i’m always thinking about lot’s wife,
wonder what her neighbors thought
when she packed up her tunics and cooking pots
and left town without so much as a fare thee well.
dave, the guy i work with says, “it’s because
she was a sinful woman in a sinful town.
you know where the word sodomy comes from.”
i tell him, “sodomy’s been made legal in texas.
i read it in the paper yesterday.”
dave has been known to get down on his knees
and pray before a computer, but it never seems
to work because it’s always messed up.
“you see, dave, if she’d had a name, maybe someone
could have called to her, maybe she might
not have turned back.” i’m obsessed with this,
it’s true, but i can’t get the no-name-pillar-of-salt thing
out of my head, and this woman
who probably left with wash on the line
and goat stew simmering on the fire.
and, then there are those two daughters,
who later lay with their father, there being no
other men worth their salt in that mountain town
where they ended up. “good thing she wasn’t around
to see that kind of sodomy,” i say. “women
need guidance. remember eve?”
i tell him, “let’s agree to disagree on this.”
he glares at me; his face turns red; pimples
stand out like, like angry mountains, i think.
“beside, dave, lot lingered—he lingered,
and god took mercy on him. i want
mercy for her. and a name, dave,
a name for god’s sake. please call her
something besides ‘lot’s wife’.”
dave takes my hand, says, “kneel with me
and let’s pray for you, my disagreeable friend,
and for all those sick people in texas.”
meanwhile, the computer flashes:
this program has performed an illegal operation.
“how about loretta?” i ask, thinking of my best friend
from high school. i shuck off his hand and add,
“it’s a good name, and mary’s been used.”
—and when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a wednesday and a saturday,
and most especially when you have forgotten sunday—
when you have forgotten sunday halves in bed,
or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
looking off down the long street
hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
and nothing-i-have-to-do and i’m-happy-why?
when you have forgotten that, i say,
and how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
and how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
and how we finally went in to sunday dinner,
that is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
to sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
or chicken and rice
and salad and rye bread and tea
and chocolate chip cookies—
i say, when you have forgotten that,
when you have forgotten my little presentiment
that the war would be over before they got to you;
and how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
and lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
then gently folded into each other—
when you have, i say, forgotten all that,
then you may tell,
then i may believe
you have forgotten me well.
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
poetry, i tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. poetry
is where we are ourselves,
(though sterling brown said
“every ‘i’ is a dramatic ‘i’”)
digging in the clam flats
for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.
poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,
overhear on the bus, god
in the details, the only way
to get from here to there.
poetry (and now my voice is rising)
is not all love, love, love,
and i’m sorry the dog died.
poetry (here i hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,
and are we not of interest to each other?
1. i told you that i was a roadway of potholes, not safe to cross. you said nothing, showed up in my driveway wearing roller-skates.
2. the first time i asked you on a date, after you hung up, i held the air between our phones against my ear and whispered, “you will fall in love with me. then, just months later, you will fall out. i will pretend the entire time that i don’t know it’s coming.”
3. once, i got naked and danced around your bedroom, awkward and safe. you did the same. we held each other without hesitation and flailed lovely. this was vulnerability foreplay.
4. the last eight times i told you i loved you, they sounded like apologies.
5. you recorded me a cd of you repeating, “you are beautiful.” i listened to it until i no longer thought in my own voice.
6. into the half-empty phone line, i whispered, “we will wake up believing the worst in each other. we will spit shrapnel at each other’s hearts. the bruises will lodge somewhere we don’t know how to look for and i will still pretend i don’t know its coming.”
7. you photographed my eyebrow shapes and turned them into flashcards: mood on one side, correct response on the other. you studied them until you knew when to stay silent.
8. i bought you an entire bakery so that we could eat nothing but breakfast for a week. breakfast, untainted by the day ahead, was when we still smiled at each other as if we meant it.
9. i whispered, “i will latch on like a deadbolt to a door and tell you it is only because i want to protect you. really, i’m afraid that without you i mean nothing.”
10. i gave you a bouquet of plane tickets so i could practice the feeling of watching you leave.
11. i picked you up from the airport limping. in your absence, i’d forgotten how to walk. when i collapsed at your feet, you refused to look at me until i learned to stand up without your help.
12. too scared to move, i stared while you set fire to your apartment – its walls decaying beyond repair, roaches invading the corpse of your bedroom. you tossed all the faulty appliances through the smoke out your window, screaming that you couldn’t handle choking on one more thing that wouldn’t just fix himself.
13. i whispered, “we will each weed through the last year and try to spot the moment we began breaking. we will repel sprint away from each other. your voice will take months to drain out from my ears. you will throw away your notebook of tally marks from each time you wondered if i was worth the work. the invisible bruises will finally surface and i will still pretend that i didn’t know it was coming.”
14. the entire time, i was only pretending that i knew it was coming.
what if love is no more than
a tangle of muscles
aching to be untied
by knowing fingers?what if love is made and nothing else -
asked narcissus, leaning over the green iris of water.
cried echo from the green cochlea of the woods.and they were both right.
and they were both lonely.
you wake up healthy
but you don’t feel right. now everything’s
backwards and you’re thinking of someone to blame.
and you do, you’re lucky,
drinking coffee was easy, the traffic’s
moving along, you’re like
everyone else just trying to get through the day
and the place you’re dreaming of seems possible—
somewhere to get to.
all you really know
is that it hurts here, the way feelings
are bigger than we are, and a woman’s face
in a third-story window, her limp hair
and the pots of red geraniums luring you
into her suffering until you’re walking on roads
inscribed in your own body. the maps
you never speak of. intersections, train stations,
roadside benches, the names of places and
people you’ve known all bearing the weight
of cashing a check or your having to eat something,
of glimpsing the newspaper’s ghoulish headlines.
like everyone else, you think,
the struggle is toward a better time, though
no pressure surrounds the house you were born in.
cool, quieter, a vast primitive light
where nothing happens but the sound
of your sole self breathing.
and you’ve decisions to make. isn’t that why
you’ve come? with a bald-headed man at the bar
and your friends all over the place, anxious,
tired, a little less sturdy than you’d hoped for
and needing someone to kick around, someone to love.
if the body is the house of the soul,
what’s wrong with a little home decoration
more permanent than the drapes in the parlor
or the fabric on the dining-room chairs?
a forearm, say, adorned with a tropical flower
or with a palm tree under a deep blue sky,
suggesting the body is glad to recall
its stay in eden, whether or not the soul
regards that episode as relevant now.
or consider the young waitress
who served you lunch just an hour ago,
how her sleeveless blouse revealed
a small heart on her shoulder
inscribed with two names, dave and gretchen,
under a sprig of lilac.
no need to assume she’s failed to imagine a time
when a boyfriend more congenial
wakes up beside her only to be reminded
there was once a dave who was all she wanted.
could be she wants to send a reminder
to the gretchen she may become
not to forget the girl who believed
that holding on was a project worthy
of all the attention that she could muster,
as much a challenge as letting go.
woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. fought against it for a minute.
then looked out the window at the rain.
and gave over. put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.
would i live my life over again?
make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
yes, given half a chance. yes.
i wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
then i remembered,
it’s you i miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
you are the green wonder of june,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
when i finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
if i get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. there is still so much
i want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on walnut street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
where is the evidence i will learn
to be good at loving?
the black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
there are violet hills,
there is the covenant of duskbirds.
the moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and i want to tell you
what i couldn’t say the night we rushed
north, how i love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
i stand between taproot and treespire.
here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
we hunger for eloquence.
we measure the isopleths.
i am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
the air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.
from newspaper columns and notice boards
i find out about things that have been lost.
this way i know what people had
and what they love.
once my tired head fell
on my hairy chest and there i found my father’s smell
again, after many years.
my memories are like someone
who can’t go back to czechoslovakia
or who is afraid to return to chile.
sometimes i see again
the white vaulted room
with the telegram
on the table.
going south, we watched spring
unroll like a proper novel:
forsythia, dogwood, rose;
bare trees, green lace, full shade.
by the time we arrived in georgia
the complications were deep.
when we drove back, we read
from back to front. maroon went wild,
went scarlet, burned once more
and then withdrew into pink,
tentative, still in bud.
i thought if only we could go on
and meet again, shy as strangers.
you didn’t know the boy sitting next to you
in watercolor 101 was going to shutter himself
in the car, stop breathing, break the heart
of his father and the whole college.
let’s be honest. his cones and cylinders
were as lopsided, as badly shaded
as everyone else’s cones and cylinders.
when you hear the news two years later,
you search your own tatty portfolio
for clues, sigh if only i had known—
but i want to shake you and say, you didn’t,
and anyway that phrase is a stupider knife
even than ockham’s razor. if you went,
with your grey lens of knowledge, back to that
minute, you’d still be painting the same
burnt-out cathedral under burnt-orange blood
dripping from the sky, collaged with quotations
from the waste land. you thought it meant
you were losing your faith; but look, there you are
sitting in church, five years in the future,
wondering (like a good protestant) why
you want so much to pray for the souls of the dead.
in fact, you could go back and forth enough
times to wear a rut in the floor of time,
but your awkward brushstrokes would still paint
the same cathedral that lists to the left. you’d still
stay up all night in agony over the alchemical
substance of the soul. your grand attempts
at pthalo yellow sunrises would still turn murky,
while the same boy sat silent beside you,
washing the globe of an apple with quinacridone
gold, shading it with payne’s grey,
the same dark worm asleep on his heart.
There are two versions of every life.
In the first one, you get a mother, a father,
your very own room.
You learn to walk, which is only done by walking.
You learn the past tense of have, which is hunger.
You learn to ask almost anything
is to ask it to be over,
as when the lover asks the other
“Are you sleeping? Are you beginning
to go away?”
(And whether or not you learn it, life does not penetrate
more than five miles above the earth
or reach more than three miles beneath the sea.
Life is eight miles long.
You could walk it, and be there before sundown.
Or swim it, or fall it, or crawl it.)
The second is told from the point
of view of the sky.
we will love like dogwood
kiss like cranes
die like moths