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.
Granddad is peeing in broad daylight
outside the house by the spigot for the hose.
He’s double-parked at the end of the driveway,
while he urinates into the mulch.
Is he remembering a road trip, while he empties his bladder?
Or thinking of summer nights as a boy scout, naming the stars?
From my vantage point across the street,
I can read when he zips, and turning he sees me.
Maybe the Vietnam war has left him
wholly immodest, beneath his veteran baseball hat,
since he neither flinches nor waves.
Our intimacy of strangers, as he walks up the steps,
and his beautiful granddaughter aged 7 or 8
opens the door and throws herself into his arms.
Change is inevitable, we’ve been told
and it happens to hold true.
It is something these faces—blank
and frosted with the general malaise
of being teenaged—have a hard time grasping.
Years like plot points
loom ahead of them.
Mine stretch behind me, breadcrumbs,
to a cluster of trees in childhood—
my mother rolling the flavor of words
around in my ear
as she drives me to preschool.
It isn’t that youth is wasted on them,
but that the wasting is part of youth.
The quiet horror of days spent in same
Our army of days fleeing their center.
This is the moment I decide to open the gift
my mother sent me, sitting next to the tree for weeks.
While my wife is putting away the dessert dishes,
and my daughter is in the kitchen too, hoping against bedtime,
stitching together an art project with tape and silly putty.
I use my pocket knife to cut the box—large, tight, slim, rectangular—
despite the illustration telling me not to.
I proceed surgeon-like, carefully down the spine of it.
Then getting my fingers in, split and pry, as if opening an oyster shell—
or spreading back a breastplate to grasp at the heart.
Yo-Yo Ma is on television, playing tender urgency for the philharmonic.
It’s a contemporary piece, when I wish it were Bach;
a sentiment which fits since my mother would agree.
I slip out the gift—red-wrapped, a simple ribbon.
Covetous, I open it alone before journeying into the kitchen to display my prize.