Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stanhope Ring

There you are, shrunken down to a squint
But no less powerful for that
Every time I press my eye to the hole
your image bursts into my brain
and rattles my nerves,
just as warm and alive
as before you were reduced
to the silvery tones of a photograph
smaller than my pinky nail,
tinier than the cap of my molar.
When I pull myself away
you disappear again,
sucked into that pit, trapped inside
your tiny glass-doored cell.
So tiny but like a flame still able
 to bring me to a boil.
A pinch of gunpowder,
a drop of mercury. A couple of
colliding molecules. The kettle steams,
the blood boils. In this digital age,
the fact that you are printed on actual paper
and kept in an actual silver ring
(or pen, or novelty souvenir)
that fact that you are solid
if tiny, if thin
makes me shiver. I wish I could
shrink down and join you in there.
I cannot wait to take another peep.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pillbox Prayers

With her good arm, she wrote a short note
thanking me for standing before them 
and telling the story I’d told no one else before, 
no friend, none of my children, neither of the men
I’d been wed to: the story of the voice
I heard so long ago 
as I knelt by the bed of my youngest boy 
lying there so feverish and still
A voice that told me I was doing it all wrong, 
admonishing me to put things in His hands. 
That I should not pray for my child to get well, 
but that I should ask rather for the strength to bear 
whatever decision He, in all His infinite wisdom, 
should deign to make.

A few years later came Dallas, the motorcade,
the top of the skull, the bits of brain
splattering that iconic pink suit
and like so many other mothers, I mailed
my handwritten condolences
...we still did things like that in those days.
My own child had long since recovered. 
I no longer pleaded to Him
for health, for favors. Prayed on my feet
rather than my knees, and with my eyes 
wide open. In my note I encouraged the young widow 
to do the same. I received in return 
a small card of thanks, emblazoned with
Jackie's name- printed, not signed.

Many years later I stood before 
the congregation I’d recently joined, 
and with my own voice described 
what that other voice had said to me
a half century earlier. When I was done,
I laid down my notes and for the first time
looked around the room. The pews were filled
with wet, sniffling faces. Later that week 
the notes began to arrive.
The woman with the withered arm 
came up to me the following Sunday 
and hugged me. Hugged me!

Fifty years later and over the internet
they're streaming those original broadcasts
in real time, so we can re-live them, I guess,
so we don't forget. Jackie’s bloodied suit 
and pillbox hat are in a vault
with the stipulation that they not be seen
until ninety years from now, when everyone
who needs to see them most will be long gone. 
There are things that should be shared, 
stories that belong to us all. It’s not in the asking for
but in the telling of 
that we are comforted, maybe if we're fortunate
even healed.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Audubon Pilot

There is a string of finches around your neck,
their yellow feathers soft against your throat
as you arrive to see your love off at the terminal.
He sets his case full of eggs down
and embraces you before he waddles through the gate.
In one corner of the waiting area, a force fed swan
vomits rancid mash; in another stands a crow
with a candle in its beak, throat clogged with on wax.
Through your binoculars, you watch as
I spread my webbed fingers, paddle through the muck
to reach the runway at the edge of the swamp.
You take notes: subject’s cloaca splattered
and clogged and spitting wet crumbs,
dripping slop. Your eyelids beat
like wings, trying to capture
the movement of every crystal bead
that sprays out behind the grebe
as it hits the drink.
All around, plump feathered bodies soar
like leafy cannonballs, like rolled up lizards
hurled by catapult across the marshlands of the Mesozoic.
The sun goes black, blotted by a descending raptor.
I try to take off but my unwieldy claws are too heavy
to lift, encased in boots of plaster and gravel.
I am frozen in place by that yellow knife eye
That accepts no excuse, a single slit
too narrow to escape from. You wet your brush
between your lips, prepare to paint
a muddy watercolor of the carnage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Snakes of Manitoba

When the pile of broken glass is swept away there appears a dire wolf with her mouth propped open with a popsicle stick. The wolf’s face is actually a mask that splits in two to reveal a mink’s face beneath it. In the cold dawn you can see that the mink face is attached to the end of a stole bursting with moth eggs. In the glass I watch a beautiful woman leave the store wearing a porcupine coat. That night I dream of amber lidless eyes, of sides of venison curing in tanning beds. A month later I see her again, stepping out of a taxicab in downtown Winnipeg wearing a coat made of stitched-together rubber Halloween masks. I try to follow her through the crowd but keep slipping on the icy sidewalk. I see her again at a bar in a Chinese restaurant where she's sitting alone, poking at the olives in her glass. Her neck is studded with diamonds and the pelt of a giant centipede curls around her milky shoulders. The rest is a blur and the next thing I know I’m taking a break from vomiting long enough to watch a tiny translucent worm inching its way through the forest of my arm hair. In the haze it turns into a snake wearing a fur coat weaving its way between the crashing icicles. I stagger back out to the bar and order another shot. In the spotlight behind me, animatronic prospectors jerkily pan for gold to tinny recorded piano tinkling. I look down at my drink and see the reflection of her dark, wet eyes. The teeth of flytraps brush my eyelids in a butterfly kiss. The room stinks of lo mein and wet wolf fur. I shake my head and blink and see a stranger’s face beside me lit by the icy blue of a glowing phone. I jump off my stool. Slap of the dog door, cat door, snake door. She’s dropped through a knothole in the floor, leaving a greasy mongoose cape heaped behind. I flick my tongue at the ice in my glass and hiss.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Four Saws (Moving Day)

     Beaming at me with teeth as yellow as his whiskers, he cries "Look what I found!" His shopping cart is stuffed to the brim with trash and on top sit four handsaws completely covered in rust. Two have intricately cast metal handles. The handles of the other two are made of wood, the layers of which are peeling away like pages of a book. "Nice," I say from where I sit on the porch. He picks up one of the saws and raps on it with his knuckles; it makes a wobbly ping. "Maybe I'll be a musician," he says. "Can you believe somebody just throwed them out. I can get cash for these from that place on Burnside. They're always lookin' for stuff like this." I remember walking a few blocks away from my apartment and seeing four saws sitting in the grass beside the curb. I took them back and hung them in my living room, wiping the rust from my hands. "I'm gonna cut me down some telephone poles!" the old man cackles, banging on the saw one more time before placing it carefully back on the pile and pushing his cart down the middle of the street. I can still hear that blade ring, singing with its teeth against the board, ready to make a cut that cannot be undone. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Whey Moon Over Kurdistan

Your password written
in aerosol cheese
across the windshield
of a dusty Humvee 
idling in the parking lot 
of a cheap motel
on the outskirts of Houston

The word “TERROR”
spelled out in cheese curls
on the carpeted floor
of an room facing the airport

Top-secret coded messages
stored on microchips
camouflaged as Cheese Nips
in a box on the bedside table

The bathtub filled
with Nacho flavor Doritos
one for every child killed in Baghdad
since the start of the Iraq War

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mama’s a Crawdad (Noodle Creek Moan)

Where’s Mama Noodle wailed
As she sloshed and stomped
knee-deep, splashing and hollering
up and down the crick in the woods
behind the house
stirring up thunderheads of silt.
Mama powdered the windshield when
Noodle lifted the lid off the box
to peep inside. But surely that couldn’t
be her, that fistful of grit, that
tiny pile of kitty litter..
No, Mama’s a crawfish
waving its solitary claw
before scooting backwards to hide
beneath a rock.
Mama’s a wild turkey
standing on the bank, staring
just like on the label on the bottle
beside the couch in the garage.
Mama’s a baby copperhead
sliding through the dry leaves
without a single crackle.
Mama’s a water strider
drifting and darting, drifting and darting
across the calm, glassy pools.
Mama’s a sackful of minnows
scattered like gravel, transparent
polliwogs, a peppery dusting
of gnats and glittering midges.
Mama’s a buzzard perched
on the roof of the house
with its ragged cloak spread wide,
sitting there motionless
for hours.
Mama’s that painted turtle
snaking its neck as it basks on a stone,
warming its shell in the sole patch of sunlight
that has burnt a path to earth
between the branches.
Where’s Mama, whispered Noodle,
and the breeze whispered back
its single word
rhyming with the trickle of the water.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Life is Constant Struggle

     Someone opened the washroom window a crack and now it’s stuck. Someone tossed an empty toilet paper tube toward the bin but missed, and couldn’t be bothered to stoop to pick it up. Maybe they meant to but something distracted them and they forgot. Or they old or disabled and could not. Someone left the faucet running in the sink, perhaps on purpose to keep the pipes from cracking if the temperature dropped. Someone breathed on the mirror and wrote something with their finger but the fog has long since lifted, spiriting the message away with it. Someone did not hold the toilet handle long enough and the feeble suction left a pale yellow pool gurgling in the basin, along with a single lonely floater. Someone swept the tile floor with the plastic broom but abandoned a thread of dust that would not mount the edge of the pan no matter how hard they tried to convince it to make that final hurdle, to mount that final step.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Service Industry Night

Every Sunday at The Nest, all you have to do
is flash your bartending license to receive
fifteen percent off your drink order for
the entire evening. They’re lined up along the bar
talking about Little House on the Prairie, arguing about
whether Michael Landon was gay, their voices
booming and overlapping, interrupting 
on another, the tiny room echoing 
with raucous laughter and I’m glad they’re all 
having a good time though I envy
their camaraderie, am secretly jealous of 
their bland handsomeness, their vacuous attractiveness.
It reminds me of my own isolation, sitting here
alone in the corner, unable to pretend 
I have anything to say to anyone. Every once 
in a while one girl’s laugh trills 
higher and shriller than the rest,
the cry of an exotic bird whose only defense
is to irritate her enemies to death. I’m starting to grow sick 
of my own sour company, would prefer to insinuate myself 
into the midst of the cud-spewing herd
to escape for awhile my own misery loops,
to be distracted by banal banter about 
the difference between pool and billiards, about 
what the best Bruce Willis movie is, about whether
Jeffrey Dahmer was from Detroit or Chicago.
To let the talk drown out my own inner cacophony. 
But I don't belong in this bar, much less
this planet. At least not on Sunday nights.
I don't even work in the service industry.