Monday, December 17, 2007

The Mountain

The climb took more than we thought and from the top we could see the breadbasket. We pushed into a place where the air spread out and our lungs shrunk--we could feel it happening. Our ribs like the birdcage under a blanket in your attic with the white bird still inside, throat sore from silent singing.

There's Alaska. Better yet, Russia--ignore the compass. We ditch our coats. We made better sons and daughters at sea level. Our hands were filmy from sorted laundry and produce purchased. A conclusion: posture does not improve with altitude. We gain nothing but yards and a walking stick.

I took a picture and on the back I wrote I'm sorry. I'm sorry because I am happy. I left you there feeling like you were in outer space. Maybe. You asked for this because everything feels easier. Your limbs were curling like the first time you came only this time I won't look.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lions with Curls

How is it that a bird sits centered in memory, but the cage and the living room and the color of a mother's robes have faded to sepia? Remember on the shelf a mug that said Trafalgar Square in red. For nine months it was the bus stop. Now no lions can impress.

I found missing letters for green envelopes; found international polaroids. Statues blur at high speeds--a caption reads is this the only time they move? Don't send me anything more ce sera le dernier. Hear that heartbeat underwater. Through pipes I can feel the ocean just two-hundred feet away. I press my ear to the waves that are born between this island and yours and there must be millions.

An ocean between like this: I sit on the phone as the sun rises and wait as the transatlantic static collects like creeping buttercups in the alley, like Hare's foot clover in my Soho, in your Soho.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Four Flashes

Four flashes find us mislead. Haircuts locate: bangs (Coney Island) or hat (left for dead in Chicago) or dark (our time overseas.) Can you think of anything past kissing me on the cheek?

If you would turn ninety degrees you'd see the balcony's edge with cherub guarded lamp posts. A river separates the Old City from the Older. Was Florence really that white or was it the high(er) contrast? Were your hands really that cold or am I inserting something borrowed, something blue?

Let's resort to petty crimes to remember the times. I'll take the menu from Dante's cafe if you toss the spilled salt over your shoulder. I wish pockets were made to hold wine but all I can fit is the grapes. Put a penny in the fountain and hope for squarer jaw lines.

I cannot sleep under such painterly skies. This crux feels more honest when you yell into the canals and curse this sinking pit. You say you won't miss me and you won't. Please, let's close the red curtain and pick the blue background and show our veins. Hold still--I don't want to remember you moving.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Precipitation and a Man Can Fall from any Angle and Land

Mine were the first footsteps in the snow. Your stone legs bent, your hands on waist. There was no head, only your body climbing out of the frame. Like the view, memory cuts out and is a little leaning to the left. Somewhere in the world it is summer, spoke through bare tree branches. Somewhere in the world it is night and somewhere--

As a species we have little instinct left. Feel the ground through tremble lips. Watch with your ears, hear from which direction a train is coming.

Monday, December 3, 2007

We Three

We three boys sit legs criss-crossed on the brown grass. Leaf shadows make blotches on the ground and the house and our memory's landscape. Please let's not play war Ma said with twig gun in hand, pine cone grenades shoved down pockets. If Pa were here we'd be building kites out of newspaper or touching tadpoles, screaming at the slime. If Pa were here we'd be grass stained, we'd be sulfur handed from firecrackers.

We three boys wear matching white hats and in the summer we plant gardens to honor our father, grow vegetables to feed our mother. Memory goes like this: an image piled on top of another image, different but only slightly. Is nothing still and silent? Shoot, bang, fire; shootbangfire.

We three boys lie in the grass, face down. Mother says casualties is a terrible game, but we compete to see who can stay so still, who can trick the enemy. We're not really dead, Ma: we're only practicing.


It is in a candid cheek kiss, subjects still overcoated, blocking the entrance to the party. The lady wears a hat (now ladies never wear hats) and the man's white neck tie is only visible in the shadows. Ascots and feathers and molding trimmed ceilings; pearl earrings, Jacquard skirts peeking from beneath swing coats.

She asked if it was real, as her mother sat brushing the soft curls into her hair. She asked about Father and dinner parties before there were record players. Now, now.

Left going in, again (always, forever, amen), when the boy with freckles held down the shutter and lit up the room with a light unlike the soft yellow overhead. Shoved in deepest pockets, no peeks promised, a hidden message developing in the dark.

Found in the corner, in his scrawl--proof, a one-line drawing by fingernail. White as the Monday morning they met when he told her of the waves he bore into, of the spices bought on coasts with no maps.


Paper provides a father, or, more accurately, a man standing in the road, almost turned away. What else could he be? A man of charity, donating red hair, green eyes, a stubborn will, a sorry stomach, and a second toe longer than the first.

Honor and valor and maps and sea journals. My mother kept a box over the doorway, next to the wreath and ornaments, labeled D. (an initial I mistook for decorations until one Thanksgiving I opened it to find the flag, folded ceremoniously). Now it could be for Dylan, as I read on your papers, or Dad, as I never got to call you, or Dead, as you have always been to me.

In history I learn all about you, the millions of you, try to find your face in the mud or the sticks. I pore over your pages from the island's jungles, read about the natives and the malaria. What was it really like when the elephants marched through your camp? Were the tusks threatening or did they gleam in the sun, like the bait you and your father used for flounder in the sound?

Did you know that the clearing you came to, described so meticulously ("A white palace glints miles ahead, but it could be footsteps for all I know. The sun keeps shooting through the branches, I miss Lydia we smell like shit we eat bugs ") would be the place a bullet would rip through your stomach, would be the place you'd lie down?

I learn that photography is the process of recording pictures by means of capturing light, chemical information that develops as lines into an image we recognize. It is the art in science, in sentiment, in strangers connected by chemistry.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

point of view

1. It's my first bathroom without a window. It's our first bathroom as man and wife. The pipes heat up the small steamy room and I have to blow dry the mirror to get past the fog. I've grown accustomed to these new things, to my naked morning routine. I was never one for being naked, I'm still not, but the heaters on have made this bathroom a steam room. I'm standing in front of the mirror and I'm almost done with my routine. Last is where I trim the split ends. This is new too. I have found new ways to deal with my new life and I am surprised that it involves the eradication of split ends. I can hear Paul in the hallway, shifting his weight. I can see his little shadow in the crack under the door. Paul is wearing his navy robe and he wants to shave and shower before Jane arrives. I don't feel guilty for making the bathroom steamy and I don't feel guilty for trimming my split ends and I don't feel guilty for calling Jane Jane and not Mom. These things are natural. Being a good wife is not in my nature. A good wife would walk out of the bathroom and stop cowering. A good wife would give her husband a kiss on the cheek. A good wife would please for Christ's sake call her mother-in-law Mom.
I think sometimes I test Paul because I wait for his knock and his soft, Oregon, non-confrontational voice, "Hey hun, you okay? I need the shower and Mom will be here in half an hour."
I open the door, still naked. Man and wife have hardly anything special between them. There is a pot of coffee on the table by the morning paper. I used to read the paper front to back. I used to skim it even. Then for a while I got the idea what the headlines where referring to. Now it's all these stories I am out of touch with. It could be the news from another century, for all I know.
"Hey babe," Paul says. "When you trim those hairs could you please rinse them down the sink?"
"Sure," I say. "Sorry." This is a weekly exchange.
I walk through the living room into our little bedroom with the too firm mattress and the closet for the both of us. I slip on a soft sweater dress and the boots I wore the night we met. I've been trying to wear them as much as possible lately. After I have the baby they won't fit, at least that's what my sister told me to expect. I'm curling my eye lashes when I hear the buzzer.
"Paul, she's here," I say, sticking my head into the bathroom. I'm waiting for his directions, like I don't know how to let somebody in. "I'll buzz her up, okay?"
"Great," he says from the shower. "I'll be out in just a minute." This is probably true, the water is turned off. I don't understand people who towel off inside the shower. People who towel off inside the shower were never an archetype for me until I became a cohabitant.
I press the door button, not realizing until afterwards that a friendly "Hi!" would have been appropriate. Judging from delivery boys, the journey between the front door and our doorstep is between 45 seconds to one minute. Jane is getting up there, so it'll be closer to one minute. Paul dashes from the bathroom to the bedroom, his short hair almost dry. I hear the knock at the door and my stomach turns to knots. It makes me even worse when that happens now, it doesn't seem good for the baby.
I open the door with a smile and hug Jane or Mom and take her coat and hat and gloves. Her cheeks are flushed and her glasses are foggy, but she looks happy to be here the poor thing. As I'm putting her things in the closet, I pull out my coat and hat and gloves.
"I forgot english muffins Paul will be out any minute have a seat," I say in one breath, before she has a chance to argue. Neither of us care about english muffins and Paul has a wheat allergy. I step outside to the first snow of the year. It's eight a.m. on a holiday and the street is empty. Cars are hiding beneath blankets of white and the only footsteps on the sidewalk are Mom's, heading in the opposite direction as mine.

2. My days start in the kitchen, with a cup of coffee. Hannah used to be next to me, sipping her cup as we looked out the window at the skyline through branches. Now she wakes before me, leaves me standing by the bathroom door in the morning blue dark of the hallway. There is a thin rectangle of yellow light coming out around the door. Hannah, I miss her and her wide mouth and the secrets we used to keep. I feel the hot air pouring out from behind the closed door; I didn't think being a husband would mean closed doors. But that is romantic, I guess. My wife is her own person with her own secrets and her own time in the mornings. She has her own time this morning especially. I knock on the door, say, "Hey hun, you okay? I need the shower and Mom will be here in half an hour." I can't stand confrontation.
The door swings open to her, naked (which is still exciting), and she breezes past me into the living room. She smells a fresh sort of soft, like baby's hair. I want to touch her. I need to shower and shave.
In the bathroom she's left a mess. Little hairs cover the counter, sink, and floor. Sometimes I feel like she's my sister.
"Hey babe," I say. "When you trim those hairs could you please rinse them down the sink?"
"Sure," she says. "Sorry."
We both know nothing will change.
I do the same thing every day. I shave dry and then I take a shower. I wash my face then my hair then my body. I am done in less than five minutes. In this time I think about the day at work ahead of me or the assignments I have to do or the conversations to have with Hannah or the phone calls home to make. Today Mom comes in for the holiday. It's our first year without Dad and my first year as a husband. I towel off and wish Hannah would tell me whatever it is she is keeping. I hate confrontation.
She peeks her head into the bathroom. "Paul, she's here,"she says. There's a pause. Have you let her in? I'm about to say. "I'll buzz her up," she says.
I scramble in the bathroom, throw my robe over my back and run into the bedroom. Hannah looks pretty in a dress and her favorite boots. I think I'll wear my sweater that matches. From the other room I hear the door open. Hannah sounds sweet, like the girl I met, and my mother sounds tired. It's a long train ride from the suburbs, I don't know how she got up early enough. There is a short exchange followed by the door opening and shutting. I step into the living room to see my mother sitting alone on the sofa. I sit down next to her.
"Hannah will be right back," she says.
"Sure," I say. "Sorry."
We both know nothing will change.

3. I wake up without an alarm each morning at 5:30 a.m. I eat a bowl of oatmeal, take a shower, and get dressed for my day. Today I drive my car to the train station and board the first city bound express of the day. On the train a mother and daughter sit across from me. The mother is telling the daughter all about how to behave at Uncle Robin's house. Tomorrow, right after breakfast, they will go to the shopping mall to visit Santa Claus. The daughter has never done this before. Yes, there will be elves there. No, no reindeers they like it better in the North Pole. It's too warm down here.
I exit the train and walk out of the downtown station into the street. Fat snowflakes are falling. I hail a cab. It's a fifteen minute drive to their apartment. They still don't know what neighborhood they live in. I'd like to find out so I can tell my girl friends at Bunko Night. I'm a little early--the streets are deserted because of the snow. I pay the nice cab driver and ring their doorbell. I can see my breath in the air fogging up my glasses each time I exhale. The door buzzes letting me in and I walk the two flights of stairs up to my son's apartment. I knock on the door and my daughter-in-law answers. She is not the prettiest girl my son has dated, but she was the kindest. She smiles and takes my coat, hat, and gloves. I remember the pumpkin muffins I had made. They're sitting on the kitchen counter. I knew I would forget something.
Hannah too has forgotten something and steps outside. I try to tell her that all the shops are closed, but she is down the stairs before I can. The two have a beautiful little apartment, not as small as I was told to expect but again not as big as they deserve. I hope they don't live here when they start a family. There is never any quiet, never any privacy. The children would be so frightened by a dark black silent night by the time they experienced one.
I sit on the sofa and wait. My son comes out of his room, shirt untucked, pants uncreased, defeated.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

harmony arms

Harmony arms come for me through open windows, lace the streets with their gentle swooping reach. Harmony arms come for me through his mouth, cracked with sleep and only, bound for the holy.

The moment I met him all dear hands
behind desk, head hatted, typewriter typing not paper but
ribbons only wider, made of gold and of childhood sparkling,
spilling onto the floor out into the streets as if--

He was born all instinct, inborn, three o'clock in the morning.
He was born in a clearing, harmony arms took him to a clearing
Fog in sheets streamed through panes of glass, occurring on the minute.

Woke up at sundown to
hair tussled, fingernail palmed.
Don't know daylight but still
hopeful--trait nothing short of hereditary.

Consider this:
belly up, ceiling watch for branches to
scale limb by limb, each one a do, a re, a mi
fa, so, la, ti, do not know when to stop. Twig
scratched arm map-- I want it tonal or sonic
on your harmony arms.

Hold something, the smallest souvenir (a freckle or fa).
Lose it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Woke up with fever
in Wilmington by the bay

and watched as you
pressed nearer

Night before was a
gleaming on the shore

when the tide kicked up
all that we had made

Warm weather holding--this
home twitches with want

Hotel room dreaming
as you, as you pressed

I swore last winter when
snow on your scarf melted--

a snowflake made what followed:

i like it right there
good, it's you

And maybe this is it--
as the tide kicked up

as the tide kicked up what
is was were am are being been

Monday, October 22, 2007

I lost your thread. No, I mean I lost your yarn trying to give the army another parachute while we fought. We fought out in the woods. Well, it's not lost. I know where it is. Up in the tree with the battalion of troops. But the Cat's Tail is swatting at them and the crows are planning an assault. Let's form a rescue mission and save them from freezing in the wilderness (assuming they didn't already starve to death). This is how you execute a rescue mission:
1) Determine if the scene is safe and call 911 if not in a wilderness setting. Well great this is war and we're in the woods.
2) Determine if the injured person is breathing and pinch their nose shut while giving two long slow breaths.
No, sorry. I'm wrong. This is CPR. We need a rescue mission. I guess there are no strategies. Look, if you go get your scissors, I'll get the ladder from the shed. We need to bring these boys home. We need to bring these boys home and we need to bring your yarn home.

After that, we'll celebrate with lunch. I asked around and these are the requests I could hear:
1) Peanut butter and honey with little banana slices on toast.
2) A hot dog with mustard only and some wavy potato chips.
3) No thanks
4) Ham and cheese please
5) A BLT, but with turkey bacon because it is better for you.

Be careful though, won't you? Don't go snooping around in the dirt. Ma says to look out for the--what does she call them? Radishes. Look out for the radishes planted when my grandpa was a boy. No, he didn't plant them. Ma says the people who marched through our fields, the bad ones, they planted them and that the seeds have not died yet, not even through all the winters and all the droughts. Ma says they are asleep deep down in the dirt and they can sprout explosive any minute.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

moments of perception

1. In the subway, a young girl is asleep in her stroller, legs sprawled showing her underwear. Children can get away with anything. She has one shoe on, the other sits in her lap. I am too old to pass out on the subway and show my underwear to the car and have only one shoe on. When a child does this, it is precious. When a grown woman does it, it is a drinking problem.

2. I lie down in the bath tub, flinch as the water seeps inside my ears. I remember doing the same thing as a girl, and I remember hearing the tip tap of my heart once all the water stopped sloshing. Only now I don't hear anything other than a far off disturbance. I've never experienced a stampede, but I imagine this is the sound they make from a distance. I think about the things I've never: eaten lobster, watched an opera, had a seizure, learned a language other than my tongue, been to any country other than my own, seen any coast other than my own, endured any serious lasting want other than loneliness. Upon further thought, the distant rushing I hear under water is the blood inside of me.

3. I am on hold, calling in sick to work. This is a time when I am actually sick, and I know my hoarse voice sounds fake. The manager asks when I think I'll feel better. I am feverish and shivering and throwing up and this is the point in being sick when one cannot remember how being healthy feels. Likewise, once health improves, one cannot remember the pain of the stomach ache.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Shadows on my face cast long under the white lights of the gas station. We're stopped on a dark strip of country road and the dust is all kicked up behind us and far ahead it's a stoplight or tail lights, either way I feel almost spooked swallowing thick summer air. This gas station is the kind without attendants where you just pay at the pump, with some vending machines and an air pump under the lamp post. You and me don't have any curfew because it's June, and in June we can crawl into bed together under a gauzy sheet and my mom won't say anything and your parents are never in town to say anything either. I lean against the door, turn my back on you in the passenger seat, turn my back on your hand which hadn't touched my wrists in four years and my legs never. I want you to be looking out your window at some trees, but I can feel your eyes on my back turned, and so I crack the car door open but just smile. I do that sometimes; I don't have words only smiles, and it's so strange to me even after all night that when you open your mouth it's for me.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Victory of Samothrace

Speaking can sometimes be the most violent act between two people. Like the time you opened your mouth and my arms fell off. It was strange because you opened your mouth and my arms fell off and we were not dreaming, or I was not asleep.

There was that time in France when the front was drawing nearer and they had to empty the museums. And Winged Victory was inched down the steps from her throne, wings trembling, as if each thousand particle were a threat. Men wept, thinking Surely, we will never see her again.

And then there's you at the end of the hall, dark in between but behind you there is light-- suffusive and warm like memory. Or there's you, five hours in the future always riding buses over bridges that are older than my city. Or there's you, airport crowds parting to back turned. Or you, the creases in your palm, folding into mine like little prayers.

Greece never found her head, never found her arms. Scholars say maybe she was holding a trumpet to her mouth shouting victory. I can't see anything but the wings, trembling.