Dead Reckoning

They say birds always find their way back home
but home is a nowhere – a memory; a never was.

Do wings remember spaces in the air
the way we might a place? A cathedral square?

How do you fly back to that? Away from
a tomb of fears, this place yearning for you…

Some years ago, I lay bright flowers on
my father’s grave. Years later, I saw

my grandfather’s ashes taken by the
roots of roses.

I am not myself nor have I ever been
something apprehending the sun

and other bright celestial objects
thinking: this is a tapestry in orbit

around me. I am completely convinced that
we may have been the last creatures to discover

how to be in the world. My heart grows wild.
My future children brush past me in the darkness.

Their chattering voices fill my ears and
then my chest and I cannot hold it in.

I am always coming home.

Warm Up

Imagine that you are chewing a piece of gum. Chew it. Focus on the thought of it. You might chew it on one side of your mouth, then the other. Now the gum is expanding. Really work on it. The thought of it. The gum of the thought. Now the gum is made of hope. Focus on the thought of the gum of the thought. The hope is heavy, it’s scratching at the roof of your mouth. It’s as if there are ventricles in the gum. Heart ventricles. Chew it. Now the gum is made of a muscle. You might feel an aorta complaining against one side of your mouth, then the other. Now the gum is a heart. Focus on the thought of it. There might be blood. The heart might want to burst, and you can let it, just keep chewing. Really work on it. Now the heart is expanding. Your jaw muscles should be good and warm now. Spit out the heart. Think about what you’ve done.

Do We All Have Someone

the hours with you cradling your belly
in my hands

your face level                     with my neck
my neck level       with your mouth

almost like     being a teenager again
almost like            a giving in

when you put your hand on my face
I do not move                your eyes are closed

the only thing speaking is your hand
the slow circle of your fingers

do we all have an ex we can’t forget
not the one               that got away
but the one who left
not the one               that left for good
but the one who stays just out of reach
your thumb circling my jaw
can you feel my body humming
underneath your fingers
I know I know             that’s just me
romanticising you again

I know your patterns
I know how this goes

maybe we have nothing
to talk about anymore

do we all have someone        we can’t forgive
your hands
your hands in the night.

Our Whole Life

Our whole life a translation
the permissible fibs

and now a knot of lies
eating at itself to get undone

Words bitten thru words

meanings burnt-off like paint
under the blowtorch

All those dead letters
rendered into the oppressor’s language

Trying to tell the doctor where it hurts

like the Algerian
who has walked from his village, burning

his whole body a cloud of pain
and there are no words for this

except himself

– Adrienne Rich

Crawl Space

I am the man with cheeks covered up and
with my heart nailed down
crying silently on my father’s lap
of course I wake with a start in the
peeling bedroom
enmeshed in the indigo field
in a cacophonous pool of memories
of things I never wanted to learn

the moon sways over me whitely
too quickly
bordered by the jungle
overgrowing outside the stable where I live

strange feelings overcame me when she left
like the cracking old image of a wave framing a lighthouse
like an octopus crawling on land

she was a goddess in her blood thirst
looking out of the window, a pre-ghost
I know the look of someone newly self-murdered
the moon’s trailing over me too quickly

outside the window, roofs darkly mask the sky
the sky the thatched colour of jeans
evening coming down like hair snipped over shoulders
everything in place for our inflatable vegan dinner
we sat courteously as adults, haloed by stained glass

efforts to understand me were lost
like music reverberating under water or a hammock pinged at one end
my safe word couldn’t reach her whilst her dishonesty
beat me into the crawl space
I nearly broke myself to be with her
(she got there first)
this was not outside my character

Promenade

Openly wanting something
like the opened up lungs of a singer.
I walk by the carriage of the river
and the vinegar wind assaults.
Is this an age of promise? I blush
to want. If I were walking with you,
arm-in-arm, along some
iron promenade, you could fill me up
with hope, you could push back
my stiffened hair with want. I’ll just lie down,
my ribs opened up in the old town square
and let the pigs root through my chest.

The Indigo Field

Two bees hang
around a severed horse’s head
forgetting that they’re supposed to
pollinate
flowers instead of
the roughly opened gland
of a mammal.
Black pennies
with cow faces
down a black well.
You stood no chance
of finding the hope you longed for
I tell myself,
as the sea cannibalises.
It manages to forgive itself
every day, without visions
of the girl
making her way towards me
across the indigo field.

Franz Marc’s Blue Horses

I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
I am not even surprised that I can do this.

One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just
commingling.
He allows me my pleasure.
Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his brain.
I would rather die than explain to the blue horses
what war is.
They would either faint in horror, or simply
find it impossible to believe.
I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
Now all four horses have come closer,
are bending their faces toward me
as if they have secrets to tell.
I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
could they possibly say?

– Mary Oliver

What We Want

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names–
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don’t remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

– Linda Pastan

Love Poem

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other

– Linda Pastan

Emily Dickinson

We think of hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well-kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won’t explain the sheer sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain.

– Linda Pastan

The Whistler

“You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.”

All of a sudden she began to whistle. By all of a sudden
I mean that for more than thirty years she had not
whistled. It was thrilling. At first I wondered, who was
in the house, what stranger? I was upstairs reading, and
she was downstairs. As from the throat of a wild and
cheerful bird, not caught but visiting, the sounds war-
bled and slid and doubled back and larked and soared.

Finally I said, Is that you? Is that you whistling? Yes, she
said. I used to whistle, a long time ago. Now I see I can
still whistle. And cadence after cadence she strolled
through the house, whistling.

I know her so well, I think. I thought. Elbow and an-
kle. Mood and desire. Anguish and frolic. Anger too.
And the devotions. And for all that, do we even begin
to know each other? Who is this I’ve been living with
for thirty years?

This clear, dark, lovely whistler?

– Mary Oliver

Remind Me

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Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that’s late,
it is my song that’s flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it’s done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

– Stanley Kunitz