Speech Therapist for the Angels

For Sheri

As we recall her in unison,
I hear her mocking herself

for the way she said
“button.” I mock myself

for trying too hard
to out-walk

my shadow. She’s been gone
so long, so much longer

than she was alive.

Dimming flashbacks to our secrets
remain safe within me.

How the angels do sing
through their stutters and lisps

to thank her
for being one of them.

February 25, 1974

I remember the day you were born
and I was told. Our sister
ran up the driveway, shouting
just after high noon:

“It’s a boy! It’s a boy!”

And she was right,
the Ouiji board was not.
She was right there,
you were somewhere
in a hospital I had come to hate.

I wanted you home,
wanted you to bring our mother with you,
so she could play her sacred
organ music again with those tiny
(critics say too small) hands and feet.

I was tired of waiting
for you. Tired
of waiting
for you
to bring our mother home.

But you needed time to incubate.
You were so tiny and perfect.
Shockingly perfect
given how little time
you gave yourself to compose.

And when you did come home,
and you brought our mother with you,
she dressed you in all white
knit sweaters and hats.
And I thought, no.

You should wear a different color—
maybe navy, perhaps gray,
no, definitely black—
and then, and only then, some white
in a minor key.

I wanted to invert the piano.
Wanted the sharps and flats
all white. I wanted
all the naturals
black. I wanted you to know this.

And so when I was told
you were here for me to feed
one quarter time,
I let you know
to reverse the piano

more than half time. I let you know
that you and I endangered our mother
twisting and breaking
our way into this world.

To honor her, we must
keep twisting and breaking
our way
into each moment alive

because it’s better that way.
Because I am so glad
you came home
and brought our mother with you.

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

Born Yesterday

Your big sister runs
to meet you
the way my big sister ran
down the driveway
to tell me the news

when your father was born.
Some broken chain

link fences
are mended overnight
while we sleep.
Some cynicism
can be cured.

Leo—you are a healer
one day into it.

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.