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.
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.
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.
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—
and place it in my pocket.
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
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.
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.
All day long I’ve been thinking of you,
kissed red on your belly,
of how I should have moved you—
black exoskeleton and slender legs,
spinning your web and trapezing
above the seam of stucco
Nothing you’d done,
and simple purpose
and the legacy of your ancestors,
made me kill you—
your innocent form.
To move you,
dead branch in hand,
carefully amidst the moonlight,
past the toddler carried by sleepy parents,
that should have been my design:
To trust you to behave
as you at first trusted me.
The gift you gave me, in the hallway, reminds me of a poem
I was trying to write—about the contact of hands and humanity,
and the humanity of hands. How they separate us, and bring us
together, these opposable thumbs. Our Homo Sapiens three-jawed-chuck,
gripping rocks of reason and smashing them against the other—
splintering spearheads or arrows. A poem about our thumbs-up, high-five,
peace-sign jamboree. Or fingerspelling—painting letters
in the air between our minds.
But the poem is really about closeness. Touch.
Or maybe about pretending this means less than it does.
Because it means everything: your high five, in the hallway, passing
from one point to another—the two of us like Dickens’
fellow passengers to the grave.
In my mind’s eye, there you are, polishing your sword and
pleating your uniform against rocks made hot by a soldier’s fire.
Time’s duplicitous aging—you watching your perimeter,
as fathers watch their children grow, as marriages march
into familiarity and then silence and, finally, funerary regret.
The cave walls wane requiem red painted, your symphony spasm of firelight.
Do you read in this hollow mountainside ear? Whisper words into the night?
Do you draw a pencil across the yellow back of a map, write haiku to absent lovers,
finger-tracing flesh along her supple spine in morning-mellow light, as she sleeps?
Do you stand watch beneath a baptism wash of summer rain, waiting for no one?
Where are your hard words of duty? Flags splashed across the horizon,
Bushido simplicity—ghosts of us and them clashing in dreams like childhood,
like warriors draped in bed sheets, or dragons in moonrise, against the Asian seacoast.
Where are your children? Where are their round faces? Where are the moments
you were meant to string along the line of your days?
On a mountainside in the dark Philippine wilderness the womb
of the only woman you made wife, remains—and if you listen, breath-touch close,
you can hear the rumble of mortar shells, the screech of hot shells, smell
the ozone of a perpetual thunderstorm breaking along your ridgeline.
And your ghost can return, slink into the shadows, deployed in a war that never ends.
There are three of us here:
an old lover, a demon, and my self.
Speaking words only we can understand.
The two of us—my lover and I—know the fingers
of the demon. She and I speak in soft whispers,
count tiny failures, tick them off—
never be enough
to fill me up.
I do this to myself, slinking around the corner—
a Radiohead song on repeat.
This love triangle no one else can see.
Days marching into the past, losses
again and again. All the hundreds of reminders
that the three of us must part.
This goddamn monkey, claws in my back.
The monotony of futility.
I put it in a jar,
and blow its fucking head off.