Poems

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Lamp of the Body


Button

It’s the 50s. You wear your dark Levis
cuffed up six inches. You have a cowlick.

There is a birthday party you won’t attend
after a bad haircut. Your mother says,

Button, it’s not the end of the world.
But the weathervane says, Button,

the end is near. It says the sky’s gone
yellow with twisters. Small white stars

are invisible all day, but you hear them
chatter like teeth. Button, they say, why

not play with the others? Look at them,
having a fine time. But you wish the devil

on the neighbors. You wish them nothing
to pin the tail on. You wish the children

snatched up in the funnel, paper punch
cups still in their hands. The devil won’t

call you Button. He says if you must
be haunted, at least be unashamed.

(“Button” originally appeared in The Iowa Review)


Trompe l’Oeil

Once, while a man sped me down
a back road in a gray pickup,
I memorized my younger face

in the passenger side mirror,
burned the opal at my throat
and the white secondhand blouse—

tiny lilacs, puckered sleeves—
into the undersides of my eyelids.
My hair streamed

the color of hay out the window.
Lettering on the mirror told me
that despite how close

I appeared, I may have been closer.
Something lit the opal’s pink fires
nearer the surface than I knew.

Things were not what they seemed.
There was nothing I could reach
out and touch. We parked

in a cloud of gravel dust. I hurled rocks
into the quarry’s dark mouth,
bible black, and lied

about hearing them hit bottom.
Inside every stillness, I believed
something moved.

(“Trompe l’Oeil” originally appeared in The Florida Review)


Doubting Thomas

I was tired of the smoke
and mirrors. The loaves, the fish,
but not nearly enough time.

What could I say to him, friend
I buried, when he woke and called to me
softly from the shadows?

Go now. The business of faith
bores me. I could take it or leave it.
Understand, I touched his wounds

because I wanted to feel
his warmth on my own hands.
If I doubted anything then,

it was humanity. Disillusionment
is what happens when men
dabble in magic. Celebrity is a tree

on fire and of the thousands
standing near, none is near enough
to lick the flames from your face.

Once the embers burning
above us were enough. I believe
he doubled back from death

to breathe home’s balmy air,
to stand in light among us
one last time beneath the high

heavens. For this brotherhood
I lose a brother; I spit upon the lot
we’ve drawn. So much for twilight

spent floating on the river, talking
of women we were not to love,
and of their skin scrubbed sweet

as tangerines. So much for nights
we passed in the desert, drunk
under the young stars whose names

were new. Once my friend
agreed: No one could recognize
each luminous body across

this broadening, eternal cleft.

(“Doubting Thomas” originally appeared in Poetry Northwest)


The List of Dangers


Apologue (1)

En la tierra del olvido, donde de nada nadie se acuerda…

In the land where all is forgotten, where no one remembers anything,
birds cut off their beaks to share your sorrow, Little Torn Shoe.
Twice of half a moon throbbed, swollen. I don’t know what
you mourned. This tale was lost among the chestnut trees,
where I found it and brought it to you. Little Bird of Many Colors,
you are the kind who confuses wondering with wandering.
You wonder around. Under your braids, a bright light.
Little Pink Apple, life does not taste as good as it should.
After all, there is always something better. We choose the best
of what is before us, but much is not before us. In the story,
a boy chose the horse called Thought over the one called Wind.
Thinking swiftly, he rode to you. His sack of apples turned
to a sack of rats; his sack of pears to parrots repeating
happy, happy, happy
… Little Gold Pin, many things we tell
our children are kind but not true. The reverse is also true.
You were crying in the chestnut trees. There was no telling
the leaves from the leaf-shaped spaces between them.
I don’t know what you mourned, Little Winter Deer, the birds
mute and bleeding all around you. I know you want to forget
that last part. And here a cup got broken. Everyone should now go home.

(“Apologue (1)” originally appeared in The Massachusetts Review)


The List of Dangers

The black windows looked out onto the black lawn.
—Larry Levis

No one except the three daughters checked off
the list of dangers. It was like when the wolf ate
chalk to soften his voice, but the white goats

knew him by his black paws. They filled his gut
with stones and led him to water so black, it erased
itself from photographs. No one except the three

knew of hidden rooms in the forsythia, a brittle nest
for curling into when the neighbor boys chased them
through the yards. It was not a list of dangers,

but fears. Their father said they had to leave.
There would be no more safe enclosures.
No door of yellow, star-shaped flowers.

There were black boys in the city. They would be
waiting when the girls stepped off the school bus.
White flight, thought the daughters, as they fled

down a corridor of blossoming pear trees. A child
crossing the street repeated, Red hand changes
to white man walking. The sun was a saw blade,

a yellow circle with teeth. Terrible birds with plumage
of fire scorched whatever they touched: The black
mailbox opened its mouth to the black street.

The daughters checked them off. It was more than a list.
Each X clicked like a typewriter key, imprinting the sleep
of those who still slept. Nothing stays good for long—

not the new neighborhood with its wrist full of charms,
not the last tier of wedding cake in the icebox, white
and glittering like a glacier. No one was preserved,

an heirloom apple. Not even the three daughters
would taste exactly as girls did hundreds of years ago.

(“The List of Dangers” originally appeared in The Florida Review)


Wren Songs

It’s an installation: Wrens pinned like brooches
to the trees, singing, their eyes glass beads.

Shake a branch, be wary of what falls.

In the unofficial spring, sunshine plays xylophone
on the lawn. The trebly notes are mouths

singing oh, oh, oh. A paper boat leads

the children downstream, through countless
shades of green—spring, grass, moss, forest.

Light plus one green makes another.

The exhibit rotates seasonally. Soon enough
the children will instead be foxes, the greens

will rust. Someone will strike the wren set.

But for now their songs saturate the air.
If the message is urgent, they’ll tell again tomorrow.

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