Self-Portrait with Soft Ropes and Escape

I'm a poor imitation of a parrot as boss or calendar planner.

I do better as a minor-minor Houdini
untangling a bowl of pasta ropes with my tongue.

Even better as a lint roller who insists
there can be a little more life after one square.

At meetings I've learned to copy the language of banned
synthetics: transparency, opacity, longevity.

Does knowing a thing can never be destroyed make it happy?

Growing up in a family of breakfast table
I'm still trying to learn the pose "Serene
Buddha of Glacial Composure."

My friends want to sign me up for workshops on Yes You
Can Really Not Give a Fuck.

Several times a day I am torn between misery and elation,
disappointment and hope—

Just pick one, any one, they say with impatience.

But when I finally make my candy selection, most likely
I wind up with the chocolate covered maraschino.
It's the one with the goopy center
that tastes like cough medicine.

Those who don't really know me
sometimes gush: You have such a charmed life.

When I close my eyes I want to see
a line of water buffaloes in tutus,
kicking up their heels
a la Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

The ensemble has yet to stage "Carmen;"
but when they do I want it to be only that part
where she sings her beguiling seguidilla and convinces
the officer of the guard to untie her bonds.

I want to be that one scene only: the gypsy
woman in red, her laughter the sound
made by clear glass
marbles rolling away, little wicks
of trapped color pulsing like flames.

How Hard it is to Keep Watch

I am always alone
in the abandoned bell
tower of myself. Whoever
used to come and keep

company has withdrawn.
In one of the corners,
perhaps, is an earring
I lost sometime ago.

I could not find its gleam
though I searched high
and low. But always,
a rope asking to be

pulled several times a day
so the clapper can kiss
the surface it hits.
If there were ever

servants who cleaned
this place, it must
have been several
lifetimes ago. Dusk:

the only cloth that buffs
these surfaces, faithfully.
Morning light brings
noise and lists, bodies

that don't want to get up.
Night is the chanting
monks pour into rivers
of endless suffering.

I am trying to fit
into the space between
the landing and the swing.
I am trying to only be

the silence of no
longer trembling, a weight
at the end of a string
pointing toward the earth.

The quiet of no longer
tensing for the sound
of the next blow
to come.


I watch it work
and am made new.|
I watch it fall
apart, and doubt
I could remember
what I need to do
to make me forget
this isn’t the end.
I watch the digits
slide into place
on the clock:
that’s how 
the minutes go
—by increments,
forever and





In response to Via Negativa: Watchmaker Analogy.

Memory of a Paradoxical Dream

- after "Memory of a Paradoxical Dream," Armando Valero

Everything forks, and everything converges.

I covered your eyes, and I stared straight
ahead at the world. Your ears
opened like vases
to the sound of wind.

In my belled sleeves, I kept hidden from myself
as much as from you the terrible faces
the future could wear.

Look intently at your reflection in the mirror
and you will see how one eye
bends like a leaf

at the corner; or how
half of your face softens at the hairline

and toughens to a slight point
on the other side.

On these back roads goldened by
the dust of years, cars are always
coming and going. Have they
ever arrived?

Every tree on every hill opens
like a parasol. We could lie
in the shade of any of them,
making garlands of leaf

and flower. We could pretend
nothing is ending or everything
is beginning or we are happy
just to be here.


"...where is speech for the block of ice we pack 
in the sawdust of our hearts?" ~ Ellen Bass

For many years, I did not know the words
for some things that were done
to me as a child
that should never be done to any child.

Where I'm from, it's considered unseemly
for a girl or a woman to come
forward with accusations about how
her body was violated.

And when she does, she is more than likely
met with disbelief, especially if it
involves a member of the family.
She is asked why on earth
she needs to make up such things;
or what she hopes to gain.

Years later, a friend who has been through
a similar experience asks: are you now
able to talk about it to anyone?


         we talked of the future idly,
cracking watermelon seeds between

our teeth as we flipped through
crumpled pages to get to the sunday

comics. believe it or not
was one of those things we fully

believed: like magic, like layers
of brass or copper rings that stretched

the necks of women as they went
about their tasks in the fields;

or how, after water vaporized
inside faults during earthquakes,

it turned into gold. believe it
or not, we still live in an age

of alchemy. A conveyor belt runs over
sixty miles in the Sahara desert,

& you can even see it from space.
in the absence of box frames, bees

have been known to build heart-
shaped hives. now that the future

is here, why is it so much harder
to stick out an open palm & believe

that whatever falls into it is a whole
unto itself, little world without flaw?



I dreamt a small waterfall
that pulsed and reddened at dusk
and cleared again at morning.
No horses came to drink
from its pool; no birds
dipped a wing before
taking flight. It was
a country closed off from all
but those who'd wandered into
its forests and never returned.
They tended the thinning
orchards there and placed
pillows under the heads
of those who'd grown old.
It was the final country
in the world for all of them.
No one could recall the last
time they saw a cruise ship
on the horizon, every cut-
out window ablaze with light.
Or the last city of fountains
and festivals, before the order
to quarantine. Someone grew
fruit again: citrus and pear,
berries the color of metal.
Everything in miniature,
a harvest of samples
labored over by surviving
bees. We stood outside, heads
tilted to the skies: the only
page that still went on forever.
Glacial in summer, charred
in winter; proof no one
knew how to correct.

Memory of Sickness, with Mother

A sewing tin with a ship 
in full sail on its label
used to hold water crackers—

which I thought, once, were
a type of transparent biscuit,
thin enough to float on the surface

of a liquid. When she suffered
from migraines, she asked me to tie
a large handkerchief tightly around

her head. She asked me to take
handfuls of hair then tug repeatedly
as hard as I could, until she fell

at last into a kind of drugged sleep.
No one in the family ever said
the word "faint," though it's what

she did at the high end of every
domestic quarrel. A sob, a scream,
then a crumpling to the floor

in a heap, unmoving. The first
time I witnessed it, I thought
she'd died. I hadn't yet seen

anyone really dead, nor known
what it could mean to die; only read
sentences in books describing orphaned

children— When the mother died,
the father took another wife who came
and lived with them, along with her

own grown children. When the mother
died, the father took another wife
who said they could no longer afford

to feed the child. Then the child
was led into a wood, where the moon
shone like an uncut birthday

cake frosted with dingy, mottled
silver. Then the birds came to eat
crumbs strewn on the road, for that

is what birds do. They never think
of things as signs for anything else
other than what they are:

cubed crusts of day-old bread,
cream-colored grains as small
and pearled as broken teeth.

Aria, with Weak Sunlight and Wheelchairs

In the home, grandmothers sit in a half-circle
under the sun which has come too early or too late.

The newest arrival pulls at a shawl around her shoulders
before entering the song in her head, too early or too late.

She is most garrulous, either from being disoriented or remembering
the importance of making a good impression before it's too late.

The others are silent, but not impassive. Who knows what
dreams the song has stirred in them, long-harbored and late?

But the singer's oblivious to everything but that design
climbing out of her throat. Dusted with melancholy, belated

arrival: her hands beat the air, Kappelmeister to a choir
of ghosts she conjures out of their fluids. Is it too late

to call each one by name, cradle them in tender hands?
Her hair silvers more in weak sunlight; it's not too late.

No one can make out the words now. The song thins to only
pure melody, or garbled signal: longing early and late.

Preparation for the Impending

             A scritch in the eaves, in the dark
of earliest morning; the tumble of a soft
body I imagine has slipped from a tree—
Whatever it is bounds away across
our shingles. Though I strain to hear,
there don't seem to be any sounds
issuing from a throat, desperate
to loft signals for help into the air.
I tense for them, despite: signs
of a body already in transit, oblivious to light
lifting in the canopy. The bulb
of an ankle, purple-streaked, swelling
with fluid. Walls hardened around organs
that float, islands in a sea of carnelian flowers.
The crown of a weed is its own miniature
sun of reckoning. As for us, we're helpless, pinned
against the fabric, faces upturned. If only
we could hear the sound the soul makes escaping; where
it slips from this net into the unbroken.