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. Should have kept
a mousetrap in my pocket.

It had been only a year.
I should have paced myself.
I was too young

and naïve to fathom your absence.
You were the one who understood
limits and functions. No thief

can steal the symbol for infinity
we etched into the ice with our skates
on the Thornton Park rink.

You Can’t Copyright a Title, so

Let it be.
After the disco, death
won’t send a letter.
No depression, you want it darker
the next day.

Talk, talk, talk.
When the devil’s loose,
don’t tell a soul.
Tonight’s the night, insane world,
I am not afraid of you,

and I will beat your ass.
Stories from the city
and the sea bring the family
unknown pleasures
that much further west.

So alone, nobody’s darlings
shake some action.
Trace everywhere at once,
based on happy times,
whipped cream, and other delights.

Heroes live through this
lovers knot stink—laugh
in the dark. Nevermind the idiot
wasting light, every picture
tells a story.

Souls for sale, everybody knows
this is nowhere—
wincing the night away.

Then the morning comes.
Union. Anodyne.
Figure 8. Exit 0.
Suprise, sweet old world,
see how we are.

Without the Speed of Sound through Water

you break me
when you say my name

I speak volumes
without a translator

you write love songs
about me

I’m never near
when you play them

on your guitar
with or without an amp

the sprung floor vibrates
beneath the dancer’s bare feet

Helen Keller searches
for Martha Graham

with ungloved hands
across those wooden planks

you learn to play piano
for the deaf girl too

I am her lover
and tormentor

never speak my name
never scrawl it across

the underbelly
of a bridge

it takes Michael Kiwanuka
5 minutes and 3 seconds

to start singing
“Cold Little Heart”

my throat tightens
so I know

the tears of my silence
will come

as soon as I hear
that voice

Where Is Pickle River?

Stuck in last century’s music,
she can smell the lilacs.
Her last-century cat
is sneezing again.

Her eyes are bigger
than her ears, than her eyes,
than her mind. If she squints,
she can see books and CDs

crookedly spooling
all the way to Mars.
Only a few to blame
for this mess of them

all over her path.
(Damn Minnesota boys again.)

Some other spring,
they are reading passages
from The Bluest Eye
to each other

on her dorm room twin bed
inside Nicholson 7.
He doesn’t take off
his motorcycle boots.

She doesn’t care. That floor
will become substance free someday.
When she becomes brave,
she will ask a lover, or a stranger, or both:

Are you made of body
copy, or are you a headline

standing above a bulleted list
of blue just before it turns gray
feathers with captions
running cold beneath your feet?

An expert voice says
check out the penultimate one
for the most fully-formed farewell
display of lines and notes.

It’s time to listen to Bowie’s “The Next Day.”
Once again, it’s time to ask:
Why is Uncle Tupelo’s “Pickle River”
an instrumental?

Just like with “Sandusky,”
depriving us of that voice

is a crime. “We’re criminals here
looking for something to do.”
She’s a damn thief
with pieces of “what if” gold

hidden in the lining of her purse.
Early to everything,
she’s always late to the party—
busy researching the reason

for all those old-fashioned wooden
billboards still drenching
Hennepin Avenue.
Cruising down the highway

without a vehicle,
she mismatches song lyrics
without bothering
to look up the source

of a river
with its one natural waterfall
relocated in the name of flour.
No, that source she knows—

way up north
and west. No,
not a headwaters,
but a wellspring

of fears about the scaffold
she sees from the back.

Some say the old Grain Belt Beer
bottle cap sign will light up
the Minneapolis sky again.
She hopes to be never lit again.

Framed (by Max Ernst’s “Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale”)

She tries so hard
not to photobomb the bride
and her maids
as they wave good-bye
in Loring Alley.

She tries so hard
to wave good-bye
to the words bride and maid.

Mews or no mews,
a blackberry massacre
on pale brick
might interfere
with the way

she places
her surviving oar
against the shop wall.

She would swing the red gate
wide open
if she could reach
beyond a nightmare’s
wood and knife

with her left hand
to touch the love
song’s broken wing.

Pictures of Gullfoss 

she wants to write
a poem
called why I hate jazz

she will write a poem called
why I can’t write
a poem called
why I hate jazz

her hair is
like a waterfall
no, let’s say

a cascade of locks
flows over her shoulders
down her back

spill onto a bed
of black lava rocks
scratch that

her hair is
a waterfall
of whites and grays
before they turn blue

a rush of the unfrozen
cannot shake late winter’s
thick coat of rime
covering the gorge

the boy who crosses
Hvítá to follow his love
before the higher hell track begins
arrives too soon

if only the boy
who plays trombone had asked
if only he had listened
to her answer

a tooth protruding
from the side
of a mountain
won’t erode the view

it’s not about jazz at all
it’s her body she has needed

to stop hating
the way she has learned
to love the best

it was so cold storytellers
on either side
of that seam known as
the Mid-Atlantic Ridge

The Saga of Emily D. on Ice on Fire

The why must Provoke so much more
Than curiosity
To leave the refuge of my Home,
My Century—my mind.

It must spark a burning Passion
For peering over cliffs
Regardless of depth, height, angle,
Or what’s lying below.

A monstrous white Mechanical
Raptor with blue belly
Propels me through space. I defy
Time and gravity and

Death. And now I must eschew this—
My traditional form—
Common ballad meter combined
With capitalizing

the first word in each line
and random ones in the middle
in favor of this subtle
lower case field.

I will suspend
my disbelief,
but I will not relinquish
my four-line stanza.

We hit, then bounce,
then hit land again
on a mysterious island
in a gale force wind.

I see no flowers.
No trees—where are my pines?
Where can that narrow fellow hide
without any grass?

Led into a plaza
with electric lamps
through a maze of lines
formed by people in abnormal dress,

I am asked to produce documentation
I didn’t know I had.
I see stamps
from other countries:

France, Mexico,
Republic of Ireland,
Japan, Italy, Egypt,
Canada, India, Cuba.

It looks like I have been traveling
far and wide
alone in my dreams
since I died 131 years ago.

I climb aboard
a horseless coach
to watch this strange land
unfold before me—

lava fields of obsidian,
basalt, moss, mountains,
snow, steam, ice, more moss.
I smell mortality in those rocks.

So exhausted from a sickness
I’m told is called jet lag,
I barely notice
the absence of bees or flies or frogs.

About my encounter
with geothermal hot pots,
I will never tell—
slant or otherwise.

I see a mammoth waterfall,
a widening crack in the earth,
water gushing upward
from a hole in the ground

almost on cue. Earth’s burps
and flatulence.
I have met Geysir—
where geysers come from.

I have written of volcanoes.
“I have never seen Volcanoes—”
till now. My words
begin to congeal:

“A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb.”

I learn other names
to compare to Vesuvius and Etna:
Katla, Snæfellsjökull, Grímsvötn, Eyjafjallajökull,
Hekla—the Gateway to Hell.

There are 30
or more
“never slumbering,”
many beneath ice.

I see miniature horses
with long manes
and double-thick coats
race one another

and our carriage on a black bridle path
running alongside the road. Once again,
“I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—”

Later that night
on another horseless coach,
we head into the darkness
away from Reykjavik’s brewing nightlife.

We search for something
called the Northern Lights—
or Aurora Borealis—
or Norðurljós.

Some say they are the spirits of unmarried women.
Others say no pregnant woman
should gaze upon them
for fear of birthing a cross-eyed child.

I have said before—
“There is another sky.”
Never like this. I see God
has ignited his torchlights tonight.

Gradually, cosmic greens, purples, veiled whites.
What is he searching for?
My lost spirit? The hidden people?
The sun has been drooling again.

We return to the city to revel after midnight.
“I taste a liquor never brewed.”
Then again, never say never
this close to the Arctic Circle.

In the morning, Reykjavik’s tattooed buildings—
wall poetry—tell me more
about the soul of this city
than any guidebook could.

Is it a woman or úlfur
that howls at a low-hanging moon?
Whose strands of hair
could strangle the sea so blue?

Inside the Stofan Café,
someone quotes Ingunn Snædal:
“I tattoo an anchor on your back
you sink to the bottom.”

I wish I had written those lines.
Wish I had gotten inked.
Perhaps a tiny puffin secured to my ankle.
Now it’s too late.

I intend to bring a few lava rocks
back where I came from,
tucked inside the pockets of my bones,
till Nature whispers in my ear.

She can no longer send us souvenirs—
from such a manhandled and fragmenting world.
Even Iceland has been touched.
I will be the one “designed to stay” behind.

 

Note: Phrases in quotation marks indicate actual lines from Emily Dickinson’s poetry (and two lines by Icelandic poet Ingunn Snædal in the fifth to last stanza).

“Beneath the Skirt of the Sea”*

“Give me your hand
and I’ll take you down”
—AA Bondy, “Of the Sea”

It’s an AA Bondy
kind of morning.
She’s becoming a boomerang
addict. Everything can go

in reverse.
A beautifully woven
silk scarf, the color
of purest slate,

makes her weep
with desire
for the ocean,
for the fish

she no longer eats.
Cotton fibers add substance
to the want.
It may spill

onto the hatchery floor
till she remembers
she doesn’t wear scarves.
Never could figure out how

to release the salt
back into those waves.

* also from AA Bondy’s song “Of the Sea.”

Hot or Cold Sonnet

Don’t you ever get bored looking
at your face in the mirror,
the girl asks herself. Standing
before a frozen lake could alleviate the angst.

The south tower fell first.
Her northern roots are showing.
Her dead father’s escape
does not reflect her fear of fire.

Where there’s sea smoke,
there may be a steam devil.
With 3 minutes to live, it has no time to waste
spinning a watery saga of eternal evil.

Or, it’s all a lie—the selfie
and everything outside the frame.