Blink

We were not the kind of urban
mice that parade across
wooden floorboards in broad daylight
without fear.

We were the kind
that scurry through the dark
underground corners of The City
in those infamous wee hours.

We did our best
not to whack the third rail
with our tails while tripoding
to calculate our next move.

We were not rats. To skin the hide
off early morning to cover our naked
bodies was the only way
we knew how to disentangle.

Extremely hungover on one particular
morning after, I would write
how I fumbled and pillaged
the night away.

Did I mean sabotage?
Where did I stash the plunder?
A cable-knit sweater, men’s large,
left behind as the only evidence

of what I was too frightened
to admit even to myself
within the confines
of a private journal.

I was an open book with pages stuck
together from so many wine spills.

There was a staring contest
on a slowly emptying Redbird
subway car, while our buddies
were passed out around us

on the bench seating.
We never declared a winner.
It was the beginning
of the graffiti die hard period.

The artists lost. Whose euphoric recall
is this anyhow?

Surreptitiously gnawing at
our bootstraps, we slipped into all
the right blind spots—and then
the era ended in the blink of an eye.

When the Sometimes Y

becomes the yolk
trapped inside the yes
of the no longer young
becomes the first yawl
wrecked without a ship this year

when the yawn
of the snow-covered yard
becomes an old lover’s yen
to become the only yowl
true desire might yield

when the yarn
tangled inside the yawp
becomes unreliable as a distant yerk
or another memory of you
becomes what is left to yearn

Committed to Hands I Cannot See

I used to write letters
to everyone I wanted to see
me. Now I write poems—these missives
to nobody save those who would live
in the ruined unknowing
of a city’s underground ocean.

——————————————————

Note: The title comes from a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem “This Is My Letter to the World”

With Eyes the Size of Never

Kiss rhymes with what I hear
when I close my eyes
on the coldest of Minnesota
January nights.

Desperate for a palate cleanser
to remove the ultimately bitter taste
left in my mouth from slipping
too deeply into a euphoric recall coma,

I make a pact with myself.
I’m going to play his music
all day long.
His—not his, or his, or his, or.

Into those wee hours I used to rule
in little black dresses and torn
fishnet tights and voracious vixen
lipstick (remember lipstick?).

Into those wee hours
where I rarely go now,
it’s not all dancing in your sleep.
Another train rattles us awake.

This incurable condition.
Limbs can be so confusing—
I should know.
I’m in good hands today.

———————————————————

Note: The title comes from a line in Verbena’s song “Song That Ended Your Career,” written by A.A. Bondy

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.