This is Not a Drill
When the shaking begins in your feet,
when the desks and windows begin to shake,
you will know it is coming.
The aftershocks are more dangerous than the initial quake.
Get under your desk, curl up as tightly as you can,
wrap your hands behind your head to protect it.
If there is not a desk, hide your body in the safety of a doorway,
if you can, get outside, get away from anything that could crush you.
In school they did drills
twice a month, taught us to recognize the signs
of a coming earthquake and prepare.
You will feel the shaking in your feet,
but no one taught me what to do
when it begins like a well trained bullet,
right between my eyes.
When there is nothing to curl my body under,
when wrapping my hands around my head
will feel like locking a wolf inside of my bedroom,
feeding it on only my blood,
and expecting safe passage to sleep.
When everything is shaking like I am a rabbit in Rottweiler jaws,
and nowhere seems safe from the gut stomp
of the sky curving in on me.
There is no training course for this,
and it is never a drill.
There is only collapse,
Two fractured knuckles and the jagged scars
crisscrossing my upper thigh,
one steel frying pan left practically unusable
from the fist sized dent we couldn't work out.
San Francisco, 1906.
Waking up drunk in a field,
socks, shoes, and my favorite shirt never recovered,
calling off work for the first time
because my shift started in two hours
and I still couldn't stand.
Loma Prieta, 1989.
Tonight I had to hide the knives again,
and I am staring down the bottle of wine like a dog dare,
like the safety of a doorway blinking green with the word exit,
like the barrel of my father's favorite gun.
But I do not drink,
I sit here on the balcony, chain smoking,
waiting for the sky to crush me,
or the shaking to cease.
Remembering the aftershocks
are more dangerous than the initial quake.
The Way You Sleep
We kissed like glasses clinking against teeth,
lips bitten raw and bloody,
made love like the back side of a palm,
arms wrapped around each other
like a tourniquet, blankets crumpled on the floor
still smoking, mattress skinned down to it's creaky springs.
Those nights when we couldn't sleep,
we danced naked in your bedroom,
like we didn't have anywhere to go in the morning,
laughed like 5AM was the punchline
to a joke we called midnight.
Like we didn't have rent to pay,
like we weren't living on borrowed wine.
In the morning we laughed
about how teeth and lips left our skin the same color,
how sometimes late nights bruise
worse than fist fights,
picked pillows off the floor and you smiled
as you told me,
"I am violent even in the way I sleep."
The House, Exhaling
Red light pulses through the fog, car windows sweating
bloody in the early morning light.
Their voices chatter like east flying birds
as they huddle against the gray bay wind.
From across the street, the house stares with dead eyes,
words creeping like a scattered emergency bulletin, eaten by radio static,
through its open doors.
a body white sheets
We would have helped,
if we had known.
And the house exhales,
scraps of newspaper fluttering through the doors
and windows like hundreds of wings.
Four bodies wrapped in blue
carry one body wrapped in white,
skin all twisted up
like dried paper, foxed with age,
and her body is loaded into the back of the ambulance
and somewhere that night
a paramedic will cry, for one more body he couldn't revive,
and tonight, through open windows, the house will breathe
in after years of only exhaling,
till the wood of its lungs will feel like it could burst.
And it would weep if only it could,
tears dripping down its dusty windows, candles pulsing on its steps
in the yellow rhythm of prayers spoken too late.
God in the Silence
I worship the holiness in the simplest of things.
Like the whisper of broken old
hurricanes’ frail bodies through the trees,
or the scent of rain
burying dust in the ground.
Like the relentless turbine heart of
the hummingbird, the hard pulse
of feet against the busy dirt,
and the first cries of a newborn child,
all asking ceaselessly—Why?
I see god in the bullet
that knows only its potential energy,
in the knife that has yet to taste blood,
in the pills that go unswallowed.
I hear god in the silence that answers them.
In the silence that follows all things.
Poem on the Operating Table
Remember what the surgeon told you,
“Do not feel guilty for dissecting this, it does not feel.”
Press your scalpel between stanzas five and six,
make a deep incision, and spread
this poem wide open.
Take detailed notes of its gaping.
Remove the ribcage,
this will not be a poem about your father.
While you are at it, remove the lungs.
Lungs are only a gateway drug
to poems about cigarettes
which you have already written.
Next remove the liver,
pulling out shards of the broken bottles you have embedded it with.
This metaphor was dead and rotting when you found it.
Push your fingers deeper into the chest,
feel for the erratic pulsing
of this poem’s line breaks.
Feel them in your fist, close it tight
constrict this poems blood until it starts to sing.
Now, continue removing organs,
anything familiar must go.
Leave only the things that you cannot identify,
the anatomy stuffed with surprise.
Gut this tiresome corpse
until all that remains is the stomach
filled with doves,
the un-tuned piano strings
of the broken wrist,
the aorta that is an anvil
or a night club filled with slutty blood.
Keep cutting away pieces until this poem
is plastic surgery for the poet’s tongue
These metaphors were getting too old,
they needed a facelift.
I promise you, keep cutting
do not question the blade
when this poem wakes up,
it will look as good
When I Tell You That I Miss You
Do not take this lightly,
missing you is the heaviest thing I have ever done.
Missing you is elephant guilt.
Missing you is like dying,
you can't call it that unless it is done with the whole body.
I miss you like a smoker misses a lung.
I miss you with all eight muscles of my tongue,
with every eyelash and all of the wishes they smuggle inside.
I miss you with the tip of my nose,
like a bird's perch for the pecks you give it,
and I miss you with my fingertips, each remembering
your skin, how it runs like a child through the valley of my prints.
I miss you calluses and scars.
I miss you like the last missed note in the 8th bar of 8 bar blues,
that is to say, like an amputation.
I miss you like my hands when they aren't in yours,
like my feet when they leave the ground,
and just for a moment I forget that they're there.
I miss you like my eyes miss the sun every time I blink,
like when I'm with you I never want to blink and blot out the sun.
I miss you like North America misses the sun in the North American night.
There are so many beautiful stars
in this black satin sky,
but none shine so bright.
And when my tiny slice of the earth is blanketed in the thick dark,
I miss you like a city moth misses the moon,
flitting from light to beloved light, each guiding me
on my migration home to you.
I miss you like the two sides of a cut miss being one,
like the shorelines of every continent miss their old dirt,
from before this planet tore them apart.
I miss you like these are the same thing,
like the Pacific Ocean is a knife that I can set aside.
I miss you like a metaphor misses the mark.
I miss you something cleverer than this.
I miss you in poetry and in plain English.
I miss you with every letter of the word goodbye
and the silence that follows it
awaiting the words
"I'll see you soon."