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Six Love Poems from the Cabin

Apr. 20th, 2009 | 06:52 pm

1. The heat of our bodies
making love
in the cold bedroom
has revived the winter flies
that were frozen
on the windowsill
and now walk along the glass
in circles
with their feet against
the falling snow.

2. When you sleep, your lips plump
at the bottom, where your cheek
irons out the sheets, and your hair
on that side sprays
as a bird's nest unthreaded by wind.
I like that half best,
where dream
is pushed back
by the mean softness of the bed,
the left hook of the pillow.

3. Caramelizing onions on the open woodstove
as you read by the open woodstove
because you hate cold in all its degrees
I think hard about onions
and iron
and how we can bring out the sugar in anything
with fire
and discreetly throw another log in the stove
by your feet.

4. Find me a woodpecker tomorrow
while we are still snowed in
and the animals' signatures are written long
in the white paper mountains,
mouse footprints and talons,
stories of necessary murders done
hours ago in times of need.
Find me a woodpecker that is right in front of us,
tapping the trees
like the doctor on the child's knee,
like my heart for you,
and present.

5. "Do you hear that?,"
you ask,
speaking of some bird talking
in the pines.
But I am half deaf, and stretch my ears
to the forest for nothing
but humming wind,
like a blind man at a telescope.
But I have heard something you
have never heard:
you breathing in your sleep,
an owl's wing
brushing a mirror.

6. Airports have two edges,
too long on both sides.
When you are arriving,
the corridors seem to be made
for your slow landing
in high heels
walking tap tap down the strip,
past the armed guards,
and all the passengers
in my heart cheer.
When you are departing,
the corridor is a thousand miles long, and
"goodbye" is a begging word
that means "stay,"
a banshee smeared across the sky,
a contrail
that points in the direction of your home.

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Advice for Young Actors on How to Die

Apr. 13th, 2009 | 10:45 pm

During the year of my one-man production of Hamlet,
I experimented with every known way
to fake my death.

I practiced the electrocution style,
where the spirit leaves you in spasms,
the insectoid body dancing
as if death itself were poisonous.

I emulated Jesus,
my gaze turned toward God
like goldfish floating belly up
in the fishbowls of my eye sockets.

There's the popular Marionette Method,
by which you imagine the rope
connecting you to the sky
has been severed.
The bedsheet ghost collapses,
the chin hits the chest like fallen fruit.

Sometimes I'd pretend my body is an appliance
that I have unplugged,
and I'd simply freeze,
as if, without the soul, the body is confused
and stops,
a too-trained dog
waiting at the door for its master.

Sometimes I would shuffle off my mortal coil
as a striptease,
a burlesque of the seven-veiled spirit.

A good actor must remember that dying
is not like falling asleep.
Practice your death rattle like the word for "hello"
in a foreign language,
until you feel comfortable introducing yourself to oblivion.
Avoid the sudden chest-clutching of the gunfighter, dying as if
struck by lightning, but also the hero's slow walk
towards his last words. The body is always tired
from pushing itself uphill since birth.
Let it rest its bones in a heap.
When it comes time to die, don't act like you
have something more important to do.

Other than that, I'm happy to report
there are several dozen ways to die.
Try them all.
The style that feels the most comfortable to you
will tell you more about how
you choose to live,
how you animate your body day after day.
Rehearse your death every night, practice
how not to be,
to be.

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Holy Diver

Apr. 11th, 2009 | 10:47 am

Holy Diver,
you've been down too long in the midnight sea
among the jellyfish in their white gowns,
those sorrowless angels of the deep,
and the seaweed waving like the hair of drowned girls.

Your helmet is wreathed with bubbles and rainbow perch
and your air hose vanishes up into the light,
an umbilicus to heaven.
How much you look like an astronaut on the moon,
bouncing slowly in your iron boots
as the little sharks sniff at you
and dart away in silver flashes
like knives in the dark.

Holy Diver,
only you know how delicate the octopus' grasp
as it feels the contours of the reef
with its hand-like body.
Only you plumb the depths of the Earth's genius,
its weird gardens, its beehives of angelfish
and religious swarms of anchovies
circling in orbit of an unknown god.
You know that what is most sacred is kept 
in those irresistible blue trenches
where the long hand of life
planted its deepest

But I am up here in the boat, waiting
for the diving bell to ring.

Holy Diver,
you've been down too long in the midnight sea.
The hospital room rocks gently
in the quiet waves of my blood
as I watch you swim in the saltwater of your I.V.,
tube stretching up from the vein of your wrist,
umbilicus to heaven.
Pale and barely breathing, you are the madonna
of the darkest belly of the ocean,
among the ghostly things,
glowing in your barbiturate sleep
as you descend further out of the window's moonlight.
I do not know what secrets you are learning
down there in the chambers 
of the aquarium's blue heart,
but I see the little fish flutter in your eyelashes
and imagine you are weightless and feel no pain 
in the paradise of the manta ray.

But I am waiting for you at the surface,
for the diving bell to ring,
for your eyes to open.

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Erotic Ghazal

Apr. 10th, 2009 | 03:31 pm

The way I tear bread apart to share, I press my thumb in your skin.
Steam rises. If there is regret now, it has gone dumb in your skin.

Why do we close our eyes to kiss though it is already dark?
To watch your pleasure light up the planetarium in your skin.

Like a hunter stretching the gazelle's hide tightly over the empty basket,
my drummer's hands strike and are struck back by the drum in your skin.

Stop saying God, don't say my name. Let your breath be honest and enough.
I hear your heartbeat slide when I touch there, the easy umm... in your skin.

You wait while I kiss your stomach, like whispering on a church bell.
My tongue lightly strikes your copper, tastes the hum in your skin.

You push the fullness of your body against mine, as if I were a door
in a burning house. Let the rain wash the fire. Say yes, succumb in your skin.

You swell, above me. Your body ripens, lowers itself near my gnashing mouth.
Shut my lips with yours. Otherwise I may bite through the delicate plum in your skin.

Lover, you go somewhere black, and when you return, you bloom gold. 
I watch the ever-unfolding chrysanthemum in your skin.

Only now, whisper Christian. I will say your name and no other word. My heart
sleeps at the doorstep of your body, waiting to be invited to come in your skin.

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Apr. 10th, 2009 | 12:00 pm

After a hard day of killing,
skin flayed with sunburn,
Samson would fall asleep in Delilah's lap
while she brushed the blood from his miles of hair.
After the third time she asked him,
What makes you so strong?,
rolling a grape along the archer's bow of his lips,
he smiled, half-asleep, and told her,
Because I carry the weight
of my whole history 
on my head.

Every day, our hair grows a new cell,
and we put our memories there,
a film reel of moments blowing behind us in the wind.
You can measure your life on your hair,
and my whole autobiography
is written in my locks. You read it
every time you pass your fingers through.

                                                                            Here, at the tips, is where I was born.
                                                      Here, I killed my first snake.
                                          Here, my mother died.
                                     My father remarried.
                  Here, I destroyed my first man, a Philistine.
       Here, where I've knotted it, is where my wife said goodbye.
And see this place, up near my scalp?
This is where I met you, Beloved.

When I unwrap it after battle, it falls to the floor
like so much rain,
and I remember everything,
every joy and beesting of my childhood,
every day I ever fought and lost, prayed to false gods,
took kindness on the enemy's child
or apologized to the wicked,
and yes,
every single day I have loved you.
You cannot imagine how heavy it is on my neck.
That is what makes me so strong, Beloved.

And Delilah's kisses fell on his forehead
as he fell asleep, tiny kisses with a sound like

This is why I cut my hair short the day I left you.

This is why I turned the scissors on myself.

Why I came home looking like a stranger
and looked at you like a stranger,
too weak to fight anymore.

Why I begged the barber to be my surgeon,
to cut away this agonizing weight,
to preserve my heart in his jar of blue alcohol,
to burn the clippings,
as you and I 
fell away
onto the checkered floor.


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Apr. 9th, 2009 | 08:59 pm

A lonely birdwatcher all my life, I never could pluck
the waxwings from their green clouds
as they passed by in autumn, mouths dripping with berries.
Stars were dandelion seeds in a slow wind,
impossible to gather.
Earthbound, I make bird calls to the sun,
trying to coax it down into tree overhead,
my hand reaching upward and empty
as a weathervane.

This was before you, my love.

Now I hold you between my thumb and forefingers
like the stem of the moon.
Your body is the kite string of lightning
between the thunder and the tree that grasps for it,
and the slither of water
under the mountain, seeking in the dark.
I never want to possess heaven.
I just want a copper wire to whisper to it through
as the heart does with gravestones,
a telephone wire crowded with mourning doves,
and so I speak softly into your mouth.

I remember being greedy for beauty.
I used to uproot sunflowers.
Now I press my forehead to yours and listen
to the language of bees
and find your eyelashes dusted with pollen.
You are the vein of the sky,
exhaling steam,
and when the black cathedral ceiling falls over the bed,
you are the bell rope
and the night rings with owls calling to each other.
It is joy that does this,
and your effortless reach, tall girl,
and a laugh that echoes even on the ocean.
I will never need to take anything
so long as you are my stem,
the silver guitar string stretching across the emptiness
where my hand, once empty of music,
leans into you like a weathervane
that has found its breath,
its purpose.

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The Danger in Learning How to Bar Fight From the Movies

Apr. 9th, 2009 | 06:22 pm

I always wanted to taste a shard of the green sugar
glass they use to make beer bottles,
the black syrup of blood
painted touchingly on my upper lip
by a girl out of beauty school.
I thought there would be broken pool cues,
butterfly knives swinging their legs lasciviously
in our hands.

What I got was four seconds
of my hands on your throat.
Maybe three.

I always expected a gentlemen's disagreement,
a rivalry between two pilots
of equal stripes
rubbed to the nerve by some joke gone wrong,
a childish dispute over a jukebox song or spilled beer,
thrust by ritual
into a pas de deux of hate.

It is not like that at all.
It is drowning men clawing for the last life jacket
a thousand miles from land.
I have seen lionesses fight like to protect cubs
who are already dead. It is like that,
fighting for the love of a woman
who loved neither of us.
There is no art, just the freight of bodies colliding
and a stare that cannot be severed.
It cannot be filmed; it is too close.
It is intimate as the whispers of boxers
when they hold each other
like waltzing bears.

In the fight scene, I thought the bikers and soldiers moved
to make a cock pit circle,
threw money in the air and raised toasts,
or else cowered respectfully until we finished,
a comet of blood on the mirror
for the bartender to wipe up neatly off-camera.

What I remember is being torn apart
like kindergartners,
my chest held by the shoulder of a stronger friend
like a seat belt in a car crash,
how I only pretended
I wanted to break through.
How I wanted to fall asleep there.

They do not teach you about the sidelong glances later.
Not the voices of former friends
that flicker with rumors
when they ask how you've been since;
the exile by degrees, the shame.
They do not teach you how bar fights are lost
when the girl says, go home, I'm staying here, go home,
and there is no home anymore.
They do not teach you about your slowly collapsing heart.

They teach you that the movie ends with forgiveness.

But my hands are still at your throat,
where I left them.
Whose hands these are, I don't know.
They came to me empty and upturned,
and I've taught them
to punch steam in the shower
and coil into fists
at the moon that grins like you do.
No one told me bar fights were so short,
and yet without end,
that months later I would still awake weeping
from a dream of finally closing my fingers
around your windpipe,
which, as in any dream,
is really my own.

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Buffalo Bill

Apr. 7th, 2009 | 10:43 pm

I'm not usually one for roadside tourist traps,
but when I saw a sign 20 miles outside Denver
that said Buffalo Bill's Grave,
a little voice in my head said,
I have to stop and spit on that.
At the top of a wind-struck mountain,
I let two fly on the grave of William Cody:
one for the buffalo, one for the rest of America,
and then I went to the gift shop
and bought a souvenir shot glass
so every time I take a slug of whiskey
and pretend I'm a real cowboy
I will remember what the fuck that means.

Welcome to the wild, wild west.
Be sure to catch the gunfight at noon and two o'clock.
This place used to have a heart.
It belonged to an older god than ours.
But its drumbeat kept the pilgrims up at night
so we transplanted it with a cow heart
and wrapped it in barbed wire like a corazon sagrado
and let the cattle burn the prairie down to dust.
And here's Buffalo Bill, the ringmaster,
and here's Geronimo, his chief rodeo clown
with rubber-tipped arrows.
They're going to re-enact Little Big Horn for the folks in New York,
only this time, we're going to win like we were supposed to.

You want to know why I spit on Buffalo Bill's grave?
It's because the old man won't get up and fistfight me.
Because you can still hear the buffalo stomping
the grasshoppers into the sun,
nursing young on white greasy milk.
You can hear America calling for its lost lover,
the tremendous herds grazing her belly.
She cries, Where is my darling? Where is my darling?
The west wasn't won by cowboys;
it was won by cows
owned by barons back east.
The west wasn't won with bullets.
It was won with cap guns
in the hands of the Apaches
with wives and children slaughtered by Buffalo Bill
after he put them in the circus.
It was won when we started having to protect the buffalo
instead of the other way around.

It was won by little blond boys in Massachusetts
playing cowboys and Indians with two-finger six-shooters.
I always played the Indians.
I knew that they go woop-oop-oop-oop,
and my deaths drew rave reviews.
Now I play thrift store buckaroo
and if he wasn't dead, I'd kill Buffalo Bill
for making me believe in the myth of the white, white west,
and for making the world believe it, too.
That's how the West was won:
when we started to believe the make-believe;
Aztlan became a dimestore novel written in Connecticut
and we all shoot our invisible peacemakers with a yee-haw.

But the buffalo will return.
Once the barbed wire fences have rusted soft,
once the water runs out for all
but the creatures that drink dew from cactus thorns.
Now I listen to the gunfights on the streets of Albuquerque
and see the velvet paintings of John Wayne
and maybe I'm a tourist, but I believe the west was never won,
it just thinks it is,
and we'll step into the cottonwood light
and the pale dry sunset,
thirsty and hard.
They say Buffalo Bill tamed the wild west.
They say the buffalo will never trample our cowfields again.
This is my ghost dance.

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Fill My Hand

Apr. 6th, 2009 | 11:14 pm

"Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!"

-John Wayne, "True Grit"

Fill my hand.
Put the warm heel of a gun in my palm.
I've never held a pistol,
though I think its ironwood stem
would feel as familiar
as your hand to mine.

Fill my hand with fire and percussion.
I want to put bullets in something thick
and alive. It has been too long since you kissed me,
surgeon pulling crumpled shells
from my lips,
holding them up to the light,
wisps of blood dripping from the forceps like honey.

Fill my hand with your shoulder,
your mouth. It is empty and grasping for war
in my sleep. Smooth it with the handle
of your wrist. Take this death wish,
to see daylight through me on Main Street,
and clothe my nude hand in yours;
give yourself as alms, or as a waterfall
that cannot do anything
but give continuously.
Give my hand its purpose,
let it make its revenge
on the world
with your beauty.
Fill my hand with your arm that fits it.
My trigger finger scratches my hip.
Fill my hand with the gun of you.
It will always be open.

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Pinocchio As An Old Man

Apr. 5th, 2009 | 01:24 pm
music: Yes, I stole this idea from my last poem, which was about electric guitars.

If I could make my wish again,
I would have liked
to have been a tree instead.

When the fairy asked me,
half boy and half pine,
to choose between blood and wood,
no one knows I hesitated,
and chose mostly for the old man's sake.
He had worked so hard to carve me
out of the gnarled heartwood
into a doll in the shape of a son,
and I wanted so badly to please him.
Love was an irresistible unknown then.
My true mother cast me down a hill
as a seed cone, and I was not born
until after the forest fire.

So when the fairy asked me to choose,
I told her I wanted to be a real boy,
and my nose did not grow one inch,
though a termite chomped at my heart.

It has been a good life, by anyone's measure.
The old man taught me carpentry,
how to shear wood into a violin, or a toy ballerina,
or a crucifix, but I never showed a talent for it.
My hands were unsteady.

After he died, I joined the navy
to be as far as possible from forests
and the incessant crickets that kept me up nights.
But the ship's timbers told me war stories at sea
in a haunted baritone, and the mast waved slowly
and steadily as a pine in the strong wind.
The other sailors laughed at my stammering horror
whenever we passed a pod of whales.

After that, I became a lawyer, and was very good at it.
I took a wife, and had children we named after saints.
I know pain, and the pleasure of soft flesh.
Grandchildren try to climb me,
play hide-and-seek around my legs,
and this makes me happy.

But the termite is still in my heart, fat and relentless,
its jaws sticky with blood and resin.
It is still my habit to sit in my rocking chair
in the sun, letting the wind pass through my splayed fingers,
and listening to the soft rattle of maple leaves,
the pines rubbing their trunks together like cello necks.
Rheumatism creaks in my axe-handle bones now,
and I still dream about my ship's bare-breasted masthead,
and my wife complains about my dirt-caked toenails
after I've taken my coffee in the garden
and dug my knotty toes into the topsoil,
tightly as a fist's grip.
I wonder if I was ever made for adventuring,
rather than staying in one place
and simply praising the sun.

Blue star, grant me one more wish.
When they bury me,
don't let them put me in a wooden coffin.
Plant a sapling as my headstone
where its roots can reach my blood.
A pear, perhaps. Something I can offer
my great-grandchildren
who steal them from my branches
and fall asleep in my shade
as I whisper, Hush,


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