Monday, December 31, 2012

Pelican



It's midday on a Saturday in December, 
and the coastline is nearly deserted
aside from a solitary jogger and his terrier
who noses my palm before hurriedly
padding off to catch up with his master.
A squadron of grounded gulls squats
like lumps of concrete on the rain-pocked sand.
Sea stacks rise from the surf on either side, 
stone sentinels sleepily guarding the tide.
Between them, scroll after hissing scroll
roars and curls and foams. 
Swell and crest and collapse. 
I walk toward the bulk of Haystack Rock, 
which looms like the mouth of a tunnel 
opening into the mist.
Squinting against the wind, I trudge past scorched logs
and tangled heaps of puckered kelp, 
past scoured wooden homes abandoned for the winter,
past windswept hemlocks bent over backwards,
permanently twisted away from the Pacific.
I stoop to pry a mussel from the sand,
its blue-black wings hinged by a thread of gristle,
and warm it in my fist within my pocket.
Cheeks scraped raw, forehead wet and stinging,
I stomp my numb feet and flap my arms
and finally surrender to the storm, stop and turn around 
before reaching the rock formations.
I head back, no longer battling the wind
but letting it push me firmly in the right direction
back toward the steps to the street
back to the warmth of the car.
Tomorrow I turn forty. Today, a single pelican
skims low across the water
to pass without a sound into the future.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Flamingo

Thrashing trees, flashbulb pop of transformers.
The roof rattles and knocks, shingles plucked
and flung to the beleaguered lawn. The occasional crack
as some huge object hits the ground. Tantrum of an angry god,
spirits moaning. The earth is shredded 
by the teeth of the hungry storm, then spat out
We are small creatures shivering in our burrows, 
huddling in our ragged nests.
Shuddering in a hollow log, spirit gnawed to a stump.
Trapped in a drafty space beneath a stone.
The waters rise to flush us from our dens. The lamps flicker.
The TVs blink off. Our phones are dead
but we are shivering and alive.
Water floods our cellars, limbs lash at our attics.
Come morning, it will have passed, and we'll stagger around
the remains of the neighborhood, looking for our
migrated lawn ornaments. The garden gnome found smashed
to colorful chunks in the middle of the driveway. Two blocks over,
the uprooted plastic flamingo discovered flattened
in the gutter. But until then, we wait out the storm,
trembling as the earth is pulled out from under us. 
We are alone. We are devoured.
We are so brutally loved.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When

(for Kirk Reeves)

The guy you'd see around town
playing trumpet on traffic islands
or in front of the second-run movie theater,
always decked out in a white tuxedo
with a Mickey Mouse mask perched on his scalp
has shot himself dead. No more magic tricks,
no more corny jokes, no more puppets
delivering execrable puns, no more
barely recognizable renditions of
When You Wish Upon a Star and When
the Saints Go Marching In.
No more sequined Santa outfit at Christmas.
A local legend, admired for his persistence
if not his talent, he was out there every day,
beaming through his torment until
he couldn't. Borderline homeless, busking
by the side of the road in any weather
but dreaming of the stage, a shot at television.
Fifty-six and constantly at work,
still waititng to collect the payoff. Until then,
the daily take of smiles would have to be enough.
And it was not.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cassavettes

booted a hole through the speaker. Hurled the hi-fi
down the staircase, where it bounced off the bannister.
Kicked the houseplants, clawed at the screen door,
headbutted the goldfish bowl.
The great wheel had clicked onto a blank space,
signifying the start of an epoch of nothingness.
He couldn't handle it, and took his rage out
on the furnished split-level.
He felt like he'd been tricked into believing
there was some order in all of this. After all,
books sit at right angles on the shelves.
Furniture stays firmly in place thanks to gravity.
But still.
So now he kicks with all his might.
The bulbs pop, the curtains are rent.
The carpet unravels before his eyes.
The plaster turns to powder. The soft beams splinter.
The pictures plunge from their nails,
the empty frames full of jagged teeth
egging him on, screaming his name.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Hotel Soaps

are all you left me.
Wrapped in thick, smooth paper
like miniature chocolate bars,
pocketed from beside the sinks
of countless Hiltons and Travelodges.
You claimed that you hadn't bought
a bar of soap in thirty years.
Even now, they swell a shoebox.
We joked about nestling them
inside your casket, enshrouding your corpse
in stolen washcloths. I don't know who
ended up with the washcloths. 
I wash away the walls
of this skinflint room
brick by melting brick.
You will not be truly dead
until the last sliver crumbles
into chips against my slippery flesh.
It won't be long. Life is short.
There's no sense skimping on the lather.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Tao of Franz Kline


Brushstrokes black as smokestacks, black as derricks,
black as scorched wicks. Black as the inside of a boot.
Smear of grease on a mechanic's cheek.
A black wing against a sky white as freshly poured concrete,
white as rolling papers. A train trestle clatters across
the oily river. Spokes of a wheel click and whir.
A turkey buzzard dives from a half-finished scaffold.
A ragged jackdaw darkens the bleached asphalt. 
All the colors and gradations 
of the world have dropped away, replaced by 
rogue sumi-e slashes, Zen koans gone haywire.
The days motionless yet fleeting.
We are shadows cast against the plaster.
We are flapping canvases stiff with tar.
We are lumps of coal blanketed by the snow.
Our skeletons charred black,
stark against a sky white as bone.