The poems you wrote, shared, then hid
as self-destructing ephemera.
Your words are sheets of paper
that dissolve in water
in less than 30 seconds. A hesitant return
to the office turns cautiously joyous.
Faces you have not seen in two years
bring tears to dampen your own.
A college friend is sick.
You island hop across the Northeast,
from Manhattan to Governor’s Island
to Roosevelt Island
to a collection of them in Rhode Island
passing by Uncatena and Nonamesset
on the way to Martha’s Vineyard.
Old friends everywhere you pause.
Ferries and rookeries and egrets
and catamaran sails at sunset.
Dodging pond sandbars
in a motorboat
on the way to a barrier beach.
You meet your oldest sister’s
favorite local photographer,
ship a photo of your childhood
beach to her.
Gichi-gami and its 191-year
retention time. You swear you can hear
giraffes hum beneath
the Aerieal Lift Bridge in Duluth
each time you cross. You encounter
your father’s handwriting
preserved in a journal he kept
for a poetry class in college.
10 years gone now.
You are finally brave enough
to open the notebook.
“Poetry is life!”
his younger self exclaims.
Another Great Lake
comes into view
as fall draws you out.
You walk along
an old fishing pier
with your other sister.
Wedding plans begin
to take shape for her daughter
as your younger niece
and her sweet brother
are beginning to happen.
You see your mother.
There’s never enough time.
Your friend is dying.
You share nature center trails
and a familiar duck pond
with more dear friends.
A 300-year-old bur oak
in Loring Park splits open
under the stress of age,
rot, drought the final straw.
There are things you find
in the sculpture garden,
give away without telling a soul.
And there were rabbits
everywhere in the rain.
Your friend dies.
You dream of seeing him alive
one last time
in an amusement park
overlooking Lake Erie.
The Golden Gate Bridge.
A memorial service. A reunion
for those of us who remain
to tell the stories—details
a little fuzzy, a little disputed,
it doesn’t matter.
A raven flies overhead
as the fog clears.
Microclimates at work.
Are you okay? Are you okay?
Voices and laughter as singular
The first snowfall
before winter is made official
is Minnesota’s signature move.
And then a second, and then
the seasons change.
We drove almost all the way
up the mountain
to see through the mist.
After watching a YouTube clip
of another 30 seconds of blank screen
while some MTV employee inserts the next tape
into the VCR, I wish I could remember where was I
when that montage of the Columbia launching
and Apollo 11 moon landing flashed by
in the blink of an eye.
Before “Video Killed the Radio Star” aired.
Before riding in the back seat
along the Pennsylvania Turnpike
heading east from Cleveland to Cape May.
Before college. Before everything changed—
not for the first time, or the last.
It was the 12-year-old daughter
of a university president who introduced me
to something new for the planet Earth
those nights I babysat her
in an old mausoleum
of a house in early 1983.
After watching Michael Jackson moonwalk.
Before a were-cat interrupts
a chorus of crickets in the dark.
After watching Prince do the splits.
Years before watching a subwoofer pulsate
in black and white on 120 Minutes.
Somebody give that boy an ashtray.
Why can’t you treat that speaker
with more respect—whoever you are?
She rarely wears green
despite what they say.
No, she typically struts
down city streets and alleys
in black ribbed stockings and boots
with thick lug soles
I would die for.
In her zeal for competition,
she wins over the one
I’ve lived for.
He looks as if he might
devour her whole.
A lust (devotion?) I have not seen
since he and I picked apples
in a faraway orchard
in early fall some other century.
I covet her orange suede mini-skirt—
the front zipper and metal studs.
Where did she find
such a treasure?
They say her very existence
is a cardinal sin. I say
I’m a sinner. Let me sin.
Let me own it.
They have no idea.
I have no shame.
I’m not afraid to look at her
looking back at him.
The M in S&M should be
my middle initial.
The you in Dylan’s “I Want You”
has become so blurry.
Because she spills
a glass of red wine
on her new dress,
she finds herself
in a public restroom. Because
on the floor,
a bag filled with precious
Because the cat
loses its ear,
to a nearby
to buy some glue.
Because they are
out of stock,
she tries a corner bodega,
then a Duane Reade,
before buying a tube
in a novelty craft shop
Because she is rushing,
she affixes the ear on
she starts to cry
hysterically, her mascara
begins to streak
down her cheeks.
Because she finds
in front of a mirror
in the same public restroom,
she hears a loud boom
nearby, causing her
to escape down
a darkened corridor
where she detects
the sound of a train
rolling into the station overhead.
Because she doesn’t know
where she is
and can’t find anyone
to ask for directions,
she stays lost
for a long time
an open door
that leads to a stage.
Because the band is playing
its encore, she waits politely
for them to finish before
walking on, jumping off,
twisting her ankle
(only slightly). Because
she is limping, a stranger
offers to carry her
heavy bag. Because
he is so kind,
she relaxes, catches
her breath, finally speaks:
“What was that explosion?”
“Oh, that’s the city
letting off steam.”
Because their conversation
unfolds naturally over time,
the last train is leaving
on Track 2 just as she reaches
the waiting room.
Because she finds herself
on a nearby bar stool
contemplating another glass of wine.
My father must have been driving.
My mother preferred not to get behind the wheel
after dark. Or, was that my grandmother?
I always believed Nana didn’t have a license.
I bragged about carrying on
the passenger tradition.
Then I learned she did have one.
My grandfather merely refused to let her
navigate those Rockville streets alone.
So many myths to eavesdrop on.
We are traveling along some back roads
before reaching the Wilbur Cross Highway
en route to the Mass Pike. Headed home
after a day trip to visit my father’s family.
For years, I thought the definition
of Connecticut was “cousin.” Shadowy cut
slabs of schist and gneiss loop past.
I can no longer read the hieroglyphic
veins—pictograms of sinister faces
and primitive beasts—I saw
on the way out. No fear
of motion sickness this late at night,
I tumble into the way back
of the old blue Chrysler station wagon.
My mother must have talked my father
into leaving the red convertible
Austin-Healey behind in Dover.
Too cramped for a family of five.
I always had to sit on the bump
in the middle. Here I have room
to spread out limbs and thoughts
without elbowing my sisters.
Here I have room to whisper
secret stories to myself
Who are you
accusing of humming?
Swimming in a shallow pond
on the edge of an evergreen forest
becomes carving figure eights
in the ice
with skate blades
without falling down
becomes tiny wooden sailboats
floating in stagnant water
on a still summer afternoon.
The car jerks to a sudden stop.
I open my eyes, peer out the window.
No dead animals. No crushed metal. No,
we just missed the turn
onto Pine Street. Everything that binds
those two states together,
my father’s roots clamped onto my mother’s,
begins to fracture, piece by piece,
into permanent divagation.
Note: The title comes from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Moose.”
She was right to conflate corsages with corsets.
Windchills and ice quakes will not break her stride.
The other woman folds the red herringbone throw wrong.
He drew a continuous line drawing of her missing skyline.
All the action already unravelled in the last century.
Hardened bread, a humiliation. Ever since
Annie Dillard chewed me
out in class for submitting a poem
about rolling one down a Connecticut hill,
I’ve avoided the whole boiling
water bath affair.
Can’t deny the benefit
of a little fine grain
sea salt. Never wear jewelry
on the fingers or wrists.
I am pliable. I will look you directly
in the eye, arms akimbo, recite
teapot metaphors, promise
to meet you along
the New York Bight
when it thaws.
You’ll find me at the top
of Sandy Hook Light
the next time
I’m searching for a sign
my father would have easily detected.
I’ll bring a baker’s dozen
fresh from H&H.
With the shortest day of the year
only 100 hours away, she is doom
eager for a delicious darkness.
An emptiness that will electrify
as daylight shrinks.
She will wallow in the moment
the sun’s center sinks six degrees
below the horizon.
She will no longer need
to shield her eyes with her hands.
On the shortest day, light
will leak everywhere at all hours—
a most precious blood
to pour into the sky with a teardrop-
shaped tureen turned upside down.
Wearing a wily duende smile,
she whispers: “There is nothing civil
about civil twilight.”
too long. I take
you off the bottom shelf,
wipe the dust from your feathered tail
to Noguchi’s set piece
for a Martha Graham masterwork
tent of true foreboding—
no longer on display in the
a biblical praying mantis
instead of spears,
muzzle instead of fangs,
you soothe away the violence of
you hum, tiny
wrought-iron rocking horse,
late at night when no one’s around
She forgets how to tango
with the least tern
after it migrates to Argentina.
These winter boots have chased away
any grace she had left.
Wild turkeys dodge snow banks.
Squirrels cackle at her
as she runs by. Is it because
she has forgotten how to tango
with civil twilight?
Is it because the raven appears
demystified in the fog?
She forgot how to tango long before
crossing the bridge—its international
orange her model for taking a stand
against the sky and ocean. A miracle
that such a boisterous cry for help
can erupt from such a puny body.
She will have forgotten
how tango hummingbird mint
clashes with the Bethlehem Steel towers
when she finally plants beds of it
in her coastal garden.
So desperate to be mesmerized
by the 80-beats-per-minute buzz
of the tiny creature’s fluttering wings
as they draw invisible figure eights
in the air. Her own heart races
at the site of a spectral owl
in a mountain forest she stumbles into
on her way back east. Stories
told during a memorial service still linger
in the sloped meadow beyond the way
Ruth Stone would have whispered the last
lines to her poem “The Train Ride”:
“All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.”
As for the tango,
she never learned how.