A Voyeur Knows No Guilt

ruin porn
of a war-torn city
is not merely the act
of writing about prostitutes

if I use definitions
and derivations of words
without using
the words themselves

I will become a ruined shell
of my former self

or I will escape
through a hole
in a jagged chunk
of the wall that remains

So I will choose to eliminate
each third fourth
one so that I understand all
that I cannot understand

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Suture

The Scots of the Outer Hebrides
have more than 40 words
for seaweed.
I can’t identify

one strand washed ashore.
One water garden tool
left to rust in the detached
gray cedar shingle

garage. There where our starfish
died from gasoline fumes—
or loneliness. Ours
would not have had the gumption

to regenerate from a surviving arm.
When a woman you’ve known too long
nearly stabs you in the stomach
with a paring knife

(accident or no accident),
it’s time to get
the hell out of the kitchen.
Passive aggressive weather

smothers the streets.
Architectural leisure suits
in desperate need of reskinning
disco along widening suburban roads.

Those platform heels have no sidewalk
to strut across.
A neon sign flashes:
How to Become Famous in One Easy Step

If you want to be essential,
try dying. Try contradicting yourself.
Try Tool over Beethoven.
Try Bowie over Nirvana.

Dylan over the Rolling Stones.
Try Mr. Leonard Cohen
should be even higher.
Where’s AA Bondy?

Why oh why should Led Zeppelin
and REM rank higher
than the Mats? This is Minnesota
Public Radio’s countdown.

It comes down to Prince
and the Beatles.
Two Beatles are dead.
All of Prince is. In the end,

they’re more popular
than Jesus. In the end,
it has nothing to do with
Jesus or kelp.

I Eat Thumbprints 

as I read
your poems
inside on
a rainy afternoon

alone in a room
I am not so alone
the orange cat
butts his head

against my thigh
grabs my wrist
with his paw

he’s not ready
to turn the page
I lose my place

on a piano bench
as the minor key
ballad continues
to untangle itself

inside a cave
tunnel where
everything spills
slowly out

On Display Behind the Bar

She sells the Italian villa—
a warm, peaceful capture
of a late Sunday morning
in all its lazy anticipation.

The dirt road leads
the eye away.
It will be gone soon.
She will need to find

a new way to escape
the mismatched framing
of her unsettled youth.
A snapshot of her thumbprint

will replace the photos
she found of her grandmother’s
hallongrottor that the thief swiped
from her wine cellar

on the same night
her lover drowned

in his truck
during the last flood. The next
time, she will not be
so unprepared.

All My Favorite Photos of You

Gone. Somewhere on the #1 train
between the Bronx and Chelsea.

I shouldn’t have kept them
all in my wallet. Should have kept
a mousetrap in my pocket.

It had been only a year.
I should have paced myself.
I was too young

and naïve to fathom your absence.
You were the one who understood
limits and functions. No thief

can steal the symbol for infinity
we etched into the ice with our skates
on the Thornton Park rink.

You Can’t Copyright a Title, so

Let it be.
After the disco, death
won’t send a letter.
No depression, you want it darker
the next day.

Talk, talk, talk.
When the devil’s loose,
don’t tell a soul.
Tonight’s the night, insane world,
I am not afraid of you,

and I will beat your ass.
Stories from the city
and the sea bring the family
unknown pleasures
that much further west.

So alone, nobody’s darlings
shake some action.
Trace everywhere at once,
based on happy times,
whipped cream, and other delights.

Heroes live through this
lovers knot stink—laugh
in the dark. Nevermind the idiot
wasting light, every picture
tells a story.

Souls for sale, everybody knows
this is nowhere—
wincing the night away.

Then the morning comes.
Union. Anodyne.
Figure 8. Exit 0.
Suprise, sweet old world,
see how we are.

Without the Speed of Sound through Water

you break me
when you say my name

I speak volumes
without a translator

you write love songs
about me

I’m never near
when you play them

on your guitar
with or without an amp

the sprung floor vibrates
beneath the dancer’s bare feet

Helen Keller searches
for Martha Graham

with ungloved hands
across those wooden planks

you learn to play piano
for the deaf girl too

I am her lover
and tormentor

never speak my name
never scrawl it across

the underbelly
of a bridge

it takes Michael Kiwanuka
5 minutes and 3 seconds

to start singing
“Cold Little Heart”

my throat tightens
so I know

the tears of my silence
will come

as soon as I hear
that voice

Where Is Pickle River?

Stuck in last century’s music,
she can smell the lilacs.
Her last-century cat
is sneezing again.

Her eyes are bigger
than her ears, than her eyes,
than her mind. If she squints,
she can see books and CDs

crookedly spooling
all the way to Mars.
Only a few to blame
for this mess of them

all over her path.
(Damn Minnesota boys again.)

Some other spring,
they are reading passages
from The Bluest Eye
to each other

on her dorm room twin bed
inside Nicholson 7.
He doesn’t take off
his motorcycle boots.

She doesn’t care. That floor
will become substance free someday.
When she becomes brave,
she will ask a lover, or a stranger, or both:

Are you made of body
copy, or are you a headline

standing above a bulleted list
of blue just before it turns gray
feathers with captions
running cold beneath your feet?

An expert voice says
check out the penultimate one
for the most fully-formed farewell
display of lines and notes.

It’s time to listen to Bowie’s “The Next Day.”
Once again, it’s time to ask:
Why is Uncle Tupelo’s “Pickle River”
an instrumental?

Just like with “Sandusky,”
depriving us of that voice

is a crime. “We’re criminals here
looking for something to do.”
She’s a damn thief
with pieces of “what if” gold

hidden in the lining of her purse.
Early to everything,
she’s always late to the party—
busy researching the reason

for all those old-fashioned wooden
billboards still drenching
Hennepin Avenue.
Cruising down the highway

without a vehicle,
she mismatches song lyrics
without bothering
to look up the source

of a river
with its one natural waterfall
relocated in the name of flour.
No, that source she knows—

way up north
and west. No,
not a headwaters,
but a wellspring

of fears about the scaffold
she sees from the back.

Some say the old Grain Belt Beer
bottle cap sign will light up
the Minneapolis sky again.
She hopes to be never lit again.