside, who but the words

Are left without an answer
Of our own, disembodied 
Material foolishly

Waiting for anything but
Another body like yours
To pick them up and read them,

A body of bones, a host 
Who knows them, knows of hoopoes,
Who hopes, but is not divine?

~Her Mark

Uncommon chameleon, calls like
Evening bells in wooded mountains
Home to only unknown species,

I hear you. I am listening.
But I am learning you’ve been cursed,
And the curse was just that—to be

Heard but wholly misunderstood—
And if I understand that curse
It means I’ll never understand

You. Poor thing. Slow little lizard.
I watch without leaving my seat,
Still as you, swiveling slightly

Like you, the better to observe
You and all the golden beings
With wings, ready to devour you,

All the limber, limbless dragons
Ascending trees in search of you,
Made hungry by your prophecies.

You, mouse of lizards, beast like me,
Eyes to the side for predators,
Eyes that swivel forward for prey,

Private oceans in your teal head—
I have a gesture to give you,
A gesture but not a language,

An emblem you can use, like so—
Curl your tail into a spiral.
It will be a signal to her,

The woman who wrote out your bones.
She’ll know what the gesture conceals
Without having to translate you,

Without having to lift the curse
On the prophetic voice in you,
Even though the gesture’s phony,

Even though the gesture’s not yours,
Even though I stole it for you,
And even though the gesture’s hers,

And she recognizes her mark
And wonders how you came by it.
She’ll read this line your spiral curls,

Emblem of the unknown species
That crowd the mountains where you hide
And hunt and are hunted and hide.

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