Ursa Minor

(originally posted July 30, 2013)

I could use a child’s wooden foot
stool to reach the last

days of July. Painted red
or a mustard almost

too rich to see
in summer. So much has been written

about April’s
cruelty, but it is the majestic

peak of August
I cannot bear. Such a short distance

to pitch and tuck
into a somersault

down an observatory crowned
hill toward fall. Before

the month ends,
my father will die

all over again, and life will continue
without him. No ladder will stretch

high enough into the sky
to reach all those stars we reckoned our spirits with.

Ventriloquy

If she’s really letting me

speak

for the first time, I don’t know
where to begin. All those stories
about drawing pictures
in the moonmilk
inside ancient caves and rods
taking longer than cones
to adjust to the dark. That’s not how

I would talk. I don’t have a lisp
or thick Minnesota accent, or
New England one. I will sing
quietly about iron
rail bridges and natural rock
formations and the view
from the top. That’s

exactly what I will do if
she’s for real this time.

Open or Closed

Who will build
the hotel to house all
the souvenir

heroes stacked
against that cellar
door? That perfectly
framed cellar door. One more

time, and I could go
to heaven
where I wouldn’t care
about that pile

of bones and springs and fascia and tentacles
and fins and feet and hair and eyes.
The ones staring
past mine.

Record

I always forget the part
where you yell at my answering machine:

If you ever darken
my doorstep again,
you’ll regret it
till the day . . .

Now I remember.
Have it recorded on tape
along with the first words . . .

Not everything
you utter is
worth repeating. We all

risk becoming
self-parodies.

This isn’t some geography lesson
about North
Korean borders.

. . . you said to me
. . . you die.

[Untitled]

I wrote a song
for you
that has no title
I wrote a title
for me
that has no poem

slightly surreal

could be a park after
dark don’t go
inside the theater
has been closed
longer than the lifespan
of most dolphins

or meerkats
ever so slightly

surreal could be a weather condition
like ice
what’s the difference

between freezing
rain and hail
between a swarm

of locusts and helicopters
or bees

rising up
to get their revenge

Water Dancer

for Sheri

She knows every inch of the dock,
every splinter, barnacle,
hurricane-spared stilt.

It is not a plank. It’s just where she walks.
And she knows how to dive,
has been doing it for years.

No easing shore side into the wash for her,
she plunges in and is used to it
before others wake.

This is underworld—closets, caves, shelves,
trenches, forests, hydromedusa, brittle
stars, Painlevé’s camera. This is where she should live—

she who in her heart is a sponge
is a sponge is a sponge.

To lay out to dry, to become exposed
to air, the rising sun. It is her death

to be before all of you. She will never work a room,
works the ocean floor
for all it’s worth.

Metal crushes metal, emergency sirens approach closer

and closer. A muffled distortion
underwater. Leave her uncontained.
She would rather synchronize her own sculls outside a tank

than be confounded by a mirage of roses
she can’t reach without a body.

Face

Windows in an exposed brick wall leave her
suspicious. Was there another
floor in here once? Guessing about before
is her new purpose.

And she believes
in ghosts and sprites and even a mermaid
that might swim beneath floor boards
of an old fish-packing plant on the end

of a wharf. Those photos
mounted on its façade are real.
Eva, Mary, Bea, Frances—you are

real. And Almeda, your image
destroyed by storms crashing
into the harbor, you are beyond.

A Mob

Or, sea of meerkats
in the middle

of Times Square. No,
scratch that. Lawn

chairs floating
over a dying lake. Sentries

fold into their own
whispers. Who

will protect
the walkers from
the strollers from
those other

peripatetic clans? I’ve been here
before. Or, maybe not. December

morning fog dampens
and loosens my hold
on some bad lines

from a mediocre movie.
The title has already drifted off.

Another Boat in a Fog May Not Be Lonely

The corner where two
windows meet. The view
from a dark room
onto a fog-dampened
night. Stories

dissolve when they hit
pavement, or never get exposed
to atmosphere at all. It stings
to be so poised
to burst forth

in a voice soft
and deep, but to be
the one holding back
exquisite blackness
with a candle flame

that laps up
fear and air
till someone’s lover

returns. A woman’s true
laughter will float on
still water

to break through
soot and other romantic
toxins falling out.