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I used to write my poems in the dark, inside a hazy trance,
and cross-legged on midnight carpets.
Specters fanned around my knees like a magic trick, shuffling
gloom like parlor cards at a cabaret and recasting it something elegant.
Magic tricks are just a thing that happen to me.

I’d say a spell and words erupted from my haunted parts;
a sleight of hand for handed slights,
a sleight of heart while handling my own, always wet and dripping.
I collected words like coins and spent them like mourning candles.
Ennui is just a thing that happens to me.

I busked my city for praise, preyed on walker-bys,
stirred up a crowd with my charm and bewitching need,
then watched their eyes lose interest in my illusion, in my luster.
They’d move on, regretting the dollar they placed in my hat.
Dejection is just a thing that happens to me.

My bag of tricks hasn’t charmed in years, but I still polish the leather,
keep my luck tucked inside, try to keep my wits sharp and my candles lit.
I can still conjure up a crowd, spin a pretty phrase, alliterate and allocate,
string words like beads, pluck them like a harp, and hook like a huckster.
Enchantment is just a thing that happens to me.
Dressed for the opera,
abreast in a fight.
Pressed, mixing my mouth
with your gore,
unsure who I’m lighting torches for.

We held a crass kind of funeral
then washed our gloves in separate loads.
I’ve vacuumed meaner shadows from your rug
and ironed colder syllables into pleats
down dress pants, through ribbons for my hair.

You've tried to unknot the longing-
that low ache of a feeling never quite named.
It’s there, somewhere behind your sternum,
stringy, sticky, and bright.
I’ve learned to corrode that carnage
in impolite ways, then wreak havoc all by myself
near the wrought-iron gate where the singing stopped.

I’m making vain jokes,
tongue-trilling venom smoke rings above your head.
You're draining dank drinks,
tongue-twisting for the mouth you had before mine.

Two seats empty in the mezzanine,
two bracelets spoiling in separate drawers,
a too-long gown; hacked and hemmed,
silk gloves anointed by a
carnal evening prayer.
You wear a suit most days,
I want to *****
and gripe in formal wear.

For a moment it’s the feeling of forever,
the inside-taste closing in on never.
Crisp, autumn night,
brisk, dusk fight,
The fall falls, the trees tease,
branches strip their civility-
and so do we.

October- I limber-lithe and lilt,
not even a trace of you in my mouth.
November- I double-knot laces,
bare my shoulders, and start to shiver.
December- I’m back at the gate
singing hymns to an ivy-laced lion face.
I'm searching the dusk for torchlights, groping
for another temper to press my thirst into.

By solstice I’m back on my knees,
ironing pleats atop the hardwood.
I petition ***** litanies to the congregation,
(us; your unmade bed, bare chest,
my inside-taste, our matching bracelets.)
Your heavy gaze and fervid eyes
narrow with each call and response;
ready to pounce.

Dressed for the opera,
abreast in supplications made holy
as we learn our echoes and braid
our mayhem once more.
The only mouth you long for is at your feet,
velvet-warm, and full of prayers you can taste
but not translate, sigh but not speak.

My mouth makes your mouth tease like trees,
match our screams,
cross our hearts, drink, and dream.
We’ll tangle in everything,
empty our cupboards and start again.

We put on our evening gloves.
This afterglow is formal.
playing with rhythm and rhyme
Words stick to skin like bad dreams. Awake,
cold sweat, twisted in sheets with a half-remembered phrase.
Every story has a part of it that's true.
That’s why I lie.

I’m sorry about your bedding.
I’m sorry about my teeth,
about the edge that tells me to laugh when I know I shouldn’t,
and I’m sorry about the way I pull your hair when you’re above me-
I forget that it’s not mine.

I used to collect ideas like friendship bracelets on the last day of camp,
I used to listen to your breath catch in sleep and wish that I had pitched it.
I used to think in stanzas, and sigh into verses,
like a poem about a poem about a poem.

Now I barely think.
I miss thoughts like trains.
I sweat your bed.
I hold your attention like a bouquet,
then knot it like a tourniquet.
I keep patience like a promise.
Now I collect only what I can taste,
only what I can swallow whole.
Wading through humidity,
adding to humanity-
the Lower East Side,
too hot to be still.
Too old to be kissing on sidewalks,
(doing it anyway.)

Let me show you my leprechaun leap:
run, jump, crash:
eight mimosas deep,
then I’m four limbs down
on a subway grate and laughing.

Twirling in the green dress I wore last time,
like a ******* cartoon character,
and you smile, but just a little.
And I grip, but just a little.

You hold my hand, lean me into walls,
where bricks radiate heat,
and I can’t tell you how lonely
Alphabet City feels
even now.

A heavy, dog-day eloquence,
the sticky camaraderie
of a heatwave, late August:
smirking with strangers,
running through sprinklers
like little kids.

Saluting a little light,
something curling the edges
like damnation,
lifting like prayer,
and I still haven't learned my lesson.
(I can’t rewrite my lonely.
Trying to write your name over it
will only stain more.)

Let’s just keep wading,
keep laughing,
and let the heat do the talking.
I will not say the next thing.
I will not say anything at all.
(I will not say anything at all.)
You can’t outsmart yourself.
You wouldn't be land-locked and writing this
if you could.

      Let’s try something different. Let's find a boat. We’ll meet at the bow, and try to forget what we know. We can start over. We can put our memories on ice and our hearts on hold. We can grow new lungs, and new eyes and our bones won’t ache in the salt water. Let's read the stars, captained by someone born without a lily in their teeth or a map in their pocket. They’ll have an anchor to choke and a rattle to keep us awake.
      Let's sip the coffee of a woman with roots that run deeper than the earth, and speak the steady language of not-wanting. We can learn sea songs, cover our dreams with thick, acrylic paint, and bring our ghosts to life at preapproved parties. We’d all get along so well. I’ll undo the sound of my voice. You'll sweat out the nicotine. We'll eat strange fruit at balmy ports, acquire a taste for the rind, and our scars won't open; we'll be positively flush with Vitamin C and the pipes we've learned to whittle.
    You’ll start to crave the way I smell like rain, taste like salt. I’ll show you what to do when your compass points left and you find yourself on the wrong side of the decade. I'll create a perfect starfish staccato, which is a dive I'll invent and perfect two days in. We’ll build a dream house out of sea glass, learn ***** jokes in morse code, and share a bunk with a man who claims he was born a crow and misses it every day. He might take our bones home to his blind wife after this voyage. He might make flutes from our thighbones, hock them around shipyards, or he might ask us to write his eulogy. He might be the guardian angel for someone who drowned centuries ago, or he might be God. We're fine not yet knowing.
      We're on a boat, after all. We can do shimmery things, like tangle our limbs and kiss in nooks where the light doesn't touch. We can dive for pearls in the shadows of our own thoughts, and keep the sun on our faces. We can all learn to swim like angels and walk like saints. I’ll show you how to make a secret place inside yourself where you can wrestle unspeakable things and then send them into the storm.
      Let's drink cider in the hull, lose our sealegs,  and trace bumpy roots to an older, kinder world. Then let's sit very still and believe in it. Let's tie that kindness around our wrists. Practice our knots or not. Let's pass the bottle back and forth while we trade secrets with winter finches telepathically.
      If we feel like it let's fall in love. Maybe with each other. Maybe with something else entirely.    
      Let’s talk about things we've never said aloud, let's try to put some of our sticky longing and heavy heartbeats into some kind of language. Or let’s pretend the city is only as large as our pockets and as static as the space between our chests. Let’s go back in time and see what would happen if I didn't kiss you on the West Side Highway six months ago. Maybe there’d be nothing to pout over, nothing to pine about. (Heavy heartbeats always find something to pine about.)
      Let’s walk to the sea, let's forget what we know. Let’s start over. I’ll take the train in and we’ll meet for brunch. I won’t get red and loose-lipped from too much sun and *****, and I won’t look for black cats in highrise windows. We'll talk about things that don't sting and the city won't mind the bleak things I say.
      After playing on the pier and not kissing, we won’t walk East, swaying. We won’t stumble into a church and genuflect, then slide into a pew, softly join the Rosary recitation. We won’t bow our heads, or stumble through the Apostles Creed (where was that one during ten years of catechism?) We won’t say Amen with our chest, study the stained-glass, and  our legs won’t leave sweat on the kneeler after we stand.
      We won’t barrel back into daylight where we’re old friends who don’t kiss and I’m still a prize- My cheeks can flush but I won’t let the mimosas get on top of me, or you get on top of me. like it was only a little bit inevitable. I won't babble; completely unhinged and hopeful, or drop my grace somewhere on an elevated train as dusk cradled us both in blue. I'll polish that part of Brooklyn with my poise, not my plea. I won't pray again on the train home, (not on my knees and slipping, but still on my knees and slipping.) I won’t have to meet rueful eyes in the window reflection with only one poem on my lips, ‘Have Mercy on me, Oh God-‘
      I won’t have to sit sad and scalloped alone on a midnight Metronorth, bewildered and blanched, because we’re not here, we’re far away and out to sea. I’m still a prize, and we never have to say ‘Amen’ at all.
early 2023, shaking off dust
After miles of coasting,
trailing a stretch of steel remembered
more as an artery than a scar,

(back when the sun-stained arms
and scratchy palms
that laid each track across
an endless America
felt ageless and exhausted;

gripping great-grandbabies,
bibles and whittled pipes,
fingers coiled and knotted with stories,
ready to spring forth and croon
if only they were asked.)

They didn’t talk much during the in-between:
that window of time when their bodies
were no longer cracking and howling,
rooting rungs into dry grass
from ocean to ocean;
fitting the landscape
with a skeleton of its own-

but before the true rest,
when they'd let their bones shake
out the tight grip of untold tales,
and sink into the dirt they helped carve.

You think of them now as dust,
a rosary planted under pine,
a Sunday grace,
a shared plot,
a middle name.
You do, don’t you?
You’re not really looking.
I tried mining nuance.
I tried burying my limerence in
parking lots and kicking
gravel over the glowing parts.
My tongue was never that flexible,
and my knees were never that strong.

If I still smoked black cloves
with pigeon-footprint-fingers,
cooing with beaded arms,
and dissected birds,
I would be all in;
I would win this game.

A rabbit crosses the field.
Something caws.
Our clock is dead.
This filthy week has been
wind spun in darkness,
I’m inching towards light.

You’re stitching boring words,
every point you knit cheapens
my morning. I’m just here to gleam.
Daylight rolls toward me,
tasting my cheeks-
all light.

And then I’m gleaming,
warm, illusive, bathed
in a poem sunbeams
wrote because they missed me.

Live knee-deep
in language but be certain
of magic.
Dignity whispers
that you’re sleeping.

Not much closed to my kiss,
not much cracked to my scream.
I want to be a phenomenon.
All light. All gleam.
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