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.
Ice on the river slides against ice
I sit on the pier
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.
Old time inkers at the funeral for my famous hair
carried white copies of Moby Dick.
They saw a clip of me at Astor in ‘84
Causing a minor uproar.
They filed onto a lawn, croaked out my favorite song
Everyone got a piece of my tuxedo.
All of have to push through, said the big red lips.
It took some shifty contortions and my cowboy shirt came off
but I muscled between a tangle of two-by-fours
to kiss those lips. They disappeared.
And I was sore afraid.
The one where Judy wins the lottery
but she has to keep it a secret from Jim
and she gets caught in a bankrobber’s getaway car
but she’s saved by Santa on a firetruck.
I slipped in the dark.
I slid in the grease.
A very blackened blacksmith growled,
Stay out of my way if you don’t want to die.
My cowboy shirt was blackened.
I was covered in grime
but I still thought I could make the tryouts.
In a regrettable act of kindness
mixed with curiosity
I cut loose an old man shrink
wrapped in red plastic,
a very modern museum mummy,
and the pesky geezer attached himself to me.
He said, We can’t say what can’t be said,
but damned if I won’t take my licks.
I said, I hear you, buddy.
He said, Plowing up the football field
won’t stop the game
but it will twist a lot of ankles.
I said, You know it, greybeard loon.
He said, They got a mouse up
in British Columbia that sneers
at everyone he sees.
I said, I hate that attitude.
He said, Never promise
your teachers you’ll stay in touch.
I said, It’s sad, but who has the time?
He said, You could make masks
of ancient Romans puking wine
with red strings that shoot
out of their mouths.
I said, Yes, but please, don’t.
I climbed on top of the fridge
to get away from him.
He got on my kitchen counter-top.
He said, That dark day on the harbor
When white-capped water crashed the pier
A man in black danced tai-chi katas.
Mallards rode the swells.
A towering gray battleship cruised northward,
the crew lined the deck at attention
While high above circled a flock of big birds,
Not gulls, not pigeons. What were they?
I said, maybe turkey vultures?
He said, Buzzards don’t circle the harbor.
I said, Let’s get the guide and look them up.
Maybe they were cormorants.
To cut the grass by Maggie’s garden path
I haul my electric mower through a grocery,
climb a gothic arch, dangle from a flying buttress
but there’s nowhere to plug in.
Maggie blithely takes the top off the mower,
puts in newspaper, charcoal, lights it
and pours on gasoline.
I say, Hey, that’s dangerous!
She says it rarely causes problems.
My consultant says it’s time to minimize
optionality and variation so there’s no way
to tweak the system. I say, Cookbook medicine.
He says it’s just something to be aware of.
I say, Sauce for the gander. We meet
all those risk corridors. He says if
something’s out of whack you have a potential
case. I say, Strategic default done right.
He says he slept in a car outside the office.
I say, Tiffany Fur Storage?
He says John Fish Jewelers.
I say, Partial, fractional and promised gifts.
He says rival girl groups threatened
by the Russian mob. I say, A Traveler’s Guide
to Cloud People.
As for her concern over her perfume’s staying power,
she still smelled great when I made sure
she was breathing and I waited for the EMTs.
The Frisbee coach poked me in the belly.
You’re weak here, he said. Jesus
Had abs like a lion’s.
That pissed me off. We were spotlighted
By sun through stained glass windows
Of scowling saints. I said, nice and loud
Over the ruckus from the choir loft,
Did you just say Jesus had abs?
That backed him off in a hurry.
Okay, don’t get excited, he said.
I said, Take your hat off.
You can do a jig on somebody’s grave.
The dead don’t feel a thing.
We’re always tromping over them,
Not just in the cemetery across from Midtown Elevator
And Times Trading Corporation. Somewhere
The dark bones of a big man
Are heaped on a sewer grate.
She was the ex-wife of a Band-Aid scion, actually.
Sitting in an attic in Rhinebeck, a statuette
Carved out of sardonyx, nephrite and cachalong.
Also mahagony coffin fragments of czar provenance,
Another encrustation that required a scraper.
I had risen to a table beside two young princes
Peering at texts from their peers
In a walnut-paneled room where a waiter brought soup
That I spilled into my lap but I was unembarrassed
And discretely picked shellfish from my pants
While I watched a two-hundred-year-old turtle
Crawl into a corner beside a radiator.
I said, I hope you don’t get cooked.
He said, The comfort of the same thing every day
Gives way to despair of the same thing every day,
And back again, especially my routine 4 p.m.
When I’m aware of keeping up
I know I’m left behind.
Otherwise I think I’m fine.
I shouldered my way off a train
to surface gray in midtown rain
and saw what rattled in my tin
but a miniature proscenium.
If drama was my lucky charm
luck or lack of it led me on
to low places, waist deep declivity
waiting for a high sign
when I asked myself, what am I?
I should swap the shaft to the cave paintings
for the maidenhair spleen wort’s mossy path
to consistently cleaner parts,
a farm on route four
and Lake Marian, fishing hole
and primordial soup of apparitions:
a serpent that reared up so high
I could see it from the road,
a tornado that tore the roof off the bait shack
while we huddled underneath until
Grampa’s ancient Studebaker
trundled down the gravel lane
and we scrambled to safety
in his old-man mustiness.
He didn’t say a word. What a grouch.
I can’t find Crier in the rack
because I have it in my hand,
a chunk of interstellar void
delivered to my door and ever since
sticky bits of it cling to me all day
and night when fish in the shallows
nose me like purring cats.
I dart around the farm watching for a wolf,
put my bed in the back yard
deep at the edge of the woods
and wait for the cops.
She clambers on top and over me,
mocks me with her smile
and old-fashioned underwear,
and plucks the evidence from the kitchen stove
where she planted it herself, a DVD of Crier.
I will by my ticket over the phone.
I’ll ask if there are masks with magnifying lenses.
Not one piece of cabinet crockery
was a breakfast bowl for Lucky Charms
but it will be full of potting soil and seedlings.