All My Airships
I Used to Know How to Make a Flower
The Analogue Sessions
As Birds Fell to their Targets
With Tiny Hands
"More Above = More Below"
Where Moss Grows
In Some Ohio River
No Answer, Then
Wool Pulled Over Grasses
North Country Fair
The Dam Builders
The Space Motel
Making a Figure
The Gait of Truly-Time
Delia. Delia, we knew, always,
the glacial drift that herons regard
as your elastic desires, which reel your charitable hallucinations
in from Jupiter. That when you stumble, stutter, we gown your face
with flannel, drown you out with half unopened
shadows—a filminess that your
eyes are, are gathered awkwardly,
at the river, and by equestrian detectives, and dogs.
Is it better, I think, if one of us is not
ourselves, just, and that the embargo on fraudulent buoyancy
is less left tended between us, when
you recount these bones, by your ancestry,
in sacks, toted, rattling— West of Mesabi, East of Leech.
The devil comes up from its hole. Either way,
those are the odds. Those are the odds.
When you run with the wheelbarrow along the river Lethe,
my grandmothers have told me
it’s hard to lift your eye-lids away
from under-lit sides of thorny branches, the veils from which the body is lured.
at school we pledged allegiance
to the buck head again, but again
because our town was bled
for love on knuckles. at home
we made stone soup, kept
our worms, kept some orphaned trees,
a page for broken oars. our yard
of monument, a junk box
with word of boys, some words
of girl they named balloon.
yet how pieces of the former years
were always gone. we once caught
river shrimps. the doorman
played accordion. the jangle of our county
as it beat its rusted knees.
we had true barbeques. Bri got rashes
from the swamp. Bri got rashes too,
from Johnny. and we all ate jelly-tubes,
children of chicory and other untold
weeds. our water-can mother
in lip sheer, our father of coma,
our father. but when the cops
brang polish music how the old man’d
juggle whisky. the way his veins
grew dark come evening. we would
have to pull our hoods off, even took
apart our collars. it was easier
to feel the night without them.
I used to know how to make a flower.
To push its tendrils deep into wet earth.
In those days what we ate was simpler.
Its like that again when the windows grow dark
with a warm coat of brine and clouds
perch and purge their anxious stomach
over hills somehow pinched between great fingers
like dough. I used to know how to make
a hand-made variety, yet there is still a
tenderness like that gentle wet between
a horse’s teeth when you cup its mouth in
your palm. There is the familiar way to draw
a flower: a circle surrounded in curly loops alike the primitive
doilies. To listen like a paper maché ear
with wires sprinkling in and out is how we fared
when the honey-pear of paisley from bed sheets
bled and moss grew in the green soul
and shook itself from inside. A hog
lies here on its side— The sunlight,
asunder. One frangi-pani sets on a wooden
tableau. A fried fish plopped on a tray for us
with the sweet meat black water makes
in animals that move broadly in deep
ponds. The outdoor bake oven with its china
and plastic vessels unmatched.
The river in Iowa unfolds its antique diadem.
It seems always the old colors
are there on one side; the new
colors, buoyantly projecting onto the other. You
unpeel first the tart shell like orange
rinds and soft. There is a large family among us,
but not between us, exactly.
When we sit together to eat
on the green shores of a shrinking eternity
there is still a great tenderness, despite
some differences. I used to know how
to make a flower I say. There is a film if
you want to watch that might remind us of a past.
When we talk about making a painting, some say,
we also talk about making a new painting.
We must, if only, go on believing, Sergeant, our bodies, were/are
part of it: jingle of gold watch-chain, little necklace, would walk down a narrow
hall, turn corners—hotel bar, hotel fuse box drawn on carbon paper
over cheek bones. “I ate, like, an
entire coconut cake,” overheard the remnant neighborhood where once we dressed
our children: pseudo-hoodlums. Pseudo as oneself is to specter selves/self: we,
in tragic socks and haircuts, with potato guns, chasing to catch—them/us, a funnel
around my neck, she said, so she wouldn’t, couldn’t, look back, too weary
not to. Sluiced through the caution tape, casino,
tetherball corridors. No respondents? To summarize, he started it. Took
a bath in ice and burglars in face-masks shaved
their armpits, to disguise themselves. That’s a lie. Finally, he wore
the cone-shaped fur soldier’s hat: a turret or tower
at the edge of the city. Meanwhile, wayward tattoo artists dated phantoms, shaded
their shop windows, a baker cut the cake; coordinates in our
system, “Darling—do not over-react,” were lost. This skin
fits more like a scarf, rusted scaffolding. The busy seamstress is sewing
black seed beads to heads rolled of sisal twine. If only, ever, there was/is a patch
of grey sky big enough/enormous I’d sing with
my children—I envy them, if only, when they wear curtains, I was sad/still am
listening, ruminant doggy, tied to a tree outside. Over. Over:
the pixie-stick powders rain leached from rock. Not yet
over, everything, the legs tying themselves back into the basketball court.
Bald scalp mending itself with grass. Even worse,
what’s fair, they say, they all say, when we got/get some nepenthe,
was/is we “re-tilt the head, check the airway”—be less than
absently unkind. Goodnight moon, before they lay
the tar under your eyelids, goodnight, if only. Inside a cartridge of
eleven eggs, I’ll pretend to hear the heartbeat. Oh, um.
Narcotic tanks haul the radioactive chess club to sleep—oh, um,
a habit she had/has of gazing, eyes blurred,
over the glares on glass, dazzled trance of bullet spinning, other self running to catch
nothing—one hundred yards from—Red Rover calling someone toward.
if we could help from suckerfish our lady
dressed in winter—her eardrums where lamprey
lay coiled. things will tend to fall apart;
the heavenward, our algae crown, the estuary
a cemetery of fresh forms. to transcribe as fish required
currency; a hymn for krill and smaller birds,
winged or without. polyps or the brackish ones
who scrape from rocky piles. a gentle way to leave
behind where words. to translate water involved
dying. the tide grown low. those night hours to
accomplish what we would. a glow worm bay, our ghost
skin swim as lives that we let go of. an egret
with his groggy crest, the moon who swells just
watching. some animals cannot be tamed,
among those our dearest. the pattern is always devolving.
beware of urchins their numb and needless, our love
for those sub-surface things: the spider crab—
the sword fish, as hair and face of kelpish strands
sway cold. let known their empire of sorrow,
the throbbing of one pulse as we dive down.
on a scale of one to ten? they asked, but we
touched anyway each barnacle and under-fin,
we chose the e-boat in all its shrine and filth. they said,
there are rules involving buoyancy. there are
standards which demand time. the private from
the public voice delineates as lionfish, as high above
an air balloon drifts empty toward the foam.
see angel rays and coral beds, see pillars where
the pearls lay burnt in darkness. the first shurd— the second,
with large mouthed sabalo, the toxin spines
of bat-winged fish and jellies laced and swollen.
Like an upturned broom of phlegm
or foliage, a green bomb was plucked
off its branches. From a walnut
the first cousin hatched. Next,
the lazy-eyed, four more arrived in
packages, certain offerings
twice-removed. In photographs, how flattened
we felt to ourselves:
[ The first seven in a half-sunk canoe ],
stuck by magnet to the fridge of
Our Lady, Old Woman. And taped
to a mirror of our cousin’s darling,
who kissed us everyday, ethereal
paper-doll kisses: [an off kilter
snap of our heads, some
older brothers among us, burning
the funneled abyss between their cigarettes
and the aperture].
We were in trouble with ourselves.
Still, a cousin was born. And
another. But how certain signs appeared
in negatives of
family portraits: like blurry poppies,
our bodies blew open so if
we, including that half-cousin
who’d see the prairie light up and sway
red as licorice sticks, had been
paying attention, we knew
from the yard like falling
leaves floating, flitting up we’d swirl
skyward. Later, much
later, we’d reminisce. Our pink
light gathering in speckled limbs—
this collective remembrance of scamper
up the porch steps, quick as cobwebs,
as cobwebs drift,
because dust clambered up, and up, and
when it didn’t, some father of ours
sweating Limburger, would
grab my ankle, dangle me like
seaweed on a lure, as I clamped
upside down to a scab
rusted leg. Eddied out
from where our placentas were
planted long before, “There was a stair,
that was not there,”
remembered our cousin, autistic.
With tiny hands and everything in utterance of yester,
the yarrow ‘neath our pillows dreamt of trumpets and tea.
Our hill country, the hymn of blackgrass and whether
we would wear the sad straw wigs. Look here, said mother
when the gum stuck and we slept ear to lip and face alee.
Our little hands and everything in utterance of yester;
the unison and breath of wooden dolls beside their smaller,
back to back and back to chest like tree to tree.
In hill country, the hymn of blackwater and whether
we could hold another with mud in hair and flower brother;
names of Josh and Jeremiah and Josh. Summers like salt, sardine,
and tiny hands with everything in utterance of yester
and how eyes of silo children know to water
or love like girl. Jeremiah left his eyes to Anna Lee
from hill country. The hymn of blackgrass and whether
it was against his better judgment, said our father
who smoked a—two corncob pipes. One between his teeth
and one inside little hands as everything in utterance of yester;
the hill country in hymns of blackwater and grass.
Breakers broke the coal with toothed
rolls reducing lumps, from what’s carved
inside-out of the
What, from the mines, came up in smaller-pieces, crow-coal,
with brown-blue aluminum-boils got hand-picked,
like something for
whoever you love, by retards and those
still-with fingers, or little
fingers (picker-kids), and piled up.
‘Dead-work,’ it’s called, to
size coal from size egg, egg from black pearl, pea-sized, pea from
grain-buck, buck-grain, birdseed, rice is smaller, and
all of which burns without tarry. No gold
native here. And the little
bridge (we’re crossing) leads to the green
graveyard, bereft of
rust-up out of the earth, each with an identical
absence growing back down-in. Everyone that
already is, or will be planted here.
In clumps and mats of soft and shady plants
a tree fell down the west facing
slope of the ravine. The wood here, damp and
rotting: covered up in blankets. Don’t think
of a place less like this, neatly groomed fields
cropped with a fine toothed pick: (our home
country) where “also mosses are found in
cracks between paving stones.” No—
the tree has been uprooted of its own accord:
its private place which faces us, and we
face it, caked with clay, grey humus,
and a substance like marrow: pelagic shells, shale.
No taproots, or rootlets. Something unusual
is a spore capsule borne aloft on a thin stalk
with a beak, red. My neck, too, piped under
my head: analgesic and vine coated inside: senses
the slow decay of friendships: the boat shed
of forgotten spaces, laminated in lime, that “sea
grasses are flowering plants.” The stream-bed
dried. Back when, always, I run down
gravel roads, which mark the edges of farms
(the closing and digging of latrines and
wells), black tar paper stuck beneath siding
of houses and houses torn to the ground.
Blonde oysters bloom on the wet tree’s skin. It
is not like that tree I ran away to
as a child and hid, where with a toothed-saw
someone came and cut off the limbs I laid
upon: my laying limbs. The underside:
the umbilicus of this octopus is sponge filled, stuffed
with pumice. Its eleven arms pried like anchored
hooks from the earth, its others tangled with:
from the pith mangled, thick like the calves of
great aunts, stockings ripped and skinnier ones:
arms of half-siblings covered in flour paste, flower
pollen, yeast filled like dough, rising:
all of this becoming and unbecoming. The bodice
of the tree, mud bleached, powdery beneath
the under-layer of lichens: flat continents, islands
on maps, rolled. Some puffer-bellied
and pink blistered slime molds, raked crumbs
from paint scrapers scraping, whereas
“in sea-weed, the thallus is called the frond.”
One thing, at first I didn’t see, now stares at me,
upside down, a little skull, teeth up, some
stolen by a fairy: three molars exist, and
three front teeth, one fang: incisor, many empty
sockets. A little raccoon, it must be: brown-green,
with two circular bone-glands where its ears
had been. I’ll keep it in a box, with the boxes
of things I’ve kept and lost: a ring box my mother
saved for me to keep the boon, a vine which
connected me to her, shriveled up, plus a lizard tail
I kept and had to keep in an envelope of seeds.
Sunlight shuffles between shadows of leaves
which scurry then rest, and I decide to let it go...
studying the back of its head: the hole
where its throat was inside its neck,
like the holes eaten between the veins of fallen
leaves: windows. Ten feet of this tree
has been cut out, and set aside (so passers by,
can pass, along the mossy path, which moves
forward and back, patched in liverwort: “flat
lobed, alligator hide,” grasses and horns.)
The tree stretches twenty-five feet, clung with
angel-breath: starch, from each side of the trail.
Lichens, secrete their algal fans “of embedded
blue-green algae” which laminate over
the under-layer and curl-footed barnacles,
“cemented, head-first to the surface” of
bark, which smells of seawater and spices.
My favorite flower species: yarrow: bruised
lace, is grown along the roads where I run, not
here, where the wooded canopy is murky. These
lichens are porous and rippled: printed
waves from a wood-block: marbled with violet
to plum sprig, iridescent stains. Some in
colonies and clusters, china cups and
bowls, oatmeal crusted tentacles on the slimy
arms and hull of this tree. Secretions and
sepia: the suction disks stuck, and dainty locks
of hair, gold wisps like our hair cut from our
heads and kept with letters, in lockets, feathers—
(a warm waft of wind) It is brisk today.
Soon a sheet of snow will be pulled over this log:
over the leopard fur of its mushroom speckled
bark. Torn bloodroots: “gill, cap, and stem,”
bleed their rust-orange dye on my hand: ruffled circles
like scars left on a sperm whale’s mouth by squid.
Other mushrooms: beard-wires, pin-sized polyps,
generate and delineate from the material: what’s lost
gives way for something else or new. Hyphae: tinsel
strands cob-web the portholes and doors, where curls
of dried leaves are curled hair. The beetles, like beetles
I’ve caught and kept in coffers: I’ve slept with below
my pillow, also with yarrow: burrow inward. We see
them when, from our porch, we watch: when we walk
where “moss grows on what is” lovely and dark.
With bleach on grocer paper I paint first
a table. Then, pied speckle and ashes
stamped into the floor, or dumb feet traced
on tissues. Sometimes: I throw-up a white paint
like pulverized rocks—the upper body
pouring from the waist like a waterfall. With walnut ink
I delineate a square on
blank ground. Make four legs or arms (flat back,
when I come to hands and knees at a table).
How can I set this simple space
or find the imperfect path to follow?
Secret coronation of this surface concerns
a thin layer of gauze. Coffee. Ceviche.
Our drug man dredging up the white cloth.
When my body comes to the table there is
the bad smell initially: bits of paper
torn eyes. My children set the wooden plates
with fork and spoon (a plate marked
by pencil in place of my own).
Pink dots on the staircase—I hide behind
to watch their moon faces rise. The flat field
is filled with objects. “What are these scone-things?” Scones.
I make the leaves on fingertips of shallow
branches. This table set with juicy flowers,
a dirty sock, a clock without numbers—
It is a squat tree like a palm
in a pot—only snow sets
at its roots. What is this table? —an altar? For tiny bells
or bull horns? For the holes where venomous
centipedes live? No. It is simple.
Not a stage for tapas and
their prostitution. Scrape away this red gouache
washed on parchment. The soft inner stomach
is dimming. Mundane piece of furniture
with doily; there is a snake beneath it.
On The Ox-Ferry, a pioneer machine of marine transit,
the fish doctor, an eelpout, listens to Eel’s long belly
where, spread inside the dark of ether
a girl puffs out her cheeks, and—and—
the fish doctor putters about in Eel’s long throat
a tunnel, long, attenuating toward a lagoon where
a lady with muff, brushes away some wet—wet—
The bloody-belly comb jellies comb back the waves, which comb the water
sea pens and garden eels harbor. Come memory, some willowy:
once, the wetness of your eyes and what’s behind them, the hearing.
Once, at the Museum of Natural History, they took you in the wrong washroom; you needed a quick bath.
Then, a cousin, Miranda, pushed out her tongue to hang in the wind; her lips blue.
Then, when, standing on rock or step—were scolded; the wind blew, whipped you home
a tunnel, long, attenuating toward a lagoon.
The lamina and watermark of mouths closed curiously.
When, side-by-side, we lay at night, what rattles
back and from behind our eyes, our eyes themselves like patches,
to cover up lost eyes.
Once, purchased a rainbow serpent.
Heard the patter of feet—the buttons of sleeve cuffs scraped against the bed-side.
Once, tied the bedposts to parachutes.
On the Ox-Ferry, an old woman preserves the devil’s apron.
The ferryman ate the nudibranch and died.
“where’s my part?”
“in the woods…”
“where’s the woods?”
“fire burnt it…”
“where’s the fire?”
“water put it out…”
A black box arrived tonight on the porch.
From where did it come? Don’t shake it.
So slender are the eyes and voices which
in windows of the river’s valley loom.
Whatever reason they live for, it means they don’t
die for nothing. Against the rusted planks
long laid with dust, it wasn’t
our ears, at first, pressed to the cock-eyed knots
of lid. Just a chair was left back there,
a miniature, for whomever brought home pails
of specimen: of Indian pipe, or
ice plum. Then too, the absence of once when
our bruises felt warm to touch;
someone would put his fist on the table,
and we would pile about to wrap
our palms around his thumb, or whose ever
thumb came beneath our fists. Then,
something he’d say like, The first one to show
his teeth, gets fists boxed, and ears flicked.
It was just a soft flick, really, the way
a boy flicks a flower.
Someone who lives without blood,
and without water; he brought the box in.
Follow him—why wouldn’t we
with matches to see by, down ten steps from
the cellar door. Each creaks. Traversed by
earth tongues, black snake skins, the walls
hang, swelled at their wounds.
A worn hook-rug leans up against one
where maybe the soil spills through from
where—we don’t know? Names of the preserves
in our pantry are labeled like laboratory jars.
Perhaps what are to be preserved is all that is
contained by the crooked box, so heavy.
Or was it the echoes within the crate we heard
and knew of maize cobs, the prickles, a few
with fingers, tinder, lesser earth stars: lost
morels; each with soft heartbeats of somebody else.
He is pulling out the weeds when she
arrives. The orange sun pouring over
his eggshell back.
Many weeds have grown up—
She is carrying in a plastic sack
a handkerchief embellished with stitching,
a tiny white painted pot…
He is pruning the grassy plot,
where dill is escaping.
He rubs the earth’s back, combing backwards
the young grass.
She is watching from inside
his house. One of his toenails
is black. She is in the bedroom now.
The comforter fluffed
and stained. Their walls—
canary yellow—quieted around sounds
now, emptied out. He is outside still,
squatting above the lettuces, lush
in their rosy dew, and distinguished
cabbages. Does he know she is
home? She looks through her sack,
what is in that? He is in the dirt, thinking or
not thinking of a difficult
question. His dog is there, with
the worms and green vegetables.
Earlier, they had eaten
eggs and ham. He cooked for her
in a big black pan.
They drank coffee. He was thinking
of his son—of athleticism,
of whether a game could have been won—
He’d said so. She was thinking
of whether she could or could not go
through the days without someone
small at first—of whether she
would miss too much, if she could not,
if he would not,
have again someone small.
She’d said so.
There were tears and no answer, then.
There was a peacock on an island,
dapple as a delicate mechanical
toy (wound tightly) stalking on
skinny legs. There was
a peacock and a songbird
embroidered on a blanket at the edge
of their bed—Things were happening around them:
A fox in the tilled field,
the hot sun on a tin roof several houses out.
To go crabwise then, eat roots, sit with the little guy,
paste the dacha in a drift of fog. In my Pine Island,
in my space suit, faux-fur lined and velvet pawed, I apologize.
Threw salt up in the air and it landed, somewhere?
This of the river’s edge is frozen, still. Why?
Like hickory bark under the skin, to find ribs of a midriff, the ice-lipped
space-girl, splintering. Almost spring. Ah creek, runs below
the footbridge, where spider eggs wait long seasons:
fairy shrimp, sea monkeys, (who eat themselves), precious due to aptitude
for dormancy. Ah dormancy, I love you, despite drowsiness
I am when I stand in the chorus beside you. Sharp metal scrap
of wind rattling in mouths. In our mouths, mumbles of Captain Crunch—
crunching of loose molars, cavities in gums—
Oh wait, my mistake, again—it was in the mouth of
the creek: she hears my boots munch, on walks.
I don’t remember?
In Russia, our mother explained, we’d unroll
our bodies and clothes out in the yard
and wash them by beating them with snow. I’ll
orbit in the lem. You scuttle away from me
in the lunar tentacle; like a planarian, we’ll divide our resources.
I’ll get all the schmuck qualities of myself, and
you’ll whittle a blue claw from the sea of tranquility. In my Pine Island
something comes to breakfast in their birthday suits,
stretched white t-shirts, sleepy-eyed. Otherwise the glue
on my shoes would stick to outer-space
(on my walk to the other side) and the dead
beetles in floor cracks look like buttons I’ll sew on your cape,
which was mine. Don’t listen now but the borscht, simmering,
sings only to itself: no ability to differentiate (blah-blah) between activation or attenuation of that vagueness it perceives: two birdies
nest upside down, the moon prince removes his crown, some sentimental
gauds mumbled from the old language.
Later, seated on the tram, riding out to the edge of places:
when she lifted the sewer grate, her
head lowered into the ground, tied to a cerise
piece of yarn. He imagined standing. High noon, at port.
Would they go back to the hotel? They enter,
by contrast, new weather of anticipation: her lips fold in,
wet and closed like a freshly sealed envelope. Hair
part changes. Vague empty space up in the branches,
a stuffed owl souvenir, saucer-faced, he bought, she slept
pressed up against it. Horses have names: Sirocco. Foray. In far-space,
the slow comet is one thousand years away. A möbius strip
of tousled desert grass unfolds in rows of russet waves.
She breaths—that is about all, the color field:
ague frequency, mash flask half gone, as tiny stars on
newsprint rustle in inner weather, the bassoon
sounds softly, always—would they, stay on—of course!
The tram would take them furthest, farther, where ever
the bright hour had them: all hotels, all beds,
all lacunas, at once—past infirmaries, to hash there
radial augment, get clean, again. Again. Then,
printed a seabed of imbroglio upon her vellum dress,
egg-tempura over eyelids. He flips through
a little book: calico vine-sprawl the shadows laid around
breasts, fog in the wooden shoes he drew with chalk in
the distance. Sad diver, you think too much—
“Look!” to show her, he shook her, scarves knit from
mulch alpaca, spread across the air ahead of them,
table tops in the courtyards, drapes in the dark dooryards,
“Look!” Potatoes painted grey, thrown out to sea;
glowing heat-shield of the aircraft tumbling back beneath
its parachute, or carried like a doorbell back into
the ocean; particulars—particles: the armoire dissolving—
Should he at that instrument wire above, tug—the one that stops, at once, all of
the music? “Wake up,” he is saying. “Wake up, it is evening,”
she is dreaming, riding out to the edge of places.
At Boy River we are too near us to recognize
his hands, half-hanging from her knees; doors
boarded in the mouths where branches part.
We drug, from the tin roof, and set them in the parlor, some tables—
her slender arms, unaware of how they float;
the spice of smoke below her hair, inside her hollows, no lava,
but flicker from away, far here. We tied the pup to its chair. The traps, outside
latching. At Boy River, she is making special wine, prior to drawing
dark lines below her eyes, and down ravines, where
with awkwardness we find ourselves—all knees, the water black, scraping.
At Boy River, which wanders, translucent powders
on her cheeks, are seen by us, and into our landscape
she was peeking, while he, looked off a bit—the hem of the floorboards, slip sepals, wrinkling.
Their places holding, our hand in his hand, some unexpected
mirth, we felt from her gestures, and his, inordinate
and dumb, as shoulders knocking, or one farm feeling for another, and another feeling
for nothing—its need, or urge, instead for a crater
or a marsh long embedded in a marsh. Will we, at Boy River, leave
of ourselves; leave with ourselves: she, with back painted
toward the attic, twisted feet above the under sheet, and he
giving order to a few stones, cloth of pollen: tiny boulders, lost tears of distant light.
We stand on the crick in winter, the glass bottom hours
where brown leaves: the slips and edges of ladies
sway up. We imagine you at the table, a long table, drinking
coffee with others, waiting, the shadows on
the sides of faces, the vague unlighted spaces below
of pigeons or swallows nestled in eyelids.
Beneath us, the water lulls and in the same direction
ice in the channel is rough against our hull, the blush
and epidermal ivy crumbles thighs and legs. That much if you know,
as though charcoal has shaded us, the mutterings we
imagine you murmur, through silt and vegetation,
the musk of vitreous pollen caught on breath and scarves,
brushing a bird from the watery faces. You in there, as if
one of us, mumbling to recall—no one, we guess,
but a cloth upon the muddled creek, the table, by some hand
smoothed like the hem of a skirt or sail. In hollows
of your eyelids, your mouths, whatever it is, bread and tea
or coffee and bread, whatever you imagine. Something
against window casings, against the strake, clear now
that nothing was within, pushing against the flour pressed
inside our skin, uncaringly left open, like a curtain, unveiling
once dear, light, then, extinguished—we have no part of ourselves.
on front steps in springtime, we let go, walk
the public and Johnny Cash is written down
our initials have all been carved—
a backdoor, as everyone pushes
the alley through. some won’t, the Aussies
blatantly strip in dank stone stairs,
it’s all-spectral here.
inside we’re sitting, what’s left
beneath the lounge lamp—a shrimp plate
only sauce and tails, we touch feet
the gum stuck below the booth. i’ve come
a billion years for this: a white palace of light, we drink
tall-boys and i remember me in a basket
a giant winged bicycle, my mother pedaled
pointing down the beach. we’ll grow functionless
degenerate in the course of time. we each die
our own speed, a separate pile
of hollowed machinery. this conceptual moving along
the ends fold where it began, as all we have
are topographic maps of youth, the old scent of
that other city stacked in crates
along the coops.
it’s all-tranquil here, the world hung and
crooked off the door hinge
the maintenance shed afloat amidst what doesn’t happen.
dry wall makes the men grow old,
our lives will pass and reconstructions
of language, but you are my lean-to made from mud
and bark, a place when i am lost beyond all woods.
how our north country, the tractor-boys
you in your worn out shirts. why?
because there is so much i want to share with you
among wreckage, an enamored argument
of light as it sways between pink and several moments
before a storm. were there words i would string them:
tin wind chimes, they could clang overtly
how we love is all, a mattress
in the cabin loft, a grinder box on the porch.
the world has gotten by on less.
please be and keep being my early morning,
a feed boy as films reel down a back wall
of the barn. we grew up, Minnesota
our Mississippi a white horse, only haloed insects
as scattered leaves our clothes across
the floor. the lists are overwhelming, indefinite—
but this is the last day of being so young and
ever after we rewind again and again the weeping willow.
She is on one side of the water and he across: the schoolhouse and the cemetery,
the cemetery where canary-coated stone grades below clouds, vast—
clouds, sallow, and cambric as gauze on rust.
Rust on cinder stone forms when grass tongues at it. (That a cemetery should lie along a creek,
a creek whose mouth is fed by run-off from the pasture seams,
seems, to me, strange). The spring was the water for the school—
the school whose tree, slung one, living still, limb of bark-secrete: snagged stockings over
stockings, to where the cemetery coughed up its grey underwear fur, clay-worn,
spattered on stones, where, girls once, unfolded pale—their long legs, drawn in blue ink like snow—brook dangled,
the brook, thick now, lime glazed and stitched with jigs: to the school, a line which is cast as down the center of a bed; delineates one from the other:
the other from one, as a fence. Neither soap, nor wash to polish the wool from slats fretted in their faces.
To face one another, in sea-rag cover: a semaphore of lichens spread—
spread over brick and mortar, slip-stained, (not storm is what we feel when—wind, through stacked fat-wood, whistles rough to our ear,) where no chalk beaters
beat, no girls see themselves in troughs of tarnished mirrors, (“Come here!”
“Come here!”) Only the stone-layers know—the loaves of each, the cemetery and the school, were stolen from an older foundation, that torn, not by storm, but fear. Even the barn, dim growing, though comforting, grew further.
A further question is whether aid would save these mere loam acres, with a few stones in them, left. Barbwire charms: their veins’ pulses. (We know what
we know and that has not been enough.) There is a white door, laid now, aside the hill submerged in unruly asparagus: an adit, or a cellar, which tunnels under the canal...
Feather or small bird: a piece in her hair, “Whatever saves us from inner weather,” the one, saying:
the other saying, “If our hearts did not hold such doubt.”
CLOWN: “Whose eyes open like yellow flowers, blink,
And leave their bread crumbs?”
WEST STREET: We pulled your eyelids apart and saw dark weather:
One realm of land, one sky, and so we rolled
You over, on your side, land-eye below sky-eye.
CLOWN [sings]: “When that I was a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain...”
EAST STREET: Nothing scares me anymore.
Not the bells strung in telephone wire.
Not the tepid coats which hang like costumes on the gaffe of a tree.
CLOWN: “I would not stand a snow-less winter.”
WEST STREET: We pushed your eyelids up to find
In one eye a grain sack in broken sticks of black grass.
Too, we found a doll-head-girl, one eye round: one eye slit.
The bees in you, drunk and slow, forgot if they had stingers.
CLOWN: “I cried once when snow stopped falling
And my poor father looked at me so queer.”
EAST STREET: Sky-line, phone-line, tortoise and hare
Knock-knock, tut-tut, who’s there?
Danny passed away, of, we’re not sure why:
His methadone day. Later was too late to comb his hair.
Thanksgiving day. He is not here. Please say a prayer.
When on his bicycle bar I ride, legs to side (shins
grow longer as skirt disappears) afraid to steer
underwater. Where? Below the pear farm in
sea-soil: round faces, limbs, and breasts.
“Pearl farm,” you correct her. Lock in water
channel opening inward, departure: six a.m., she thought.
Departure: six-thirty a.m., leave, by which?
But would? He kisses her arm.
In the shade they lay,
turn the other, one way. Seven a.m., departure, he thinks. And leaves
of the flowers, the leaves of her hair curl along
my spine, when in her sleep, is his sleep. In her
dream, toward—she travels his dream (message torn
in pieces). Little tray knit beside her (tea pushing through
the eyelids) of star and vegetable-matter; she
sits at the davenport, blossoms to the branch ends’, stitches:
quills pulling future back from seconds far ahead. Furniture
of sparkling darkly, repossessed. A fern
behind her ear, as she descends from his dream, her sleep,
toward, lays now asleep soundly;
some men come in to carry me out a door, out of here,
sweat in their hair, when they lift the girl, davenport,
askew drawers. Delivery. He turns his bicycle, leans, in dirt,
bare feet. She sews herself back into the earth;
sleep carefully, seven-thirty a.m., departure. In his dream,
a stain is left on grass (she is laying in a field
laced over in plants and pearls). From un-lit frame, he stares:
blue panorama. She places a ceremonial cap over;
it grazes the vague soldier projection of chandelier explosions
where his forehead appears. You levitate
into the air. Eight a.m., the bi-plane
from paper tracings, with sumi-e ink tinted,
(he looks away, bicycle tilting) drifts into her hair.
Swaying flat against the earth,
wash of shadows. Departure, it is time.
There was nothing left to hang our hats on.
Death was a noble moment, the theater light
closing over statuesque monster breath. Case in point:
our previous years, the statue maker was catatonic,
a condition of blotto nightly, and angel breasts
in angel mouths, or like a bird between the teeth
of Stalin’s mechanic jaws. Our hands were empty feelings:
some ghost boys, with wicker rakes. A baby carriage
denounced by the rose tree. Remember the former life?
Lenin said cinema was the highest form of glory,
but he had not been dead yet, had he? Sometimes
the film would melt, and Stalin’s face would burn a hole
in the roof of his mouth, which was not the sky, and
in which autumn would look up from his tongue
to a splotch of cloudy sockets, where the birds,
where are the birds?
In autumn, the leaves dehisce,
the branches ring, and Eisenstein is on the telephone.
Part one: “Ivan the Terrible.” Part Two: Shadow Country
presenting curbside kids blow soap through straws,
or Rasputin led to Astra by curiosity. What was living,
really, or what is heaven after our innocence
is so beat-up, tra-ta-ta, humming, tra-ta-ta? I like to think
that there’s a bright light coming at us: things
for one reason or another just appearing. The apricot
emigrants, ceramic lions, or where wheelbarrows
of lichens are blossoming. I like to think
our evolution is going mineral. That we might
be a bed of crystals, with re-pieced hearts, yet un-pieced
bodies. Look at where the chandeliers, doused in red
and where they hang, or look down where the books
are opened like graves. No—look to where the birds
have gone, with our hats, and our scarves, tied now
like ornaments to naked trees.
Have we always been so sad?
Did our fish-lines used to tangle?
When we talk about the hours
they keep passing. The moon tugs up
the candy red roots of grasses:
the nurses of grasses, and
we walk out here while Earth, below
our steps, turns backwards.
A black glove of branches un-buds at
its fingertips. The wind carries
air-bellied bags: empty beds, a cloud
of donkeys, and bad medicine: the memories
of melted rivers, further in. Don’t let
the old man keep my bones
in a sack on the stairs. Spring
is such a tease— it’s closer to last
spring, and the spring before that, than
to winter or whatever lies ahead.
Would we keep his?
Pieces of the dam was brought
by mystical horse, but we worked with
cinematic limbs, trotted hard
into closets of the canyon and thus
became the work we did. To holler
for a cook’s parade we’d crawl
through the adit with a lit toilet paper
torch and atop the chords which were
our spines low flame splayed and dull
pain in the lower calf of conscious
began to hose itself off. There was
nothing which could promise
wages but the stark courting of fevered
trees. A bedspring we’d turn
on-side like a table. We put butter on
our bannock. Dipped our brimmed
caps in coal and like some half dead
bees who’d swum misled inside
a pipe, we dinked around in rust
and goggles. We fastened up
the river’s garment and scratched
our beard. The lord we knew would
compensate unto our nerve ends
new cartilage. We chewed rough
grass and gargled long the onion
water. We became an unsought flower,
who drooped of shovel and stamen,
who slunk through trestle and gantry
spitting quiet prayers. We’d spread
the river’s legs and escort each into
her stockings. Like crooked stairways
we stood and the Colorado stubbed
her slippered toe, wedged it into
our palm, but there was nothing which
could raise the ante. Her ankle
like an apple core, we had to bring in brooms,
before she stepped, to clear the stone.
In from the bone china
and green tipped snow,
at the lobby desk we ring
a tarnished bell.
my sweetie’s head
is the wingding menagerie.
“Is there a room in the hive,”
I ask, “for a dying bee?”
Through my dark specs the clerk
squints, “Well—there is
still one cell, at least,
below the bone china
and green tipped eaves.” We
drone down the longhouse
hall, pass the ice and
snack box where my honey
picks out some nuts
to eat, to interrupt the squirrel
hypnotic in her belly
and the bird song menagerie.
Totemic as the owl, her glassy
eyes haunt me. I jangle
the door key and she turns
her head. Her chamber includes
a bed, a lamp, and the chill
of hydromel in from the bone
snow of evening’s window. We
close the drapery. “But, where
are my pills?” she asks,
rousing from their sleep, cachexia
and the chickadee. In the apothecary
a teeny bottle, cream beakers,
a towel. Hibernal is her fish
squama and snake skin menagerie
shed in a shoe box diorama,
for the children, she’ll say. My sweetie
says, “I never know if my eyes are shut
or if shadows fall where I dwell.”
In from the birch china and one
white oak, we hibernate in
my sweetie’s head, with mourning
cloaks in catacombs of red snow.
With dew along the hairline and gold that lines
(like smooth fabric from inside a suit) the tongue,
the inanimate head form is made
of cooled molten industrial foam, or
sweet potato too long cooked and crumpled
in dark sap on a surface.
Is the body clothed?
The body is clothed in a coat
of malleable screen and rice paper paper-mache;
a marsupial jacket with many envelopes and pockets for
What does this body eat?
A simple loaf of bread made by Irma at the farm.
The body’s objects are set in their meadows then.
Here are my drying disposable drawings:
Blurred mark fat with the saliva when my eyes are full.
“Moon, are you on the grass?”
They are of signs, symbols, and indexes: bodies and their absences.
“Moon, do you make slight mis-steps
that lead you astray?”
Demarcations, such as this
skin made from bleach swabbed across manila envelopes (this emits
a faint chartreuse glow). Also, ideas of containment depicted by closed forms traced in sumi-e ink on PDF. Last, décor;
spit mixed in egg-carton with dried soot from stove,
then dipped from with toothpick/wool to scratch/rub
soft focus of lantern sound.
It is most doubtful
that we can connect.
Here, a table shoved along the wall
in this box-style flat hall
from where we’d peer (at one another, of course!)
set now with one plate, one fork,
wooden spoon, cigarette in a cardboard square.
Candle singing, “La la la!”
Eyes stare at grenadine colored ground.
In another place, beneath another star,
a light opens its burst of breath around a tin cup of brine, a frying pan with food,
the tears of loony cartoons.
Someone somewhere is home. Cry with me!
In that room, in that moment,
Whoever is drinking the hot soup—
Whoever is bringing what is difficult forward—
Let us examine it,
gently. Is it over, this sweat from the body sopped from the floor and applied to the drawing of the body as paint?
Strange tooth upon this table with wheels,
my hand is brought to my heart.
How much bread was made
and in whose bellies did it float off in?
If it is over
a make-up powder like flour is sponged
to cover the eyes with bandages.
Of specialness and intimacy also of what is other,
it is a tender calendar of windows we are inside.
Even if you’re deaf and blind, which you might
as well be, the star-shaped opossum prints
will guide you by some sense. Take it on faith
that the stream swells post-partum in soreness
from rocks that glaciers brought, where now
our washrooms eat icy crumbs.
There’s a porch torn from nearby that house, where
my veins, like carmine valley coral, briar wires,
bloat with light as alien wind instruments. Here
in wood notations, hatched, a script simple
enough for whoever can read it. Never mind.
I like to whistle a hymn I don’t know, for
whoever digs the hot bed, plants small
seeds, or whatever the doctor gave our father,
and knows what I have been slow to guess.
We die the way the living will, and miles inside
the earth occurred maladies of mere ivies, green
earthworms, confusion: the empty chamber
inside a box of objects lost below the white pine,
which seems shaggy and shy, un-begun lover, aside the red,
whose branches rattle like dice clasped
in shaking hands when the wind doesn’t blow.
But step, if you will, over the run of river
tongues. It is getting late, and here—
rodents make the rules. The house is cone-nosed,
built at a tilt, with quills of hoar rust splintering
off its grainy coat. Windows half boarded
with plywood or planks: half prismatic curtain
lace and finger grease and breath on glass.
Where a thing, I don’t know what—like a tricycle,
with no seat and no horn, only two small
training wheels and a pole staking it to the ground
is what makes us believe, this thing we’ve come
to is a house. Underneath, its freckled
grey-green rot, eggplant blue in grooves, it must
have been white at one time. A pale few mother spots
show through. Our eyes, in what windows
with frost do still reflect, don’t mirror us,
instead look off a bit, lazy-eyed, as if to
encounter what our hearts of salt expect:
a burn pile at the step’s foot.
If you glance where ever your reflection
looked first—you’ll find ashes, water pattering on
mossy planks, within a small circle of milk crates
turned upside down. Plant these things
with parsley in the window bed and tell me
what does or does not grow. Inside a gathering
of grass, needles pulling green sutures up out of snow—
the house sits and stares at us, as if we should know
its stone foundation doesn’t give a care.
It has no guilt for the shape it’s in, how sunlight,
like a bruise, pushed its way through from it’s south face.
If little things would have us point:
turquoise paint flaking off the propane tank,
an orb from atop a banister, how the house
emitted a sour smell, we couldn’t point at, but we felt.
You’d think it had burnt once. It seems too alive
to be sick or old, but this white pine (a small pulley,
rusted now, hangs around a low limb from a chain),
would seem alive too, and it’s dead. If you’re a fool enough,
you’ll hope for what I hope for beneath it. Still,
not even the hounds will come when we call them.
It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards, said the Queen. (Lewis Carroll)
The captain of our ship is weaker
(“palsy from the threnodies,”) than was
expected, the toilet-smell coming from
his books. We were searching for a place
where we could stow the tide, the hours
emptied from last years’ calendars. (“An abandoned
house,”) (“Or aged chateau,”) to lock away
remembrances, which then were like plants,
wintered—amaryllis with stems, twisted
as barber poles, tops chopped off—from
many of us already ablated. Our past
was slippery to hold. Ask Willie. (“As a young boy,
I looked through my papa’s microscope
and discovered ‘noctiluca,’ alace
and tiny, outside the porthole of his boat.”)
Light led us with its drone, dull like
the bell of an old-fashioned visitor—
clang-drip, or clatter—Our keel, through shafts
of sunrays, plowed. The captain drew,
in primitive diction, a hieroglyph of
(“What is it?” he startled, “the thing a stranger
takes away?”) the palace (“an umbrella?”)
with trap doors (“Of course,” he sighed,
dimly.) to cache in long-term, what else
we might forget. Our verses vacillating like
coral fans: we sea fare, in sea-globes, swollen
with introspection and salts. Navigation
was slowed by icebergs (“If I recall, mum told me
to breath inside my coat,”) (“Between
my mother’s teeth, a window closed.”)
Too much, we thought, to understand
what we felt—our memories pushed
the Captain’s eyelids down; if we were smarter,
we’d have read the vessels of blood upon them
as maps. Sailors slept across the deck.
We kept talking, joking—
(“like long stalked cauliflower, coming up
with the bends, confused from the earth,”)
(“in a broken
necklace of weeds, our inner tubes,”)
—about childhood, that treasure house.
She was lean with us, and shy with braided knees like bread.
And we, comparing ourselves to a wintered sea
unknown to ourselves
fed her buttermilk and weeds— The tortoise
swam her up to us (Not seeing her at first, we tossed
rocks at it.); knowing not, she was gone;
though then she was not yet. No one knew how long
when we’d been waiting days
the dugongs swam her up again. But on her tongue
our medicine sent up gold leaf and sprig: odd hands of time.
The green patina of her skin was brash, bloated with brine
and the panhandle of each limb, gangrene and bit.
She called out names. Paged through maps.
“Pidge,” one eyelid she’d crack to ask— (her eyeball like an off-kilter gauge)
then resume her state, sedate, tentacle embossed. We found prunes
and French brandy, for faintness we assume.
Drank it and planted the pits.
Hauled up in a bag from the abyss: we dropped her in the grass and spread
her hunchback wings of fledge and earwax.
Next, we studied her sex
which had closed and molted its rose curled cloth.
To her we took, as we’d taken once, to what the one early went looking for with her dog in the basement. Found in her mouth
a cough, paprika, a lump of salt.
Where the water breaks away the land sifts its tethers.
The islands shift shape.
We put our hands above her eyes and had her
count down from nine (to help her tail begin)…
Where no light got in, this we associated with her spine.
Her moss-moist anatomy (fine, granular,
of oil, ether, tooth, “our flies we caught,” algae, or fur)
was wrought with memoir and lamprey, the root-spread
of villages. Her feet we bound, and buried her liver,
yam-like and small. Rolled up her bones
in a manta ray, and noted them: drift-wood sticks.
When the colonel came it was too late;
frail tapestries of fin, she’d floated off.
If only winter came halfway to greet you;
its own kind of gurney. Pulses drip
from a bag down to your arm like a fiddler crab’s,
torn at its crook. In melancholy light enters
only at angles. Avoid the hair-leaf tea, for how
it erases the dark colonies where birds
murmur in four chambered parts. Avoid bee-eaters,
mirrors, avoid mushrooms, Egyptian red. In old
phone books find names for numbers of fish eggs:
find pressed between pages the map of an island
floating inside you, on which the counterpoint
for North is cupric, season is South, East
nest. To preserve your pieces: umbilical cord
and atrophy, some vapors of mercury in which
your father ate ants—they must unbutton your skin,
plant lima beans, and unbury three memories:
first, blood-flowers dried in sun, the other, embers
in sea shell ears. If you want to learn to grow
backwards, memorize the creaks of the wooden house,
and the old woman (whose cloak takes its own foot
in its snout) little as a bee inside a clock,
whose head at every hour pokes out the door to allay—
and you will grow back, slow like grass, green
fuses around the wooden house. For the doctor
of your village, for the old woman whom I love,
for even the raven: to each a prayer for the disassembly
of their parts, that when they open you, they’ll know
of whatever it was you were, you tried at least.
The poem titled, "More Above = More Below" borrows it's title from a painting; the painter's name is Molly Gunther.
The title of the poem, “All My Airships,” was adapted from the memoir, “My Airships,” by Alberto Santos Dumont.
In the poem titled “For Erin...,” an excerpt, “When that I was a little tiny boy,/ With hey, ho, the wind and the rain...” is quoted from Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night.” Two other passages: “I would not stand a snow-less winter,” and “I cried once when snow stopped falling/ And my poor father looked at me so queer,” are adapted from Henry Darger’s autobiography, “The History of My Life.”
In the poem titled “Fist Stalk,” the epigraph: “where’s my part?”// “in the woods…etc.” is derived from an Appalachian folk game, common in the Ohio River Valley.
In the poem titled “Where Moss Grows,” quoted material refers to Wikipedia entries on “Moss” and plants of various similitude.
“Autumn Poem,” appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Spring 2006.
“I Used to Know How to Make a Flower” appeared in Better: Better: Literature and Culture, Issue 6, 2015.
"I Used to Know How to Make a Flower” is also featured in an interactive digital game, designed and created by Laura Lancu.
Thank you to the University of Wisconsin’s Creative Writing Program at Madison and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Thank you to teachers, faculty, and peers, especially: James Galvin, Dean Young, Cole Swensen, Bob Hass, Tessa Rumsey, and Emily Levine; Thank you Amaud Johnson, Josh Bell, Nate Jones, Forrest Musselmen; Thank you Jordan Stempleman, Jackson Willis, Haley (Thompson) Johannesen, Blueberry Morningsnow, Mande Zecca, Donald Dunbar, and Todd Robinson.