From the Latin for To Rise

I’m thinking the Kinks,
not Van Halen.
without question.

Son Volt before Wilco.
Uncle Tupelo before everything,
of course. Ordinary events
happen in extraordinary ways

is not a slogan
to memorize
over coffee
while reading

about Johnny Thunderbolt’s
interrupted window washing
before Johnny Thunders
got smeared in

a Lower East Side alley
during a downpour. Before

that Midwestern singer
taunted him with
Johnny’s gonna die.
In the aftermath,

I’m thinking Thomas Wolfe,
not Tom Wolfe.
And Woolf before any Wolfe—
of course.

“They Flick their Tails Right and Left as I Speak Them”*

Self-conscious about the words
she chooses, silence hangs
a mesh net over the scene
outside the window.

Selfies taken on a pedestrian
bridge become art hung on a wall
inside a half-crowded,
half-empty coffee bar.

What would Virginia do?
She seeks to describe a world
without the self
by messing with pronouns.

Nobody’s fool
fools nobody.

She may need
to drop her phone
into a gutter,
use her naked eyes

to watch startled geese
speckle the northern sky.

I may need
to reread The Waves.
Give all pronouns a rest.
Name the thing itself.

Let cloud ingredients decide
crush or crash,
observe or obscure,
frame or release,

abstract or wing-shaped
and shrinking fast.

* Bernard in The Waves, by Virginia Woolf.

Proud Flesh

In this bright light,
I can see the scars
on your face.
Harsh but true.

Self-inflicted wounds
heal in a different key,
if they heal
at all. You were

a little flat,
my mother thought.
I remember a definition
of humility

that knocked the wind
out of me.
Don’t know where you were
that morning.

Halfway Through August Without a Tear

Love bites
from cupping
for 90 minutes or so
he says
to the woman
he’s known most
of his adult life.

She wants to believe
in something (or someone)
besides what the unreliable
narrator of her memories
whispers whenever
she gets close
to the water’s edge.

A pier, a bank,
a jetty, a buoy, a bridge
in suspension.

The voice
calms her
into a false
sense of relief.
They really do park
cars diagonally
on Circuit Avenue.

Left Behind Rhetoric 

Two yellow crutches
abandoned on a lawn
in a front yard before dusk.

Four Steves
she knew biblically—
all addicts and alcoholics—now dead.

One by drowning, one by drinking,
one by overdosing, one by who knows.
Who still says “knew biblically”?

Six blocks left
to walk before
the street lights buzz on.

Eight memories of childhood summers
that distract her
from the steps left to take.

Here’s one:
The islander kids would scare her
with their dirty talk

about wet towels and spaces
she didn’t know
she was supposed to protect.

Decades later
she finds herself once again wanting
to scream in jealous fury

(more emphatically than Seth Tiven):
“Get off my island!”
As if she can really claim any place hers.

Who really owns the land
and water surrounding it all
is a question that needs no interrogation point.

So forgive us our no trespassing
signs and the sea glass
we excavated from the sand.

Why, How Do You Pronounce Topher?

The soap bubble someone left on the edge
of the bathroom sink will burst.

I don’t think Emily died
a virgin the way my friend did.
For some (for me),
it’s been 37 years.

And he drowned
in his own pool.

I just swallowed a bitter pill,
literally. No plastic cups
for water and the prices
went up overnight.

I drink the coffee that should taste
18 cents better this morning

and think about wanderlust.
It’s an incurable desire
to run away from home
or to run headlong into it.

To get lost
or found.

Should have known something
was wrong when he said:
“My favorite movie is
Leaving Las Vegas.”

The young woman who cut my hair yesterday
wore a wide-brimmed felt hat

and tattooed sleeves on both arms
to match her long green hair.

I don’t write about them
because of my fear of my fear
of needles. Too chicken to get
the expiration date

stamp I threatened myself with
when I moved northwest. On my hip.

(He knew she was no good
when he saw her expiration date.)

July 27, 1990. August 31, 1991.
October 1, 1992. April 11, 1993.
November 19, 2002. August 27, 2012.
Or just too many dates to pick from.

Misplaced the cartoon
I stole the idea from.
How uncool is that.
And I will never give up

the period—in a text message,
or a handwritten letter, or any kind of text.

maybe a poem occasionally
when no punctuation will do

I could choose the nickname
“My” and pronounce it “Me.”
I could become more self-referential
than the world’s only corn palace.

I could change the pronunciation
of my hometown. No one would know.

They Call It Vixen

Then there are all the things
she does to remember
to paint her toenails
a shade of dried blood.

Then there’s how she looks
for her perfect accessory
dwelling unit in all the wrong places
the way she used to look for love.

Then there are all the parallel
constructions she creates—
they won’t satisfy
a lyric soul.

No one’s going to rescue her
from tumbling into a pitfall
covered with a thick layer
of lyric soul grit and grime.

Then again every word she wants to use
has become the name of a video game,
or brooding post-punk revivalist band,
or nail polish.

Blue Ruin

When a hair dye
becomes a mixed drink
and she refuses to use
either. And two rabbits

in an alley won’t alter
the message hidden
in a cellar window well.

The way they freeze
and frame the unkempt path
of grass, dirt, and concrete
is its own refusal.

If there’s blood.
If they die, she will seek
a wild justice.

But first in a hot flash,
she’ll comb the patch
of sky visible between
those two brownstones

for clues of ruined
memory. For a simple
dark cloud

that might break
in time for rain
to cascade
over more red hot rubble.