A Palimpsest


I am in love with the color

of hydrangeas—blue on blue,

blue on purple; purple on white,

along with the scent of gardenias

just before they brown at the edges

like books left too long in the sun. 

Sandpipers leave hieroglyphs on mud

flats. Silk from golden orb spiders 

wrap around a body like steel. 

I can profess such love for things 

regarded as mostly inconsequential. 

I can grieve both the rising tide 

and houses collapsing in slow 

motion along the coast. 

How fortunate to believe in small 

annotations that might still 

make it possible to inhabit a different 

kind of importance in the world— 

A Palimpsest


      You wrote or read a thing

                                    that bent you, bowed you.

                To fix—with a slab of wood

the teeter or tilt 

                                of a desk,

        a cabinet, a refrigerator.

To stare. To match you up

                                with someone parents think

        is suitable. Little sibilant, little plosive. 

                   To finish. To finish  

you for good?  To fix—to mend a seam,
                                encircle or darn with bright 

orange yarn. Lie down, they say. But one

                                doesn’t make or unmake

                     alone.  You are untutored 

in XML or other kinds of code. Do you have

                                  a chance at the future?

                     When a student gets it, sometimes

they all but jump up and clap their hands.

A Palimpsest


We brought food and flowers
to the new neighbor. She said
she was so happy to have found 
someone who looked like her,
here in these quiet streets, leaf-
spattered, drenched with pink
and white crinkled blooms.
We laughed, comparing 
how our tongues slid over
the name of the city, where
to voice or glide the fricative,
when to energize the sonorant.  
At the naval station, 14 piers
and 11 aircraft hangars; carrier
strike groups, submarines 
making up the Atlantic Fleet.
Wind moving through the trees
sometimes makes a liquid sound,
as though a school of unseen fish
is making its way toward the bay.
Everything’s a history lesson,
a document leaning slightly against 
the stones, the furniture. Even the rice 
cooker in our kitchens: what brands 
our mothers will or will not buy
because some are made in a country
that went to war with them.  

A Palimpsest


The Lessons:
duty before desire,
the self 

consigned to the rear
of every undertaking,
except in service to others. 

Follow me, said the mayor. 
Follow me, said the governor.
Follow me, said the congressman.

Histories of compliance
turn memory into amnesia
or repetition. 

Dictators thrive:
no one remembers 
when or how. 

A Palimpsest


What I didn’t know then
and what I know now
can be summed up by the same

question: aren’t we all
born of some catastrophe
authored by other bodies?

What did we have 
to lose but our early
sense of self.

A Palimpsest


Tumult of deployments: where a life
takes you. In the city, she could be  
woman instead of girl. 

Already she knew 
beauty as danger; wary but
growing expert at what it meant. 

Amid the clatter of cocktail glasses,
he stumbled toward her, his desire
and its curved arrows.

Did she smooth 
her pencil skirt, arch
her eyebrow higher? 

I am still learning
about my own 

A Palimpsest


Whoever her consort was that night 
(it was in the old days before pronouns)
was feathered by her, or flowered.

In any case she was the hourglass,
narrow waisted, through which grains
suddenly gathered their small torrent:

one end provincial, her father’s 
farm. At the other, a future possibly 
enhanced, perhaps even exciting.

A Palimpsest


There was a photograph from my mother’s
high school prom: one row of girls in pastel
dresses, frothy as flowers. A second row

of them dressed in shirts of sheer 
pineapple fabric and dark trousers, hair 
pomade-slicked like gallants. Perhaps 
some felt born to play the part.

But that part of the reel is broken
or scissored out, or was never 
meant to see the light.