Perched & Damaged

Let’s bring back the stoop
in all its stupid perfection—
with all its social consequences
and complicated politics intact

and wrapping around
our late-night, drunken sing-alongs.

Let’s retreat to an aerie
in the mountains
where another owl leaves its cave
to let off steam.

Let’s refuse to watch the shy
kettle boil. Let’s begin again

by goatscaping the hillside
that divides us
from ourselves. Let’s
keep the drinking

fountains flowing
a lttle longer into fall.

Let’s run with a trip of them
in the years to come
while the city sighs
in the distance. Let’s embrace

the kayak covered in seaweed.
And are those barnacles beneath

the bow? Is that
how they think
we kiss? Let us be
the street after all.

What the Illustration Restores

Who invited this
body in? How did I get inside
here? This trunk

of a beast
carries me back—
back to a time when

a shining
was a person, place,
or thing of interest.

When instant karma
ruined our eyes
as we stared

directly into the midday sun.
Another apparition appears

to block the cellar door.
I would not dare
crack open

the piece of amber
I’ve been massaging
into a worry stone

over the years.
Before anyone asks
why, well, we were

so young. Too young
to understand how
the shells we collected

with his sister
would never hold
the shape

of the ocean
come fall
on the mainland.

And the memory of the waves
rendered us sweetly mute
without a trace of shame.

Some Old Crow

This morning brought
an achy rain—

the kind that intensifies
as soon as it lets up

before settling
into a steady pounding

on the treehouse rooftop
nestled in a Massachusetts forest

that holds your childhood still
and silent. And one bird after another

begins to mimic the sounds of the city:
car alarms, fire truck sirens,

a phone ringing in the distance.
You swear you can hear

an old-fashioned busy signal
in the park’s garden of the seasons,

startling its dragonflies
and purple flame grass.

Perhaps some old crow

there to remind you to be patient,
to try again later.

Derived from Hemp

She wears a shelterbelt
wrapped around her bare shoulders.

The windbreaker dyed and tossed
aside decades ago. This dream

of harvesting eastern white cedars
for roof shakes (not shingled)

breaks apart before it gains
enough momentum to reach the mill.

Not true cedars. Not a moment wasted.
She dances, rough-hewn,

with all those invasive species
just trying to survive

a long way from home.

The drama of a row
of Mediterranean cypresses

swaying at the mere mention
of a breeze. She doesn’t need to know

what kind of trees
separate Pissarro’s climbing path

from the hamlet below.
Made of sturdy cloth, she

wears her shelterbelt
as a declaration of her love

for all that palette knifed green.

She doesn’t dare touch
the canvas (legal or not) again.

A Living Together

If she could
find herself

in a secret ecotone
beside an island salt marsh
in time to wink
at the sound

tide as it drags sediment
into the estuary.

If she could confirm which direction
the wind blows

her mind. If she could swim
in the channel early enough
to witness another egret bend
down its long S-curved neck

to position its dagger
bill for spearing breakfast.

If she could convince
any of you this treading
through brackish waters
would not be worthless,

would not leave a foul taste
on the tongue.

If she could have carried
a little longer
without the body
betraying or being betrayed.

If she could pour enough sand
into her shoes

to keep from chasing away
all that ultramarine dusted
fear tucked into every beautifully
ruined littoral cave.

If she could just remember
the orange lichen’s impulse

to continue existing
on a lighthouse rock foundation
or faded gravestone.
If, then this feeling would be mutual.

Collecting Islands

This return to the mainland
puts an end
to a temporary nomadic life

traversed via planes, trains, cars,
ferries, sailboats, trams,
motorboats, buses, on foot, and repeat.

Islands that are cities. Islands attached to other islands by bridges,
or barrier beaches, or common lore.

The moment Kandinsky’s painting shifted
to the abstract. The moment before
I can no longer identify

the boat in the fog or sea serpent swimming below. Unlike Vanessa
whom I spot immediately in Farm Pond.

A peculiar rain releases
a few drops every five minutes
on the front terrace

of the NYPL flagship building.
A reading between the lions,
someone jokes. Poets raising their voices

to be heard over sirens blaring
on Fifth Avenue. Eavesdropping
in coffee bars over nitro cold brew.

Did he really say
he attended a doll’s wedding?
The bridal shower got canceled

due to a 30-year storm. There’s
the moment a young man named Otto
smiles while we wait

for the ferry on Roosevelt Island.
Some moonsick secrets will remain
forever buried beneath

the octagon. All doors to Union Chapel
in Oak Bluffs are locked when I try
to match an old poem to its truth.

And there’s the ghost of a sign
on the New Haven Union Station platform
that speaks volumes. And the haunting

of seaweed-encrusted rails
to an old boat launch
in Edgartown Harbor: Could they tell

a different tale
involving an underwater subway line
to Chappy?

Another morning, another egret
spotted in a shoreline marsh.
A rookery on Rose Island offers

glimpses between the rocks
of chicks and the adult gulls
that hatched them. Don’t get too close.

It always feels right to arrive
by boat. A rare opportunity
to slip through the Woods Hole

passage and almost touch the shore
of Nonamesset Island on the Seastreak
from New Bedford to the Vineyard.

A blur of out-of-focus photos
I take (not sure how to make)
of the State Beach from a moving bus

reminds me this island
I believe I know so well
cannot be captured—is pure saudade.

The pilot, who I’ve know
since we were six, is not a lunatic.
He knows exactly how to zigzag

the speeding motorboat through
Oyster Pond to Ripley Cove
without hitting one sandbar.

An osprey catches a late lunch
with a quick dive into the ocean
as we watch from the quiet beach.

And, yes, that is a bank of swans
with cygnets swimming in the pond
in the distance we keep.

Back in the middle,
just west of the Mississippi
among all these freshwater lakes,

I see the ducklings have arrived
in Loring Park to soften
this hard return.

Listening to that Which Lives, Feels, Thinks & Wills

The fact of hot air rising
up to greet them as an upper
floor apartment stays cool longer
than anyone predicted.

That rhythm of riding trains
and meeting them
on the other side
of the Pawcatuck River.

The confused irony
of a truck driver who whistles
at a 58-year-old woman
in running shorts—

she who has always condemned
the objectification of women
as she wonders which shoes
flatter her legs most.

That four letter word
coming from or belonging to the sea,
which explains everything about her:
compact name, hair, frame, stare.

The anticipation of waiting
for that last tiny bubble
in the foam of a perfectly chilled
glass of nitro cold brew to burst.

That astonishment of realizing,
yes, it can be this smooth.

The instrumental that invites
acoustic guitar, mandolin, and banjo
to gather on a front porch
down by the lake so late

into one March night
it spills into a new day
with delicious darkness
lingering on the morning’s breath.

Wild Day’s Eye + The Clocked Lion’s Tooth

On a cool, cloudy Sunday morning
in May, she asks herself:

have I resisted
time travel for so long?

Riding in the back seat
during an afternoon hail storm,
she forgets her fear

of cars to focus on the rhythmic
ping-ponging overhead.

She remembers how hail stones
tore holes in the convertible top
to her father’s red Austin-Healey

during Black Friday—an outbreak
of tornadoes and other dramatic weather

that ripped through
Belvidere, Illinois,
on April 21, 1967.

Large white pellets
strewn across the highway

break the spell,
return her to 2022.
She walks all the way home

from the intersection
of obsession and rejection,

determined not to become an empty lot
cleared then forgotten.
Another case of misunderstanding

why wildflowers.
How many No Mow Mays

before “weed”
loses its dirty word status?
Something about removing

piano wire from the ear.
Plucked, not hammered.

She longs for one more moment alone
in a dark room
with her harpsichord.

And they tore down the eyesore
ramshackle house with that door
she was meant to never darken again.

Egress and shelter
float to the top of the list.

No one knows for certain
where the latter came from—
who might walk across the roof

on humid days. As for the former,
some will ask:

Which exit?
Others will call her
the way out.

The shield she carries
cannot protect the shoulder

seasons from shrinking
more each year.
No one’s jumping

out a plane for her.
No one’s pushing her

to leap into a perfectly blue
secret passage
to the shore below.

And then
there’s simply now.

All My Favorite Photos of You

Gone. Somewhere
on the #1 train
between the Bronx and Chelsea.

I shouldn’t have kept them
all in my wallet. Shouldn’t have fallen
asleep. You wouldn’t have

closed your eyes.
Your closed eyes.

Class pictures year after year.
Awkward stages with glasses and haircuts
and crooked parts
would make you cringe
if you could still move.

One of you and me,
my father must have taken.
In town to drive us to our junior high prom.

No dates. We were each other’s date.
Dresses the color of water
with ruffled scoop necks.

It had been only a year.
I should have paced myself.
I was too young
to fathom your absence.
You were way too young.

You were the one who understood
limits and functions.
I didn’t know how to wear the grief
turning inside out in the wind—
an electrical storm

that might erupt
at any moment. And you
would have already calculated
the joules of energy released
before the next thunderclap.

No thief can steal the symbol for infinity
we etched into the ice with our skates
on the Thornton Park rink.

Blue Carbon Sink

It’s one thing for little boys
to roll down a slope
into a sunken sculpture garden.

It’s quite another
for drunken college seniors
to somersault their way

down a campus-defining hill—
barreling through the glee and terror
of the final night before

being handed diplomas and brass
keys to open unknown doors.
In bold acts of unsustainable

immortality, we borrow ones
made of animal bone to break
the promises we made to ourselves

well into the witching hour.
Swipe steel ones to pry open another defense of our dishonor.

Now they jangle, rattle, and crack
in pockets to worn-out jeans,
pounding out a relentless beat

accompanied by old subway tokens,
a tiny folded piece of paper
(the message faded and illegible

from so many rereadings
and wash cycles),
and bolts to anything

that fell apart ages ago.

Locks of gray hair,
floors no longer sticky,
a sluice gate,

a clear head
at dawn, and other slurs
accumulate. Eventually, standing

on the highest bluff, we believe
in the power of a finely-tuned spyglass
to rotate the view—never forgetting

the ones who followed the sea

stars and rockfish
into the reef and got lost
among the glass sponges forever.