Drinking Games on Jade Mountain

(“Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavilion,” artist unknown, China, 1790, Minneapolis Institute of Art permanent collection)

No one knows
who carved the ancient gathering
of scholars at Lanting Pavilion
into a jade boulder.

Or how the rice wine
they drank
on a cool March day
tasted on their tongues.

Or how the poems they wrote
sounded out loud
after so many drainings
of the floating goblets.

No one knows
what the lone poet felt
when he left the others to find
the secret passage

up the mountain
where water might run
pure enough to drink
from cupped hands.

Inspire | Expire When You Speak Out

I will write a slow poem for you
that drifts down the Mississippi
on a pontoon raft created from upcycled
piano parts and plastic milk jugs.

That seeks to be snagged
by venerable tree corpses.
That detours into the mutable thickness
of a quaking bog

where walking becomes the flipside
of a footrace, and all
the duckweed-eating turtles wear
orange ribbons on their necks.

I will become your slow
poem to recite
when everything begins
to go out of tune.

Slow down,
you move too fast.
You got to make
the morning last.

And it all unravels
into yet another
thing—
late and soon.

Wordsworth and Simon and Garfunkel
and every ekphrastic poet I know
will give me a little help
along the meandering way.

Let’s live
a slow poem life
backwards and sideways
and inside out—

giddy at the sight
of another highway
closed for reconstruction
over a long weekend.

I will revisit that museum
in Cleveland
where I made my own
slow art day.

Seated on a cold wood floor,
I paused
before her
for over an hour,

tears blurring the view.
Freshly released
from the weight
of addiction

one moment at a time,
I was hanging onto
anything I could grasp
with pried-open fists.

Then a raspy voice whispered,
It’s your duty
to tell her story
any way you can:

(“Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone,” sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Cleveland Museum of Art)

Rodin’s Caryatid

Bronze pillar come rest
your arms upon your right knee,
bow your head beneath the burden
of your stone.

Your robe has fallen, a bundle
upon your left thigh,
a foot exposed, arching
taut as a dancer’s.

You would be lovely
outside those gates of hell
should you one day risk

standing. Bronze is a liquid
when boiling. You would be
lovely without that stone.

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.

Answer to a Page Left Unintentionally Blank

When I return
to Governors Island,
I will collect shells
from a mussel, not

spent ones
from shotguns—slugs long gone.

I will pogo around a circle
with 21st-century punks
without a stick or shtick
and nod my head vigorously

as poets shout the secret
ingredients to their broken hearts.

When I return to Governors Island,
I will bring the freshest figment
specimens I have been collecting
from empty ditches

and storied sidewalks.
I will bring the dirt.

Sacrifice

Think how it all began
the night he discovered
the mirror
in the lake,

and she saw it too.
And they lost themselves
in the surface
of things.

Think how bog bodies
and dead monkeys
in air shafts
refuse to tell on themselves.

And how you pull a red
knit cap over your ears
in mid-May and brave
another day without a Plan B.

Think how Plan X
is so much sexier
with its brackish creek
that breeds a new ecosystem

in the fen sedge
of desire. How you never know
how I will respond
to that color on you.

Think of orange ladders
everywhere we might meet—
the evidence we leave
on those slippery metal rungs.