Unspent Breath: Act III Summons the End of Act I

The new year is so young,
it has not learned to crawl
across wooden planks. The century inches

ever closer to the ledge
where it will spill + land
with a splat onto a new millennium.

You listen for the hiss.
You wait for the warmth
from a 1918 pandemic fighting weapon.

The phone rings around midnight—no voice
mail, not even an answering machine
to hate. So you answer it.

So many thousands of miles + days
later, a driver tries to deliver
nothing but a kitchen sink. You refuse

to practice unknowing
his body with yours,
no matter how much a tabula rasa

might clear the way
for self-forgiveness. To open a window
on a January morning in any city

you know best is to admit those scars
are the only tattoos you’ll ever get.
It’s beyond needle phobia at this point.

It’s him. You don’t remember
what he said. It was 1989,
your marathon year. You were going

to go the distance this time.
7,000+ poems yet to be written—
all trying to answer the question.

You cannot memorize it all,
those lines you wrote
about scenes from your life

you only vaguely remember now:
a rooftop in Lagos, a musty hostel
dorm room in Paris, a stairwell

in the Hotel Santorini,
a 3 am swim in a pool somewhere
in New Jersey so close to the hospital

where you were born, a lighthouse
in the distance
with a plane flying overhead.

You keep returning to the same
unreliable narrator.
In your journal, you have written:

Is he lonely?

It was one of the last nights
you would sleep in the Bronx.
Soon you would become a Manhattan girl

for a spell. We were 38 iterations
too late. We did nothing
to minimize regret

for the way we almost
became what we could
never become.

The pronoun keeps shifting
+ slipping from he to she
to they to you to we to

full disclosure: Yes, I am.

I Did Do

I will remember
I did do
I do love

I will be remembering
I was doing
I am loving

I will have remembered
I had done
I have loved

I will have been remembering
I had been doing
I have been loving

So yes
I do
remember love

Thick, Obscuring Mist

Ronnie Spector sings
my favorite Marshall Crenshaw song
on the radio. She’s been gone
three days. You’ve been gone
more than three decades.

The last time I saw you,
we sat in your car
parked in my mother’s driveway

after a winter break night
of dancing. We talked so long,
the windows fogged up. We laughed
to think of my mother’s neighbors
getting the wrong idea. Did I tell you

about him? That summer of showers
and late night collisions.
The delicious waste of time.

I would never get the chance
to tell you the story
of how he and I would swim
in a Connecticut pond
during a lightning storm.

You were like Ronnie Spector
that May night—your death too unripe
to pick, to make something of.

Diving into the black water below,
exhaling into the black sky above,
the crackle and boom of it all,
how could I know I was making a pact
with my duende—some desperate

“take me, not her” bargain?
It would hang in the electrfied air.
Never again so painfully alive.

So alone. Nightmares about you
dying all over again
played on repeat
as I slept on trains
across Europe that summer.

Your absence does not vaporize
as it teaches me
to dance with my duende.

The dark, ruined rhythms
keep coming.
Nothing about you
was wasted.
There’s never enough time.

Water Dancer

She knows this dock—
each splinter, barnacle,
hurricane-spared stilt.

It is not a plank. It’s where she walks.
She knows how to dive,
has been doing it for years.

No easing into the wash,
she plunges in and is used to it
before others awake.

This is underworld—closets, caves, shelves,
trenches, forests, hydromedusa, brittle
stars, Painlevé’s camera.

This is where she should live—
she who is a sponge
is a sponge is a sponge.

She will never work a room
on dry land, works the ocean floor
with the precision of a jelly bloom.

To become exposed to air,
the rising sun. It is her death
to appear before all of us.

Metal crushes metal on a distant street, emergency
sirens approach
closer, closer. A muffled distortion underwater.

Leave her enough sea room.
She would rather synchronize her own sculls
outside a tank

than be confounded by a mirage of closing night roses
she can’t reach without a body.

Mohegan Bluffs

He climbed so high
to fly his kite,
we lost him
in the sweep of clay
formation and persistent fog.
There had been a debate about courage
or wisdom—never any mention
of carving serenity into the rock.

It was just too soon.
What he saw from his perch
would always be his.
What I saw from the beach—
mine. Our mouths still so wide open.
The threat of leaping too real.

Liminal

She rides a 32-year-old bike
through the snow without crashing.
Does not get the wind

knocked out of her.
No gulping + gasping for breath
in the middle of Central Park

rush hour traffic. There’s no such
thing as Central Park rush hour
traffic these days. No such thing

as people + vehicles coming + going
in the tight confines of the alley
behind her apartment building.

It’s a lie.
It happens
all day + night.

Dumpster divers, garbage collectors, smokers, Lyft + Uber drivers,
candlestick makers + her.

It’s a lie—
those tire tracks
in the snow.

Her duende + guardian angel
have been traveling abroad so long
she can’t decipher fiction

from nonfiction, from the beautiful
friction between. She can’t remember
how to decode the darkness.

A 21-speed all-terrain Trek model
for the urban commuter
collects dust in the basement.

She has no idea
where she put the key
to that Kryptonite U-lock.

She really only knows how to run.
Cannot keep pace with her younger self,
who lately taunts + baits her

to take roads only her duende
(or is it her guardian angel?)
knows how to traverse.

She wears a newfound patience
as a waterproof poncho
against the elements.

Her younger self would have cut it
into pieces like some useless bedsheet
to twist into headbands

to trap the sweat of unexamined fear.
A rooftop dance party is another
euphoric recall episode

to record before it’s too late.
If she wrote a memoir,
would anyone read it?

Damn you, duende + guardian angel.
Get home soon. These elbows
have rested on this sill too long.

Mahpiohanzia

What if the branch is
rotted or hollow inside?
With one snap, I could tumble
backwards + tear through the air.

I would be heading dangerously
toward blue + green water
or gray + brown rock
between now + soon.

I could die
for god’s sake.

Then what exquisite freedom
to pierce the atmosphere
as a human knife
preparing to cut open the sky

to pull out its heart.
I see colors before words—

a viable warning in shades of yellow.
The top wisdom teeth pulled,
the Novocain wears off. I pray
I don’t get dry sockets

the summer I swim
in quarries + reservoirs.

New Order’s “Blue Monday”
plays on repeat. I won’t die tonight.
It’s not a Sunday. I was born
on a Sunday. I will die on one.

Blown away + beautiful, I fall
off the porch into the arms
of an oak tree.
No questions asked.

—————————————————————

Mahpiohanzia is defined as “the disappointment of being unable to fly” from John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Also see Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello’s poem “From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.”

Spit or Swallow

I try
to untangle
a muse
for me
from amuse
me. Till
their family
moved away.
At the
top of
our lungs,
we sang
Beatles songs.
Still without
bait, still
without results,
the creek,
then a
rural route
ditch. We
played freeze
tag and
tried to
fish for
trout, my
imaginary friend
and her
sister. When
I was
a child,
I ate
dirt.

Unfinished Business

A feeling. A deception. A myth.
A story that never got told.
The narrator left to buy some smokes,

never returned. Nothing to end
when nothing begins.

Fifteen one night stands
spread out over four years
across two states, two cities,

five bedrooms, and one yard.
So many other you’s

to choose from. I cannot exhale
when Nick Drake sings
“which do you dance for.”

The ultimate you—
an infuriatingly charismatic city—

may no longer exist.
CBGB gone since 2006.
Cannon’s Pub, where I found myself

feeling for scar tissue
in your earlobe, no longer an option.

Nor a pitcher
of your famous homemade martinis
(never forget the olives).

The Punch Bowl 130 blocks north
along Broadway in the Bronx

still serves up cheap beer
and kisses stolen across wooden tables
below tin ceiling tiles.

The #1 train makes elevated stops
mere steps aways.

The Strand’s 18 miles of books
still wait to wrap around willing minds
226 blocks south. Once upon a time,

there was an urgent call
to let two bodies collide

one last time. The canary yellow
garbage train howls its way through
the station in the wee hours.

The aroma of almost
wiped clean, an empty bottle rolls

off the edge
of the platform
onto the third rail.