Lambda: Variant of Interest

A stranger whispers: “Next.”
Quickly, I search for words
beginning with L:

The longer leash
I used to give myself.

The leucistic Canada goose
often left behind in the park
among the ducks

while the rest of the skein
disappears into the sky for days.

The longevity of the Greenland shark—
oh, the legends
it could debunk.

The last time another stranger said to me:
“Listen to your body.”

“What?” “Listen to your body!”
“Oh, I stopped listening to her
ages ago. She mumbles. She lies.”

The longitude of their love, detached
from any true latitude, disintegrates.

The next major lunar
standstill and moon wobble
may flood more than you know.

The lingering shame
that comes from suddenly remembering

to defrost the freezer.
You wait and wait
for the miniature calving to begin.

The late summer leaves of an oak
that has prematurely dropped

its crop of acorns
on the sidewalk
during a desperately needed downpour.

The language of loss
that threatens to outlive all others.

This is not
about Lucifer.
Which one?

Artist’s Multiple Anxiety

It’s August again.
I still haven’t found
my own blue rooster
to replicate for the world.

When will I learn
private jokes
make the worst poems?
Or is it public ones?

I get them
mixed up. If
everyone gets it,
even if everyone thinks

it’s funny, how
can we tell
with these masks
returning to our faces?

If I ask one more,
will my true chicken emerge—

more pullet than hen.
That doesn’t count.
Have I, or have I not, wanted
to end one with the word “cock”?

Wound Up +/- Down

I just want to know who
will go canoeing with me
some other Wednesday evening
when those cardinals
don’t blend so well
into the sky.

If I bring the oars,
who will bring the lake?
Please don’t worry
about the rain.
We wish
it would rain here.

Meet me behind the switchback
stair in the middle
of my dream.
I wave to the woman
who climbs up and down
the pedestrian bridge steps

each morning. How many sets
does she do as I walk
through the sculpture garden
into a new day?
She’s been missing all week.
Where did she go?

This tiny blister
on my left foot
is the last straw.

This is war
I don’t believe in.
This is the silent treatment.
I keep my jaw clenched,
so no words of weakness
leak out.

I smell my own fear—
salt mixed with a hint
of hemlock. No, that’s not it.
More peppermint than radish.
More mango than marmalade.
A dash of vinegar of course.

More invasive than I care to admit.
Hypnagogic or hypnopompic,
I can’t tell sometimes.

Alone in a crowd again.
It’s a relief
to see you, cardinal,
not another red-winged
blackbird too eager
to defend the nest.

A Bottle of Onginnan Pink Gin from the Friday Night Gin Club

It could begin
with a small bowl of the tangiest
mid-summer blueberries. Maybe not
as tangy or plump
as the ones you picked
with your grandfather
on Cape Cod. Still.
Not a raspberry to infuse in sight.

It might begin
with washing brunch dishes
in MoCon—that flying saucer
of a dining hall
on top of Foss Hill—
on a hot Sunday afternoon
with an even hotter hangover.
No balcony announcements to ignore.

Buildings end.
It won’t begin

with that slash
in the porch screen,
the one you waited weeks
for moths to slip through.
They never did.
They had better places
to go. No hangover
cure needed.

Follow the light.
It will begin.

The train rolls in.
Another empty subway car
(save a soul)
with crowds jamming
into the ones
on either side.
The way it never
begins for some.


And/or walk through
the grove of the old maple’s
offspring. And/or pause

to read the sign:
Private Property
And/or find your own path.

And/or sing the lost
fourth verse to
“This Land Is Your Land.”

And/or never forget
to bring your own
original Krylon cannons.

And/or don’t let fear
fracture your muse’s
skull. And then

the whole nest fell
and collapsed in a heap
on the back stoop.

Or relax your red tinged wings.
And there’s still this
body of yours.

238th Street Station

No, the wild turkey did not
chase me away as I walked
toward the tiny triangle park
created by Kenwood Parkway
arching around itself.

Spring Lake barely visible
through the thick copse of trees
in full bloom.

Yes, it did appear
out of nowhere
and slowly stroll toward me—
a saunter on stilts. No,
it was not in my dream last night.

Inside the Punch Bowl
in Kingsbridge,
the Bronx, was.

Was it a dream
or flashback to 1986?
No cast on my foot, but
those boys I knew from college,
they were definitely there.

Order another pitch
of whatever’s on tap.
Let’s stick to beer tonight.

I swear I could smell
the Stella D’oro Biscuit factory
down the street
though it’s been gone
over a decade.

Shtreimels are no longer
from the Bronx. No, I wasn’t
trapped in some deep underground

subway tunnel
like in so many others I’ve had.
All elevated and rumbling on this time.
Yes, those are seagulls
flying over the station.

The Boards Will Rock | Linoleum Will Make a Comeback

Red-winged blackbirds have haunted
the thick hem of cattails
surrounding this city park lake
for as long as I can remember.

Why this day did one choose
to attack my head?
Yes, I veered too close to its nest.
I get it—an overprotective parent.

But I’ve run along this floating
fishing pier so many times before.

Takes me back: dancing to
Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels”
in some Firá disco on Santorini
on a hot summer night in 1985.

I had heard the song
so many times before. But
that late evening under
the twinkling lights and influence

of cheap Greek beer
and lust for
an Armenian American boy
from New York City,

(Meet me in the warm clear blue water.
. . . Let’s walk across the flaming red
pebbles of Kokkini Beach holding hands
and talk about the weather. . . .)

it hit me like a beak to the skull.
I must shed the red and black
of my alma mater, or I’d end
up living in The City.

Swimming in a Connecticut quarry
two months earlier (okay, it was a pond) during a thunderstorm because my friend died in a car crash, I wasn’t ready

to heed any warnings. I am only now
wondering who swept the floor
the next morning. Cardinals belong
to a completely different family.

Some nomadic men
start a campfire
in my little city park
1,200 miles and decades later.

I’m knee deep in it, hoping
to fish usable text
from the gutter down the street
during a much-needed rain shower.

The Magical Mistake of a Mixed Metaphor, or, To the City and the Vineyard

She’s going back
where she learned to swim
the ocean and the street.

She’s ready for the beacon
again. Ready to touch
rings, turnstiles, the Atlantic’s salt

in her hair,
on her cheek,
between a taste and a neverending inhale.

She’s on the verge
of another forward motion
to stop

settling for the dead man’s
float when the tide goes out.

She’s not going
to tread water anymore
now that those sidewalks are

so awake again
and the only flotation device
she needs extends

over the third rail. She will
forever follow astronomical,
not meteorological, summer.

I Am the Story

lost inside facing pages
to some biography,
the ones that stuck together
during the printing process.

A triple rainbow stretches over
the city’s modest skyline
after a sudden downpour
at the end of a sunny June afternoon.

Real waves rumble across
the tiny downtown lake.

No time to ask how long
it takes to paint a rooster blue.
How much longer
to build a scaffold

around it to retouch the parts
time and weather swallowed up.

I would have chosen moths
to burst through a tear in the screen
rather than those mosquitoes.
I’m obviously not from here.

This city never chose me
the way I chose it.
How long does it take
to answer the question: Why

are you here?
I’m not the only one.

A tale of two Midwestern cities:
It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
It was, no, not that one.

My sister and I sat in a bar once
and watched the boats
go up and down
the terrifyingly calm Cuyahoga.

From another planet, I watched you leap.
Picnic tables
beneath paper lanterns
hanging everywhere.

You wore my dress. You sang “O, Canada”
as you walked out the door.

More picnic tables
and strange, tacky decorations.
We left the trailer and walked
hand-in-hand to the wooden gate.

You said: “Never mind what I said before.”
We even talked about Virginia Woolf.

You said: “Damn it, pick up that pen
and start writing poetry again.”
You said: “You’re perfect.”
You said you didn’t have time for me.

I am the stitches dropped
in that perfect binding.
I will never be fully justified
or ragged right.

One Night in the Flats

Claustrophobia can be triggered
at any moment in the cabin.
Who else hears you twist
those lyrics? Another girl jumps off

a moving merry-go-round
to change her life.
An island
known for brass

rings, clay cliffs, mechanical sharks, cars going off bridges. The back of a jet

heading west. Potholes
in the sky over the Great Lakes.
A radio station rented yacht
called Heartbreak Hotel docks.

The Cuyahoga at civil twilight. It’s all
so close—

the oxbow bend in the river,
an old jackknife rail bridge,
waterfront amphitheater, beer on tap,
royal blue floral baby

doll dress with pockets.
In front of the crowd, you ask:

“Is it mine?”

Everyone cracks up till you leap
off the stage to kiss me.

Nothing there to be yours yet.
Clothes off, jokes on
all night. One letter. One phone call.
One replacement. One souvenir heart.

Then it’s gone. Too much
blood on the bathroom floor.

Name. It.
I dare you. Thought so.

Descending over the Mississippi,
a landing so smooth.