It shrapnels you where you stand, a hard
arrow centering the skull.
It multiplies with movement, a series of same
a coronation, a halo, a pain
writhing the dark and the heat–and at daybreak,
while the damaged hide, it explodes
in endless incarnation.
(artwork by Janet Snell)
A Small Perturbation in the Stands
Shock rocked the stadium
the day the pitcher struck out the seagull.
Someone flipped a fair coin into thin air.
Its glint bribed the sky with false promises.
When the bird dropped from a flock overhead
wings fanned the coin ambiguously.
Heads or tails? No one could have predicted
such perfect syzygy of bird ball and bat!
The pitcher’s true arm waylaid tried instincts
with a powerhouse thwack . A flutter of feathers
sprayed the uppermost sky as if a pillow had been shot.
Mathematicians & gambling men know: the rarer the ....event
the larger the deviation.
From the norm? From what’s true? The long hard jock
begs the question from the back of his stretch limousine.
Sometimes the sky holds up an unlikely blue moon.
Sometimes coincidence slides into home plate
of the miraculous.
A parable unreels in air made luminous
with silver nitrate and dust. Glint struck
off a propeller tells a story begun
far from here.
Contrails corkscrew toward animals
cringing in their furs like dowagers
in a bad neighborhood. Two old pilots
play chess in the park, hearing aids off,
cataract eyes unable to track disturbances
in the air of newsreel memories.
In their wars, charged images flicked past
too fast to register. Information received
at 15 spins/second condenses thought
to pudding, ricochets off the exits
and perpetual threat of fire.
Under a corrugated sky, wounds still bloom;
where there is a pounding in the temple,
fistfuls of summer poppies push through
the scarred gray crust of winter.
Message from Home
All that August the house seesawed
between heat and wet. Bedraggled
relations in souvenir shirts wondered
if they’d brought enough clean underwear.
We exchanged gifts
earmarked for the junk drawer.
The front door swelled shut
and I cased the window like a thief.
They split into cliques, filling blackout hours
with clannish grievance.
I wondered why until my head ached.
When mornings cooled and we recognized
the coffee steam for what it was, we divided
snapshots, reminiscing already, energized
by the idea of parting.
In the wake of kissed air and reconfigured goodbye,
I stood at the door waving, long past the hour
that would have them turning back, frantic
with apology; and rushing into the house,
convinced they had left something precious there,
something they would recognize if they ever saw it
She shivers awake
to find him
holding her glass fingers.
"I’m still here," she whispers.
Her surprise cracks
over words too small for him
to pick up. "Where else would I be?"
as if he hadn’t run for miles
with her pulse in his ears. As if
she hadn’t already said goodbye.
The tech’s wand slides
down a jezebel breast.
A spiked fist shivers the screen
its cells vying for immortality.
As if danger can only be known
by its face
not shape not shadow.
The room goes cold
with underwater voices:
"We won’t know"
until the biopsy
the labs come back
we get in there.
much worse will come--
the mass unzipped and appraised
the scar’s mad map
burning skin inward. And later
when you unbutton your blouse
for yet another white-coated crowd
like the nude at Manet’s picnic
no longer listening
to talk of cure and recurrence
risk and benefit
prediction and the probability
that all this is necessary
because we just never know.
Another Name for Fire
Mourners fill the church where a boy's broken
mother lights a candle. Its glow ignites,
halting as first steps, radiant as a halo.
The flame stammers above the mother's hands
as she cups heat that will never warm her
again. When sparks fly, they throw shadows
against the walls. They gutter, and the shapes
slump to the floor. The mother tries to call back
the light, to pinch it into being. It's exactly
the wrong thing to do, and the church goes dark,
erasing the ghosts of young men who once
sprawled in the pews, their startled faces lit
in the flicker that just moments before
they hoped they'd never have to see again.
She enters a room
as if it’s an undiscovered island.
"Where is my other house? I want to go home."
For her losses, I grieve. I cannot bear to
watch her wander, lost in her small places.
I remember how
she loved the panoramic--
the prairie she was born to,
the cathedral ceilings in the living
room, Mosquito Lake cradling our sailboat.
Space made her feel safe. Now
when she reaches for it,
she tells me she doesn’t know how to leave;
even as she steps her feet
into my brother’s big shoes
and slides them forward as a child might
each one a boat
she’d like to glide away in.
Leaning on cut-out sky, the warped window
twists like an arthritic hip. Better off untouched,
we decide, and leave it embedded in decades of dirt.
That house had good bones; made it hard to move.
We imagined French doors thrown open on guests
lined up to the horizon, shimmering in fancy dress
at the seam of earth and sky.
Such dreaming exhausted us. To steady our nerves,
we plucked at the piano’s guts, summoned singsongs
already gone sharp or flat. Silence curdled the light
slapped against sun-bleached walls.
We’d never have chosen that color if we’d known
how it would fade, or that we’d have to live with it
I stand guard over your fitful sleep. Heat rises, mixes
with your sweat while I watch your fever rage.
It’s almost midnight. Planets blink, offer neither clue
nor compassion. The hour’s breaking shivers with sound,
draws me to the window below the shingled wings
of the sloping roof.
A bird tunes its throat, swells a single pitch
from the quavering source. Shapes from a far branch
answer, the motif embellished as if caught in a lie.
Notes loosed into an imitation of flight remind me of all
that must not happen in the dark: a soul slipping away,
all vigilance forsaken.
I turn back to you, pulse quick with dotted rhythms
and count out the time left to us
under your vein-mapped skin.
Light-fingered at first
by the time they are
everywhere they have
to loot the body
and douse what’s left
At night I wake
to ransack sounds
I beg them to stop …
I can’t lose any more
but my voice is already among
the lost things.
The dream a dive
to the bow
of a sinking ship.
Fearless deft diver
scalpel in his teeth
gleaming under white sails.
Fearless deft scalpel
freeing the prow’s carved woman
from a ship already sunk.
A man rounds the corner, zigzag
shadow reaching for the woman
who steps out of it.
He’s a late-comer, can’t catch up
to the lady strolling through dusk
that blazed gold only this morning.
He’d pulled the quilt over his head,
begged the clock for ten more minutes
but she’d already pitched forward
into events no one can plan for.
Along straggling streets that will never
connect them, the woman moves on.
Behind her, the man elbows through
the crush, searching all the places
where a door is left ajar.
A wedge of light spills onto steps
falling from the house into the hooded evening.
He’d have followed her the way she wanted,
but night curves without warning, the stars
do not touch, the road stretches down to the sea.
The nurse came in, thinking
I was asleep, and started to pray.
I wanted to throttle her words,
rob them of their power, but it was late
and I was weak from opening and closing
on a steel slab all day.
When I heard that blessing again--
its cadence a flatline static, its breath
the false thunder of rattled tin--
someone was reading it aloud like a poem.
Faith sometimes comes across that way--
sliding in beside you with a blue mask on
wild with sound and sense, and you have to
let it have its say.