In first grade
Mrs. Lohr said
my purple teepee
wasn’t realistic enough
that purple was no color
for a tent,
that purple was a color
for people who died,
that my drawing
wasn’t good enough to hang
with the others.
I walked back to my seat
counting the swish swish swishes
of my baggy corduroy trousers.
With a black crayon
nightfall came to my purple tent
in the middle of an afternoon.
In second grade
Mr. Barta said draw anything,
he didn’t care what.
I left my paper blank
and when he came around
to my desk
my heart beat like a tom tom.
He touched my head
with his big hand
and in a soft voice said
It’s what you don’t hear
that says struggle
as in wrath and wrack
and wrong and wrench and wrangle.
The noiseless wriggle
of a hooked worm
might be a shiver of pleasure
not a slow writhing
on a scythe from nowhere.
So too the seeming leisure
of a girl alone in her blue
bedroom late at night
who stares at the bitten
end of her pen
and wonders how to write
so that what she writes
I take the bird on the woodpile,
separate it from its function, feather
by feather. I blow up its scale.
I make a whole life out of it:
everywhere I am, its sense of loitering
lights on my shoulder.
translated by Austin Woerner
What a thing it would be, if we all could fly.
But to rise on air does not make you a bird.
I’m sick of the hiss of champagne bubbles.
It’s spring, and everyone’s got something to puke.
The things we puke: flights of stairs,
a skyscraper soaring from the gut,
the bills blow by on the April breeze
followed by flurries of razor blades in May.
It’s true, a free life is made of words.
You can crumple it, toss it in the trash,
or fold it between the bodies of angels, attaining
a permanent address in the sky.
The postman hands you your flight of birds
persisting in the original shape of wind.
Whether they’re winging toward the scissors’ V
or printed and plastered on every wall
or bound and trussed, bamboo frames wound with wire
or sentenced to death by fire
you are, first
and always, ash.
Broken wire, a hurricane at each end.
Fire trucks scream across the earth.
But this blaze is a thing of the air.
Raise your glass higher, toss it up and away.
Few know this kind of dizzy glee:
an empty sky, a pair of burning wings.
Late June the ghosts of shepherds meet on the hills
And one has his crook with its musket barrel hook
One carries a Bible, and all wear the smock
And listen out for the little bells and the canister bells
Worn by the sheep and the big cattle, carried by the wind
Which shapes the hawthorn into mermaid’s hair and open book.
There are those who died on the hills, and those who died in their beds,
The haloed, who wear a flame above them, were
Asleep in their wagons, the stove door ajar
The oil lamp tipped. And scores stamp
A last ghastly dawn patrol – their crook a rifle
Cigarettes for their bible.
The hills are not high. High enough
To exist outside us, our low troubles
At the school gates the children look up
And see with a shock of memory
That the earth gathers itself
Into another world
One closer to the sky
Once peopled by shepherds,
Who inherited the high roads from kings and saints
As they passed, withy ropes about their shoulders.
Who spoke little, and wore tall hats
Bawled gently at their dogs,
Who were themselves
Times when the mist comes up
And rolls like weighted grey
Down the scarp, up there
The cars see their lamps reflected back
A metre ahead, and the back of her is silent
But never like a moor, never fierce like that
She’d carry you back to your own gate
On the palm of her hand – not bury you alive.
Her spine is a landshed, and a land of itself
A land of haunches and shoulders, and glistening fields
Impossible that they weren’t in love with her
The kindness of her miles, the smalls of her back,
The blazing white of her summers.
The Bible is her book: she wrote it for her shepherds
To train them in oblivion and seasons
And the time she knows, the slowest time on earth.
She wrote it in chalk, in rabbit droppings, and lady’s smock
She wrote it in sweet marjoram and she adorned it with bells
And it has no meaning for anyone, except the shepherds
Who are gone.
was a really great year.
You ate licorice on the beach in January,
swam rum sauced in the icy Pacific
wearing only blue rubber flippers
and your grandfather’s dog tags
and for the first time, it felt good to be cold,
it felt good to be so cold it hurt.
You doted on pigeons and stray cats.
You ate honey peanuts in the park
and re-watched every movie that ever made you
cry, including Steve Martin’s The Jerk.
You tattooed your entire body in Pablo Neruda
translations and cherry blossoms.
You blew all your money on comfortable shoes
and one of those mattresses made from NASA space foam.
You slept the sleep of assassins and kings—remorseless.
You bought chocolate bars from all the kids who came
to your door and stock-piled them in your broom closet.
You left them in your will to THE SECRETARIES,
every last one of them.
You volunteered at the local senior center playing bingo.
When you won you forced the whole room to take shots of
Welch’s grape juice and sing the national anthem.
And you spent time with your favorite lover.
You let him get close.
Secret suicide note, nonsense alibi close.
shampoo scent dissection close.
Close enough to memorize your tells,
hand you your ass at pillow poker,
make your defenses look like the silly decoupage
of paper angels and Victorian roses that they were.
Close enough that your laughter
punched him with mint gum puffs.
Close enough that his sighs drove circles
in the parking lots of your sighs,
close enough to measure your ribcage
in wrists, your palms in lips.
So close, you didn’t even notice
your heart speed up, then stop,
when he kissed you so hard,
when the New Year’s ball dropped down.