That she could define the sacred place inside her architecture of breathing,
that she could steal her father’s Old Head cave—naturally programmed with thick
Irish grass to cushion vistas of the Irish Sea—
that she could claim even one piece of rock as her own
to build a chapel for her own non-conformity,
would be her attention to structure,
would be her proposal to the world,
would be her physical presence
inside a hallowed ground where there are
no lines, no dimensions, only
the exquisite knowing of a spot
where she, like seamen before her,
would go. She would go
to rest her body, to forget it, to uncover
in the rubble of Earth’s design,
souls lost, souls renewed,
a storm pushing so many
waves into the cave, etching
its remarkably evolved design
no human hand could replicate.
You are my laughing phoenix,
I am yours.
Our cackling woke the dead.
Endlessly we cracked jokes
waiting for the fire engines (not red)
No, wait! Hurry! Get back
inside. Let the smoke
choke us out of five hundred years’
worth of played-out puns.
Six hundred too many Arabian nights
have us cracked up under the moon.
Reduced to ashes, we could ask to be blood-red,
winged beauties next to one another
drying feathers forever in the desert.
But you would not reinvent yourself
with me. For me,
the ashes scatter irreverently. For you,
tradition’s fire in the belly burns
as you wait for ladders and hoses.
Dry as the skin of wakened dead,
the puns will reduce me
to tears for five hundred or so
more years. Unless, of course,
you weren’t my last,
Graffiti isn’t graffiti
unless she calls it.
On an old water tower crowning
an abandoned grain mill—
perhaps. “Erin I love you” attaching
itself to the “and then it got
very cool” end
of Ashbery’s poem on a pedestrian
for her in waterfall rushing
to flow into southern lines—
she thinks they won’t disappear too soon.
He finds her one
piece at a time
along railroad tracks, in riverbeds, beneath
piers, over gutters. It takes
months to find her mouth,
but the hands appear
without effort. His search begins
when he’s walking
along the shoulder
of a dusty road
outside a town he has considered home. Not
so much anymore. A patch
of sapphire light
in the distance drags him
into the brush—a freight
line that time forgot. Wild flowers
he knows someone would call weeds,
except for that color. It draws him in. There, surrounded
by ties and a broken empty Wild
Turkey bottle caught in the dirt, two imperfectly round
stones the color of an angry ocean
before the eye
of a storm. They become
the start, his decision
to invent a woman
from what he can’t know.
In the gathering,
he is not literal—no black
tupelo twigs for limbs, no
algae strands for hair. No,
he collects what he collects
because she is guiding him
to make her whole, complex
enough to hold his attention
for longer than the discovery
of each piece. There is only one
rule he follows:
he must be walking.
When I visit
next month, I will
think of you
is a horse.
I wrote a love poem
to a tree. Now
I’m learning not to wait
for a reply.
Everyone is (a) pedestrian.
This corridor is mine
to crawl through to touch
the classless dream(.)
A thirty-minute measure
of time to get it done.
She must pave the road from town center
to rain puddle is a swimming hole
for her imaginary neighborhood. It’s time
to get it done. Their world, her creation,
is a cul-de-sac
of beach sand transported
by huge mechanical shovels, not
the wind. It’s time, before
she can no longer tell the difference
between the road and ditch,
to get it done. Why play
out here, her mother has asked,
when the ocean is just up the path
hazarding the screened-in front
porch. But her mother just doesn’t get it.
It’s time, here in the back, to get it done. It’s not
about match box cars with real working door hinges
and tiny treaded tires. Any doll
she owns would be out of scale.
So the people of the neighborhood are invisible,
but no less in need
of roadways, driveways, articulated floor plans
for their homes. From where they live, she can’t see
East Chop or West Chop Light. But she can almost hear
the salt rumble on, miniature bay wave
tucking into itself. What gets trapped
in the air might preserve the village, or
it might rain. She doesn’t take chances—it’s time to get it done
before the bare red bulb lights up the back porch.
Sandusky is not merely amusement, not merely
a beer garden, bathhouse, dance
floor where the first lover
would begin to break
my hope over cold water. Edging Lake Erie,
a peninsula not an island
after all, Ohio’s tendency for hills. I stay away
to prevent roller coaster motion
sickness—we’re never cured
from the disease
of memory. What we get
if we’re very lucky, and the light
is with us, is
a daily reprieve from our inner ear’s relentless imbalance.
She believes she can stand tall against shadow,
affect the light
into afternoon, identify the stone
figure staring at her as she turns a corner
old as sin. It could be
hers—wrapped into the dirty
canopy fabric above the narrow door.
* The title comes from the Preface to Luc Sante’s Low Life.