Framed (by Max Ernst’s “Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale”)

She tries so hard
not to photobomb the bride
and her maids
as they wave good-bye
in Loring Alley.

She tries so hard
to wave good-bye
to the words bride and maid.

Mews or no mews,
a blackberry massacre
on pale brick
might interfere
with the way

she places
her surviving oar
against the shop wall.

She would swing the red gate
wide open
if she could reach
beyond a nightmare’s
wood and knife

with her left hand
to touch the love
song’s broken wing.

Pictures of Gullfoss 

she wants to write
a poem
called why I hate jazz

she will write a poem called
why I can’t write
a poem called
why I hate jazz

her hair is
like a waterfall
no, let’s say

a cascade of locks
flows over her shoulders
down her back

spills onto a bed
of black lava rocks
scratch that

her hair is
a waterfall
of whites and grays
before they turn blue

a rush of the unfrozen
cannot shake late winter’s
thick coat of rime
covering the gorge

the boy who crosses
Hvítá to follow his love
before the higher hell track begins
arrives too soon

if only the boy
who plays trombone had asked
if only he had listened
to her answer

a tooth protruding
from the side
of a mountain
won’t erode the view

it’s not about jazz at all
it’s her body she has needed

to stop hating
the way she has learned
to love the best

it was so cold storytellers
on either side
of that seam known as
the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

The Saga of Emily D. on Ice on Fire

The why must Provoke so much more
Than curiosity
To leave the refuge of my Home,
My Century—my mind.

It must spark a burning Passion
For peering over cliffs
Regardless of depth, height, angle,
Or what’s lying below.

A monstrous white Mechanical
Raptor with blue belly
Propels me through space. I defy
Time and gravity and

Death. And now I must eschew this—
My traditional form—
Common ballad meter combined
With capitalizing

the first word in each line
and random ones in the middle
in favor of this subtle
lower case field.

I will suspend
my disbelief,
but I will not relinquish
my four-line stanza.

We hit, then bounce,
then hit land again
on a mysterious island
in a gale force wind.

I see no flowers.
No trees—where are my pines?
Where can that narrow fellow hide
without any grass?

Led into a plaza
with electric lamps
through a maze of lines
formed by people in abnormal dress,

I am asked to produce documentation
I didn’t know I had.
I see stamps
from other countries:

France, Mexico,
Republic of Ireland,
Japan, Italy, Egypt,
Canada, India, Cuba.

It looks like I have been traveling
far and wide
alone in my dreams
since I died 131 years ago.

I climb aboard
a horseless coach
to watch this strange land
unfold before me—

lava fields of obsidian,
basalt, moss, mountains,
snow, steam, ice, more moss.
I smell mortality in those rocks.

So exhausted from a sickness
I’m told is called jet lag,
I barely notice
the absence of bees or flies or frogs.

About my encounter
with geothermal hot pots,
I will never tell—
slant or otherwise.

I see a mammoth waterfall,
a widening crack in the earth,
water gushing upward
from a hole in the ground

almost on cue. Earth’s burps
and flatulence.
I have met Geysir—
where geysers come from.

I have written of volcanoes.
“I have never seen Volcanoes—”
till now. My words
begin to congeal:

“A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb.”

I learn other names
to compare to Vesuvius and Etna:
Katla, Snæfellsjökull, Grímsvötn, Eyjafjallajökull,
Hekla—the Gateway to Hell.

There are 30
or more
“never slumbering,”
many beneath ice.

I see miniature horses
with long manes
and double-thick coats
race one another

and our carriage on a black bridle path
running alongside the road. Once again,
“I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—”

Later that night
on another horseless coach,
we head into the darkness
away from Reykjavik’s brewing nightlife.

We search for something
called the Northern Lights—
or Aurora Borealis—
or Norðurljós.

Some say they are the spirits of unmarried women.
Others say no pregnant woman
should gaze upon them
for fear of birthing a cross-eyed child.

I have said before—
“There is another sky.”
Never like this. I see God
has ignited his torchlights tonight.

Gradually, cosmic greens, purples, veiled whites.
What is he searching for?
My lost spirit? The hidden people?
The sun has been drooling again.

We return to the city to revel after midnight.
“I taste a liquor never brewed.”
Then again, never say never
this close to the Arctic Circle.

In the morning, Reykjavik’s tattooed buildings—
wall poetry—tell me more
about the soul of this city
than any guidebook could.

Is it a woman or úlfur
that howls at a low-hanging moon?
Whose strands of hair
could strangle the sea so blue?

Inside the Stofan Café,
someone quotes Ingunn Snædal:
“I tattoo an anchor on your back
you sink to the bottom.”

I wish I had written those lines.
Wish I had gotten inked.
Perhaps a tiny puffin secured to my ankle.
Now it’s too late.

I intend to bring a few lava rocks
back where I came from,
tucked inside the pockets of my bones,
till Nature whispers in my ear.

She can no longer send us souvenirs—
from such a manhandled and fragmenting world.
Even Iceland has been touched.
I will be the one “designed to stay” behind.

 

Note: Phrases in quotation marks indicate actual lines from Emily Dickinson’s poetry (and two lines by Icelandic poet Ingunn Snædal in the fifth to last stanza).

“Beneath the Skirt of the Sea”*

“Give me your hand
and I’ll take you down”
—AA Bondy, “Of the Sea”

It’s an AA Bondy
kind of morning.
She’s becoming a boomerang
addict. Everything can go

in reverse.
A beautifully woven
silk scarf, the color
of purest slate,

makes her weep
with desire
for the ocean,
for the fish

she no longer eats.
Cotton fibers add substance
to the want.
It may spill

onto the hatchery floor
till she remembers
she doesn’t wear scarves.
Never could figure out how

to release the salt
back into those waves.

* also from AA Bondy’s song “Of the Sea.”

Hot or Cold Sonnet

Don’t you ever get bored looking
at your face in the mirror,
the girl asks herself. Standing
before a frozen lake could alleviate the angst.

The south tower fell first.
Her northern roots are showing.
Her dead father’s escape
does not reflect her fear of fire.

Where there’s sea smoke,
there may be a steam devil.
With 3 minutes to live, it has no time to waste
spinning a watery saga of eternal evil.

Or, it’s all a lie—the selfie
and everything outside the frame.

Tally Clusters and Recycling the Weather (Earth Day 2017)

| The numbers don’t lie—a 60%

|| decline in wildlife in 40 years.

||| Unsustainable agriculture and

|||| mining, and the penguins are still dying.

/|||| Frogs are calling sooner. Heatwaves won’t stop.

/|||| / 50 more years of this damn fossil fuel

/|||| /| economy could mean the end of this

/|||| /|| place we call home. It may already be

/|||| /||| way too late. Or, we could learn to adapt

/|||| /|||| like those boreal trees that bend don’t break.

Car Parked Sideways

I’ve had to drag
out the color blue
just before it turns
purple. Have been confused

why people don’t carry
a pen. Writers too.
Have not asked
for coffee with walking room.

Now I will. This day
comes with a ruler
to measure the distance
between inexplicable Earthly

sadness and each depression
on the surface
of the moon. The impressions
I’ve made before all of them

never last. I cannot answer
the question
would I have jumped
in to save that first lover

who drowned in his own
pool, if I’d known.
Pool of what? Sweat?
Desire? Betrayal? Boredom?

Vomit. Mysterious
scratches on my arms and neck—
not so mysterious
when you have a cat.

If I had worn a raspberry beret
that day in May
31 years ago, maybe the car
wouldn’t have crashed.

She would still be here—water
dancing. If.

Not so secret all-night rave
parties at Colin’s house
on Colfax. He was so generous
with his hospitality—

beer, vodka, cocaine, X,
what he thought were expressions
of love. So proud
of his scammed copy

of The Black Album.
Colin, Steve, and me.
A threesome all that first winter

I didn’t know I wanted
to survive
in Minnesota.

“When You Were Mine”
became our soundtrack
that one night.

We wrote The Ecstatic Uptown Chronicles
over an exquisite corpse
one 72-hour day.

The Uptown, First Avenue, the Entry
was The Ashtray back then.
The CC Club. Even Glam Slam

once or twice. Colin wanted to dance. Steve
was always listening to the music, lilting,
always drinking.

So much dark energy
can explode through
the fiercest windchill.

Now you’re gone.
All of you.
Even Prince.

Left behind, I stand here
by myself outside the club
in broad daylight

without an answer.
Maybe I really did move here
because of Prince,

not that other guy.
So many musicians,
so many lakes, the land

of 10,000 treatment centers.
I’ve wanted to dance

my life away. Wasted
too much time
asking why.

The Bus Has Been Checked for Sleeping Children

Small for her age,
the girl likes to sit in the front
where she can see
the world without vertigo.

One morning, she misses
the bus. Her mother drives her
to the next stop.
The front seat is taken.

She finds a spot
on the bench in the back
where bumps and unwieldy turns
lull her to sleep. Don’t ask how.

No one looks for her
for hours that could have been days
if she didn’t wake up
when she did

to find a snake hissing
down the aisle.
No one can hear her scream.
She throws a book at it.

Misses. Flies out an open window.
Hits an elderly man’s shoulder
as he takes his morning walk.
He sees the girl—not the snake.

She opens another window,
climbs out. The man moves
his walker into position beneath it.
She slips out, lands

on the walker. The man returns
the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
They shake hands. She’ll never fall
asleep again. Some signs lie.

Tidal Locking

Because only 59%
of the moon’s surface is visible
from Earth, I hide

a garage full
of toasters, bookshelves,
mirrors, bathtubs,

even a staircase
I can no longer use
on the far side.

A secret language
only women understand—
only in rhythmic gulps—

is spoken here.
And I’m not so sorry
it doesn’t translate.

Here, where war
always derives
from worse.