Overripe Bit

It’s not always a skunk she smells
deep in the wooded heart
of the island. Not mothballs

but rare moths aflutter
in the frost bottom
surrounded by scrub oak

and sad sand whispers
she emits along with that peculiar
faded light.

Nor seeping into an upper floor
hotel corridor
from one or more of those rooms

she cannot enter.
None of the plastic key cards
she’s collecting in her purse

will open those doors
or the ones she used to open
with metal access controllers—

blade and bow and
shoulder and cuts—attached

to a chain of unrelated events
to gain entry
into those old dwellings

where a wild animal
with black and white
fur did hang outside at night.

the beacon

I swallow the last drops
of New York City water

in my Minneapolis apartment
put the empty metal bottle in the sink

today is the 30th anniversary of my first trip
to Minneapolis

I flew the same route
LaGuardia to MSP

crossing over a piece of Canada
and some of the Great Lakes

I didn’t know then what I know now
about the quality of water

in those Manhattan rooftop tanks
and interior pumps

there’s a map that reveals
which ones have been inspected in the last year

and those filled with whole pigeon
and squirrel bones

the Hotel Beacon passes the cleanliness test
some days taste better than yesterday some don’t

I stopped darkening doors decades ago
when I lived among the guns I never felt safe

the one entrance does not lead
to the other exit

the wound I blame on the man behind the door
bears no resemblance to his blistered fingers

he no longer lives there
I no longer live inside

that wound
merely visit it on occasion

when I stay in the Hotel Beacon
drink its quality water

and marvel at my 11th floor view
of the Ansonia across Broadway

I remember some other firsts

experiencing the grandeur inside the Beacon Theatre next door
seeing him and his infamous Minneapolis band play live there

he wore a tattered white button-down shirt
he was drunk I was sober

it would be the reverse
when we finally meet in the Flats years later

Johnny Thunders opened and they didn’t play
Johnny’s Gonna Die

Johnny Johnny Johnny
he would be dead by the time of that Cleveland enounter

New York City
Minneapolis

how did I get here
I will never put home in a sentence that doesn’t include both

you know you are in New York City when

a dead rat with fresh
blood staining its mouth
becomes a mile marker
for your run along
the Hudson River Greenway

when greenway doesn’t
always mean green

you know you are
in New York City
but what am I

you know you
are in New York City
when you realize
your jaywalking skills
need a refresh

when the geese are so urban
and fearless

they ignore you
as they sit in the middle
of the too well-traveled path

when rivers flow
two ways and aren’t
really rivers
but tidal estuaries
and straits

when you wait and wait
on line never in

you know you are in New York City
when every living thing takes
more risks with life

death and squeezing onto a narrow island
without falling off

when all the languages
in the world
shove themselves into one subway car
and you get to participate
in the brackish hum

why does she resent the canoe & envy the elm?

and the color blue dances
in the meadow with pale gray

till civil twilight
waves them off the horizon

a raccoon scales the side
of a skyscraper in Saint Paul

who knew there were raccoons
in the city

who knew Saint Paul
had skyscrapers

who knew half a lifetime
would pass

without getting any closer
to the answer to the question

is it mine
this is the glass age

and the year of light
has slipped away

we fight the darkness
with burning stick

figures we forgot we drew
when the words wouldn’t come

the best building
is no building

the best body
is nobody

she ever knew
how to awaken

without disturbing
the loam

if there really is just one system
she will keep fueling

this container filled with water
and carbon and blood

the flaw in her profile
is no accident

each snowflake that falls
on her tongue

tastes like the splinters
he used to feed her

the ones she would crave
with the disorientation of a junkie

between fixes
tin ceiling tiles bounce all this

wayward light
into her hands

it’s not snowing
on this day in mid-June

an excessive heat warning
kicks in till 7 pm

here in the middle
between the famed river and hidden channel

only the dirt and wood in her mouth
are real

what gets incinerated
can no longer forgive

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 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.

On the Road to Zero

I meet a hero.
She gives me an 8
to use as a boomerang.

Before he comes back to me,
a spinning jenny hovers forever
beside the hummingbird I trust most.

I try optimism
on for size.
A little tight

around the neck
and across the shoulders.
I shrug off the glitter

from its inner lining
and return to these
exercises in euphoric recall.

Memorizing the Atlantic Ocean pays off
when everything comes back

in a rhythm
only the moon
could invent.