Most of our bodies were stuck
Under a table but we raised our heads
Up between an edge and a wall
Like characters in a Beckett tragicomedy.
A sweet smell of growing green things
Made my heart hurt a little, said Rocky.
I was a child, school was just out,
Nothing to worry about.
What would we do without perpective?
I said. I remember a crumbling tunnel
To a beach location of so many dreams.
Rocky said, May used to mean an impending surge
Of joy—sixth grade is over!
And loss—sixth grade is over.
What’s May to me today?
What warm breeze?
What sexy trees?
What sweet possibilities?
I said, Maybe I wished I could be
In the quiet storefront office
The schoolbus went by every morning
Because I just wanted some calm, damn it.
We are vessels, are we not,
Of all that came before, said Rocky.
Happy in Grampa’s Lap, watching Jackie Gleason,
Algebra homework, Revolver on the record player,
Knee-deep and laughing in warm ocean waves
With you, the one who saves my life.
How would I let you go? I said.
For an unusual tattoo I wanted
Something from a dream.
Though not a slice of rye
To cover a hole in my door
But mysterious enough to draw
Attention in yoga class:
Faint pink crystals scattered
Across a pale blue sky.
Can they do that?
Anything is possible, Rocky said.
Most of our bodies were stuck
I was admiring the knees and elbows
Of my favorite crabapple until I nodded off.
I dreamed a big egg salad sandwich was sailing
Up the Hudson. When I opened my eyes
Leonard Duncil was sitting beside me.
Look at you, an old man snoozing on a bench, he said.
I’d hardly call it snoozing, I said. I was just lost in thought.
I hadn’t seen Leonard, the neighborhood bad boy,
Since 9th grade. He hadn’t aged—same long greasy
Hair and adolescent beard. Are you spying on me? I said.
If I’m a spy, I must be good, he said. You haven’t seen
Me in thirty years. He had me there. Still I was
Suspicious. He said, You sit here moping until you see
Something you think is funny, like a truck for Giant Big
Apple Beer. I said, What’s not funny about Giant Big
Apple Beer? Are you a ghost? Were you an evil pimp,
Murdered by one of your whores? He said, Wow.
I’m an aircraft engineer and a grandpa. I don’t look like
This anymore. Why do you remember me? I said, Blue
Print Cleanse. We Think. You Drink. That’s funny isn’t it?
He said, You and your sisters were straight out of the Brady
Bunch. I said, You were a happy delinquent. I was a lonely nerd.
I gathered Leonard Duncil into my arms
As the crabapple waved in the June breeze.
Please order food for today’s conference, Roger said.
I said, Of course. And encrypt the message, he said.
Encrypt our lunch? I said. He said, Send it secure.
We need to be in full compliance. I said, I guess we can’t
Be too careful. Especially about sandwiches.
I’m serious, Murchison, Roger said. I said, Me, too.
I don’t take my pastrami lightly. He said, Pastrami—that gets out,
boom, total red flag. Code purple all over the place. I said,
Jesus. I had no idea. He said, Investigators in our files, circling
like hyenas around the copy machine. I said, The bastards!
We’ll shoot them down like dogs. Roger said, Whoa,
Murchison. I love my dog. I love all dogs. I said, Right, sorry.
I used to have a dog when I was a lad. What kind of
Sandwich do you want? I asked. Roger said,
That’s protected information. Order a selection.
Roger left and a chill went straight through me.
One leak, tuna salad, and German shepherds
Are sniffing under my desk. I’d be out
On the street, aimless, wandering
Lonely as a cloud. And there goes my pension.
Sleeping dogs and sleeping lambs
Lay along a meadow path
The sky was pale, the air mild
Yet I imagined teeth and blood
O silly me
At six p.m. an electronic hymn
Pealing carillon chimes
Emanate from an empty belfry
And remind me it is Palm Sunday
I gave up on the gods ages ago
But they have a way of sniffing me out
Do I mean maybe I’m not that dim
Or merely prone to magical thinking?
The winds picked up so weird
Even us kids from tornado alleys
Normally blasé about big blows
Began to feel a chill
Existential all over our screens
One night at the scout camp-o-ree
I woke petrified but finally snapped
On my flashlight to my mother’s bible
A picture of fierce-eyed Elias
Ascending into heaven on a fiery chariot
Put me back to sleep
I climbed a backyard maple
And saw a distant tower with a window
And wondered what and how it would be
To inhabit that high room alone
But so unaware of my surroundings
I didn’t know the tower was a shaft
Of the vast factory where my family had shifted
For fifty years and would in due time
Rattle my ears and coat me with soot
On the roof I saw worn weathered faces
Of tough street boys who watched
The old buildings spread out below
Disappearing before their eyes
There is no more time
Still there is time
To replay the endless loop
Of misses and mess-ups but
Somewhere someone is having fun
Maybe mine is an orphan condition
Difficult to monetize
I’m gonna regret it
If my summer vacation
Is walking to New Orleans
I used to think I couldn’t save
You from all the silliness I’d sprung
I wasn’t only having fun
But now I see you were saving me
More than sun in alcove windows
Pink parrots on vintage pillows
Galleys, galleries, gardens
Places to be free
I closed my eyes against the glare
When I opened them a mallard stood
In the snow beside me, yellow beak shining
He settled down, sank his green head
Into the feathers on his back
Eyes on me slowly blinking closed
A blue police boat slowly closed in on us
I thought the cops might say something
Yes officers, I can vouch for this duck
This duck saved my life and could save yours someday
This duck knows how to meditate on snow like nobody’s business
You may approach this duck with your thoughts and desires
But please respect the personal space of this duck
All the grinning pilot did was nose the prow against a piling
Again and again, to test it I guess.
It woke up the duck
My hotel, a repurposed high school, was infested with dragons the size of goats, asleep in the halls and under the lobby furniture. I held my breath and tiptoed around heaving leathery hides. The door to my room double-locked with a big broken zipper that wouldn’t click at the top. Out the window a gargoyle butterfly hovered like a sputtering chopper and flailed against the glass. I was jittery but I had to laugh at the idiotic expression on its face. I’d left home to see if I could start over again.
In my new life as a midwife I sat young mothers to be in a circle on the floor and offered them cake. Hortense, who’s childbearing years have ended, asked for chocolate and we laughed. I showed a video of a pregnant polar bear, unbearably charming and endangered, sliding down a snowy hillside and splashing into icy water. Session over, I was about to return the sewing needles, some wooden, some metal, when Hortense said, no, we can keep them.
There we were on the deck, the captain and I, when he felt something hit. He gave me the rod as the line went taut and wrapped around a hotel and an office tower. Even so I thought we had a marlin or maybe a swordfish. I fought and reeled hard and yanked up to the balcony not a fish but a pop-eyed old castaway hooked by his shirt. He was pretty worn out but alert and obviously very embarrassed. The captain was bummed. Whose fault was it? Later on the company made a big deal out of it—we saved a man from … something! But what we wanted was a fish.
You might cross a stage to greet
a beautiful character who says, You look healthy!
as though somebody is sick.
You might take her hand and murmur,
It’s the best we can expect, isn’t it?
You might drape a fleecy cape
across your chest and sit on a couch.
You might worry about packing your bags for a big trip
fully aware that your chest of drawers is part of the set.
You might decide it could wait.
You might proclaim, In France, one has morals or one does not!
Or maybe marbles.
You might leave it at that.
You might exit amidst silent derision.
You might be relieved to find a pony
waiting in the in the wings.
It always helps to have a pony
waiting in the wings.
January flat metal
sky. I wonder where
to look to unlock a little
daylight though I know I won’t
find it by looking. I have to sidle up
without knowing where water and sun
once conspired a ripple of diamonds to delight
Lake Marian is dry. An overflow pipe sticks up
a pole I told myself I would fight. I would harness time,
sing into the absence but the runaway clock doesn’t
stop another bridge a rollercoaster drop.
I will donate my body to science
If science will have it.
And while I’m feeling
generous I’ll give
silhouette of a starling
perched on a steeple across
the street (where ghostly fingers
sweep the sky) to the first scientist
who happens by garbage-strewn mounds
of blackened snow compel me to accept human
disorder as a natural state desirable especially compared
to you know what. Let me finally learn to love inglorious mess.
Everybody sing the chorus, I am a large collector!
and follow an ever widening spiral arm
of a stitched together star
that somehow leads
toward a home
we don’t know
What gladdens a smashed and reeling day
when another ice storm has had its way?
The return of the striped Orvieto Cathedral tug, that’s what,
as it escorts a barge of exotic cargo:
fabulous fruit in rainbow hues never seen,
luscious fabrics from silver looms,
spices in flavors as yet undreamed,
illuminated bibles of bizarre beliefs,
pornography, cookbooks, oracular poems
or maybe just a load of plowed snow—
When I was five my grandpa would give me a dollar
to buy him a pack of Camels and me a candy bar
from the ladies at the Gillen Crow drugstore.
In grade three I was proud as could be
of the red helmet I got to wear as class fire marshal.
Nice little red badge, too.
Now I admire with some surprise
the delicate red embroidery of my skin.
I spend my hour by the heaving ice unless
somebody has my spot below the wall.
If you smell a pungent cigar of moderate price, it’s me.
A fine aroma evoking the terroir
of historic Honduran plantations is not me.
Though a lunch hour in El Paraiso might be nice
I smoke by the ice.
I had stolen away from a party at Mom’s
to cross the trestle and climb a path
above the coke train tracks.
It was sunset yet from the east
creamy yellow painted an outcrop
against darkening clouds.
Those glowing stones were new,
maybe on loan from Bellini’s St. Francis.
I am no ecstatic saint but I was struck
by some kind of minor glory.
I didn’t marvel long.
To get back home
I would have no choice but to steal
into a stranger’s house
through the back to sneak
out the front and hope to god
I met nobody on the stairs.
a memory of your bathtime toys
all lined up on the side of the tub
It was a silver object, he said,
holding up his hands, eyes wide.
It hit the ground, I came home
and I had baby spiders all over the ceiling.