Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Carrying the Tune

The moiled reed in my mouth, the untuned fuzz 
of octaves, your piano out of breath, losing time,
I sacrifice notes off my horn, use my right hand to point
our place on the page. We had an audience, and they forgave us:

we weren’t performing for music, but you and I, mother,
never could admit ourselves to something like that. 
We stumbled “If I Were a Rich Man,” aborted “Sunrise, Sunset
in early evening, and I walked you out of confusion

into confusion, to the bedroom where you wished
us to go back and perform it perfect, but you had already
forgotten anything beyond the burden of awake.


I have a half-memory of walking my elementary school
linoleum dinge halls, half-lit as a dust-storm,
and Scott Stover, who’s great-grandfather, or great-

great grandfather had opened the first general store
in our town’s history.  He sat against the painted cinderblocks,
expelled from our class for some anonymous third-grade offense. 

I don’t remember why, or what reason, or if there was—
but I remember taking my hand and throwing his skull
against the wall, as a chimp would crack a coconut

against a rock.  He was concussed, although that word,
concussed, didn’t carry the same weight of brain juice
and spinal fluids then as it does now, after the double-

murder suicide of Chris Benoit, after Junior Seau ate
a bullet and his family allowed a posthumous study
of his brain, as if the scrambles of a shuddered mind

might be a direct correlation to whatever thoughts
consume a juggler in the months and minutes  
and fractions of minutes before he looks at his pins,

methodically rotating, ticking and spinning in the air
before he closes his palms against his chest
and allows the cascade into earth, like lit matches

falling into the bowl of a toilet. You spoke to me about it,
never able to admit the action that was within my hands,
that your sweet son did look at him, and with some level

of awareness, though I have no memory of what this instant
could possibly have felt like, snap hard his head
against that wall.  You were the purity running through

my DNA.  There’s a weak metaphor somewhere,
about your soul contrasted with your pancreas—
as if you gave everything to the spirit, and left nothing

for your body.  Sometimes I wake up from myself
wondering how I have these memories, the path
of destruction left in my landmonster wake:

I don’t remember why friends won’t speak to me, how
these street signs ended up in my bed, or if I enjoyed
the way his coconut head echoed down the hall.


I seize a narrow gap between the closing doors
and the mob packing the metro, fleeing the harsh
excuse me of a woman, her words eviscerated
by the seal of the subway doors, drifting into the chorus

of forgotten guilt, long abandoned missed notes.
I rise before my stop, and for a shuddering instant,
watch a thick middle-aged man standing, his bratwurst hand

on the shoulder of an old woman.  Her frail arm
reaches grip his mitt.  She trembles in the crowd.  
He taps her shoulder with his thumb—flickering,
keeping time.


It’s been two years since I cut locks
off your cold head, since I twisted
the wedding band off your empty finger.

You hiya Will and I hiya Ma back, we walk
under elms and sycamores, listening
for songs of cardinals and blue-jays, freeze

to watch blue herons glide away to the far shore.
The space you left grows, sucking into itself
hikes, and weddings, and anniversaries

all draped in your shadow, song lyrics ablaze like tinder
when they’re sang: a lil water came


The moiled reed in my mouth, the untuned fuzz 
of octaves, your piano out of breath, losing time,
I sacrifice notes, use my right hand to point to our place
on the page. We had an audience, and I wish we hadn’t—

that our last duet could’ve been without the pressure
of performance, that it could have had the focused inertia
of rehearsal, you taking the time to help me play

the notes right—that it could’ve been a dream, us improvising
thick pillars of harmony, rushing aqueducts of melody,
sound, a golden city rising towards the sun.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


In a time they called 1983,
a man called himself Michael, a woman
called herself Cathy, and they invented
partitions of activity
called innings. 

They stacked nine, composing a game
called baseball.  They grew a town
called Baltimore, and created birds,
called Orioles.  They named
Baltimore’s baseball team
after the birds.

They invented apartments 
fabricated air-conditioning units
for walls, so they could stay cool
while the Orioles sweltered
in Baltimore. 

They sprouted other towns
with names like St. Louis,
Toronto, created more birds,
so the Orioles could compete
while they watched, cool
from air-conditioning.

When they grew tired of watching Orioles
in Baltimore, and the air became too cold,
the man called Michael, and the woman
called Cathy, took the seventh inning 
and split it in two, inventing
a time to stretch, together
in their apartment.

Nearby, in a place
they called Arlington,
across a river
they called Potomac,
thousands of mushrooms
popped from the soil,
spaced in perfectly measured
columns and rows.  

Friday, March 30, 2012


Tethered to my French rust tenor, old as music, I sat inside woodshed washed melodies, withdrawal Harlem harmonies, my lips and fingers reverberating Dexter till I played drunk, Trane till I split rage, Sonny till I stood on the bridge and knew pain’s lonely breeze.  I watered that inherited pain in a terrarium garden, whisky heavy, till it sounded almost like jazz belonged to me. 

My fingers learned to race the spines of mountains, my lips learned to dip and heave thick timber trunks, my ears memorized the architecture of Birdland and Watts.  I sang their heroine solos at the tips of suburban cul-de-sacs, threw their tormented arpeggios at the glass doors of closed strip-malls, locked myself inside their craft as if it was my own.

I abandoned it.  Shut the horn away in my closet.  The borrowed pain sat empty in my hands, untrained and awful.  My tongue slurped gin and fluttered nonsense. My fingers ran scales up the spines of women who couldn’t love me. “What are you doing?” they’d ask.  “Practicing,” I’d say. 

Mother’s cancer body ceiling collapsing, boyhood walls melting around me, I was a child shivering naked on a lonely stage. When she died, my father slipped, “your mother’s gone” and I couldn’t find tears, instead, my mouthpiece, and unchained Harlem and Watts and Dex and Trane and Sonny and burst rehearsed pain. Shuddering the Rocky Mountains, the levies exploded, blasting dust out the bell.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Myth of Lemming Suicide

It’s a migratory reaction to tundra
predator populations shifting
over seasons.  Fox, owl and skua
numbers shrink and grow, synched
with the lemmings.  But stoat cycles
are incongruous, slower,
leading to occasional spikes,
unsustainable growth, predator appetites  
unable to match exponential mating.
Stoats gorge frenetic, overwhelmed  
till lemmings, bred tight
into subnivean corners, migrate
arctic island to island, floating
sponges of Darwinian agency.

The popular inclination is denigrated groupthink,
neural possession towards following the pack. 
used a turn-table, spinning their furry bodies
to the edge, filming the toss
off the precipice. 

We won’t feel the pain of corners first, America
chest stretched open, unbuckling our belt towards
two oceans.  We’ll sit comfortable and fat, 
watching skinny bodies desperately swim,
drowning at our shores.