Saturday, July 30, 2011

30/30 day 30: Fragment

Leashed dogs cower beneath the porch
before dawn. Peeling planks of wood
swell out nails like teeth, widen gaps
to yawn lazy in expectation of rain.

You peel lemon after lemon, separating
each segment and salting them, a cross-
sectioned core of some planet, glowing
and never seen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

30/30 Day 27: You, carrying severed head on a shield. Me, the head.-W4M

It was that goddamn mirror you carried––no, hid behind––that distorted everything but your ankles, calves, the impeccable curve and crater of one shoulder from behind it. All I could see of you I wanted to keep, the hand that raised the sword a perfect sconce for a torch in winter, for cradling drying herbs in spring. To hold something with grace is a beautiful thing, you know. The sword fell and I felt your hands in my writhing hair. You will never be more perfect than this moment. I love you. I hate you. You could be preserved for all time. A work of art. Just look at me. Look at me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

30/30 Day 26: Apologies

You say I would be better off
                        apologizing to the ruptured capillaries
            of your neck, shoulder, collarbone.

Some things I refuse to do. Others
                        I refuse and do anyway. You repay
            the kindness by making a prison

wall of my back, the captive days
                        hash-marked and raw. Summer languishes,
            the breeze from the window, the fan

at the foot of the bed, like lying
                        in a shallow, lukewarm stream. Nothing
            will cleanse what bleeds through

the next page, the indelible reminders.
                        What stains and does not wash. What
            is not washed, in case.

Monday, July 25, 2011

30/30 Day 25: At Lorine Niedecker's Grave (2)


The groundskeeper,
            ill-tempered and precise,
                        mows between each stone.

The trailing swallows
            make every comment
                        on impermanence

we can stand. I do not
            believe in portents
                        or the chattering

of cicadas as something
                        their husks clinging

to the oak, the hand-
            rail, the front door,
                        incapable of holding fast

their violent contents.

Friday, July 22, 2011

30/30 Day 22: Reprieve

The spider starts rebuilding
in the middle of a storm which
you tell me is a beautiful woman

in India shaking a silk Dhoti
after washing, the quiet claps
of damp cloth making thunder

to shudder-rattle the windows.
Not half an inch of rain
since July first, I was told yesterday

by the farmer selling asparagus
thick as a thumb. His crops
will be flooded and joyous tonight,

with the rain which is the water
shed into that far-off river in sheets
from the garment's weft and warp.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

30/30 Day 20: Table of Contents

In New Jersey, medical students
forbidden from studying cadavers

use bone chisels to pry the hinges
from the morgue doors. You show me

a film of a dog's severed head––
It's Russian you say, as though

that explains the apparatus
siphoning blood through its host.

Nothing tragic about these days
spent invading the living, the dead,

the students opening men like
china cabinets, reverence, care,

setting the table with our contents.
The dog licks its muzzle, calm

as we are, watching it track
a flashlight, turn its bloodied ears

toward voices. This is where
it started
, you say. Now

that machine keeps organs alive.

Somewhere, a fist of red muscle

beats in a clear box before transplant,
a lung breathes deep without ribs

to confine it. When finished,
the students replace the hinges and,

inside, the bifurcated seams that split
their subjects are sewn shut,

not a stitch out of place.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

30/30 Day 19: Pity From the Sirens (2)


The tired snakes writhe above me––
I can never tell when it's raining

without looking out the window. Early on,
I would wake with a satisfied weight,

usually a mouse, a rat, a roach,
consumed while I slept. Only men

turn stony, other creatures freeze
from that scaly gaze I can claim

only distantly as my own. Nothing
strays close these days, but the snakes

will never eat one-another––how
could I destroy a part of myself

with so much work to be done?
When champions plead, their hands

make a beautiful place for bird nests.
Every man is bettered by stillness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

30/30 Day 18: Pity From the Sirens

            "...'Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror..."
                        -Percy Bysshe Shelley

It starts at the eyes,
not that anyone asks.

Too often the limbs
break before everything
is done––I have too
many fallen arms
littering my home, shields
as platters, swords enough
to shutter the windows,
fence the yard.

Pity from the sirens
whose art needs only
a sweet song and
sharp stones, one-time
shows lauded for
sincerity and scale.

For me, a fine line
between victim and
sculpture. A man
will always guard
his face. I paved
the path last summer
with so many stone hands.

Friday, July 15, 2011

30/30 Day 15: Apocrypha

My grandfather tells
a story so filled

with detail it is difficult
to parse, the hallways

of the boarding house
wallpapered with horses

running a constant circuit,
the veranda partially

screened, mosquitoes
invading nightly. But it is not

the hooves of horses which
make the racket he pounds

on the dining room table
of our now-modest home, it is

the footfalls of a ghost
which braves the insects

and wanders the veranda
after thudding down

the eighteen––eighteen
he is quick to repeat––

stairs of the house.
He counted them nightly,

counts them now, and
as he leads me through

every haunted room,
I consider the crop circles

outside Verona, the pressed
grass fallen like dead men

in rows, which, viewed
from above, make

an asterisk, an ampersand,
the last period in a sentence

which nobody knows began.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

30/30 Day 14: The Exotic Other

On a minimalist kick.

The Exotic Other

Conical mounds, linear, effigy,
                        the last in the shape
            of an animal only

if seen from above.
                        In a fistful of earth,
            shards of pottery,

blades of glassy stone,
                        a tooth, a tarsus.


A skeleton shipped
                        from Rochester,
            catalogue number

drawn in pencil
                        on the parchment
            floor of the pelvis.


An African village,
            to the world's fair,

six months of buzzing
                        generators, impossible
            Ferris wheel, Pabst's

first blue ribbon. Imagine
                        going home. Imagine
            not going home.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

30/30 Day 13: At Lorine Niedecker's Grave

Took a field trip to Ft. Atkinson today with the residential poetry program I'm TAing.

At Lorine Niedecker's Grave

Why do I always leave
            the milk on the counter,
                        just long enough for it

to spoil slightly before
            I replace it at lunch,
                        sour little secret;

my keys on the shelf
            staring me down as I
                        walk out the door;

my pen on the table
            of a dead poet consumed
                        by remembering

every detail, small
            as a seed, hidden as
                        a pencil that has replaced

a bone in a living bird?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

30/30 Day 12: Yes/No/Maybe/Never/Always

When Aron hands me back the joint
           and asks if this is what I thought
           it would all be like––it all being,
           I thought, the spacious interior
           of his father's SUV, my body
           cradled in a palm of plush leather,
           a gently closed fist of metal,
           skyline receding behind us, all
           aglow and shrinking behind
           the hills as teeth behind lips––

Monday, July 11, 2011

30/30 Day 11: Fragment

The body is a timeshare of doubt
and overconfidence, each one
drifting in and out, leaving their
small, accumulating messes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

30/30 Day 10: Natural Phenomena

The horse inhales deeply
                        as it is saddled, and holds in
            hope that the rider will not

notice. The coyote gnaws
                        off her own front leg from
            the trap that has snared her,

counts this as a victory. I think
                        about points of entry without
            exit as my uncle flays a shad

still flopping on the gunwale,
                        this to use as bait for larger
            game. He spears a knot

of flesh around a palm-sized hook,
                        casts, waits. The horse will release
            its breath only when the rider

is mounted, toppling him from
                        his loose throne. The coyote
            will wait for the limb to die

before murdering the family cat.
                        The sturgeon which has taken
            the bait deep below is older

than I am, and in its surfacing
                        has irrevocably tangled our lines.
            The shad, half-skinned, flops

into the water and disappears.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

30/30 Day 9: Navy Pier

She places a pile of ash ten
feet from the last, measuring
by footsteps toe-heel-toe-heel
as you tell me that everything
made by human hands looks
terrible under a microscope.
Constellations reveal themselves
in the poured concrete, but I don't
mention it, the woman's bicycle
(given over to the appetites of rust)
balanced with one hand as
the other, coated, ghastly, cradles
another half-cup measure mountained
like gray flour. You say that nature
presents itself as a beautiful series
of boxes within boxes, and here
the messy particulars of life and
death meet––what is contained
contains, what holds is also held.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

30/30 Day 7: Thrift

Those mornings we rose to the newspaper
splayed across the living room floor, enough

red ink for a murder scene, our mother
poring over classifieds: everything

given was received, sought was found.
Here, a couch made home by wasps

last summer, a canoe portaged a county
too far, our city rivers thick and silted.

Every harvest took planning, the hand-
drawn map pointing the way from one

discarded oasis to the next and, on her
return, the living room became an orphanage

of mis-matched furniture and crooked lamps.
The house was a weakened body after a vital

transfusion––every surface new and flushed
with life, none of it recognizable as our own.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

30/30 Day 6: Distance


Here changes momentarily, a rail-
road, a bridge across the creek that

splits a tiny town in two, a silvered
vein of quiet in the rocky conversation

between shores. But already, here
is fields of grass shorn for the coming

heat which have hosted wars and their
children––you can almost see the bone-

meal beneath the bonemeal. Here is
not the forest, but the memory of trees,

and not the leaves, but rich earth
in their burned stead.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

30/30 Day 5: Distance


Listening to Radio Nowhere, looking
as you always do, at the mirror, or more
precisely, at the misshapen glass that
contains your reflection and all behind
you, surrounded by the oncoming road.

Monday, July 04, 2011

30/30 Day 4: On the Fourth

We discuss favorite words
after a smoke on the shore
of Lake Michigan, sailboats
numerous as teeth. Synopsis,
cathartic, vermillion, precipice,
vitalitous––this last one not
truly a word, but a better creation
to describe something's living,
the lush forest which walls
the beach, counterpart to the thousand
dead fingerling fish washed up
on the rocky transition between
sand and what I keep mistakenly
calling the sea.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

30/30 Day 3: April/Aftermath

We shored ourselves
against the siege of winter
with all we had, blankets
worn as tissue, enough tea
to float a ship, and
when the creeping frost
finally retreated down
the oversized window
panes, everything
seemed broken or waiting
to break. Grass grows
through the garbage,
the roots of the tree outside
emerge from the laundry-
room walls, cracked and
crumbling, thin as thread.
By measures, we learn
to subside with these
reclamations, but they turn
us wild, our laughter
the heckling bark of dogs,
our smiles, the bared
teeth of some aggressor.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

30/30 Day 2: Mausoleum

He was purported to say
that all the warmth had left
her body, so he built them
a warm place: old books,
dirty dishes, tarnished lantern,
her unfinished knitting draped
over an armchair, a casket
for him, too, across the way,
waiting, open. See, how quickly
the rest of us make quiet
room for grief, without ever
populating its spaces.

Friday, July 01, 2011

30/30 Day 1: Ask 1 Radio Psychic Network

The last piece of advice
threatens to topple
her swift-constructed
sureness. It's after
she has already asked
about wages, names, hours––
received all she needed
to know about being
on the edge of a break-
through, leaves prepared
to turn, big things
on the horizon and all
florid ways of saying
time inevitably takes you
elsewhere. With one
minute left, the psychic
asks about love, followed
by laughter on the line.
I feel in my head––the listener
corrects herself––my spirit,
I mean, if you can hear
the spirit in my voice,
you know I'm cringing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Memorial (adj.)

Remember to make room
for the vacancy, the shovel
that can do nothing but create

two things: holes and piles
of their contents. Insects emerged
from a dirt mountainside which

moments before was dark
space to navigate blind. You
caught one, a pillbug which

uncurled in the pinch of soil
you placed in your palm.
See there, you said, home.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The ten pounds needed to break
a knee, the sunken hollows

behind your jaw that, if pulled,
will detach it from the skull––

in self defense, we are educated of safety
through the body's fragility. I would have

killed him,
my mother says of the burglar gone
out the broken porch window. It would have

been easy,
she does not say.
Vertebrae, clavicle, scapula, the body

persists in words more fragile
sounding than they are. The man

whose motorcycle helmet bounced
some thirty times off the pavement

said he had begun to compose
a song to the rhythm of impact.

Malaria Parasite First Filmed Invading Human Blood Cell

The empty bottles and cans on the counter
seemed like the smallest war, even as we watched

another, smaller war on screen. Presented
with what writhes, the mind grows

an ugly tree, deeply rooted. This
was to witness a myth made, the self-

same desires of wolf for flock, snake for
the sweet, vile unhinging of what will fit

between its jaws, its coils. It begged
a question about fear's antipodal relation

to ignorance, how it is too easy
to call something of which we are terrified

beautiful––but by the time we had caught
on to the changed face of this foreign

body––what this change
meant––it was gone.

The clouds are moving in that thick,
imperceptible way again. With little

out here to measure them against,
it could be the jelly in our eyes––

the vitreous humor, which turns to water
as we age––that makes them,

motionless, churn; everything in us
moves. A contrail's incision parts east

from west. A surgical incision makes clean
work of malignancy, and the same radiation

that obliterated cities bladelessly shears
the scalp of its vivid weight.

I crushed a spider crossing the windowsill,
and saw, staining the tissue, what little

it takes to make motion––this, after
the bug spray and the spider's

unbearable demonstration of how much
it takes to keep moving.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"And so shall we ever be"

A brilliant man is waiting
for the world to end

yesterday. Today
the sky is that sick,

rapturous green––the best
that bad gets,
you say

––that will end
something, if not

necessarily everything.
In its softer moments

the rain sounds
like the quiet patter

of a thousand mice
in the walls, while

two counties over
the tornado tearing

through a small-
town cemetery attempts

to fulfill some measure
of prophecy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Yesterday an open mouth
                        on the floor of the sea.
        A nation playing

bloody knuckles
                        with its own hands.
        The television rattles

when it's not on and
                        when it is, shakes
        the house. Yesterday

every photo was rubble,
                        ash in the coffee, blood
        in the milk, something

desperate about
                        our typical consolation
        of rescue. How

can morning plough
                        so smoothly through night?
        Today a sparrow flew

into the spinning spokes
                        of my bicycle, and
        out the other side.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


That morning,
as the news chattered

about broken records
we discovered the sandbox

––a haven for all things
static and plasticized––

frozen solid. The arms
of plastic men beckoned.

The maples bent over
with interest and ice.

With a few hours of work,
the action figures could have been

drying on the dish rack,
Spider Man dwarfed

by the china platter,
The Hulk roaring

face down into the dish towel,
but the howling alarm

from across the street
of a car impaled

by a fallen tree limb
shook us instead

into discovering
how difficult it is to tell

the difference between
shattered glass and ice.

Thursday, March 03, 2011


There is also the matter of my uncle,
who, after the crash, was found

to have bent the steering wheel
around its steady column. His arms

are slack now, the skin loose, room
for so much more than is there,

but that day, so my aunt tells it,
the ring of the wheel curved in

on itself, like a taco shell, she always
says––for this is not the first time

we have heard the story; waiting
room, funeral home, church,

a podium facing lacquered pews––
weather always the same bone-

dry desert wind and a cloud of dust
that scuds onto the road, obscuring

the telephone pole like clockwork.
This is where we, having known

him, still manage to expect some
casual line, I'll be goddamned, when in fact

he was clearly blessed, but no matter
the repetitions, the story always ends

the same way: steering wheel bent
with his own two hands, hands that opened

the twisted door of the old truck,
brushed the glass from his shirt.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Personhood of Great Apes

Giraffes will kick their children over
when they try to stand at birth.

The nature special exhibits this
sad comedy as it happens time

and time again, until the infant
stands on wobbling knees and takes

a step backward to catch itself.
Then the mother starts to run.

John says this is what god intended
parenting to be, formative and

brutal––Kara says he's full of something
she fails to enunciate as the child

hefts its still-damp lank, takes
a buckling step and begins

to sprint. Commercials follow, buttoning
the moment shut, and I think, among

the empty pizza boxes and the couch
cushions none of us can stop

eviscerating piece by tiny piece, maybe
this is time's estranging project: that

every memory recalled can be altered;
that even when you tell the truth

someone will think you are lying.

Join the circus:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Blood Travels

In the planetarium, an indigo bunting,
wings clipped to keep her away
from the falsely turning sky, navigates

toward the most stationary star. She will
do the same given a sky full of made-up
constellations. She recalibrates in days.

Long haul truckers drive
the circumference of earth in distance
and continue, like starting a novel

over again the moment it is finished.
The tree upheaves the sidewalk daily.
Your blood travels miles per hour.

When you understand what you are
running from, the difference between
exploration and exile is negligible,

the quarter mile of platform
past the depot beckons you to chase
after every departing train.

Friday, January 07, 2011

On Viewing Family Photos After Christmas Dinner

My aunt's yellowing fingernail traces
her nervous smile, and this is when
I'm wondering whether I'll live
to see next year.
Trust her to drop
this into casual conversation––
the growing fetus, her desperate
youth––then leave the moment
to hang like a dislocated limb.
In sixth grade gym, Tony Bower's arm
twisted, vine-like away from his body.
We were told not to look, though
all of us did as the teacher rested
a foot on his chest, told Tony,
told us all, he would count to three.
He pulled on two. Her son walks in,
and though he tells her, tells us,
don't be melodramatic, I hear
a limb being steadied, grasped,
wrenched back into place.