Volume 07: Autumn 2010
The Jolly Tinker
I build a rocket from beer bottles
and rose petals – light the fuse – almost explode
to the stratosphere – sputter out
freefall – fireball
into the Bronx on a 100° day
when the streets smell like hot
garbage in a stew
of falafel; subway screeches
are the upholstery needle
fingers of a lover scraping down
into a bar stool where everything
is dim and Captain Jack plays
on repeat. Staring down
a glass of whiskey, wiping away
the sweat after each sip
checking my phone every five
minutes that slide across the floor
like a lover frictionless from sweat
Mona lives in a trailer
so she can keep her horse
scoop his shit with her shovel,
that’s love. The railings of
my fingers circle his nostrils
as she thrusts the needle
into his bleeding legs
and I stroke his ears
while white gauze
is draped over his shins
like I would caress
the ears of my lover
lust after him to hear me
gallop the fence
to his wide open fields
but the wind on my mane
and the long hoof of my voice.
From her mouth flow apple seeds &
hyacinth blossoms. Her long legs bow
when she climbs, maniacal—
to the treetops. To us, she is so
much longer up there. We fear her
rough fall and we beg her to return.
And she slinks down to earth
from her treetop, past cups of sweet tea
made from hyacinth leaves. She stops—
pressing her palms into the cool earth.
Her long fingers dig down.
Fingers that once fashioned clouds
to discs, words to poems, and pointed
us toward heaven. Her hands are shovels
that dig her way past normal into
the earth. Beneath us, she cannot feel
her fingers. She cuts them off, mantles
them under a tree’s roots. Her lungs fill
with chestnuts and autumn. We follow
handprints she left behind, deep
depressions of palms into soil. We beg
her to return, call her name in earth-colored
whispers. She calls back & with each breath
a hyacinth blooms beneath our feet.
Imagining Emily Dickinson in 1852
She’s thinking of song—
dividing the day into eight
into sixty little books
of six folded sheets,
“always in ink,”
the worm of oblivion
tucked neatly into one
polishing some lapidary
idea of a frayed eternity.
Her hair is red
breast (wary little bird
binding us to her
wandering pupil stares
sideways to infinity;
it is morning where she is—
the sun passing
like a swollen eye
across the crowded
Half-hidden, her thimble,
little dimpled well.
of her salt
does it contain?
(The chary bird in me
loves to sip from it.)
Measuring tape, scissors…
Enough equipment here
for the tedious Fates.
Yes, here is her favorite
pincushion, the sharps
and darners stuck in it
like small, heroic
The trees practice it
all winter—the honey
locusts, with their spiritual
thorns, their dry pods
the death pale birches
like bony priestesses
and the deflowered flower
girl plums, naked
in bruise colors.
But, what ascetic hermit
can resist disporting
when April unbosoms!
one of Vermeer’s women,
dressed up in such lush
tapestries, lavish embroideries,
For I will consider the purest praise
For the last hymned Amen to usher children running
Forward towards the bell tower doors – ornate and heavy –
To clog the entry – excitement keyed higher –
To loosen the rope from its tethered position
To grab all at once for the sturdy three-in-one –
For the holy hush when a child is chosen
For the benediction – the pastor lighter without his robe –
For the pink hands gripped in prayerful submission –
To explode from the stones towards the sky –
to the dirt –
to the heavens return –
For their simple song expands from sanctuary rafters
For the ears of the church mouse and the alley cat –
For the mouths of mountains and nearby mini-marts –
To let the tongue sing out in delight
To raucously clang – clang – cheer and chatter –
To smell mint on ascent – the sweetest incense of reverend’s tobacco
For the door now open – the sun flooding in –
For the children now rushing out into the streets
For the red rocks and prickly cacti hollering holy hallelujahs to the sky.
a modern haibun
again I surrender to
the whisper of snow
My wife is reading Freud this evening. I sweep the fireplace, the ashes from Sunday more interesting for what they were. Phoebe says something I don’t quite catch, something about desire.
I stare out our picture window. I inventory our yard. Pine, twilight, beast, leaf, pulse and fog, raven, root. In the west, from work, a husband caught on a detour lengthened tonight by longing
“My War”, my memoir in this month’s Vietnam magazine, I’m surprised by the letters from strangers. Several veterans had the same job I had. Others vets were stationed where I was, An Khe, an obscure corner of jungle. One message from a wife — the husband never talks about our war.
in this Nam photo
the burnt torso of a monk
an enemy monk
tonight a cigarette glows
in the dark and is crushed
If my co-worker asked I’d answer
No, I haven’t read the newspaper today,
like most other days,
I avoid licking the tips
of my fingers to flip the print
because who needs ink smudges on thumbs
Reading the news almost guarantees
performing the Rorschach inkblot test
So I don’t.
Because being your own doctor is hard:
What do you see in this word on your thumb?
A man riding a unicorn.
What do you see in this one?
A man riding a unicorn and getting shot in the face.
It’s safer to be ten years old and play Barbie
than have what’s black and white and red all over
ruin your face
should you rest your head on the paper.
I want to daydream back to ten years old,
but getting stuck in “hey kid” isn’t easy.
The images are blurry.
The feelings aren’t the same.
Being jealous is boring.
I didn’t believe the same things I do now—
how I don’t believe in the news
the way some people don’t believe in God.
And the computer chair in this office isn’t made for reading:
the leather is too slick,
falling off your seat is not professional—
answering the phone from the floor isn’t yoga,
Yes, I try to practice yoga properly,
Cold rain paves the path
with gold leaves, calls
to mind the future:
fall of snow. Must
every bright thing
fall, all wither, freeze,
erase our swept paths,
How to become
like the earth,
that feels a fall
as a drawing down,
the way a lover’s face
is drawn down? How
to get that unjudging appetite—
water silvered with oil?
Come: the stinking grizzled
man carrying a plank,
stricken in the stadium,
millions of thistle seeds,
…to draw the sun a little
and the moon much.
I wanted a ring with a carved Indian
face, or a horse hair instrument
that droned, but the Gulf was beaten
with oil in its gills and feathers,
a desperate mix, viscous and black.
Give me the horse skull,
keep the credit card.
Give me a great blue adventure,
I’ll just stand and stare.
The pelican grounded,
the sand like cement,
the open wound of our planet
cauterized just enough,
the shallow drill heading for bone.
The dark, steel drums of waste
sinking beneath the mountain.
The hot circuitry moaning
through the grid, alive, but forced
These things wash over me.
A crowd draws in, closer
to the vast desert, collapse
like sinkholes, into fathoms
of what I want,
what you want, what we think
Tell me of the arctic hare, the caribou,
the sinking ice levelling
habitat and home.
Silver and gold cities that blanket
the country, now return to dust.
Before my sister
leaves I know that
there is never
that there is nothing
but a wooden vision
leading out to road.
We talk inside
the steam of
inside the round
chk chk chk
of summer sprinkler
already a permanence
a moon resting
on its side
bell about to sound.
Something has Happened to Me
and there are paths in fields to prove it.
Bent blades of grass,
cracked cords of wood from trees
that ward me away with ivy.
I envy the movement
of their shadows.
The outstanding height of their leaves,
flatter than hands, they cannot even
handle the weight of veins or bone.
And when I climb alone it is the touching
of hands that I miss. The long glances
at faces, the listening of words
long after spoken. But the movements of lips
are broken against these hills.
In these fields, I have scavenged
small, articulate bones
that I wish were mine or yours.
How refined they are, picked clean,
but stained with clay. And beneath them,
I suspect some flesh must stir,
a breath be taken, blood to seep.
An eye, like a round brown stone
to look up at me.
What looks like bones for a hand
are bones for a wing.
I spread my fingers upon them,
flesh to bone,
as sung by Glen Campbell
He tells me he wants to be a Rhinestone Cowboy.
He smells like stale Lucky Strikes,
the Aegean, and boatwright’s sweat,
I found this stupid ex-pat bar in a guidebook.
riding out on a horse
in a star-spangled rodeo.
Barely old enough to be his daughter,
but there’s something
about the way he calls me
baby doll. I order another round
so I don’t have to leave.
And nice guys get washed away
like the snow and the rain.
His friends laugh at him
tell him to leave me alone,
the poor americanitha.
There is something suspicious
about a girl alone in a bar with no story.
And a smile can hide all the pain
But you’re down when you’re ridin’ the train
Meanwhile, we’re in
his dingy apartment,
watching my clothes fall
off at the kitchen table.
Enough whiskey to feel
clean until the sunrise.