poems

From My Dim Aviary

Rêve

If you’d be the first darkness, le néant not nothing but pregnant with the little shearwater, the pintail, gannet and grebe. Closed, like this, closed into uttermost opening, opaline blue inside scratchy, black mussel shells. The color of repentance is ashes, but what the color of praise? Answer and I’ll give you wind riffling books in a kiosk, roots of heather seeking clouds underground. If you’d be host on my tongue or hosanna, not haste all heat-thickened, spurs or burs burning in the hoarse voice of thicket or bush. If you’d sing. If you’d sing, tuned to turn tears where thorns thumb a ladder up the bare, broken stalk of rose. My swollen hips: wet them once with wonderment, twice with your dry face of salt. Wet them, I mean, only with love, that difficult dream, that dread revelation. Shimmer to river me heavenward. Whisper me softly through sleep. And if a man walk with sea in his shoes and spill them over my pillow of white down, tell him the age of oceans is spelled by a swan taking flight inside the incandescence of streetlamps. And if a man be not wooed by my closed bedroom eyes, give him bread for his barter of lashes and weep. But if a man come with sad eyes like the Christ’s, let him know grapes do grow from thorns and figs from thistles drop sweet—

—first published in The Laurel Review

Rouge

What color would God clothe me but red? A crimson cap to keep my head from rain, a carnelian cape to wrap my body in swishy silks of blood-spurt, girl-heat. Who taught me the trail through forest, where to find wood violets limp upon slender stems, how to twine them in wreaths gentler than these hands’ caress? It’s true: I wanted a warm place, a sight familiar as the bone-home of moon’s bed in a cloud-slumbered sky. Truer, still: a stone sang in my stomach—to eat and be eaten. A bite of cherry tart. What animal would God liken me unto, but a wayward sheep, wandering the way of the wolf’s spittled growl. And if I found death small as a moss-grown flower, and if the color of my corpse was red as that of my clothes, I would still whisper back to the voice that clambered over me, thick with heat, fur and teeth, this is the way of all loneliness—for only luck comes easy as night birds, to scavenge the unburied heart—

—first published in Colorado Review

Haschisch

And it’s the wind—an afternoon no one wanted me, I climbed the stepped streets from Pigalle up Montmarte and sat down on a cold stone ledge. My décolleté dress turned drafty: I clung to my thin, fringed shawl the way a child wraps in wool, trying to hide from the dark inside the day. The sun pushed hard, but it couldn’t do a thing against the wind—it’s the wind that comes to mind when Jean says, Sleep the sleep of ivresse, the rush of trance, the drug in your veins like the shadow of a stranger wooing you without form. When he poses me, hand over head in a spell of faint, my body soft-sprawled on the carpet beside the hookah—it’s the wind that comes back: how a flock of pigeons swarmed then scattered then swarmed together again, shifting one to one to one on the wind’s pivot, blown through sky, a cloud of flap and glide, a storm of gesture. How the birds winged the same spirals as the leaves, the leaves that beneath them funneled in a whirl to match their flying, the crisped, curled leaves of October’s dying. And it was the leaves that said, I am no more, I am no more, even as they shifted with a crinkle sort of sound. The leaves that were and weren’t. The doves quickly gone from sight—the same doves in the Kingdom of Heaven? If the drug rushes, this is the rush of it. Jean behind his camera, me in your eye. We are here now, here now, here now—and gone—

 —first published in Denver Quarterly

Nocturne

A plea for this moment of water’s no color, no taste, that is midnight over mud-leaf brown, that is bitten fish seepage borrowed from the sky under sky. We are alone inside the moan and cry of music, where moon sheds its shine on a loneliness lost, forever ours inside the swan of our bodies’ glister and glide, where he leans into what carries us, what feathers us forth. If I hold to one note in song’s unscrolling, I wound the swan’s legs with a stone dragging lake bottom. If beauty becomes unbearable, then there’s ruin for the world’s welter of white: the pear orchard to unpetal in the swan’s clouded slumber, a blossom’s fragrance bedded deep inside fruit-meat of the fast-beating heart. Better to let music live as wings on water, something impossibly here, how sky meets and mounts its mirror of echoing underflow, the way our bodies melt to shine and shadow-flight: one bird born to the weight of darkness, wrecked by light rapturing each shingle of spine, each nexus of nerve. Diminuendo. Nothing is diminished when air carries bone—

—first published in The Paris-American

 

From Petals as an Offering in Darkness

Prayer: By Force of a Fathomless Sleep

Winter went somewhere with my soul.
Whatever was known was lost,
and not lost as a leaf is lost in autumn,
its one body stilled in the many-body
of murky sediment on the river’s floor—
what I mean is what was lost got lost
completely, my breath so quiet
inside, no wind touches branches with less
a lightness, no flake of snow falls but its weight
bears a thousandfold burden.

Why you would choose to take me so—
this thought is as ice,
waiting for thaw to crack it.
I know what I know. I remember.
I wanted too much, all the apples, the red shine
flashing in the trees, the robin’s call
before song comes as echo, the hard brunt
of real wind bellowing in the eaves.
What I wanted forgot me, as winter forgets.
And you whispered, If nothing else, be grateful for this

—first published in Tiferet

Prayer Made at Night

The radiator clanks and hisses, a dull bell
blanching the silence. I could sit at this table forever,
pulling my hair out strand by strand. Peeling my nails
to the quick until some bleed under the edges. Not seeing

your master stroke, the vein-tendon-and-bone, bare beauty
of hand, luck-gift of touch-stroke-and-hold, where you
hold me here in this holding on that barely binds me
to these hours, where my fear of a starker darkness

strikes through. Only once, sitting, did I melt into your
great light. Had been thinking of quattrocento perspective
and suddenly—not suddenly, there was no time then—
I was not I, not you; you were nothing I could point to,

but there was wave after wave of humility coming rushing,
and the humility was you and you were in me and I in you,
and maybe I felt I was floating, maybe light makes one
feel light. How long? Only you know. Most nights

I watch the clock hands doing their rounds in this penitentiary.
Most nights I’m bothered by what isn’t good enough.
Teach me to see myself as a hatchling your nest cradles.
Show me Whitman’s barleycorn in everyone born,

born from your nothing and dying back into it. Show me
the first cells that formed me, the sperm and the egg.
Convince me they wanted to make these particular hands,
this particular hair, this weird and sometimes wavering—what?

this will and unwillingness of—something. My soul is a guess
pressed like a leaf for your keepsake. Keep it well, I pray. Keep it sane.
May it remember the light that shone but wouldn’t stay,
and bow to it, and not blame. I’ll not ask for another heaven.

—first published in Christianity & Literature

 

From Spirits of the Humid Cloud

Spirits of the Humid Cloud

It’s hot in the land of the mighty,
spearmints scent the summer, pierce
the air, the air thronged with ghost-girls,
cloud-covered, milky in the dawn, soft
as pussywillow nubs rubbed by rough thumbs,
the girls are filmy as tulle, their dresses
crinkle from the weight pressed moist
against them, fingers pass through their tresses
too fine to know knots, hair which would be
wild on the wind like kites if something stirred,
but the girls are caught in cobweb cages,
can’t move, can’t cry, their voices muffle
like mushrooms, their voices bubble up
only if it rains, a cool rain, a rational,
and we know nothing if we don’t know
these girls are grey-souled, they’re crazy,
jazzed like mockingbirds, shrieking at touch,
the feel of our bodies passing through their
self-shifts pains them, pains their boundarilessness,
their bottomless death-in-death wish, their need
to be otherworldlier than God hast made.

—first published in wicked alice

Slumber, Come Down from the Sky

When she sleeps, the spinto sings the clouds
feathering heaven with the dust of exhaust,
sings the earth’s colding, chestnuts falling in
meteor showers to the vague ostinatos of wind,
how rugged weather brings an aroma of become,
or of perish, whenever it rains, rains clod-hard
and heavy over the houses, their roofs wrinkled
with streaming like crevassed, worn leather, worn
life, the boat without wings kedged to the sea’s
storm-edge, the place she was warned not to go,
too psychedelic, too devil-may-care, too carnival,
but she sings until her voice is lost, a dropped thread,
the spun silk stitching her cocoon stretched thin,
until the dream ruptures, to begin her aria of silence.

—first published in Quarterly West

In the Red Night Clouds

For Louis and Maria Schneider

If you paint the heavens red, some moon
will arise, bobbing to the surface like a toy,
a boy’s lost ball buoyed up, contending
with red water and red fish who breathe red.
Look at the moon and it changes; shadows
curved against such bright light can’t but give
back your best and worst dreams, torqued
to a strangeness, a disguise, that hides all
you’re not ready to see. Look at anything long
and it will beat in the pulse of your blood: a bird
navigating the night, owl with its heart face,
the berry bushes of your garden mouthing hush.
Look longer still and all dissolves: one color,
one moon, all earth, red as love, red as living.

—first published in CutBank