Not Again

As a child, I played house
inside moving boxes.

Some people can’t go home
for the first time.

Somewhere along the way,
I decided if I can

stand still
long enough, then.

Being home = fear of another move.

Or, some people become too tired
to pack another box.

And the narrator of my dreams
becomes unreliable as

the voice in my head when I walk
into another morning.

Black Box

It’s nothing personal—
her terror.
She doesn’t need
a weatherman
to know which
streets to walk
when civil twilight
leads to civil unrest.

She’ll never hold
a loaded gun
again. In the summer of 1984,
she cut her finger
on a squirt gun
during a drunken weekend
reunion in Brooklyn with someone
she should never have reunited with.

She feels constrained
by the box she lives in,
its four top flaps
just beyond reach.
She wants to take
a train to a plane
to an island
she doesn’t recognize.

She wants to believe
in something
greater than this
cardboard vista.
Wishes she could make
a diorama from a milk crate
someone stole from PS 7 in the Bronx
just for personal use.

Draped and placed
on a stool,
it would tell a new story
from an old fear.
A tiny bent light beam
would seep in
through a tear in the canvas
sky. Outside it might rain.

a.k.a. The Solar Terminator

Two days before
the autumnal equinox,
I want to slip off the main trail
and run into Cedar Lake’s
eastern woods.

Let the wind
and slope and root
burst through dirt
determine when
I make it home. If.

This age of anxiety
gives way to another age
of insecurity
that rolls over
cold slabs

onto the coast that is
never going to clear.

Now I fear
the very existence
of dumpsters
in the alley
and what they contain.

The Flatiron Building,
the Hotel Chelsea,
the McBurney Y
before it moved
nine blocks south—

West 23rd Street, New York, New York,
I love you.

I want to meet the blue
that can’t decide
if it wants to be
purple or gray.
With an A not an E.

I pray
my favorite season
calms the ground
and cools the sky
with quartz-flecked slate.

Willing Suspension of

When too personal texts
become too impersonal,
she wants to curl inside
a conch shell

and sleep like an adolescent girl
from a Virginia Woolf novel, or
Bascove painting
with a drawbridge straight ahead.

All the lovers she’s known
named Steve have died.
Four in all. That’s eery
enough. Sometimes she reads

the wedding announcements
in the Sunday paper
in search of couples
over 50 for no legitimate reason.

Being invisible—
a 24/7 pedestrian
on the sidewalks of New York—
has its blessings.

She counts them each morning
as she counts out the seven almonds
she will eat
to celebrate another day.

She understands those
Thunder Bay cliff jumpers
more than any ancestral cliff
dwellers. But

she’s too afraid
to wake her dormant fears
to stand too close
to the edge. Never

end a poem there. So
she will reread his text
about building a bonfire
in a park in September

before she makes
her next move.

Alive on Arrival (Courtesy of the New York Post Office)

27 miles of pneumatic tubing
to transport 97,000 letters a day
at 30 miles per hour
for more than 50 years

6 feet under.

A whole transportation system
sandwiched between
ambulance sirens
and subway trains.

From 1897 to 1953,
rocketeers handled
the 25-pound steel cannisters.
Even a cat got sent through.

Whoosh.

Bridge

For MJN crossing beneath,
for NYC connecting across,
for the Brooklyn Bridge rescue working destiny

Advance your vantage
point, collapse
your facade of steel,
your gutted concrete floor.

Collide your bridge maker
with mine, collage your hand over mouth
with my eyes shut,
vocal chords in strangulation—

a scream
a void

to coalesce to convalesce
on one promenade
of material unidentifiable yet.
Coordinate the crossing—

bare feet
dust
ash caked faces

no veil could protect,
suits meaningless, ties undone
till they become arms swaying.
A human chain

of events. A human
behavior changing—
never
no way
when
now.

They designed bridges
to be passageways.
Make them good
to get no further

than this. It is still where it has been,
the destination stands
between these pedestrian elevating towers
still here.

Neither Habitual Nor Bent

When the left speaker blows,
my spine shifts. My inner sense
of direction fluctuates
as the days shrink.
As my heart expands,

I will run through the fallen
leaves without amplification
soon. What has loosened
the wire? A cat? A mouse?
A bat? A louse?

Yes, I know the rhyme
needs to slant
more than that.

The last time
I asked if
you sell waterbeds,
you laughed me out the door
onto the icy street.

Waves of nostalgia
mistaken for nausea
overcame me as I swam away.

My inner ear and outer
edges have ached
for years.

Library patrons
are customers now. Patients—
clients beware. We’re all looking
to buy those words
we misheard

in stereo, those love lines
we forgot to sing
to sleep.

Not a Whisper

Take the walking cure.
Don’t say a word
about miles or hills or wind.
About urban wildlife
encountered along the way.

A tree talks to itself
with a German accent.
But when it warns neighbors
in the grove
of impending danger

(a hurricane or man
with an ax)
through the wood wide web
fungal network,
no accent can be detected.

Be prepared
to crush all rebar
poems. Grind them
into a fine powder
to sprinkle over

next week’s hoarding
of stanzas.
Don’t ask Siri.
She can’t help
you now.

The express train
won’t stop here.
The third rail knows
something about keeping
the fallen alive

by administering sweet juice
through hidden roots.
Take it
at face value—
be cured.

Round Trip August

I survive another
anniversary of death.
I won’t swing censers loose
from their chains.

Sometimes all you need
is a title to tell the story.
And the title becomes too much
to bear without a witness
to tame all the stanzas
tumbling onto the track.

Then there’s the third rail.
Third Avenue, third river,
third act, third meal, third line
in the third stanza,

third child—I was his
number three (or so)
when I lived on the third floor.
So many mad women in the attic
to calm with a promise
no one wants kept.

I don’t just survive.
I prevail over mouthwash dispensers
in a Hell’s Kitchen diner
unisex bathroom.
I salute the man outside
Port Authority and his cardboard sign:

Gimme a dollar
or I vote for Trump.

I prevail over an unairconditioned C train
on a nasty hot August afternoon.
I salute the shoppers
inside Century 21 later that day.

Would my father have loved that pink sunset
over Jersey City?
Is he the one
who slides the dark curtain across?

These rhetorical questions
come wrapped in cotton
for safekeeping. I swear
the clouds visible from the plane
bringing me home
are cotton balls

that reek of rubbing alcohol.
I cringe. Which fear burns longest—
the one you admit to each day,
or the other one?