Who Are These People

who do not know how to
measure six feet apart

we’re all vulnerable
to routes six feet deeper

dirt disguised as escapes
beyond the fathomless

Photograph of Those Two I Can Never Know

I found it tucked between
pages of a used paperback copy
of Charles Simic’s
The World Doesn’t End.

Between “The dead man
steps down from the scaffold”
and “My guardian angel is afraid
of the dark.”

A color snapshot. The 70s?
The shallow end
of a motor lodge pool
sparkles in the background.

Married? Siblings? Friends?
Strangers who have come together
to squint away an afternoon
under a warm sun

without having to look
directly into the camera.
Reflections of reclining
chaise lounges in the mint blue water

match their half smiles
and a memory of almost getting away
with drowning in another pool
off some other highway

between the Midwest
and East Coast.

When Simic says,
“It’s so quiet
in the world,”
how could he have known?

I return to the photograph
of those two I can never know,
realizing how they are nowhere near
the deep end yet.

“Do Not Go Hand in Hand the Whole Stretch of the Way”*

Occasionally, we lick salt
and loneliness with the tongues
of forgotten owls. Our heads turn

to the rhythm of another
Virginia Woolf sentence before it flies
silently into the unmuted night.

Occasionally, we stretch our necks
to their breaking point,
the inevitable snap swallowed whole

by our incurable thirst.
Occasionally, we misunderstand
the howling in the distance.

Trees and their wounds, our anger
crowds branches, leaves a permanent mark. Occasionally, we still dream

of touching flannel to felt,
feather to bark, linen to polished
whale-bone, skin to roughed-up skin.

Rarely, we remove these
false faces long enough
to see how, occasionally,

the masks we wear
may protect our smiles
from disappearing altogether.

* Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” The Moment and Other Essays

Box Whispers to No One

in this aubade
no one walks
outside long
enough to see it

gets close enough to debate
the edge of darkness or light
because of it the world is
postponed till further notice

taphophiles say they see
a city of immortals in
the stone a luxury
no one can afford

I hear Mary Mallon
still in isolation
deny her name
was ever Typhoid Mary

Loring Pond’s
ice out day
arrives suddenly
before the rowboat

not the old extreme
cambered pony truss
iron pedestrian bridge
or climbing ivy skeleton

has a chance to scream
into the empty sky
can anyone tell me
where my oars are

a topiary of dancing
evergreen toy blocks
spills helter skelter
onto a brown lawn

fists tighten
into position
to smash the
wooden table

into a
splintered
memory of
holding hands

right angles
are only right
when the long
fingered southpaw

bat releases
its grip
on its guilt
becomes ours

milk crates stolen
from PS7 a triptych
of red doors
you admit nothing

as you stare at a photo
of a rebuilt stoop
on Corlear Avenue
in Kingsbridge the Bronx

the city in its agony
another September 11
the city you cannot reach
the city you cannot touch

it’s not shelter in place
it’s still waiting to be
given the name we lost
when everyone went home