The March trees in the city park
look like tarnished candelabra.
I need to collapse for a season
into the village of poetry.
Last night you confessed
you adore someone else.
My heart burrows like a whiskered fish
in sticky clay.
Shadows climb my neck.
I turn to work—research
on climate change—and digress
into Wikipedia entries
on the Euphorbia Candelabra
of the Serengeti and Southern California.
The leaves exude a toxic milky latex.
Even breathing the fumes burns.
“Someday—” I once said
“—we’ll be dead,” you interjected
driving too fast, cursing.
You didn’t love her yet.
You were rehearsing.
It’s used to kill maggots
in the open wounds of cattle.
As I worked on my project
thinking that loneliness
is like being in jail
run through a chemical shower
machines banging all night, I was completely aware
of my privilege—the incarceration metaphor--
and not trudging hours for water
through barren scrub or sand
nor swept away in flooding.
Hurt only by love
cultivated in gardens.
It is sparsely spined.
The trees flesh out and green.
My grants get their funding.
I don’t salt the damp pillow. Old friend,
I’ll bring out and polish
my mother’s silver candelabra
fitted with beeswax candles,
honey-scented as your skin.
It changes sex with time.
It gets missed for many reasons.
The Prize Winner
I Dreamed I Married a Ghost
I dreamed I married a ghost
and she said, “Don’t.”
What kind of doctor is that?
Like a terrier dragging my skirt
as I try to walk through the wardrobe to Narnia.
My ghost was no lion.
More of a womanizing
scotch-drinking sharp guy.
But golden from tip to toe. That glow.
I wanted to—“Don’t,” she said.
I dreamed my car sank in the mud.
I started digging, found a box--
this must be bones--and it was,
white and lacy, neatly hung,
a manly skeleton. It did its stuff
rising up, leering and flapping,
then crawled inside my bed
humping itself under the covers.
A pair of girls came by
fifteen-year-olds in tight wool sweaters
so I made it stop with a good shout.
The bed went flat and the girls pouted.
“Don’t start,” I said, waking.
“It's about your father,” she began
and I tuned out, in a slouch,
thinking of fathers as material
to be worked, mere stuff
of nightmare, legend, nothing
real, not lunch or lessons
not Goodnight, Moon, not birthday wishes,
wisdom or old jokes.
He took himself out
like a severed limb or aborted goat
left on the path, ghastly smear
of organic matter that was once
the man who courted and won
my beautiful, reluctant mother.
The doctor wanted me free
of dream direction. In the light
of the unexpected, just me,
unwinged by the maladjusted couple.
She was not wrong
and I’m not all right.
Lately I have come to believe only
in matter and death, universe
of randomness, without meaning
for the primate brain, however
philosophical we grow, charmingly
synapse-rich, so congress
with the spirits holds no risk of karmic interference.
Welcome to my bedside, man-shade.
I like those one-color
eyes of yours that flicker
like an obsessive counting the tiny panes
of a bathroom window. Regale me
with your centuries of sport-fuck--
beggar maids and queens--
dispel my melancholia with your nonexistent prick.
I'd Rather be a Drunken Chinese Poet
Days like a crayon drawing
Square house, stick people, sun
a lump in the sky.
I go out late, snarl
at the lovers in the park
pinch off a bit
of that toxic passion you left me with,
I drop it on the path
in front of them.
They won’t notice
since they look only at each other.
His arm is slung around her shoulders--
he’s telling the world!
She says the same thing.
Time to go home.