Inspire | Expire When You Speak Out

I will write a slow poem for you
that drifts down the Mississippi
on a pontoon raft created from upcycled
piano parts and plastic milk jugs.

That seeks to be snagged
by venerable tree corpses.
That detours into the mutable thickness
of a quaking bog

where walking becomes the flipside
of a footrace, and all
the duckweed-eating turtles wear
orange ribbons on their necks.

I will become your slow
poem to recite
when everything begins
to go out of tune.

Slow down,
you move too fast.
You got to make
the morning last.

And it all unravels
into yet another
thing—
late and soon.

Wordsworth and Simon and Garfunkel
and every ekphrastic poet I know
will give me a little help
along the meandering way.

Let’s live
a slow poem life
backwards and sideways
and inside out—

giddy at the sight
of another highway
closed for reconstruction
over a long weekend.

I will revisit that museum
in Cleveland
where I made my own
slow art day.

Seated on a cold wood floor,
I paused
before her
for over an hour,

tears blurring the view.
Freshly released
from the weight
of addiction

one moment at a time,
I was hanging onto
anything I could grasp
with pried-open fists.

Then a raspy voice whispered,
It’s your duty
to tell her story
any way you can:

(Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone, sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Rodin’s Caryatid

Bronze pillar come rest
your arms upon your right knee,
bow your head beneath the burden
of your stone.

Your robe has fallen, a bundle
upon your left thigh,
a foot exposed, arching
taut as a dancer’s.

You would be lovely
outside those gates of hell
should you one day risk

standing. Bronze is a liquid
when boiling. You would be
lovely without that stone.

All My Favorite Photos of You

Gone. Somewhere on the #1 train
between the Bronx and Chelsea.

I shouldn’t have kept them
all in my wallet. Should have kept
a mousetrap in my pocket.

It had been only a year.
I should have paced myself.
I was too young

and naïve to fathom your absence.
You were the one who understood
limits and functions. No thief

can steal the symbol for infinity
we etched into the ice with our skates
on the Thornton Park rink.

Answer to a Page Left Unintentionally Blank

When I return
to Governors Island,
I will collect shells
from a mussel, not

spent ones
from shotguns—slugs long gone.

I will pogo around a circle
with 21st-century punks
without a stick or shtick
and nod my head vigorously

as poets shout the secret
ingredients to their broken hearts.

When I return to Governors Island,
I will bring the freshest figment
specimens I have been collecting
from empty ditches

and storied sidewalks.
I will bring the dirt.

Sacrifice

Think how it all began
the night he discovered
the mirror
in the lake,

and she saw it too.
And they lost themselves
in the surface
of things.

Think how bog bodies
and dead monkeys
in air shafts
refuse to tell on themselves.

And how you pull a red
knit cap over your ears
in mid-May and brave
another day without a Plan B.

Think how Plan X
is so much sexier
with its brackish creek
that breeds a new ecosystem

in the fen sedge
of desire. How you never know
how I will respond
to that color on you.

Think of orange ladders
everywhere we might meet—
the evidence we leave
on those slippery metal rungs.

Bark

Evapotranspirators are not
a thing.
They are the thing.

The massive white oak exhales
when I declare trees
and poems

the true skyscrapers
in a repurposed world.

I wear my heart
on the outside.
I’m no wolf

tree. I have
no back of house.
Hoard no

squirrels, spiders, bats,
caterpillars, woodpeckers,
porcupines, vireos, coyotes.

Every green thought
or deep blue feeling
leaks out the pores of my glass skin.

I was a beach
before I became a window
hovering over a wooden stage.

Ours Is Not the Only Moon

My parents and sisters
transform into clown imposters
one sinister night
I survive as a child.

Chasing the meaning
hidden in delusion
gives me incurable kinetosis.

I will be the stowaway
who tucks herself
into another snow globe
before another trip

ready to be the souvenir
you always wanted
to regift

five times. I will eventually land
on a window sill
where I must combat barbaric glass
for the bird’s attention.

We did this to ourselves
says no cat
or dog anywhere.

Private property signs
don’t apply
on Mars. Born on a Sunday,
I sweat incense

on certain civil twilights
when the sky misses
its moon.

Another drinking fountain
bubbles over the edge
of night when thirst ravages
absolute darkness.

A plane takes off from LaGuardia,
falls apart over Philadelphia.
I will never live

in the same state
as my rapist again. He’s yours,
Ohio. The river’s not so angry.

The lake spells beauty
in it steel-colored waves.
90 miles out, I’m 90 miles out
and counting down.

That pedestrian bridge sings
the same song
no matter which direction

you to choose
to take. The fetus
had a gender
but no handedness yet.

I remember
those Manhattan rooftop parties
on hot summer nights

in the 80s
when everything
was between
shadow and light.

I will walk away from this
echo chamber when the island can
float on its own.

No agent will have us.
We poets are on our own—repurposed

from beer cans and wine corks
and pieces of wood
stolen from a fainting couch

we forgot
we sold
to the man
during the fifth depression.

No cure for solipsism
is engraved
on the bottom

of each mug
we drink from
when we drink
alone.

Neptune’s largest moon
gives us mermaids a run
for our barnacled money

as he blasts his conch trumpet.
He thinks he steals the show.
But no loudmouth fish husband
can ruin us this way. Sailor beware.

that tells the waters or to rise, or fall*

in this genius of place
a meadow and stream
dance together to invent

a new color
you can touch
with your favorite edge of sky

those bare birch trees
remind you to shout
bring on the dirt

how many bridges to nowhere
can you count blindfolded
is not the question to ask

with so many blackbirds
soaring noisily overhead

instead tally the pedestrian
one that leads to a garden
of sculptural delights

when it’s not closed
for the spring
maybe all summer for repairs

no one wants
another one
to fall down

don’t blame the river
no matter how angry
or lonely it gets

* from Alexander Pope’s “Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle IV to Richard Boyle”