Threading the palm, a web of little lines
Spells out the lost money, the heart, the head,
The wagging tongues, the sudden deaths, in signs
We would smooth out, like imprints on a bed,
In signs that can’t be helped, geese heading south,
In signs read anxiously, like breath that clouds
A mirror held to a barely open mouth,
Like telegrams, the gathering of crowds –
The plane’s X in the sky, spelling disaster;
Before the whistle and hit, a tracer flare;
Before rubble, a hairline crack in plaster
And a housefly’s panicked scribbling on the air.
Now, when he and I meet, after all these years,
I say to the bitch inside me, don’t start growling.
He isn’t a trespasser anymore,
just an old acquaintance tipping his hat. My voice says, “Nice to see you,”
As the bitch starts to bark hysterically.
He isn’t an enemy now,
Where are your manners, I say, as I say,
“How are the children? They must be growing up.”
At a kind word from him, a look like the old days,
The bitch changes her tone: she begins to whimper.
She wants to snuggle up to him, to cringe.
Down, girl! Keep your distance
Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain.
“Fine, I’m just fine,” I tell him. She slobbers and grovels.
After all, I am her mistress. She is basically loyal. It’s just that she remembers how she came running
Each evening, when she heard his step;
How she lay at his feet and looked up adoringly Though he was absorbed in his paper;
Or, bored with her devotion, ordered her to the kitchen
Until he was ready to play.
But the small careless kindnesses
When he’d had a good day, or a couple of drinks,
Come back to her now, seem more important
Than the casual cruelties, the ultimate dismissal.
“It’s nice to see you are doing so well,” I say.
He couldn’t have taken you with him; You were too demonstrative, too clumsy,
Not like the well-groomed pets of his new friends.
“Give my regards to your wife,” I say. You gag
As I drag you off by the scruff,
Saying, “Goodbye! Goodbye! Nice to have seen you again.”
As we fall into step I ask a penny for your thoughts.
‘Oh, nothing,’ you say, ‘well, nothing so easily bought.’
Sliding into the rhythm of your silence, I almost forget
how lonely I’d been until that autumn morning we met.
At bedtime up along my childhood’s stairway, tongues
of fire cast shadows. Too earnest, too highstrung.
My desire is endless: others ended when I’d only started.
Then, there was you: so whole-hog, so wholehearted.
Think of the thousands of nights and the shadows fought.
And the mornings of light. I try to read your thought.
In the strange openness of your face, I’m powerless.
Always this love. Always this infinity between us.
Why We Must Struggle
If we have not struggled
as hard as we can
at our strongest
how will we sense
the shape of our losses
or know what sustains
us longest or name
what change costs us
saying how strange
it is that one sector
of the self can step in
for another in trouble
how loss activates
a latent double how
we can feed
as upon nectar
A Puppy Called Puberty
It was like keeping a puppy in your underpants
A secret puppy you weren’t allowed to show to anyone
Not even your best friend or your worst enemy
You wanted to pat him stroke him cuddle him
All the time but you weren’t supposed to touch him
He only slept for five minutes at a time
Then he’d suddenly perk up his head
In the middle of school medical inspection
And always on bus rides
So you had to climb down from the upper deck
All bent double to smuggle the puppy off the bus
Without the buxom conductress spotting
Your wicked and ticketless stowaway.
Jumping up, wet-nosed, eagerly wagging –
He only stopped being a nuisance
When you were alone together
Pretending to be doing your homework
But really gazing at each other
Through hot and hazy daydreams
Of those beautiful schoolgirls on the bus
With kittens bouncing in their sweaters.
When they come for you no bigger than a piece of fruit,
weighing no more and no less than a water biscuit,
this will be my excuse:
that I hoped you were just testing yourself
as I might subtly and irresistibly
poke at a sensitive tooth. That is, not morbidly,
but out of a curiosity
to locate the exact, minute, sensory transition — between
merely knowing the definition
of pain, and knowing the meaning.
The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.
The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.
A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily
moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.
Each minute the last minute.
Let it be anywhere
on any night you wish,
in your room that is empty and dark
or down the street
or at those dim frontiers
you barely see, barely dream of.
You will not feel desire,
nothing will warn you,
no sudden wind, no stillness of air.
She will appear,
looking like someone you knew:
the friend who wasted her life,
the girl who sat under the palm tree.
Her bracelets will glitter,
becoming the lights
of a village you turned from years ago.
Change of Season
Am I to be cursed forever with becoming
somebody else on the way to myself?
Walking backward I fall
into summers behind me
salt with wanting
lovers or friends a job wider shoes
a cool drink
freshness something to bite into
a place to hide out of the rain
out of the shifting melange of seasons
where the cruel boys I chased
and their skinny dodgeball sisters
flamed and died in becoming
the brown autumn
left in search of who tore the streamers down
at graduation christmas my wedding day
and as winter wore out the babies came
angry effort and reward
in their appointed seasons
my babies tore out of me
I slept and woke to the thought
that promise had come again
this time more sure than the dream of being
sweet sixteen and somebody else
walking five miles through the august city
with a free dog
now we could be the allamerican family
we had just gotten a telephone
and the next day my sister cut his leash on Broadway
that dog of my childhood bays at the new moon
as I reach into time up to my elbows
extracting the taste and sharp smell
of my first lover’s neck
rough as the skin of a brown pear ripening
I was so terribly sure I would come forever to april
with my first love who died on a sunday morning
poisoned and wondering
would summer ever come.
As I face an ocean of seasons they start
to separate into distinct and particular faces
listening to the cover beginning to crack open
and whether or not the fruit is worth waiting
thistles and arrows and apples are blooming
the individual beautiful faces are smiling and moving
even the pavement begins to flow into new concretions
the eighth day is coming
I have paid dearly in time for love I hoarded
summer goes into my words
and comes out reason.