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 May 2014
You are standing in the rain, humming
nonsense.  They won’t let you
carry a Walkman to the bus stop yet,
knowing you’d be stupid enough to throw
it away accidentally with your lunch.
Your mother packed a spoon for your soup
last week. It is still in your pocket,
or did you throw that out too?

Why can’t you remember things like that?
You’d forget your little pig-tailed head
if it weren’t sewn on to your neck
and held there with itchy turtleneck
collars. Your mother markers your address
into everything, in hopes that someone
might send back the things you’ve lost.

You’re busy finding other things, I guess—
like the loose corner to the grated storm
drain where you wait for the bus every morning,
almost loose enough to crawl under.
Or the miniature floods when the snow melts
and you can feel the rush of fast water
over the cheap “leather” boots on your feet
while you stand there, on a storm drain,
humming in the rain and stomping in cold, wet socks.

Remember when your mother stopped walking you to the bus?
          She does; and she remembers following behind on rainy days with the car,
                    just in case you got too damp.
 May 2014
bleeds through pages, soaking
black and heavy into strings of wood
stretched to breaking, pressed too tight.
Others are scratched into open wounds,
dyeing blood reds magenta
as they crust into scars.  Permanent.
Names painted in defiance

for the greater good.  Thoughts
called into being by blues
and reds, and greens, and
halting greys as they spill
their living guts onto pages lines
with ink.  Printers’ ink, that is—

different from all the other kinds.
Lighter, duller, marking things no one
should cross.  Making boundaries.
Those inks are too cold to bleed,
too stiff and flat to stain a **** thing.
They refuse to sing because

they are broken, full
of tiny gaps and little pores.
 May 2014
Based on a painting, "Nuclear Puppies", by Julie Nagel, 2001*

You’re a mutant, you know—
got funny dog babies sprouting
out of your head like they were
ears.  Those copies of your face

look up at a sky of ashy gray,
perked and tense.  Are you listening
to yourself?  What choir
of dog-eared deformities

sings to you?  Maybe they should have
howled louder before we dropped The Bomb.
Maybe the yellow caterwaul of their
melting butter bodies would have stayed our hand.

I doubt it though.  
This is what we do. We burn things.
We tinker, adding and subtracting until
what’s left is blasphemy—until what’s left is

you.  A yellow almost-dog, a sagging
body with melted flesh where there should
be fur. Sad monster; beg your alms
from the atomic Frankensteins who made you.

Your skyward eyes are bright, still happy
anywhere but here.  But your abominable
body lies here staring into gray space with
Alpo still sticky on your nose, wet, brown snow.
 May 2014
She’s scrubbing dishes too hard in our gutted sink;
the garbage disposal has been coughing up bile,
black coffee grounds still stinking of Jameson.

It was cold last weekend, so I’d made her a treat—
coffee as Irish as her mother’s on Christmas Eve
after all seven children went grumbling to bed.

But I spiked the percolator rather than her cup.
So she’s scouring the coffee ***, scraping
rusted filaments of wire wool over black-stained

Inox Steel, erasing my mess.  I try to kiss her cheek
as I squeeze behind her to toss another can in the trash.
Her hunched and weighted shoulders are cold

and she ignores me. Drenched with the tiredness
of soapsuds and bleach, eyes red and dripping,
hands perfumed with ammonia, her body folds.

I smile a smile of false teeth and true love,
awestruck at the bubbles that cling to her elbows.
She is beautiful, cracked and exhausted.
 May 2014
Some fingers have this tendency
to crack, snag, and rip themselves
to shreds.  A flurry of something like daisy
petals cling, infinite single cell threads
waiting for the right he loves me
not to fall apart.

Some fingers shed their tired
ridges in fluttering crescent smiles
peeling from the edges of soft pink nails.
They pull away like feathers ruffled
out of place in a sudden updraft,
bent at too-sharp angles.

Finger skin was always the strongest,
never flaking just because, but for the effort
of work and teeth.  Those hangnails bleed
strength.  They drip patience, hours
of work in restaurant sinks,
needlepoint and dresses.

They bleed music, lullabies.
A chorus of little sopranos sing
to tiny babies in cribs built
by driftwood scratched bone-smooth
and tough as chainmail.
 May 2014
I am not a sparrow
whose wings flap in perfect form,
whose voice is pure, delicate and soft,
who sings rondeaux to the shining morning.

I’m no nightingale either,
who guides through ink-soaked nights,
who warbles a mourning lay to the shadows,
who beckons with a bone-white feather draped over hollow nerves.

In fact, I cannot fly at all.
There’s always been this crippling
fear of falling, failing, drowning, etc.,
that’s kept me firmly on solid ground.

I am not grace,
that ease my mother named me for,
that Princess my dad always assumed she’d meant
that prayer whispered by hungry throats on Christmas Day.

I think I’m closer to an ostrich—
tripping, dancing on legs too spindly
to balance the feathered majesty
above, dashing farcically from lions.

But not quite.
I am not quite Me.
She would be a sledgehammer, indestructible.
She would have a voice that rang like steel falling heavy on iron.

And She would be painted yellow—
like a finch, or a canary.
 May 2014
His brass-plated nickel twists—
a tangled rope looping on itself
         looping around a thumbtack
looping around your throat.

Teardrop gems in brass saucers
fall in jangling rivulets, streams
of crystalline blues. Wrung
from shades of sky, cloudless
summer and midnight indigo,
they shape-shift in shadows
          dripping from the s-curve
of a bronze body crusted
in blues, blacks, and greens.

A flower is carved under
each jewel, a map of a bird’s nest—
                  a map to a bird’s nest,
           like he might forget in the small,
                  dark hours of the morning where he belongs.

                  Home is not dangling from a bookshelf.
           Through lamplight and sunlight
his stares due west.
 May 2014
Come here girl, you know there’s no point
in skulking.  This is what you deserve.  You know
I’m not responsible.  It’s not my fault
you can’t cook right.  Don’t hate me
for my sense of duty.  
                    You’re so frail;
even that chicken-wire crosshatched skeleton
can’t hold you up.  Get my newspaper.
                    There’s  simply no point in weeping.
 May 2014
Sometimes, I thought your eyes looked waterlogged,
wet enough to pour floods of biblical
proportion.  I knew you as an ocean;
you slipped through knobby fingers with each pulse.
You growled like waves, and growling, you beat salt
into sunburn with the ferocity
of three thousand hurricanes—no more, no
less.  My palm fronds will always sway for you.

But you never swayed, stayed, or even said
what you meant as your whitecap words washed blind
over coral.  You stung though, full of bone
shards and plastic.  Let’s face it, you’re filthy.
You smell like oil and death. Your rotting weeds
strangle the pilings of flimsy gray docks.

— The End —