Circle of Cinquains

We were
so immortal
we would jaywalk across
Washington at night defying
our fear.

Playwrights
knit their stories
to a high chain link fence.
Who knows how or when it will fall
apart.

I’ve been
dining with one
mannequin for decades.
She wears that old vial necklace
he made.

Remove
all the mirrors.
Turn up the radio.
Admit it, you do miss them. Damn
skyways!

Refuse
to dine inside
together till you see
plexiglass pendant head surrounds
in place.

Halos.
Helmet shields. How
many boys did you kiss
in those couch graveyard cellars
back then?

I don’t
remember what
happened to the front porch.
Gone overnight, wood railings, steps,
and all.

And that
whip-its mishap.
She said she’d never seen
anyone with singed-off eyebrows
before.

Smeared-ink
past lives collide
inside a tank covered
in tally marks I drew without
thinking.

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.

Holdfast

I wish I could be there
for the seahorse
when she growls.
Build a coral cave for privacy

when she and her future
mate begin to click.
I wish I could propel myself
slowly through eelgrass beds

and sing of sunken nights
as I reach the next
stratified layer
in the water column

without choking on the wait
for a miracle.

If I Could Be the Designated Duende

If you think you are an impostor, I am
the swindler hidden in the weeds
wishing to become a dandelion
before the earth swallows us whole.
I play exquisite corpse by myself,
folding thoughts from view quickly
as I breathe in new fabric particles,
a smear of blue across the upper lip.

A stack a half-filled Mad Libs books
piles up, handwriting slanted
backwards and filled with rust.
Which one of me demands parts
of speech from the other?
I look to the mannequin
for answers. Then we silence it
on a bed of iced petals.

We straighten our tongues,
kicking up wire along the way.
Imagine painting a miniature bicycle
on your knuckles to blur the line
between art and windows.
Imagine all the blanks
where words might have been
to spill laughter into the darkness.

All Those Prompts I Took for Granted

Gone. Suddenly blooming,
prairie smoke and bloodroot,
a smattering of violets
tucked between blades of hillside grass
from yesterday’s walk
stay fresh with me
into the second day of May.
This fractured year. Props

refract light on a window sill.
Gifts from my mother, Baltic amber

frog and cat figurines glow into late morning.
Trapped in this moment, I swear

I can hear those ancient trees
moan as they seal their wounds.

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

Beginning with V

Verb is a noun.
Grief cycles through her veins
the way a tattered recipe
written in invisible ink
signals an unknowable hunger.
His lips numbed by a vacancy,
a wooden plank tilts in the sand.
A green screen curtain
will not return them to another
continent, bring them home.
Scenes from a vacation decades ago
become the virtual landscape
neither can touch.
An outline of her face
melts into a halo
for a Vineyard seagull
perched on a pier piling
before its hurricane demise.
He whispers, “Unplug
every device in the house.
Walk through Minnesota’s Central Park.
Look for the volta.”

She thinks she sees it
in the thawing pond’s deep slate water,
in the ducks’ visible breath.
Ventilators scarce,
vaccine not ready yet,
dumpster vandals in the alley,
violets bloom in her memory
before she lost her sense of smell.

Visitors ghosted in gowns
he doesn’t recognize ask,
“How do you hug a voice?”
One more beginning with V
will not be named
during this stage of denial.