I Am the Story

lost inside facing pages
to some biography,
the ones that stuck together
during the printing process.

A triple rainbow stretches over
the city’s modest skyline
after a sudden downpour
at the end of a sunny June afternoon.

Real waves rumble across
the tiny downtown lake.

No time to ask how long
it takes to paint a rooster blue.
How much longer
to build a scaffold

around it to retouch the parts
time and weather swallowed up.

I would have chosen moths
to burst through a tear in the screen
rather than those mosquitoes.
I’m obviously not from here.

This city never chose me
the way I chose it.
How long does it take
to answer the question: Why

are you here?
I’m not the only one.

A tale of two Midwestern cities:
It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
It was, no, not that one.

My sister and I sat in a bar once
and watched the boats
go up and down
the terrifyingly calm Cuyahoga.

From another planet, I watched you leap.
Picnic tables
beneath paper lanterns
hanging everywhere.

You wore my dress. You sang “O, Canada”
as you walked out the door.

More picnic tables
and strange, tacky decorations.
We left the trailer and walked
hand-in-hand to the wooden gate.

You said: “Never mind what I said before.”
We even talked about Virginia Woolf.

You said: “Damn it, pick up that pen
and start writing poetry again.”
You said: “You’re perfect.”
You said you didn’t have time for me.

I am the stitches dropped
in that perfect binding.
I will never be fully justified
or ragged right.

One Night in the Flats

Claustrophobia can be triggered
at any moment in the cabin.
Who else hears you twist
those lyrics? Another girl jumps off

a moving merry-go-round
to change her life.
An island
known for brass

rings, clay cliffs, mechanical sharks, cars going off bridges. The back of a jet

heading west. Potholes
in the sky over the Great Lakes.
A radio station rented yacht
called Heartbreak Hotel docks.

The Cuyahoga at civil twilight. It’s all
so close—

the oxbow bend in the river,
an old jackknife rail bridge,
waterfront amphitheater, beer on tap,
royal blue floral baby

doll dress with pockets.
In front of the crowd, you ask:

“Is it mine?”

Everyone cracks up till you leap
off the stage to kiss me.

Nothing there to be yours yet.
Clothes off, jokes on
all night. One letter. One phone call.
One replacement. One souvenir heart.

Then it’s gone. Too much
blood on the bathroom floor.

Name. It.
I dare you. Thought so.

Descending over the Mississippi,
a landing so smooth.

Final Shimmer

If you had been a hummingbird,
I might have cried.
How wrong I was
to think writing on buildings
is graffiti art, is not
an essay about a quill
tucked between a gutter
and a guffaw.

The snapping turtle
with freshly cut grass
on its shell
moves across the bicycle path,
seemingly unaware
of the scribbled
green message
it leaves behind.

Hey, dead pigeon
on my back doorstep,
I’m sorry
I knew nothing
about how you died,
how you lived.
I confess I haven’t given
your kind much respect.

Your iridescent
emerald and violet
throat feathers
still shimmer
in the right light,
from the right angle.
Your own personal prism
outlasts your final breath.

Hey, dead pigeon,
it’s me again.
I hear a neighbor say
“Poor thing. Maybe, it’s still alive.”

Come morning,
the kind of rain
without hope
of a rainbow
descends on the city.
You are gone.
And I am sorry.
Some would have called you a dove.

Why Do I Sing Like This, Not That?

Looking to learn
from another field of lilies,
she hears more
than the young singer’s voice.

The whole of her doomed
love life tucked precisely between
the notes of her saddest tune.
As if

she might touch death’s velvet
rope there. She sees,
no, she feels
a stirring in the grass—

it takes a moment
to identify the solo snapping
turtle as it makes its way
from the city park pond

to higher ground.
Is it seeking some loose, moist loam
to lay its clutch in?
Is it even a she?

The wild act might have been
last night,
or some particularly solitude-breaking one
last year. Imagine the delay.

After all that, she doesn’t even wait
to see if the eggs hatch,
if her hatchlings survive. Most won’t.
A forward momentum no matter how slow.

She listens to “Darker Things”
for the tenth time that morning.
It’s been such a long time
since a song destroyed her so utterly.

Spyglass

Sunday morning
and I’m ready
to throw another e-scooter
in the river. And I’m ready
to wipe salt from a bottom
lip. It’s the middle
of May, and I’ll be
writing about drones

and other flying insects,
so I don’t forget how
I feel about them.
I’m no robot, and
I would’t want
to be like you either.
The hidden camera is always loaded
and ready.

Real fog lifts before
you get the chance
to name it. Bottle it. Linger on
it—that buzzing in my head.
A pedestrian nightmare,
they’re flying low
and riding high,
desecrating another sidewalk

story drawn in colored chalk.
The White Cliffs of Dover
lulled me to a deep sleep.
It might have been
those streaks of black flint.
I’m ready to know the truth—
to start the fire again
before it rains.

Lilacs Again

Promise—the second oldest memory
they stir. I can’t remember
the first. Packaged
in a top 40 radio hit perhaps.

Am I the only one
who still listens to the radio?
Anyone out there?
When I get the second shot in two days

and have waited two weeks,
anyone out there then?
All those heart-to-hearts
with the younger self.

The wardrobe rotated again as if
it matters. At some point, this left-hand
ink smear will become the most valuable
NFT you never invested in.

It’s not a competition,
songs and scents
both release the most sweet
bitter whorls, bundles of them.

Sappho knew lilacs
are in the olive family.
Just one more final and the death
of a high school friend

till you can board another
rocking ferry
for the next Greek island,
you tell yourself.

nothing rocks like it used to

fragments

over and over

what got erased from those love letters

to a life lived so hard

I kept them

all of them

I never questioned that

“unmanageable creature who steals in”

the way everyone advised

“like a mountain wind falling on oak trees”

and then

“for we in our youth

did these things

yes many and beautiful things”

she says

“lyre lyre lyre”

say it three times

because how else

will the “transparent dress” follow

and I won’t ask

for more

about the “gold anklebone cups”

I won’t I won’t I won’t

Note: Thank you, Sappho, for those fragments I stole. And thank you, Anne Carson, for bringing them to light in If Not, Winter.

Bluish In Thick Layers

With true sangfroid,
she says let’s talk
about purple pipes.

Let’s admit it—
the great blue heron
nested here first.

Rivers are people too.
Turns out our most precious blood . . .
Locked in and interrupting herself,

she says I have been accused
of being tasteless and very slightly
compressible too.

I no longer fear
the first flush
in these boots. My hands

gloved. I have my reasons,
she says. No diamonds
of the first water

(or even muddy and impure ones)
need protecting
on these fingers.

That willingness to rape
the earth—don’t blame the owl,
or the hawk,

or that heron
staring at you
from its dead branch perch,

she says. And the tree’s story
does not end
the night a storm struck it down.

Our most precious blood,
a truth so secret,
it stills the water.

Minneapolis, MN | Week of April 18

A COVID vaccine hangover. Death
of an elder Minnesota statesperson.
Not one, not two, but three
guilty verdicts.
It might rain. It might even—you know.
“Sometimes it snows in April.” Prince knew.
Now he’s gone five years.
Yesterday I saw a great blue heron

perched on a dead tree branch
extended over the pond. Red-winged
blackbirds gathered around as if readying
to mob, then thought better of it.
The cherry saplings in Loring Park
hold their blossoms all week.

The Kettle | The Keeper | The Crook

She’s such
a thief she’ll steal
your words before they leave
your mouth. She’ll hijack your thoughts just
because

she can.
There she goes with
a cluster in her fist.
She’s ready to drop them in a
cauldron

with fresh
forsythia
petals—a repurposed
remedy she will drink in the
wee hours.

Sunrise
the next morning,
she’ll discover a new
raison d’être as she swipes a
bundle

of her
own words scrawled on
a page in a yellow
book she pulls off the shelf, covered
in dust.

He used
to keep the light,
then bees. Now he just keeps
me up nights wondering how to
keep him.