The Dull Knife

There’s a depth of sorrow at the bottom of this existence,
underneath where you think it actually lies:
until you’ve been here you don’t know.

This is the place where the room spins in fast,
not like a drunk, but as if someone has pulled
the plug on the drain of existence.

You stumble here, empty your head
with flowing eyes and hanging snot,
a harrowed face trailing viscous alien slime.

Here is where trembling hands undress your body,
collect the knife meant to split chicken bones.
Now is when you make your way to the tub.

Hesitation marks healing, your lightened body
kneels against porcelain, white as a whale’s bone.
This is the time when knife against skin.

The long draw, push, pull. The pink cut.
But here no blood will come.
The knife is dull.

And you begin to laugh and sob,
and sob and laugh: the dull knife.
This is the place where there is absolution.

So you cup the faucet over your head—
a baptism of tears and water.
Here is where you cry through your laughter.

The Weight of This House

is interesting to observe,
sitting here at night, alone,
after so many years of noisy productivity—

so long the watchword.
And now there is only silence.
The falling rain, a toilet leaking neglect.

These are not the sounds
of this house, I wonder.
These things are not the plan.

And yet: there’s a shrugging silence
to moving on, as I familiarly
finger the smooth divot on the banister—

avoid again glancing into the room
where children once played
and slept—

a peace in finding that regret
is just something normal,
you can thumb and toss in your hand.

I will miss the quiet,
and the Dogwood in spring,
and the fireplace crackling.

But this is life, isn’t it?
And I am living.

Radio Silence

is good for only the neighbors,
not me, broadcasting in the blind,
helpless and ignorant of what to report.

The lawn grows over and what’s worse
is that I’m bothered more by the potential
of interaction than the weeds.

What should I say?
My heart is broken?
Those most precious have gone?

Then I realize I’m wrong:
the radio silence is really
my family on the other end—

or both of us, maybe,
whispering static and misunderstanding,
trying to find our way back to each other.

On Being Left Alone

Sometimes there is too much
to put into words,
even though you, dear reader,
will assume you understand what they say.

Yes, even you.

The loneliness of being left and lost,
which has happened again and again,
and has happened now. The layer of pain beneath
exposed, in your perfect understanding.

Yes, even you—seemingly perfect.

The bitterness of friends leaving,
emptiness as they walk out the door—no word spoken.
And you stuck in the moment, wondering,
marveling how the universe shifts,
and we become lost.

Yes, even us—even all of us.

It’s a generous thought, at the worst of times,
succumbed now by fruitlessness.
Like the idea that words can contain
the epiphany of loneliness—
a secret wisdom earned faster than this
short life should allow.

And you, continuing on your way.
And me, worrying the wound of being left alone.

Pushing Dirt

Locked out of his house he pulls
flowers, dead or dying, grabbing roots,
shredding soil and flinging fertilizer—
nutrition against the slow death of air, for breathing,
for the water-hungry passing of time.

Greedy for life, each of them: he and time and these strangling plants.

His fingers darken with moist soil from the new bag,
wrists dust brown from the old pots, coughing dirt.
The flowers which nurtured spirits
in days past, he tears, dying now.
He pulls and tosses and wipes away dripping sweat.

Greedy for some kind of renewal, water, reversal—

Like the days before the mistake, which grew
to a forgotten habit
and into a gnarled root, busting
pipes and tearing into foundations
he never knew existed.

Greedy for time and for tomorrow inside yesterday.

He pushes the flowers into the pots,
pours water, again, and filling at the tap
adds more water. Pushing dirt and pressing
roots into position.

Somewhere else, his child slips
further down the road of recovery or death.

Worth

Six Germanic words punch me—
Old English phonetics, strung together in careful, tall letters—
speaking of worth and death and being alive.
And all the conversations of suicide and careful analysis
of Willy’s rubber hose for sipping gas, and Hamlet’s
soliloquy of indecisive conscience making cowards of us all,
take on a new light against your ancient tone of frustrated despair.
Placed in a deck of six-word memoirs, your little missive.
And I have no idea how to respond.

Understanding

That little moment of understanding which passed
between us, nodding recognition, I hold it
in my two hands—roll the thought around between my fingers,
smooth out the idea lines, press and squeeze
the flexing core of truth at its warm center.
I tumble it from palm to palm—
remarkable—
and place it in my pocket.

Works in Progress

Someone who wrote well once made the point
that writing is like raising children: most of us enjoy having done it
a lot more than doing it.

Which is why—whipped by a week of teenagers and teaching—
the best I can muster is false starts and the guilty
time-waste of poking through old works in progress.

It’s like opening a dusty drawer, left to season
in a workshop shed, by a barn, somewhere on
a New Hampshire property—near an old wasp nest.

These forgotten children blink at the light
of my foraging hand, as I reach into their
amputated alphanumerics.

Here I uncover a relic memory,
something I’d forgotten: a deer run down
by the Amtrak—and I twelve years old

tapping its jaw bone lose with a tentative toe.
This one is a friend’s memory I stole:
sometime in Oklahoma, a Buick Park Avenue

rolling down main street with the windows up
at high noon, on the hottest August in memory,
with folks whispering “air conditioning.”

Enough to write this poem, and wonder
if a story might come along tomorrow,
before I tuck my imperfect darlings back to bed.

Conniption

Perhaps some matriarch will apply
this vulgarity to men, a counterpart
to the womanly hysteric:
a condition needing treatment,
and coming to us from the Latin—
belonging to the womb.

For conniption, we could make wars possessive.
Or the preponderance for psychopathy,
affairs, abuse, and other manly pursuits.
A phallic, boyish fit. Like my one-year-old
perfecting his tantrum for mommy.
Or an argument over tax revenue.