Why Do I Sing Like This, Not That?

Looking to learn
from another field of lilies,
she hears more
than the young singer’s voice.

The whole of her doomed
love life tucked precisely between
the notes of her saddest tune.
As if

she might touch death’s velvet
rope there. She sees,
no, she feels
a stirring in the grass—

it takes a moment
to identify the solo snapping
turtle as it makes its way
from the city park pond

to higher ground.
Is it seeking some loose, moist loam
to lay its clutch in?
Is it even a she?

The wild act might have been
last night,
or some particularly solitude-breaking one
last year. Imagine the delay.

After all that, she doesn’t even wait
to see if the eggs hatch,
if her hatchlings survive. Most won’t.
A forward momentum no matter how slow.

She listens to “Darker Things”
for the tenth time that morning.
It’s been such a long time
since a song destroyed her so utterly.

Spyglass

Sunday morning
and I’m ready
to throw another e-scooter
in the river. And I’m ready
to wipe salt from a bottom
lip. It’s the middle
of May, and I’ll be
writing about drones

and other flying insects,
so I don’t forget how
I feel about them.
I’m no robot, and
I would’t want
to be like you either.
The hidden camera is always loaded
and ready.

Real fog lifts before
you get the chance
to name it. Bottle it. Linger on
it—that buzzing in my head.
A pedestrian nightmare,
they’re flying low
and riding high,
desecrating another sidewalk

story drawn in colored chalk.
The White Cliffs of Dover
lulled me to a deep sleep.
It might have been
those streaks of black flint.
I’m ready to know the truth—
to start the fire again
before it rains.

Lilacs Again

Promise—the second oldest memory
they stir. I can’t remember
the first. Packaged
in a top 40 radio hit perhaps.

Am I the only one
who still listens to the radio?
Anyone out there?
When I get the second shot in two days

and have waited two weeks,
anyone out there then?
All those heart-to-hearts
with the younger self.

The wardrobe rotated again as if
it matters. At some point, this left-hand
ink smear will become the most valuable
NFT you never invested in.

It’s not a competition,
songs and scents
both release the most sweet
bitter whorls, bundles of them.

Sappho knew lilacs
are in the olive family.
Just one more final and the death
of a high school friend

till you can board another
rocking ferry
for the next Greek island,
you tell yourself.

nothing rocks like it used to

fragments

over and over

what got erased from those love letters

to a life lived so hard

I kept them

all of them

I never questioned that

“unmanageable creature who steals in”

the way everyone advised

“like a mountain wind falling on oak trees”

and then

“for we in our youth

did these things

yes many and beautiful things”

she says

“lyre lyre lyre”

say it three times

because how else

will the “transparent dress” follow

and I won’t ask

for more

about the “gold anklebone cups”

I won’t I won’t I won’t

Note: Thank you, Sappho, for those fragments I stole. And thank you, Anne Carson, for bringing them to light in If Not, Winter.

Bluish In Thick Layers

With true sangfroid,
she says let’s talk
about purple pipes.

Let’s admit it—
the great blue heron
nested here first.

Rivers are people too.
Turns out our most precious blood . . .
Locked in and interrupting herself,

she says I have been accused
of being tasteless and very slightly
compressible too.

I no longer fear
the first flush
in these boots. My hands

gloved. I have my reasons,
she says. No diamonds
of the first water

(or even muddy and impure ones)
need protecting
on these fingers.

That willingness to rape
the earth—don’t blame the owl,
or the hawk,

or that heron
staring at you
from its dead branch perch,

she says. And the tree’s story
does not end
the night a storm struck it down.

Our most precious blood,
a truth so secret,
it stills the water.

Minneapolis, MN | Week of April 18

A COVID vaccine hangover. Death
of an elder Minnesota statesperson.
Not one, not two, but three
guilty verdicts.
It might rain. It might even—you know.
“Sometimes it snows in April.” Prince knew.
Now he’s gone five years.
Yesterday I saw a great blue heron

perched on a dead tree branch
extended over the pond. Red-winged
blackbirds gathered around as if readying
to mob, then thought better of it.
The cherry saplings in Loring Park
hold their blossoms all week.

The Kettle | The Keeper | The Crook

She’s such
a thief she’ll steal
your words before they leave
your mouth. She’ll hijack your thoughts just
because

she can.
There she goes with
a cluster in her fist.
She’s ready to drop them in a
cauldron

with fresh
forsythia
petals—a repurposed
remedy she will drink in the
wee hours.

Sunrise
the next morning,
she’ll discover a new
raison d’être as she swipes a
bundle

of her
own words scrawled on
a page in a yellow
book she pulls off the shelf, covered
in dust.

He used
to keep the light,
then bees. Now he just keeps
me up nights wondering how to
keep him.

The Cruelest

No more April 11, 1993.
No more muscle relaxants,
no more Xanax pills
in her purse. No more purse.
No more bottle to drain
of anything sweet or strong.
No more friends holding.
No more dangerous obsession
fueling her days and nights.
No more strung out on some face.
No more dead-end wedding anniversaries.
No more Good Friday sadness.
No more Easter NDE.
No more immediate exit plan to enact.
No more denial: I just wanted to write
one good line you couldn’t forget.

She’s So Grounded

No lightning strike can touch her.

She would never pursue poetry
as a profession.

Her wings may rust from disuse.

Salt on her upper lip doesn’t mean
she swam with golden sweepers

to steal light.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

From a second story window, she watches
her duende and guardian angel

dance in the alley
during a thunderstorm.

She’s forgotten what it feels like
to touch the clouds.

She would not ask you
to get a face tattoo

on your turned cheek,
or the other side

of that Airstream
you keep threatening to buy

(or steal).

When she says she can’t drive,
she means it.

And still spokes are her favorite part
of the wheel.

She wouldn’t train a creeper
to climb a wall.

And still the Boston ivy
that slashed her screen

before dying doesn’t disturb her.

It’s not if—it’s when
she will eat dirt again.

Your New Oread

She knows how to whirl
her way down a hill, up
the next till she reaches the sea
where she will go to whirl
her way underwater to your
favorite hiding place. Pointed
remarks about home in the pines
cannot muffle the splash
she makes as she dislodges your
golden trident. What great
waves she makes miles from the pines
you used to climb. High tide on
the way. I remember our
skinny dipping excursions off those rocks
into that waterfall. We would hurl
ourselves into the cold pond, your
hand holding mine tight. Your tossed green
shirt flapping overhead. I’m still not over
it. As if there really were an us
before she was born. Someone cover
my eyes, so I can’t see how you wielded us
like a weapon against time. With
or without fear, she swims out far, your
dolphins beside her. It’s chlorinated pools
where she would drown. Of
course, I know you built the dock with fir.

Thanks to Gwendolyn Brooks, Terrance Hayes, and last Sunday’s New York Times At Home section for refreshing my memory of the golden shovel poetic form. This poem gets its final word for each line from H.D.’s wonderful poem “Oread.”