Poem for Leaving Behind

Thick clouds 
of foreboding in the air. 

Spiders climb the stairs 
to their lofts.

Every weed edges close 
to another green.

And so the hours go—
the ones we can never get back.

Nothing to do 
but let the rain wash your face.

Let the clap
of thunder sound like a stirring.


Can't count how many times 
people have said they can't believe
you don't know how to swim—
An island girl like you? 
How to explain that ringed
by water didn't mean ticket
to the local country club,
the only place then where one
could join groups of chlorinated
children in their summer rituals:
as guest, not born to, no silver
pacifier in the mouth. 
Though you're still afraid 
of water anytime it rises
above your chin, you learn
other versions of treading—
resistance against indifference
to your subjectivity, your speech,
your body and manner 
of cleaving a path one arrow, 
one stroke at a time.

Ode to Interior Life

Were you born alone or
did you grow up with others?
As soon as you gained some sense 
of discernment, could spell
your name and recite the alphabet,
read books (what is a chapter book
anyway?), were you taught to run
your fingers down the roster of words 
in both dictionary and telephone 
directory? In an emergency, were you
capable of calling the family doctor's 
number and summoning him, 
through tears?  Come quickly, I think 
someone here may be dying. 
You knew the smell of fruit
pinched too soon off the branch,
of blood bundled into rags 
and tossed in the trash; the look 
of skins palpated for fulness 
or its lack. When you became 
more shy and introverted, you 
could understand why others found
you strange for preferring prisms 
blown from soap and the sap of pounded 
hibiscus leaves. You didn't always remember 
the distinction between latrine and labyrinth, 
cold brew and plain iced coffee. 
But it pleased you when your tongue 
could unlock the undertones: vanilla, five
spice, orange peel, extra anise.  

Portrait of Late 21st Century Bricoleur

- after "When the Universe granted my prayer 
I didn't want it anymore," Natalie d'Arbeloff; 
acrylic on canvas board, 10 x 14 inches

After the multiplexes and carnivals 
closed for good, I learned to build 
little rafts out of brittle waffle cones 
patched together with leftover 
sunscreen and saltwater taffy. 
If some dudes managed to rig 
wire and feathers to their arms 
with honey and beeswax, why 
couldn't I use my own native 
resources? But looking out 
over the lip of my wobbly 
Ferris wheel saucer, I realized 
water might be the only way 
left to go. No one wanted to get 
on a plane anymore since runways 
and airport terminals were littered 
with the bones of negative pressure 
room tents. Sometimes, streaked
by moonlight, they looked like giant 
blue cocoons whose flaps 
were shredded in a gale. The air 
inside had long left the building—
perhaps, also the ghosts 
that once curled up on cots.
I'd prayed for a destination 
that wasn't here, yet not too far 
in the there, there of ambiguous 
reassurance. I remembered 
some of the things we used to say
to each other—like the one about 
the world being your oyster; or
how the endless horizon means
beyond imagining or don't look back.

The universal reader asks:

why do people make it sound like their sufferings 
are caused by the whims of the majority

why should we call them hate crimes 
when there aren't any joy or sadness crimes

how long do you want to keep
chewing on the same bone
what's wrong with wanting to make money
why can't you just move on and get over it

why don't you look for the good
in things for a change


And Then

We were living inside
           one unending elegy—
tunnel beaded with concertina
            wire, spattered with 
graffiti: with words like worker 
            for slave, involuntary
relocation for slavery,
            pacification for war.
Controlled intake, 
            recalibrate: the long 
arms of disinformation 
            reached with stump-
bristled brushes,  
            relentless battering, 
a bent to normalize  
            the condition of wounding. 
Ceilings still hummed
            with the echo of machines
from a million T-shirt 
           and gym shoe factories 
around the world, with live
           looping reels of caged
animals eating cutely
           from our hands. 
Ditches filled with oil-
           slicked birds. Sadly,  
we participated. And so 
          what was coming 
had mostly come. This is 
          what happened. We 
were so sure 
          we could see it coming
until we couldn't. 
          It all happened so fast.

Fire Tree

"I often think there is a tree inside me."
                    ~ Sean Thomas Dougherty

Along the walk to the building 
where I teach, towering magnolias

are putting forth blossoms, though blossom
doesn't seem to be the right word for the large,

ivory-skirted cup that opens so you can smell
its dense musk before you see the clutch

of spent matchsticks at its center. 
In childhood, we learned proverbs

about the bamboo: how its thickets 
quickly surround you and are difficult 

to cut down, because they know 
how to bend and let the winds have 

their way. Is that what I'm supposed to be?  
If I were a tree or if there was a tree 

growing inside me, I'd want it to catch 
the last light every day before the world 

darkens. I'd want that light to hold inside me 
even when the wood crackles from drought, even 

when flames erupt out of every limb leathered 
from the effort to keep flowering, rooting. 

To Scale

(Ithaca, NY)

The distance between planets 
multiplied by the factors of human
space plus detritus of time. The obelisk
of the sun and its round window without glass—

What the markers don't say is you can't tether
a galaxy to your wrist the way you loop
the ribbon of a grocery store balloon
around the hand of a child. 

In the Glass Museum

Lenses stacked on lenses are
supposed to make a clearer

field for the eye to see, to make 
a beam from a lighthouse carry 

through fog and rain. There is
a village of little red glass houses 

with slate blue roofs, above which 
is gathered and poised a storm 

of daggers. By the side of a road, 
a dark flock of carrion birds 

tears at flesh and drinks ruby 
shards of blood. In an atrium

flooded with celadon light,
a string of blown glass beads

hangs from the ceiling's invisible
neck. What else of our broken

or breakable lives enters into
this archive, without our consent?

Seneca Lake

After a day of driving, arrival in the valley. 
Night's dark meadow is scattered with no gleam, 
though you know there are lights there, like teeth 
clinging stubborn to their buttress beneath the gums. 
What's trapped in the marble of the bones doesn't 
give itself up easily. It remembers every fracture, 
every instance when it nearly leaped out of your skin. 
The lake is calm as glass until receding rays stripe it 
coral. Carp bodies part clouds of silt and kelp, oily 
and verdigrised. You don't know what it is they keep 
returning to at the bottom, only that it pulls them away 
almost as soon as they touch the clear jade upper layers.