The anatomy of birds
It is not winter but it is raining
and fog has fallen on the garden,
blurring the sparrows’ feathers.
You didn’t call today. I did not think
of you sitting in the kitchen, chafing
against the solid cage of the table.
The garden is still dead. Hollow
stalks of grass bend over the wet
dirt like sabotaged fences.
At my desk the papers are not stacked
neatly. Perilous to think I have any reason
for melancholy. Mother, I am not you
though the urge to classify my choices
lingers. I imagine you moving away
from the table, tucking the chair neatly
underneath. I leave mine askew
like the words on my desk, more
of a question than insistence.
It is not winter but it is not spring
either. Outside a sparrow balances
above the dead stuff, one foot down,
the other lifted above the wet,
both choices imminent. I look
away before the bird decides.
Learning to Speak American
He scattered post-its on the ceiling above his bed,
basic yellow, bedraggled corners pressed flat
like the petals of a strange flower. Each note
cupped a word, the kind that murmurs
in dreams: fear, impossible, expectation.
At first, he didn’t speak of it. Only the lost scraps
concealed in old books explained his past: escape,
realization, regret. He discovered my language in small pieces.
He wrote in the margins of “Cry, the Beloved Country,”
that it took six months to learn the word freedom.
Such things do not settle lightly into place.
We studied friendship for a year
before he described his escape from Poland.
When he asked for help, unable to define disquietude,
I had no words to offer that could explain it.
I wrote new combinations hoping to stumble
on the answer: un-harmony, dis-repose, im-peaceful.
Each day he brought me more blank paper,
white sheaves bare of metaphor, ready
for my hand’s inscription. Months later,
like blossoms, I pressed between my palms
the words he left behind: remember, courage,
heartbreak. Some things are impossible
to read. Words can only do so much.
Twenty-year love poem
I want to remember, but not too clearly.
More like remembering falling in love
than falling in love―the past spread
out behind us in a comfortable distance,
the hardships forgotten. The truth is
we were starving and lived on loose
change and vending machine pretzels.
The excitement of finding a quarter
in the hallway would sustain us all day
and sometimes into the night. Surviving
was learning how to jump when the elevator
refused to stop at the right floor, then prying
the doors open until the darkened space
of the shaft lay revealed in front of us,
emptiness below and above, a little fear.
Now I understand that only the very hungry
could get through that small opening between
floors. I remember your face in the darkness
of that small box, smiling like the shine
on a new coin. The richness. Wanting
to stay there with you forever.
“Twenty-year love poem” first appeared in Quay,
A Journal of the Arts, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Sept-Dec. 2007.
How to perceive red
Consider the persistence of memory,
how once seen, a red moon lingers
with a cinnamon tingle.
Remember the black widow’s
crimson hourglass in the garage
behind your cherry-bright bicycle.
Conjure the blood-lost wrench
of miscarriage: how the rose-
leather sofa, too soft for sorrow,
held the cast of a ruddy sunset.
Then there’s the leaden weight of rust,
how the muffler lost its battle with snow
and salt and dropped unexpectedly
because the pipes were rotten.
Your scarlet gloves sponged
the road’s grime and never washed clean.
Bleach was not a good idea. Fuschia
is not your favorite color.
Recollect the paint of death
on the ocher mummy, her curled
fingers stopped over the heart
with tragic calm. You could
not bear the quiet and fled
to the paintings, found Rubens’
Samson and Delilah.
There is no forgetting
the abandon of reason for passion.
“How to perceive red” first appeared in The
Guardian Poetry Workshop, Sept. 2006.
Into the quiet
I dreamed of my grandmother
and in the silence she died
again. And my brother held
the casket which cut his hands.
Again we walked down marble
steps to the uneven ground
where tarps covered
the peeled skin of the grave
and we stood witness.
My brother’s fingers bled
from the weight but he said
nothing. In the dream I knew
already what happened:
how I would try to follow her
for six months into the quiet,
how her voice lingered
on the answering machine.
I called each day to hear
the final click and beep
of the tape on which I left
In my dream the rain hid
tears. Mourners filed past
the glimmer of a shovel
tossed beneath the tarp.
My feet did not stay dry.
In dreams death moves
ahead too fast, too suddenly
I walked outside my home
and again I saw the flawed rigor
of a corpse on the side of the road,
the deer’s head thrown back
above a casket of exposed ribs,
no heart. I saw the tarp of skin
sunken into the ground.
I held my breath in silence
and moved forward, sideways,
because the wind blew into me.
Still, the smell lingered.
“Into the quiet” first appeared in Quay, A Journal
of the Arts, Vol. 1, Issue 2, Sept.-Dec. 2007.