Into the Evergreen Wash

“I confess I tortured the dress
that you wore for the world to look through.”
—Leonard Cohen, “One of Us Cannot be Wrong”

I wait in a pew to be next
to unburden my soul.
Or is this sacrament about the heart?
I confuse the two.

I count to three.
I confess the real reason
I don’t drive: I have trouble
unfastening seat belts,

unlocking and opening doors,
understanding how headlights work,
distinguishing your car from hers.
I confuse the two.

I collapse two memories
into one to save
space, time, energy, or
nothing at all.

What I would give
for a glimpse of that dress
he tortured. Or to touch it gently—
careful not to rip the fragile

fabric of the story.
Translucent not transparent.
Not every part
is worth repeating.

I get my picture taken
leaning against the knuckle
of the Fremont Troll’s left
trigger finger.

He won’t release his grip
on that VW bug
he’s been clutching
for 27 years. I confess

a fear of those beetles
comes into play too.

Another city waterfront.
I want to run alongside it,
not in it. I have not forgotten
how to swim or tread water.

I just know now I could sink
to the bottom
even with the ocean salt
offering buoyancy.

The seam in the torso
I have only read about before
startles and embarrasses me
when I see it in the flesh.

Don’t stare. I can’t stop.
The eyes and mouth
attached to the torso
give nothing away.

Memoir and poem.
Poem and memoir.
Somewhere the story
must stand up and walk through

blackness into an urban evergreen
forest in order to begin.

I live stanza to stanza,
hopping on trains,
falling off the edge
where motion meets a mirror

of itself. Suddenly,
I remember exactly
where and when I learned
to walk backwards.

A buoy bell spells out a rhythm
for waves as they slam against
a stationary ship. The two become
fused in the distance.

Remember the One about You and Me

I could post that poem
about one night in the Flats
on my blog

I could write another one
with “I remember”
as an anaphora

I could but
I’ve already started
this echo chamber

I could
I could
I could

I would not expect you
to remember me
if you saw me

walking along the sidewalk
in a rainstorm
I would be lying

if I claimed
not to have expectations

Screw it
I remember when I believed
I would never lie

I don’t remember
ever believing that
about you

I would lie again
if I had to

some mornings
I want to bruise
the ginger essence

I spray
on my left wrist

bang it into the right
and grind the scent
deep into my pores

I would tell myself
I am more potent
this way

Copper-Zinc Imbalance

Just because I drop a coin
into some liquid
doesn’t mean someone will die.

It’s not a wishing well.
I don’t need
to wish my father eternal peace.

It’s too late for that.
It’s a penny

accidentally tossed
into a mug
of hot coffee.

Just don’t swallow it.
Copper wedged in the throat
might wake the gods.

Zinc—if
minted after 1982—
might stir something else.

A Spy in the House of Love

“Someone should tell you,
and it won’t be me.”
—The dB’s, “A Spy in the House of Love”

See how that cast-iron disc
decorates the empty street.
It’s not just for men anymore.
Women have always known

about the urban underground,
have their own secrets
that need covering
to protect our pedestrian selves.

See how that frosted glass spa
door dons an Icelandic female figure
outline and her pet trout
on the left. Ice blue

fades to black
behind and through her.
Not stick, not silhouette,
not another mystery unveiled

in a saga to be read
in the shrinking daylight hours.

See how she denies a police officer
stands in her livingroom.
How he mentions a stolen barge
filled with lifted

maintenance hole covers.
What happened overnight.

See how she breathes
a sigh of relief
when he leaves her
to an internal thievery

where no words
are safe.

See how the tail cuts
the fog at the slightest angle.
How the dress hem slices
a razor sharp line

to echo a horizon
that doesn’t exist.

See how the baristas
remove a square panel
hidden in the floorboards
to access a vault below.

One of them disappears
into it and reemerges
minutes later with a supply
of stackable chairs.

Flanges on legs prevent the table
from wobbling. And nothing else
warrants naming
a cafe “spyhouse.”

See how the feet are rounded off
to transform the legs
into an upside down peace sign
flashed with fingers.

Not V for victory
but a ∩ for intersection
or the Big Bend skyscraper
dreamed up for Billionaires’ Row.

See how it’s not my fantasy
to cast shadows
on America’s most beloved
city park.

How it’s all
exquisite nonsense

nowhere near the rabbit hole
but so close
to the shelf where
that Anaïs Nin novel lies.

Ask, Ask, Ask (When Nobody’s Listening)

“If you’re going to tell me all my faults,
I’ll tell you the ones I’m gonna keep.”
—Tommy Stinson, “Anybody Else”

When did all the words get taken,
roles get cast?

When did every word become the name
of an elaborate game in a virtual world?

Where do sentences come from?

Who invented the short-sleeved shirt?
Who invented the shirt?

Where do sentences come from?
What about the neighborhoods that have no name?

How can a place have no scenery?
I have never understood the difference

between the front row
and the stage. It’s there though—

the edge, the moat, the river
that can’t be crossed

without a bridge
that stops lifting

or swinging long enough
to jump on.

There are no guarantees
that the other side will make you

famous. That fraternizing
with the other side won’t make

a difference. The next song
will be “Tops.”

I used to talk
to strangers.

Now I talk to myself—
strangest of all.

I am so bewildered
I have forgotten who

you are. Who you were
yesterday and on the day

that dude from The New Yorker
interviews Gil Scott-Heron

while a propane torch plays on and on
in the background.

I want to ask if we met
the first time

decades ago on the island
along the Airport Road

when my mother stops the station wagon
to pick up a long-haired, shirtless teenager.

Me, still a kid, sand in my swimsuit,
I shove the squeaky styrofoam cooler

against my sister to make room.
But my mother never picks up hitchhikers.

I wave to you from the wayback.
I swear I see you wink at me

as you shrink into the distance.
That was you, wasn’t it? I don’t ask.

Some mornings I believe
the kiss and the sentence

once lived in the same house.
They had separate bedrooms

connected by a breezeway
that traps no wind.

The whole purpose of a swing
is to get higher

and higher.
I know that now.

They call this confessional
poetry. I always liked the ritual.

Those upright coffins
so hot and dark inside.

A screen slides open.
A disembodied voice floats in.

Someone laughs outside—a wild cackle.

Did you want to be a priest
the way I believed I would become a nun?

I Once Dated Someone Who Hated Music

Not the guy who sang
“I Hate Music.”
Another guy who actually refused

to listen
to anything but talk radio,
who never owned a stereo,

CD player, or boom box.
Had no computer
or iTunes account.

It went on
for a while. A long while.
Too long.

I had stopped drinking
only a few years earlier.

I didn’t realize
I didn’t have to give up everything
to survive.

I didn’t realize
it was possible to hate
the way the earth talks to the gods.

A Voyeur Knows No Guilt

ruin porn
of a war-torn city
is not merely the act
of writing about prostitutes

if I use definitions
and derivations of words
without using
the words themselves

I will become a ruined shell
of my former self

or I will escape
through a hole
in a jagged chunk
of the wall that remains

So I will choose to eliminate
each third fourth
one so that I understand all
that I cannot understand

Suture

The Scots of the Outer Hebrides
have more than 40 words
for seaweed.
I can’t identify

one strand washed ashore.
One water garden tool
left to rust in the detached
gray cedar shingle

garage. There where our starfish
died from gasoline fumes—
or loneliness. Ours
would not have had the gumption

to regenerate from a surviving arm.
When a woman you’ve known too long
nearly stabs you in the stomach
with a paring knife

(accident or no accident),
it’s time to get
the hell out of the kitchen.
Passive aggressive weather

smothers the streets.
Architectural leisure suits
in desperate need of reskinning
disco along widening suburban roads.

Those platform heels have no sidewalk
to strut across.
A neon sign flashes:
How to Become Famous in One Easy Step

If you want to be essential,
try dying. Try contradicting yourself.
Try Tool over Beethoven.
Try Bowie over Nirvana.

Dylan over the Rolling Stones.
Try Mr. Leonard Cohen
should be even higher.
Where’s AA Bondy?

Why oh why should Led Zeppelin
and REM rank higher
than the Mats? This is Minnesota
Public Radio’s countdown.

It comes down to Prince
and the Beatles.
Two Beatles are dead.
All of Prince is. In the end,

they’re more popular
than Jesus. In the end,
it has nothing to do with
Jesus or kelp.

I Eat Thumbprints 

as I read
your poems
inside on
a rainy afternoon

alone in a room
I am not so alone
the orange cat
butts his head

against my thigh
grabs my wrist
with his paw

he’s not ready
to turn the page
I lose my place

on a piano bench
as the minor key
ballad continues
to untangle itself

inside a cave
tunnel where
everything spills
slowly out

On Display Behind the Bar

She sells the Italian villa—
a warm, peaceful capture
of a late Sunday morning
in all its lazy anticipation.

The dirt road leads
the eye away.
It will be gone soon.
She will need to find

a new way to escape
the mismatched framing
of her unsettled youth.
A snapshot of her thumbprint

will replace the photos
she found of her grandmother’s
hallongrottor that the thief swiped
from her wine cellar

on the same night
her lover drowned

in his truck
during the last flood. The next
time, she will not be
so unprepared.