Cooking Dinner


Spring again. Its warmer breeze. Open screen door.
Another war buds up, pliant and green,
thick spores of restlessness
like pollen in the air–you could sneeze with it;
your heart could stop beating in a moment.
____bless you, you’re whispering.
                                    ____bless you.
As if a soul could leak like steam from its
            cellular prison, as if words alone
could draw it back–white light, white light,
a sheet, a flag.
Every day more words to be wary of, that space there
in the blessing, that monotone
on the radio with its figures and dates and facts
and facts that rattle on long after
you’ve pulled the plug, glued shut
                        your ears, rattle on,
rat-tat-tat like something you won’t say
while you drown yourself in a cold water bath,
pry loose your silver fillings
because you’ve heard that story–oh yes,
you’ve heard it before,
but maybe it’s your whole body that’s
transmitting their signals this time, that subsonic
                        headache drone, your bones
the antennae, your marrow electric,
pulsing, mortar crumbling, bricks
knocked free, windows smashed, bits of glass
like blue gravel, tires and dumpsters
            on fire with looting, the whole world
coming loose, thin thread being
pulled and pulled, wound tight
                                    around your_____.
But there she is over the stove.
            Relax, she says. Just relax. She’s cooking
dinner. Egg noodles and mushroom soup.
The kitchen dizzy with steam. Her apron
stained from years of fancier meals, wasted
energy, messes not worth
                                    cleaning up.
Not coming loose, she says,
                        been loose. A grocery list
of wars, holy wars, hunger.
These pots just boil with their watching, is all.
Out on the porch the clatter of a small animal,
                        a neighbor’s cat. The faint stir
of last year’s dried-out leaves against the fence
            finally being looked at.

from American Fractal
first published in RATTLE #22



They could have been us
hours ago. Two figures
huddled hip to hip in their
parkas like one big foam
finger for the sky’s yearly
coughing of sparks and
spangles, these percussive
pops that stand in so often
for independence, the blank
case, the empty shell.
It took the human race
five thousand years to invent
nothing as a concept, I think,
my headlights flashing their
coupling of ooh and ahh,
their addition by subtraction,
long division into unity,
two faces to one mouth—
a numeric ideal found
faster than zero, harder
to lose. Any infant knows
the letter I, the silver look
of a mirror in white light.
They could have been us
studying the many shapes
of one hand inside another,
fleshy certainty of the body
as it tries on disappearance.
The crackle of gunpowder
through the car window,
the yellow sodium glow as
fallen angels of incandescent
ember halo their hair.
Could have been us if only
we’d dressed for the weather;
these cold desert nights,
this copper chloride blue.

–from Lungfull! #15

ps. This poem is in the current issue of Lungfull!, and has only been out for about 8 months, which borders on violating my policy for posting reprints here 12 mo. rule). But for those unfamiliar, Lungfull! is a very unique magazine in that they post early drafts of everything they include. So it’s still worth buying a copy to see how this poem came about. One of the poem/draft pairs in this issue is by John Ashbery, which is interesting — he changed about two words. Lungfull! also comes with stickers and word puzzles, weird letters to the editor, and lots of whacky visual art. It’s so different and interesting that it’s become one of my favorite few journals; I highly recommend checking it out.

The Memory of Water


It can be demonstrated with thermo-
luminescence: the salt solution
retains knowledge of what it once held,
though nature, though logic
would tell it otherwise. Dumb as a bedpan,
the hydrogen bond remembers
the lithium, the sodium chloride no matter
how long distilled. There is so
little purity left in the world. Desire it,
dilute it, strip it down till nothing
remains, onion eyes wept dry, last flake
of the artichoke bit clean,
sour stalk swallowed whole. The homeopath
stirs his mug, glass rod
guiding poison to balm, balm to poison,
nothing settling, nothing
dispelled. With every loss the ache
of a phantom limb he never
believed in. And still he finds himself
awake at night, clutching the
cool insistence of a pillow to his chest.

–from Crab Creek Review, 2005

Beating Balaam’s Ass


        Numbers 22:30

The books are wrong, you know,
and the priests—they’re told only

what to tell the children. Look both
ways, don’t shit where you eat, that

sort of thing. And the children listen.
And I listen. And the priests, they

listen most, their clean heads lowered
in great psalms of listening.

But heaven is a highway in Kansas.
Nothing waits: no commandments

or pearly gates; not a mighty gavel
but merely gravel, mile after loose

mile of it, no other soul in sight.
The geometry of the afterlife: four

corners, a stop sign. The paint on
the sign reflective, easy to read.

The thousand ears of God are ears
of corn, and none of them listen to

the only sound, which is your engine,
your one horse always approaching.

The life you’re leading, being led.

–from Spillway #12



At first it was just a gift, the batteries not included,
but wrapped neatly in a smaller box, a matching

bow with the same generous loop of silver, its paper
the same gaudy green. Try it out, she told him,

and so he did. Is this the way I sound? he said.
Is this the way I sound? it told him, and then

he chuckled and learned the way he chuckled.
He found that tapes were cheap and began taping

everything. On his way to work he taped the car
radio, the transmission shifting gears. At lunch

it was the cafeteria, he taped the commotion and
spent each afternoon untangling conversations

from the squeaking chairs, the clattering trays.
Sometimes he recorded his wife in bed in secret,

and he hid those tapes in the garage. But what he
loved most was his own voice, not the sound itself,

but the newness of it, the mystery of a stranger
knowing every last detail. The red light flickered

for days, which broke perfectly into 90-minute
intervals he labeled with a ballpoint pen. Soon

he realized that it wasn’t one voice in there,
in his chest, but a whole colony of tones and

inflections ready to rise up and serve its purpose.
What a noble thing, he told the microphone,

this army of voices always prepared. Words
to his wife in public were different in the bedroom.

Around men there was strength in Hello.
And maybe he mumbled more than he’d like,

and he wasn’t proud of the bar voice, but singing-in-
the-shower voice often brought a tear to his eye.

(His father voice grunted at the show of emotion.)
How easily we slough the shell of our character, he said

in the poet’s voice, lifting an invisible glass of
sweet champagne—as if it were something to toast.

from Poetry Midwest #12