What Would Freud Say?
Wasn't on purpose that I drilled
through my finger or the nurse
laughed. She apologized
three times and gave me a shot
of something that was a lusher
apology. The person
who drove me home
said my smile was a smeared
totem that followed
his body that night as it arced
over a cliff in a dream.
He's always flying
in his dreams and lands
on cruise ships or hovers
over Atlanta with an erection.
He put me to bed and the drugs
wore off and I woke
to cannibals at my extremities.
I woke with a sense
of what nails in the palms
might do to a spirit
temporarily confined to flesh.
That too was an accident
if you believe Judas
merely wanted to be loved.
To be loved by God,
Urban the 8th
had heads cut off
that were inadequately
bowed by dogma. To be loved
by Blondie, Dagwood
gets nothing right
except the hallucinogenic
architecture of sandwiches.
He would have drilled
through a finger too
while making a case for books
on home repair and health.
Drilling through my finger's
not the dumbest thing
I've done. Second place
a frozen gas-cap with lighter
in hand while thinking
heat melts ice and not
explosion kills asshole. First
place was passing
through a bedroom door
and removing silk that did not
belong to my wife.
Making a bookcase is not
the extent of my apology.
I've also been beaten up
in a bar for saying huevos
rancheros in a way
insulting to the patrons'
ethnicity. I've also lost
my job because lying
face down on the couch
didn't jibe with my employer's
definition of home
office. I wanted her to come
through the door on Sunday
and see the bookcase
she'd asked me to build
for a year and be impressed
it didn't lean
or wobble even though
I've only leaned and often
wobbled. Now it's half
done but certainly
a better gift with its map
of my unfaithful blood.
-- Cream City Review, 1999
A match beaten by frail wind lights the cave
of his hands, lines that jump like the ibex
of Cosquer in the rippling glow of a torch,
the hunting-magic of vanished men. Smoke
weaves through his lungs into blood, ghost
of plants, of the earth returning to his body.
One Camel down, nineteen to go. Another image:
on the train to St. Louis when windows still
opened: when men wore hats like boys now aspire
to tattoos: one hand on his hip, the other
swinging a smoke back and forth, a small
rhythm falling inside the generous rhythm
of the train. He turned and smiled at my mother,
pointed to a red barn falling down, being
absorbed by the horizon. He stood almost
the whole way, giving his glance to the distance,
and returned to our seats larger, puffed
as if he'd become part of land's green wish.
"The skull had a tongue in it, and could sing
Always the question of how to address the dead.
Dear sir. Beloved though rotted man. You
who dwell in the scented couch, fabric of walls.
Yet my father remains exact in what he says,
each communique encoded in action, something
he did, as if he returns through what I recall.
Visitations, translucent frames, his arms arcing
toward a block of wood, the ax bold in appetite:
the bow his hands made tying shoes, always left
then right, a celestial order: wrist-snap of Zippo
top, the crisp click into place like the settling
of doubt, his fingerprints on the metal case
proof he'd mastered the prophecy of fire. His
advantage: forever happy in these things:
or precisely morose: or bent toward a river's
"slow and mileconsuming clatter" with a face
washed of need or edge, the only moment I saw him
absolved of himself. A crystal will only form
around a speck, an imperfection: in a rush a world
arises, encloses, becomes. Like this he comforts,
intrudes, a twin voice in a restaurant invokes his face,
then slides his laugh and fetid breath into place,
and for a second nothing lives that isn't him:
I've no recourse but to pursue: yet he's done with me.
dissection and removal of jaw, lymph nodes, tongue.
At the VA they called them half-heads, chop-blocks.
I visited intending to stare like a child,
to covet his words, by then muted by phlegm,
the esophageal churnings of an aborted throat.
But I looked in bursts, seconds before I'd turn
to Williams Pond or the far copse of alders,
hoping wind was caught in the water, in the hair
of trees, that robin or rose would hover as excuse,
a glory requiring my eyes.
No one came close, even staff strayed until
it was time to wheel him in.
All the while he smoked, plumes escaping the tube,
all love given that pursuit, a reflex gone deeper
As a child I loved the smoke because it adored him, clung
to, stroked his face, filled the Valiant with an animal
made of endless shapes. And the packs themselves, smell
of tobacco new, unlit, the music Raleigh, Chesterfield,
Lark, ashtrays shaped as buddhas, crowns and spaceships.
The cough was always there, his second voice, and when
wasn't someone asking him to stop, my mother, then me,
then doctors holding his clubbed fingers, explaining
a man shouldn't pass out getting dressed. The smoke clung,
become his skin. When asked what I wanted done I said
burn him, make him ash: my revenge: his only wish.
-- TriQuarterly, No. 105, Spring/Summer 1999
Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem
My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think
praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what's happening.
It's what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge
I like the idea of different
theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook
of a cousin universe I've never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,
your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb
but couldn't hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother's belly
she had to scream out.
Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,
in all of the lives we are, it's with hands that are dying
When I don't touch you it's a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
-- The Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2, Autumn, 1997