Kin

Remember this, then.

There is a girl at the edge

of town, window jimmied, slipping

lumps of scrambled egg and hard toast

out onto the damp side of the sill.

 

Morning fog’s bitten off all

but the nearest branches of the family

sycamore, and the family of crows

living there, chittering, churning

the clouds with their wings.

 

There’s a line of objects laid neatly

along the dry side of the windowsill:

a pebble, a paper clip, can tabs, beachglass,

earrings, buttons, a cat’s broken femur,

the silver half of a heart.

 

She waits with her nosetip cold

to the pane, quietly breathing herself

into the swirl of an old man’s beard,

until one by one, dewhooded

and coin-eyed, the crows come

 

clutching gifts, offering trade.

Advertisements

Medicine

For a nosebleed: drop

something cold, a coin or key,

the length of your back.

 

Wicked lumbago

needs brown paper ironed hot,

pressed into the small.

 

To improve eyesight,

pierce your ears and get some gold.

Silver does nothing.

 

Rheumatism: carry

a young spud in your pocket.

Or soak in Epsom.

 

Sore throat: tie a wool

stocking round your neck; Father’s

sweaty sock will do.

 

Linseed, lime for burns.

Boiled onion poultice for ears.

Bread poultice for boils.

 

Bluebag for bee stings.

Warm cow dung for carbuncle,

or draw the devil

 

out with a hot glass.

Rub butter on a bumped head,

fig leaf on a bruise.

 

In case of a cut,

a little whiskey leeches rust.

It’s good to let dogs

 

lick an open wound,

but only those you know well,

not some thin-boned stray.

 

Next, to clot the cut,

use cobwebs, fresh cigar ash—

in a pinch, sugar.

 

Egg water causes warts,

and touching toads. Spin horsehair

around your finger,

 

or daub with sow thistle.

If that cure fails, steal a piece

of meat. Rub the wart

into the cold chop.

Bury it in the garden.

Tell no one. The flesh

 

and the wart decay

together. Some say you need

a dead cat. Jabber—

 

any meat will do.

No, what we make we make in

burial, in hiding.

~Love to All, S~

I read her the Bogotá letters she mailed to Mother

in 1960. She stares up at me, sheeted in her sour midden,

eyes blinking like blown coal, aching to remember

her own life, her fingers on the Underwood,

to see herself again in dig coats and dusty hotel mirrors,

that Berkeley-trained gringa, that child exile of the Blitz,

far from home, as an anthropologist must always be.

She barks in a Yorkshire accent whenever I mispronounce

a township, Ramiriquí, Sopó, Facatativá gumming in my mouth

like dry bread. I want to read her face, and follow the recognition

as her gin blossomed forehead tightens, slacks to the words

greying in the cumulus of my voice.

 

You are 26 years old, Sylvia, broad shouldered and sandy-haired,

crawling through a mountain to the Salt Cathedral at Zipaquirá,

the altar a block of the purest salt you’ve ever seen.

You are counting bullet holes in the wall of the Museo Nacional,

where firing squads did their daily business for a century.

Frantically, you bail mud from the dolmens in the dam’s path,

Guatavita’s shoreline creeping toward the find of your career.

You shoo Penny off the balcony. He keeps gnawing

down geranium limbs, eating the fuchsia.

Eduardo throws a sack over a comadreja, a weasel

in the attic, and skewers it with a pitchfork.

You take notes while the chicken thief’s shrieks fill the fields.

People ask aloud, but quietly, when Las Violencias are coming back.

Appearances of the Virgin follow bodies of previously sacred water.

One night a government truck plays “The Twist” on a loop,

you dance, dance in the plaza with the local torero, drunk,

throwing back black coffee whenever you float past your table.

This is you, Sylvia, waving from a VW Bug at the head

of a slow parade of threshers and pack mules to the Livestock Fair,

skinny bullfighter for a Prince Charming, rockets blazing, blurring

overhead, wrangled somehow into this, your life’s version

of a fairy tale  you once imagined as a child.

 

Her face is full finally, not smiling, but smooth as a windbellied sail.

A stray patient, doubled over, rolls in from the hallway dragging

a doll by its smudged ankle. The woman’s tongue hangs past her lips

and untoothed jaw, jutting in and out, at once ghostlike and mechanical.

She shuffles her wheelchair to the other bed and lifts her head just

enough to hold a blanket over the baby’s face. She whispers, I don’t care

if she dies, if she dies, again, again, with just a trace

of Alabama upglide. I press the call light.

 

Sylvia clutches my wrist when I stand to leave. I won’t tell

her where I’m going. I can’t risk telling her where she is now

and watch fifty years of dust cross her face.

So I say, I love you, the leaves of her hands and shoulders

trembling, and she says, I love you, Allen,

who died before I was born.

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

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.