Darkly

She took something of mine
I’m still not sure what it was,
but it’s gone. Buried now,
beneath some tree (a birch
I can only hope) for ants
to build their walls from me.
She reminded me of flowers
and rum
over ice cubes, with coconut
milk and a splash of water.
She loosened the heavy iron
rivets in my soul.
              She played the piano
and sung me into thin strands.
I was all heartwood (darkly
colored or dead or free
from decay) and her hands
were the sapwood that fed me
and put me to sleep in the river.
Her lips were the cold, the rain,
the con, the grift.

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Ol’ Raspy’s Last Stand

Ol’ Big Heart. Ol’ No Name. He says so much.
Says he strung his eyes to spiders silk and left them
to dangle in the storm. He plays his harmonica
to the raindrops and tells a story in the notes.

Ol’ Long Face. He tells me, someone once told him
he looks sad all the time. His normal expression
is what any God-fearing man would call sadness.

He tells me, he doesn’t fear a goddamned thing,
least of all some God. And that makes him sad.

What’s a man without his fears? Misguided.

He asks questions without pause. There’s no time.
Never trust a man without his vices. His advice
over whiskey and cigarette smoke and the crash
of breaking trees pushed too hard by southern winds.

So the morning’s coming tomorrow, if we let it,
He says, If we’ve got to. There’s no end to the pain,
and that’s just fine — that’s just right. He tells me.

He says so much. Ol’ Heavy Cough. Ol’ Raspy.
Don’t waste your time waiting for the Sun. It’ll come

until it doesn’t. That son of a bitch. That blazing bullet.

I’ll wait for it on my high hill. I’ll watch it from my mountain.

It’ll have to work hard in the high altitude, low oxygen.

It’ll have to dig my grave in the frozen soil.

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A Fable

Snow White rode me for a while
and howled like a wolf at the end.
She woke up the neighbors, banging
the headboard against the wall.
They banged back with the bottoms
of their fists, while she kissed me
on the forehead (never the lips)
and slid on a polka-dot dress
that hid the fiery red of her thong.
She winked, bowed and walked out.

Snow White wrote me for a while
after that, seven short letters twisting
in elegant cursive concealing their meaning,
which mostly was to tell me she’d loved me,
and that was the problem. Like disease,
love had developed in festering blisters
on her heart. I was a poisonous apple
threatening her castle, her prince charming,
her kids, and her happy ending in the sunset.
She closed “That can’t happen. Goodbye.”

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Rubicon

I’d thought I saw it all, shadow puppets
dancing against the granite. Everything was
gulls against the wind. Three nuns sat on a bench
overlooking the river. Eating cookies. Making small talk.

Somewhere a fisherman catches a fish. The nuns avert
their eyes. I ask them their favorite seasons. Nun one
(looking to me like a Maria) replies she prefers the summer,
having fallen in love with the Sun God in another life.

Nun two, (Old Anna), icy blue eyes eying the cliffs
says the winters best for her to see wisps of her soul
slipping from her lips, to feel the hand of her husband,

cold from working the fields all day. Nun three, youngest,
(Sweet Josephine) whispers she loves autumn, its leaves
remind her she’s dying, parts of her changing hues
and preparing to turn to dust somewhere underfoot.

The sighs of the two nuns are washed out by a dog
jumping into the river to fetch a stick for his owner.
He brings it back, sets it down, shakes himself dry
                                                   but she just throws it out again.

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Brown Bag Recordings

It’s hard to recall the order of things. I know
I fell from the sky. I don’t know where I started,
Only that it tasted of wintergreen, smelled of pine.
I fell onto the ship. I don’t know where I landed,
but they said I damaged the sails. They were full of
air, from what I saw. The breeze took out its pain

on the canvas. The captain was dull, and half washed
away with the years. He would die without the ship,
but the ship would sink with him. “Dear Captain —
you’ve gone under. The seas have your bones.
I can see the heavy sands in your eyes, the tentacles
wrapped around your heart, the ink staining your veins”

I said. I was Captain then, but the hat didn’t fit my head,
the wife didn’t fit my bed. We were getting older, then,
the ocean and me. We couldn’t fit into the old contours
on the map. I couldn’t be any less of a solid, how badly
I wanted. The cold night when we found him huddled
behind the rope, I knew I would be tasting the salt.

The sharks will be fed, soon. The eels will be home.

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A slice of wood

There is a man who comes here
Often, I don’t know his name
Anymore — it escapes the damp
Basement of my memory. It doesn’t
Grow in the garden these days.

He lights his cigarette with matches
And offers me one only
if I’m already smoking. My lungs hurt
Already. The left one first, a stab
Between the ribs. A tear down my back

Cold as the ice forming on the river.
The dog groans — did I mention the dog?
His dog is small and cowardly
But adorable, and for that I forgive him
For betraying the wolf and the wood.

The man groans too. Smoke defies
Logic, falls to the ground, sizzles
Against the gravel and the dirt.
He sings in tongues, but translates
He says, for the ducks.

They can only understand the poet
When he’s drunk and stumbling
Over the swollen valves of his heart.
No one else understands the poet,
Not even the poet, until he’s forgotten

His name and roams the subway lines
Bearded and mad. Hungry, bearded and mad.
“I kiss my wife on the forehead”
The man says, in between coughing fits,
“Because that’s where she is. Her

That I married, and every her she’s been
Ever since. Forget the body, kid,
It’s just the middle, the verbose filler.”
I don’t reply. He doesn’t want me to.
Instead I find figures in the stones

And throw them into the river.
They gather at the bottom, I know,
They can finally be free from the rock.
“She had green eyes when I met her,
They’re all white now, condensed milk.

She had tattoos when I met her,
They’re all dull now, flesh colored.”
I don’t reply. He doesn’t want me to.
We never talk about the same thing
But we always come back here.

His dog always gives me its stomach,
He always gives me his hands.
It will protect us from the lightning,
Send the charge right between us
And out the ground beneath our feet.

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Erbium

My father died the way he lived –
somewhere far from here, caged

by the darkness of his room, the arms
of whichever woman was in his bed,

pupils dripping, black as tar. It’s fine.
A dead man is the easiest one to blame.

She wants to know if that’s the reason
I like to sit alone in the park at night.

That’s ridiculous. I just love the stars,
their voices crawl around the grass.

I tell her my heart is a beer bottle, broken
at the mouth – take a sip. Let the shards

tear my name into her stomach. Acid
mixes with blood. She eats herself alive.

At that moment, we are the same
My father and I. Her and me.

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