Over the steep, panting hills where
I rest my heart.
I like the simple homeliness
of the bitch and her puppies.
For how many centuries have
such homely sights been dear to us?
The stern old nettle tree standing by the village gate
gathers sweeping winds.
That’s not all.
Beyond the village
the well never dries.
What a wonder it is,
the well’s not a dipperful lower.
Children throw stones.
On the other side of the hills
pheasants flutter away, frightened for no reason.
The snow’s not gone yet.
An old man, arms akimbo, runs into an eddy of wind.
Tense and tenuous
grow from the same root
as does tender
in its several guises:
the sour grass flower;
the yellow moth.
I would not confuse
with the spurious.
is a sore thumb
while the spurious
as fish and circuses.
from Poetry (May 2012)
I am four in this photograph, standing
on a wide strip of Mississippi beach,
my hands on the flowered hips
of a bright bikini. My toes dig in,
curl around wet sand. The sun cuts
the rippling Gulf in flashes with each
tidal rush. Minnows dart at my feet
glinting like switchblades. I am alone
except for my grandmother, other side
of the camera, telling me how to pose.
It is 1970, two years after they opened
the rest of this beach to us,
forty years since the photograph
where she stood on a narrow plot
of sand marked colored, smiling,
her hands on the flowered hips
of a cotton meal-sack dress.
Walking backward from the sea,
scales shedding, you seek the cave.
This is why the French door admits
only ocean. You stare into the louver
and forget how to get out. Lull
is the word, or loll. The sea returns,
completing your pulse, the waves live,
each breath of yours worship.
Snow White was nude at her wedding, she’s so white
the gown seemed to disappear when she put it on.
Put me beside her and the proximity is good
for a study of chiaroscuro, not much else.
Her name aggravates me most, as if I need to be told
what’s white and what isn’t.
Judging strictly by appearance there’s a future for me
forever at her heels, a shadow’s constant worship.
Is it fair for me to live that way, unable
to get off the ground?
Turning the tables isn’t fair unless they keep turning.
Then there’s the danger of Russian roulette
and my disadvantage: nothing falls from the sky
to name me.
I am the empty space where the tooth was, that my tongue
rushes to fill because I can’t stand vacancies.
And it’s not enough. The penis just fills another
gap. And it’s not enough.
When you look at me,
know that more than white is missing.
To the Metropolitan Police Force, London:
the asylum gates are locked and chained, but undone
by wandering thoughts and the close study of maps.
So from San Francisco, patron city of tramps,
I scribble this note, having overshot Gloucester
by several million strides, having walked on water.
City of sad foghorns and clapboard ziggurats,
of snakes-and-ladders streets and cadged cigarettes,
city of pelicans, fish bones and flaking paint,
of underfoot cable-car wires strained to breaking point …
I eat little — a beard of grass, a pinch of oats —
let the salt-tide scour and purge me inside and out,
but my mind still phosphoresces with lightning strikes
and I straddle each earthquake, one foot either side
of the fault line, rocking the world’s seesaw.
At dusk, the Golden Gate Bridge is heaven’s seashore:
I watch boats heading home with the day’s catch
or ferrying souls to glittering Alcatraz,
or I face west and let the Pacific slip
in bloodshot glory over the planet’s lip,
sense the waterfall at the end of the journey.
I am, ever your countryman, Ivor Gurney.
from Poetry (May 2013)
in the room of my life
the objects keep changing.
Ashtrays to cry into,
the suffering brother of the wood walls,
the forty-eight keys of the typewriter
each an eyeball that is never shut,
the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,
the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,
the sockets on the wall
waiting like a cave of bees,
the gold rug
a conversation of heels and toes,
a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,
the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore,
two flowers taking root in its crotch,
opening and closing like sea clams,
poking at me,
lighting up both the soil and the laugh.
the starving windows
that drive the trees like nails into my heart.
Each day I feed the world out there
although birds explode
right and left.
I feed the world in here too,
offering the desk puppy biscuits.
However, nothing is just what it seems to be.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
and the sea that bangs in my throat.