Bread

Bread

 

Ezra swings hard until his body angles into the earth, his legs

and hips almost too much for the chain and rubber sling. He swings

until the bar rattles its apex, the jolt after a second of weightlessness,

until all I can see of him is a curve with a face, a grinning ray

about to shoot off through the sky.

 

*

 

The small Pakistani boy fishhooks my eye, hunched

over on a bench at a playground. There is a circle

of children behind him, waiting stars on an arabesque.

Do you have any bread? he asks breathlessly, my face

domed in the telescopes of his glasses.

 

Nope, I tell him, because it’s the truth.

 

Pretend, he says with a whip of his wrists as if tossing a doll.

He huffs and flicks his hands again. The doll becomes a juggler’s pin.

Pretend you have bread, man, he whines and casts back

his head, the pin become something much greater,

and more necessary.

 

So I reach into my pocket and pull out air,

cupping it in front of our faces. The children’s eyes tick

with our movements. He reaches into the warm

concave of my hands to pull out air.

Pinching it in front of him, he returns to the circle

and fists out loaves to his starving friends.

Soon enough, they’re back for more,

for soda, spaghetti, cheeseburgers, sun-

soft bowls of ice cream.

I give them all I have.

*

 

Ezra swings higher and harder now, nearly gone. There, for a second—

his eyewhites, the quick meniscus of a smile, and then

he is nothing but a pendulum blade,

a threaded spider in a doorway, a stone about to fly,

the centuries-long ellipsis of a comet.

 

First Published in The Atticus Review

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South Wichita Safeway

South Wichita Safeway

 

The first time my mother left me

Mount St. Helens exploded.

She crowded around a little grey radio

at the checkout, a milk bottle sweating

against her ribs, the butcher behind her

towing a cloud of Camel smoke,

beef fumes. She listened

while a reporter barked about lahars

and pyroclastic flows, blast magnitudes

and missing mountain men, his voice

bearded with static. The eruption scalped

its peak, the whole north rockface, an island

almost, shook out into the sky, bears and all.

She sighed and gasped, overwhelmed

by secondhand atrocity. She tried to imagine

a million trees snapped, blown sideways

in a sharp second, tried not to wait

for that avalanche to rush the city limits

and uproot every church, strip club

and slaughterhouse she knew.

How exciting it all was for a day,

how mildly disappointing when, by next

morning, the mountain’s headwind of ash

had drifted only as far east as Boise

and Edmonton, heaped quietly on green

leaves, windowsills and woolen vagrants,

only a mid-May snowfall, just

another kind of winter.

 

First Published in Tupelo Quarterly 8

Self-Hypnosis

Self-Hypnosis

 

Go back.

 

Go back one moment,

to the first line of this poem.

 

Go back two moments,

past the first line of this poem.

 

Five moments, breathing in

the smell of smoke, somewhere a fire,

your finger clasped in a book. A breeze

turned like a voice beside you,

about to read this poem,

or write it.

 

Go back one hour.

You had your head in your hands,

or a child’s fragile head was in your hands,

his tears pooling in your palm. Or else

you were happy, smiling at scraps

of overheard conversation, a bar joke,

a horse and a Rabbi, anything.

 

Go back one day.

It was raining, mud-grey all around you,

or it was hot, the sun a stone bearing down

on your neck with each blurred step,

sweat in your shoes, salt in your shirt,

or it was different.

 

Go back one year.

You were walking through cracked leaves

in a gutter, listening to their knucklebone rattle,

or you were standing behind a girl

in the supermarket, watching the crane

of her neck slip smooth like water

as she thumbed a magazine,

or you were other places.

 

Go back five. You were sitting

on the poured stairs, coiling a strand

of hair back around two fingers as you do

when you want to write, trying to remember

the first time you saw crows and knew their names,

or you were standing behind a door, watching your wife

pour water on the baby in a white bathroom sink,

or you were other things.

 

Go back to the first time you saw crows

and knew them by their burnt metal colors.

 

Go back to the first dream of falling,

jerking awake to some truth suddenly

clear for a cold long breath. Go back

to the first dream in which you saw outside

yourself, first dream of music

where it shouldn’t be, in the street,

in your chest, your slapped skin

and singing joints, first dream

of wolves, first dream of fire, first

dream screaming, first dream

in which you realized anyone could fit

into anyone else’s body.

 

Go back to the first time you heard crows,

and knew them by their scratched glass voices.

 

Go back to the first girl you ever loved,

first boy you ever loved.

 

Go back to the first time you felt naked,

first cigarette, the hot half-breath

of it, first car crash and house-burning,

first bad haircut, first good haircut,

first dirty word or thought, and how

great it was to say or think, first black eye

or broken bone, first time you tasted your own

blood, first time you saw your own blood,

the first time you knew that all animals die.

 

Go back until you find

the first thing, the first thought, the first bright

plume and flash that became a part of you..

 

First thing: chasing grasshoppers

through tall brown grass, a dust-filled wind

on all sides of you. They clutch the dry stalks,

swaying in sunlight and waiting for you to touch

the green paper of their wings

before they fly.

 

First thing: you are held against

the pale moon of a breast, shadows spilling

out behind the curve. A huge finger

dots the tip of your nose

with a poke.

 

Go back to the brink.

Go back into that last brief firelight

that flung shapes on cave walls.

Your cheeks waver. Kneel, slither

across the broken floor. Find a place

where the blackness hems, breaks,

the cracked edge of a life you never lived.

 

Go back until half of your body is light,

and half of your body is dark.

 

Go back until all of you is dark.

 

Rest.

 

(First Published in The Coachella Review, Spring 2012)

Einstein Pajamas

A while ago I began to think that, no matter how much I wrote, or how many journals I published in, I wouldn’t feel that I had any real cultural form or permanence until I made myself a website. So, here I am. I’ll let you know how it goes.