Poems from 2004

Looking back at the past several years, it pains me that I seem to go through uneven curves in writing: sometimes a slew of poems, others just a few. But hoping as always that putting them here will encourage others to come join them. Or, as the present of writing moves irresistibly into the past, it becomes a kind of diary with the illusion of former immediacy.

As the light came and it got colder
I found myself on the hard ground:
I sensed I would go cold, then limp, then stiff,
reaching the soft ground on the other side
only once I was not alive.
But that earth is our atmosphere,
I know it, I plough it -- we are all I,
a single rung above the soil.
I lay there, I was at peace.

Suddenly something sharp and awkward
lifted, dropped, and lifted me; I rested
for a moment on a different ground,
taut and warm. Then another movement
like a great wind seized me, and I landed
back on the long grass, I slid to the ground,
I entered our world again, my brethren,
my sisters, my fellow selves! Hear me:
what a miracle occurred to me today.

It could have been to you:
a perfect arc of intention, act
that tempts form tatted from vain verbiage,
work for idle hands. After all, I never
know who I may be today, or whence
the urge for gesturing may strike, at whom
its vector might emerge. I'd even try to find
a word to seed and center it, if I thought
these minds might merge for an instant.

Any cause, trivial or profound,
and the most superficial maybe fairest.

But once the lance is launched,
raveling its sections in a suggestion
of architecture, a perfecting curve,
its shape so draws my eyes, so pleases
the disinterested artist (full of self,
yes, but also of so much else!)
that it shall live its own small life
wherever it originated, strive
in settled tension to call any eye
towards that pot of gold, Direction.

It snaps into shape once the hand
that fed it comes to rest, lift and release.

Perhaps they mesh as aptly as two viruses,
each clicking insensibly into place,
scouring one another's vegetable spines.

At what point does likeness breed identity
and I wonder, or I don't even wonder
whether I've reached for yours or mine,
or who finished that sentence.

At what point do you need me no longer,
given that you have yourself.

A curse is half a blessing,
a pitch I am too weak to catch.
The words come to inhabit me
and buzz in their cage while I arrange
them with ever-increasing perfection.
They make me carry them through
again and again, polishing their order
and then afraid I'll lose it.

If only I didn't care and fell asleep!
Or, if only I came with the other half
of this obsession, the compulsion
to create, to write the words
safely when midnight or morning
arrives, to type and mail them out
with self-addressed stamped envelopes
enclosed, my name in the lower
right hand, or to read them drunk
on the corners of windy streets.

All winter I've been bitching
about the cold, the way it weighs me down
and forward, turns my back
into sore armor, green pulp of exhaustion
wedged at my skull's base; freezes feelings
into numb knots, abeyance of pain.
All winter I've been intoning: I want spring!

But now I see its approach, now that it teases
us with a day of sun and subtlest fumes,
I feel fear and distrust, I look askance at its
blue sky and first yellow petals. I've grown
used to the heavy tights and coats, inured
to rising before the sun: and now
the eggs of loveliness threaten me,
obligate me to leaps and response
that I may have unlearned or forgotten.

I've learned the names by singing them --
the numbers of a space that spoke
a subtle barred emotion, love-loss-triumph.

I connect a theory to the sound,
a physics to which flutters or pulses --
which calls clarion, which pricks the skin.

What is named major and minor,
what is deemed perfect. You can say
familiar distance, you can seek

a note, know what it does to your body.
No matter what the pitch, it is my drone,
and I grow into its playful chanter.

There is a page you can consult
from any city in the world,
to find the signs awaiting you

like eggs in nests, like tiny
subdividing histories or grains
of sand (time smaller than a tick:

seeds of pulse we pick
from the ash of entropy) -- like
the molecules of sleep.

You know the magic word:
here is a constellation
embedded in a box of text

to shine upon you, quick
and propitious. Not a guide
so much as an extra light,

a flower of knotted strands
or scrabble of miniscule
spidery characters, movable glow

whose initials never change,
whose winding chambers always
bud in your beloved name.

I love the word, Friend: you can't fall
from either end of it, and perhaps it need
have no end, capacious as an old sofa
in a living room at someone's parents' house
with dinner nearly ready. Elastic as a band:
we could depart into months or years
of barely speaking, and still meet again
close and glad as ever, still correspond.

But what, my dear of so many years, if I try
a new name on you, one with syllables
more liquid, less ambiguous,
and one that might go slip
into something more comfortable --

do I dare, if it means I'd risk
that usual comfort, turn
what I know on its end,
and my own steady head upside?

Where do secrets reside?
On the surface of the lips,
skin that numbs and tingles
at once. Its electric skein.

Some faceted cabinet inside?
Deep with locks and layers,
concealing passwords and
sudden recombinations.

Something deeper than clothes
(what loveliness overweaves
my burgeoning complicated secret!),
opal opaquer than explanation.

My love said, if I knew someone
who loved to work with wood,
perhaps he would make a box
that could hold so many jewels.

How many cubes of ice may I apply
to chill each ligament, trace through the line,
that lovely surface tense with condensation.

Add shiver to the liquid chill inside.

Amber rubbed with neither wool nor silk --
perhaps just finest linen, neutral
to the fingertips -- skin skimmed
with touch that won't adhere:

what's your charge now, on what side
may I linger to approach
a perfect distance, balance
the laden pole of languidness

and temperate restraint?

I speak of beauty sharpened to a point:
Da Vincian figures, angels in the sphere.
It's Aphrodite's number, lingering
code of the body -- stretch from palm to heel.

I am so taken with the way you move,
no frozen image can approximate --
only wind in branches, only slow
and gracious rays through interrupting clouds…

A long elastic curve, but interspersed
with a moment's hesitation -- so.
Each line tends to the next one. Spread
your fingers wide so I can hand you this

sweet ripened fruit, and if you missed
its petals several weeks ago, we may
find the same mystery sliced from the side --
stars and roses, love; apples and pears.

You know how words gather: I could say,
like starlings, sensing a meal. The little birds
are a bit of a lit cliché, but their hunger
and the very concrete crumbs of your sweet
pastry lure them into corporeality.

Here I am wont to trap them,
use each as bait for more, arrange
and rearrange my prey (juggling their tiny
feathered squawks, avoiding beaks),
until they’re dizzy and can’t escape, until
they’re tamed on lines as trim as notes
of vocal music. All frozen moments
ready to spring back to wing in the re-
constituting liquid of a curious voice.
Are all things really signs?

Except today
and yesterday, and all this week:
as soon as they start to appear
they scatter, spooked by a gesture
of your arm, sensing the heat
as you drew nearer, or suspicious
at some microscopic movement
of your finger, of your lips.

I never know: it may erupt
in mere awareness of a movement,
step and step and step -- never mind
all its well-known hiding places,

its usual planes, tectonic plates. It bursts
out everywhere and I'm never prepared, always
transported. Ecstasy is embarrassing,
a messy state, it makes too much noise.

Angels are made of stronger stuff,
n'est-ce pas? They’re firmer vessels
(more trustworthy vassals).

That shadow under the eyes,
here and here a line from smiling,
there the traces of irresistible grimace.
The twinkle when I catch myself
in unexpected reflection, outside
the safely artificial smile one makes
at the call of Cheese.

Who would have thought my skin
would bruise and scuff so easily? --
Thinking of how soft I used to be,
the tides that still reside, recalled
as I decipher the purpling thumbprint.

From without, the unwonted length
assembles in an impression of willow
clearly angelic and androgynous,
growing up as a musician, if ever
incarnated -- it's that imagined harpist.
That side is simple, though devastating.

Within, or if the fortress opens,
rests a surfeit of information
already passing any age or ego:
too many lines ever to align
or read in their interrelationship,
a tangle, a confusing map to lure
travelers into the ancient city.
I keep wandering off in the details.

These routes never lead home,
traces fold and ought to reemerge
but only coil the path in tighter.
I wander into a delightful wilderness,
I am too captivated to pause,
as is my habit, and tell you what it means.

Or tell myself, to and for. And who
would think the index could be a stylus,
a secret reservoir of midnight ink
revealed accidentally upon the skin.

The lines are definite as stone,
but their transparency demonstrates
a circulation: this way the story flows.
And if you read the world with sufficient
patience, it too has pulse, a line of life,
and it does not lack the loveliness
that you have here so terribly condensed.

Four days since I was present:
the stream nudges back underground,
sand remerges with the land
surrounding. You would never know
how deeply I was incised.

And how many beds it's found:
the surface is still subtle,
straightening back to grass,
but how many damp caverns, how
many secret channels under skin.

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