Thursday, February 28, 2013

Condiment Clouds

We scrape the translucent crust
of crystallized salt from the windshield,
growing thirsty with the effort.
The sky grows dark, the thunderheads
threatening to sprinkle the earth
with freshly ground pepper.
We ready our handkerchiefs. 

It's been a typically unpredictable April,
the days punctuated with intermittent showers
of ketchup and mustard, at times turning
to great green splotches of relish.

The weekend brought mayonnaise monsoons
that gave way to creamy tartarstorms,
despite the predictions of the TV weatherman,
who Wednesday night had adjusted his tocque
and pointed to the five-day forecast,
every day of which read "spicy." 

But whether the days are mild or pecante, 
we don our galoshes and splash
through the puddles of hot sauce,
past gutters clogged with salsa,
our umbrellas heavy with chutney.
We long for the summer,
when we will no longer have to wipe
the stinging globs of wasabi from our eyes
and can just enjoy the bland, 
flavorless sunshine.

Friday, February 22, 2013


You, my love, are a darling little pullet
and I am the china egg you squat upon.
I am the ear that hears your hungry clucks,
the hand that carelessly scatters feed,
the eye that watches you scrabble in the dirt.
I am the wire cage so narrow 
you have no room to pirouette, 
I am the fox that lurks in the shadows,
licking his lips beneath the coop.
I am the ax you interrupt on its way
to rendezvous with the stump,
yet when you are gone, your carcass plucked 
and boiled into soup, I am the one 
who ends up running headless around the yard.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Vegan Reindeer Sausage

Is the name of his new opera
God knows what the hell it’s about
He cribbed the title from a Portland food cart
We walked past on our way back From lunch
At Mother’s when he was here in town 
To receive his award at some conference
Celebrating Opera education
Or some such nonsense

He ordered the huevos rancheros
And rambled on about 
His sister’s new book on Polish poetry
His obsession with burritos
His sickly cat who at the age of seventeen 
Caught its first mouse, and then another
And another
And now the damn thing won’t stop catching mice
Presenting them proudly as gifts 
The way cats tend to do
We hadn’t seen each other since high school
Over two decades ago, though surely
That can’t be right
We can’t possibly be
That fucking old
I laugh when I picture him 
A white East Coast Jew teaching music theory 
At a black Catholic girls’ high school in New Orleans.
It makes about as much sense to me
As Vegan Reindeer Sausage

for Dan Shore

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Street

Philip Guston, The Street, 1977 -Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two warriors, two severed heads scuffle 
in the street. One is sheathed
in a battered helmet, topped with bottles,
from its scalp sprout arms like gorgon dreadlocks,
each ending in a fist
that clutches a shield
fashioned from a garbage can lid.
Its adversary is naked and unarmed,
with a furrowed brow of knotted knees
and hairy legs, its chin and jaw patched
with a cobbled mass of shoe heels.
Between them, heedless of the tumult,
two spiders haul themselves up
from the sticky tar, only to be clubbed
-accidentally, perhaps- by a shield
slicing through the crowded pink sky.
Collateral damage, innocents caught
In the crossfire.
I’ve been standing on the sidelines,
witnessing this fray for decades,
trying to untangle 
the violent blur of knotted body parts,
and I still haven't grown weary of it,
still haven’t figured out what it’s
all about. Its mystery feels
timelessly indecipherable,
like a Della Francesca skirmish
fed through the meat grinder
of the 20th Century.
There’s nowhere I’d rather sit, though,
on this bench, this front row seat
to the painted carnage. This is my bloody home, 
this city, this gallery, this battlefield, this street.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Like a Weaned Child

When the test results came back, 
revealing that the lumpectomy 
had proven inadequate, that the breast 
still provided reluctant sanctuary 
for a carcinoma that malingered like 
an intoxicated wedding crasher, 
then it was decided that the best course of action
was to just remove the whole damn thing. 
And if youre already jettisoning one, 
then why not lop off its identical twin
while youre at it? After all, nature is a sucker 
for bilateral symmetry. Thus the doctor uttered 
that dreaded phrase, “double mastectomy.” 
I find it hard to even type those words 
without shuddering. The operations
scheduled for next month. My mother assures me 
that she isnt too concerned. “It’s not 
the end of the world,” she keeps saying,
though for those double lumps shes carrying
it certainly will be. But after all, their years 
of usefulness are long since passed,  
their purpose served. There will be 
no more infants for them to nourish,
no future potential mates for them to lure. 

And so, I mourn my mother’s breasts, 
though it might be better to do so in private
instead of sharing my elegy, 
and risk crossing the line of good taste, 
that length of Oedipal crime scene ribbon
as I imagine her as a young woman
pawed by eager paramours in the back seats 
of bloated sixties gas guzzlers. One of those boors 
would end up becoming my father, 
carelessness or Catholicism causing the young couple 
to dispense with the condom. 
I picture myself as an infant 
suckling at those suddenly nonexistent 
nipples. I know, this whole thing is icky
for a son to fixate on. These are subjects
were not meant to look at directly.
The suns glare, the Gorgons stony stare. 
And yet, it seems worse to avoid the fact
that the absence of those breasts
threatens to scoop twin fistfuls of 
sympathetic flesh from my own chest. 

The last person to touch them
will be the surgeon, or his assistant, 
cradling them, clinically caressing them 
with rubber fingertips once the knife has enacted 
that final separation. Those matching parasites,
weaned of their dependence on her body,
will then be placed on a tray, or in a bin 
to be tested, disposed of, sent into 
the amputation afterlife, to pass through 
the pearly gates into Mammary Valhalla.
How long will the operation take? 
How long will you be absent, once the anesthetic 
has sung its lullaby? How long before you wake 
up lighter, missing those twin masses of intimate tissue? 

Its merely routine, part of the ordinary horrors 
we all have to live with, but oh God, Mom, 
I wish you didn’t have to go through this.
I know it could be worse, like you keep insisting. 
These days, its a common enough procedure.
Most women recover. But still.
The way a parent would endure anything
to protect her children from suffering, 
thats how I feel now, and there’s nothing 
I can do but try to laugh when you goof about 
this being a fast way to lose some pounds,
or when you point out the discomfort 
you’ll be spared -not to mention the cash you’ll save- 
now that you don’t have to buy bras.
Of course, there’s always the option
of implants. You say you haven’t decided 
one way or the other yet, but 
I can be reasonably sure my stepfather 
is urging you to choose a perky new pair 
of artificial hooters.

I know; what a vulgar thing to say in regard
to the woman who ushered me into this world. 
I apologize. Its just easier to be crass 
and clown around than to accept the fact 
that my warm-blooded mother, 
that compassionate mammal who made 
my existence possible, wont always be there 
to provide maternal comfort. 
I dread the day those fountains of life 
become phantoms, gone but still perhaps providing 
spectral sustenance from beyond;
even more, I dread the day the rest of her body
decides to join them, when I will finally be forced
to cut that umbilical cord once and for all,
to stop drinking that milk, to become an adult
...self-sufficient, motherless, and mortal.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


What is like a wax worm boring
through a wax apple's core,
like wooden lice that crawl
through a decoy's varnished plumage,
like a plastic parasite that squirms
through the intestines of a mannequin,
like a painted termite gnawing
through the timbers of a building
built of pigment on a canvas,
like a silicone cancer spreading
through a starlet's artificial breasts,
like a computer virus racing through 
the digital veins of a video game avatar,
like straw rats hollowing out a home
in a scarecrow's chest,
like the verbal vermin burrowing through
this poem?

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Empty Quarter

My heel broke through and I tumbled
into a half-hidden cave in the middle 

of the high desert scrubland

I breathed dust and darkness, unable to move
 I am still there now, unsure of how 
you can even be reading these words,
or how I managed to write them.
Battered and broken, it seems unlikely
that I will ever haul myself out. Even in these days 
of technological wonders, people still die this way.
They are not always lucky enough to be
High above and far away, a lizard lifts its scaly head toward the sun.
A coyote lopes across a field
where pronghorns munch the sagebrush.
In a sidewalk cafe, a girl raises a glass to her lips,

leaving a greasy red smear on the crystal rim.

And so I lie here, 
thinking of you as I wait, 
eyes open but seeing nothing 
breathing dust and darkness
Seeing everything