Year in Water

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
as fingerprints.

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.

You’ll Never Look at Music the Same Way Again

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.

The Vapors

Because she spills
a glass of red wine
on her new dress,

she finds herself
in a public restroom. Because

she slips
on the floor,
she drops

a bag filled with precious
amber figurines.

Because the cat
loses its ear,
she races

to a nearby
hardware store

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
blocks away.

Because she is rushing,
she affixes the ear on

crooked. Because
she starts to cry
hysterically, her mascara

begins to streak
down her cheeks.

Because she finds
herself standing
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
before discovering

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.

A Dreamy Divagation

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

without interruption.
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.”

No Soft Return

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.

Baking—no. Soda—yes.
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.

Snow Blindness

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.”

Not a Toy

It’s been
too long. I take
you off the bottom shelf,
wipe the dust from your feathered tail
and crest.

I see
a resemblance
to Noguchi’s set piece
for a Martha Graham masterwork

I miss
that primitive
tent of true foreboding—
no longer on display in the

of seduction,
voids, decapitation,
a biblical praying mantis
in bronze.

instead of spears,
muzzle instead of fangs,
you soothe away the violence of
the past.

I hear
you hum, tiny
wrought-iron rocking horse,
late at night when no one’s around
save us.

The Cardinal Directions in Close Embrace

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 forgot
she never learned how.