People Don’t Know What We Mean When We Say “Us”
Will it be you, first?
Will someone else trim your fingernails—still
growing—while I sit in a black dress,
in a wicker chair? Will my head bend
or drop, heavy with the dim bulk of your body?
Wicker seems too temporary (everything will be
wrong then), its thin flutes suited to the mouth of a zoo
panda or a white porch painted over and over
and over until the dark spaces between the planks
clot, then swell. For a while. Wood gives too.
The animal under the deck has been scratching
again. Soon it will slip into the wall, and who will I tell
if not you? Or will we continue to talk as we do, one voice
questioning, the other quiet, an unwound clock? Minutes,
once spent, harden.
The first time the young surgeon pulls
something from a heart he lies
in the zone, a wet field, standard-issue
boots inquiring of the ground a notch
hollow enough for slow breathing. He believes
he can fix the beat of a song only you
and I hear. Bass blasts from behind
a cloud, from the earth itself—his eyes
closed now—one finger sweeping the sweet warm muscle
for metal, another pressing the soldier’s throat.
Rush On, These Cows Aren’t Dancing
Wet pressure music, what a
walls shiver, the
field air leaking
snapping— the band—
Not a single penny
to prop the door and
we girls are full out
Wicked and racing and
miming sleep, we hatch
ask the grape vines to braid us
with our faces pressed
to pondwater kissing, the
tuck our arms
in, nervous to flip
on the thick needlebeds.
A tinkling refrain—the storm
the pines: rain’s
rounding the bend
toward the fugitive
Someone is seeking, we think
we are hidden, not
the farm— one frantic chicken
the ground scratching
its red skin,
fallen comb jugging
from corner to corn.
trip and try to
stand and the mud sucks
my hands, whispers:
go on, catch
the outbound bus. morning comes
on so gradual—
Across the clear black I can see
the city’s lightcloud hanging.
Faceless arms raking the barnyard, broken
sagging, restless pig chewing
washing but waits
like a secret star. Not
of feeling the same fraying
scrubbrush, I am running,
this road, it
on the compass glass.
So many locusts crowding
the dark. So many stalks
back to the worn porchlight.
Self-Portrait as Aging, with Vertigo and a Singing Six-Year-Old
Like a shell game in which coconuts trail the fringe of their viscera
across a bartop’s clotted gloss, each doctor declares my dizzy wildly
imprecise, swaps in vertigo, though rebound dominates, I insist, there
in the produce aisle, where I blink and center twice a week, as if I’ve
just jumped from the apex of a swing set striped like stick candy, to
right myself. Fatigue, he writes, when I say I’ve never taken speed,
but can imagine. Each time it happens, I’m reaching for clamshells of
spinach barely high enough to pinch a nerve, much less to flood my
inner ear with dreams of going over Niagara in a barrel. The white
coat reassembles his model, cochlea coiled, tame, that sleeping, pearl-
plastic nautilus. That there’s no falling at all, we should remain
grateful, he says, but suspicious. Whatever’s meant to settle at the
bottom of an escalator is, in me, bent instead on rising, plunging up. I
picture snorting moons riding a g-force. It’s like that with our
spherical world: everything believing in myths of a better angle.
Holding out for the circle beyond pixel-point—the ideal, with its
luminous skin and eyes wide as dinner plates. But where can we find
more freedom, more truth, more unrepentant joy than this raggedy
concrete? The ball pit at an interstate rest stop: primary colors
pummeled, dented, sucked down into the spiral of nothing, like the
class clown who danced atop corn in a grain elevator before being
swallowed like a hand in an endless sleeve. Ruby red! cobalt!
sunblood gold! The ball pit, a distress of rapture. What else could so
much color do but drown in itself, in other words how’s a body
supposed to handle it when a six-year-old girl opens her mouth to sing,
I mean really sing? Some days I am that mouth, I tell the doctor, others
only the memory of a note it used to hit. He lifts his pen. But most
days I’m the humid crumbs, the bobby pins and small coins some
teenage boy sweeps into small piles when he comes halfheartedly to
clean the vinyl pit, already dreaming of the girl he’ll take to the movie
that night, of the dappled rash her loose-knit sweater will leave on his
arm as she leans against him, a scent of orange—no, gardenia—
circling her hair like a crown of tipsy, hiccupping birds.