Who invented spooning -
companionship’s most uncomfortable posture -
and who invented the phrase?
Who ever saw
a packed set of spoons, nestled
bowl on bowl, trunk on trunk?
Who ever bought their spoons?
Spoons are, in my experience, inherited.
They have never known the fit of another,
perfectly like them.
No, they came from, in one case,
a shuttered restaurant. Another,
grandmother’s old tea set and they
barely sit well together -
one too wide, soup-ready
the other shallow, the better to pace out
the sips of hot broth
their edges brush and clink; arms and hair entangle
but all is forgiven (they are both spoons, after all)
and all rest together in the same drawer
- but then, neither do we.
Fourteen days I let the breeze move through me
the rain move through me
sunlight and mist both -
the completeness of the womb.
We came to the top of a steep concrete hill
looking for the place a tree once was, and
is no longer, swallowed alive by
other aspects of nature who stood proudly
in the shape of their meal. We could not recognize
the place from the directions, because
la vuelta means “turn” but
revuelta means “revolt”. We found it finally, soaking wet:
a little enclave of cloud, so precious it must have
been put out of reach of anybody
so heedless as to spoil it.
Around you the thick trunks of violent vines:
grown strong from eating, calcified by time.
They form your shape, and they themselves shape
what the world remembers of you.
Above you, a half-oval of sunlight
suggests another way you might escape.
Here, I am beyond the reach of
tasks, advice, anything at all to do -
my earthly needs are paid for, and the rest deferred -
except to have things to say to my companions.
So how is it, then, that I say nothing?
There’s something wrong with the words.
The word for turn: virar.
The word for throw: tirar.
The word for look: mirar.
Nothing as complete as a sentence, and
the attendant in the parking lot convinced of my fluency
wonders why I should want to throw myself anywhere.
Forgive me. Your author -
strangled in his sleep by wicked words -
he might have known how to finish this
how best to fill the shape of a tree
again with cellulose and xylem,
or tell the birds they may resume their roosting.
Your sightseer: he does not.
His raw language and wet hair
have left a hollowed shape
where a man should be.
We sat on the carpet in the bedroom
and I pulled between us that family heirloom,
a sea chest belonging, at one point, to some
grandfather or another, and we began
an apparently curtailed version
of the usual routine.
I wondered if that meant dire things
for my fate; as if all the events of my life
would be half as eventful, or if
there would be half as many of them, God forbid.
I can’t recall a particular atmosphere,
except that it was dim, and I guess
the old sea chest contributed
a bit of worn charm. And that same afternoon
I did burn some incense, but it could barely be smelled.
She asked, occasionally, for my involvement.
Tap one of these. Lay your hand on that.
And, uniquely in my life, I got the semblance
of controlling my destiny.
Soon enough, a picture began to form.
The five of cups: miserliness, a bearded man dressed royally,
alone atop a treasure trove, his children and former lovers
elsewhere, in loving penury, without a thought
for dear old stingy dad. The two of swords: some duality
out of the past, a war - always - between reason and love, and
how much I cherished them both. An awkward young man
who loved casually, without forethought and almost
without reason, and the brain he was far too proud of having
to use responsibly.
Finally, we reach the one in the center, and once again
I am required to invest some of myself in this card.
I hold my hand on it and am asked to imagine what it might be.
It is the Hermit. Her favorite, she explains.
He means a journey, alone. How alone, exactly?
Under normal circumstances, alone is a metaphor.
One can be alone in spirit, being not understood.
But you and I have been having arguments, and so
the implication is not lost on me.
How alone? And what journey? And to what end?
I imagine them, these arcana,
major and minor. They are collected
around a coffee table, for their weekly tea.
The Hermit holds up a pair of worn sandals
and a volume of sad amateur poetry -
the price of certain journeys -
the Lovers, their backs turned to one another,
produce a pitiful summary of a joint bank account.
The High Priestess takes from her tea cabinet
a samovar full of old dried blood, and pressed flowers
(lilies and lovers’ thistles)
and they all laugh and laugh and laugh
because they are not mortal, like us.
Give me to carry
just a fragment of the cross.
A single thorn, or single lash
to suffer. A drop of blood.
At your worst, holding you
seemed to make the world make sense -
to you, at least -
but the nurses had lorazepam for that
and in more ways than one
I came to know impotence.
Like a supplicant, eating nothing at all
and playing cards with myself
while waiting for the visitation.
At your best, I brought Halloween string lights
and Halloween candy for the holy sisters
and pagan holiday or no,
we gave that room the feeling of a convent,
and I wrung my hands while you slept.
Home in midafternoon and anxious
rosaries in azure on the bedsheets
and flowers in brown, on green field
Sleeplessness was penance,
and so was I absolved; thus some of that
absolution affixed itself to relics
and that rubber duck on the dashboard
I touched in the morning traffic.
It glowed to say
your spirit was with me.
And though I now can sleep at any hour,
I examine it all the same
for some of Christ’s blood, or his forgiveness,
hoping to find the signet ring of the Pope
or at least some of your halo
where I should expect
the Byzantine absence of it.
The dopaminergic and serotonergic apparatus
went walking hand in hand and
they that alone produced joy and accomplishment
together bore a child named sadness.
Descartes thought he could give God the green light to exist
as if cognition had a right
to assent or object and
as if God would give a damn.
And some poor other fool
thought he could rule his feelings.
or brain, Lord?
And who runs the show exactly?
Body needs feeding.
Brain needs hormones.
And if you find the right ones,
cup your hands together
and watch them trickle through.
A low voice through the wall that says
so you come
and hear it whisper again from another room.
I knew a woman and
on her thigh, bright and fresh
the beautiful phrase
“radical softness as a weapon”.
She was so soft it hurt.
But formlessness, too, is a weapon,
and there’s only one person it harms.
I suppose somebody must soon find
my shape on the ground in chalk.
If I’m lucky, she’ll kneel
and place a flower in it.
If eight years we labored
in canals and valleys and
on girders and then
for four years we spilled Nazi blood and
the Depression is lifted or
the depression is lifted
or not really.
America, your deep vein thrombosis
the size of a
lilywhite Toyota Highlander
You don’t make things anymore.
Your Marxists winter in the empty museums.
Your union halls belong to the company.
You ought to be Haymarket men,
bloodcleaned and ready for anything
but instead you workshop one-liners.
America you are afraid to love.
America you are afraid of medicine
and the medicine you do take,
America reset your passwords
and the twenty-year-olds will help you find a mate
Do you feel how distant you are becoming from yourself?
Do you feel how words must
towards the things they stand in for
like a silhouette
like an ironic silhouette
like a sketch
like a mere shape?
I cannot be certain any longer. No,
really, I am losing that skill. I lose myself
in coffee cups dreaming of painted lips. My bedtime
stories are of Robespierre and Louis Ex-Vee-I; they
put me to sleep instantly. I can read this poem eighteen times
and never feel a thing. If nothing makes sense,
it’s because we decided we didn’t need it.
America do you hate
but not really?
America do you listen
but not really?
you’re trying to eat better
but the poor and ruined in Missouri
still chew on plyboard and drink flat Mountain Dew
you want engineers but masturbate to starlets
not one thing will satisfy you
not any screen or voting lever
your children wander supermarkets
putting everything they find in a basket
give Louisiana to the French
cede the Black Hills to the Sioux
retreat into your telephones
and remember Tippecanoe
America a voice
is singing from the past
and you would do well to listen.
When it was all over, we sat in the San Gabriel
and washed ourselves like crocodiles.
We had lived in a world of sweat.
We joked as an old tire floated by
that it wouldn’t be long until we spotted
the rest of the car.
We watched the ants at their little work,
their little loads, and
being good, we did not interrupt them.
A big dumb foot lands in your way
you drop a leaf from your mandibles
and you can’t bear to pick it up again.
I had to become something to carry us.
Something strong. Something stone.
I crouched under my task and the sun beat upon me,
until I was small, like they were.
I was splitting firewood with
a dull, cheap axe. You spun
beneath an umbrella and asked me
to join you. I wanted to ask,
is life better when the hand you hold
holds yours back.
I wanted to look up and see you spinning,
but could not lift my gaze from the ground.
Cold front. Warm front.
Mercury in retrograde.
If I knew the words once to say it
I do not know them now.
I wished I could hear the birds
like you did. I wanted evidence but also
wanted song. You sat crosslegged
while I looked in the manual.
The red breast you took to mean “heart”
I took to mean “dying”
so I sketched his little face in soundless rictus.
while you closed your eyes entirely and listened.
I carried the wood behind you while
you shone a flashlight ahead.
You whistled a little birdsong.
I dreamed that I could spin you forever and never get tired.