Made in Detroit: Poems, page 7
he slept with them. A quiet night.
Our ordered days can crack open
like an egg dropped on the floor,
its contents leaking out
in a sticky yellow mess.
A woman they had never met
dying on their land, who knew
how or why, the tub itself
now a grisly souvenir,
the police busy with questions
they couldn’t begin to answer—
and the one we all ask, why
me? why us? why today?
Looking back in utter confusion
Looking back in utter confusion
Sometimes I think I am a fiction
and only memories strung together
hold my life to some coherence.
If all my lovers stood in a line
what commonality would I see
except luck good and bad,
except need and accident,
desperation like a bad cough
recurring to convulse my body.
If all the clothes I wore were strung
on a blocklong clothesline, I’d see
not decoration but roles, all
in a row, selves slipped into, now
too tight, too loose, too short.
Discarded for a new foray.
But if my cats were lined up
I’d know exactly how I loved each
their games, their habits, how
they lived with me and died
leaving me. If all the edicts
I put forth, manifestos, diatribes,
all those didactic moments came
swarming, I’d duck and run. I
was so sure. Then not. Then not
at all. Yet I go stumbling on
bearing my nametag still wonder-
ing how I came to get here.
Why did the palace of excess have cockroaches?
Why did I get drunk so often in college? Because I was a writer and I had read many biographies of writers and they drank. If I was a writer and writers drank to excess, then I must drink till I passed out, even though that scared me. Why did I try mescaline, drop acid, eat as much hash as I could get in the late ’60s and early ’70s? Because all my heroes said that enlightenment came in pill form, through dope. I wanted to be wise. I wasn’t. I did not find much to guide me in my vivid hallucinations although I did speak with the dead. They had little to say except to resent their dying. I told them how I missed them but they didn’t listen. Blake said that the road to wisdom leads through the palace of excess, but all I got was in bed with a couple of louts and really bad nightmares that hung on like red fog after I woke.
Cold water dripping
on granite with patience makes
a deep enough hole.
In the Peloponnesus one April afternoon
Wild red poppies blanketed the hills.
As I perched on a sun warmed rock
I felt breath on my neck. A half-grown
goat looked into my eyes with her
knowing yellow gaze, nibbled my collar.
I had climbed halfway up a mountain
and the sun stuck to my black hair
a too heavy helmet. In the distance,
small bells jangled. The cry of a circling
hawk sliced the air like a scimitar.
Bits of marble were jumbled around me,
some unknown unnamed ruin that people
once had cared enough to build, hauling
pale blocks up a steeply angled slope.
Temple, I wondered, to what kind of god?
A god of goats, the yellow eyes suggested.
She bleated for emphasis. A dancing creature
horned and horny, celebrated with food
and orgy, worshippers leaping and turning,
feet pounding the ground, the feet that started
poetry going forward one beat at a time.
I had no wine, so I poured a little sip
from my canteen on the ground and bent
my head in homage to what had been
sacred and in my mind, still was.
The end not yet in sight
It was a taut time, bitter and bitten.
I lived part of the time with a man
I had married but who had pried
open the marriage years before
so he could chase the young
and easy girls sprouting around us.
I thought of you as I cooked, burning
liver. I thought of you as I bathed
my otherwise untouched body
gleaming underwater as if I swam
in tears. I thought of you and I
felt a hot acid pain in my gut.
Longing ripped through me
making new roads of absence.
My desire was a strange creature
that lived in my chest and ate
at me with its ferocious teeth.
I thought we could never
really be a couple, because
I was trapped in his plots
and needs and secret angers
like snakes under the floorboards.
I was alone in a crowded house
wallpapered with rancid blame.
I could see no doors, only
windows in which you wandered
just in the range of my sight.
In the cage of my gone-bad
marriage I turned my gerbil
wheel of despair ever faster.
I carried my love for you hidden
like cash stuffed into a bra.
Cooking, cleaning, sitting with
friends, I was secretly absent,
my inner attention cocooned
around your face.
I called myself idiot. Fan-
tasy was a drug; I was its
addict, rushing to consume
it every moment. I dreamed
the impossible escape
to your bed.
It was like a song I couldn’t
keep from taking over
my brain where it repeated
repeated repeated. Stupefied
with desire, nothing I did
was quite real.
Only those moments we stole
before planes, in the woods,
while he went off with girl
friends or buddies, that
was my true and only life
until it was.
The visible and the in-
Some people move through your life
like the perfume of peonies, heavy
and sensual and lingering.
Some people move through your life
like the sweet musky scent of cosmos
so delicate if you sniff twice, it’s gone.
Some people occupy your life
like moving men who cart off
couches, pianos and break dishes.
Some people touch you so lightly you
are not sure it happened. Others leave
you flat with footprints on your chest.
Some are like those fall warblers
you can’t tell from each other even
though you search Petersen’s.
Some come down hard on you like
a striking falcon and the scars remain
and you are forever wary of the sky.
We all are waiting rooms at bus
stations where hundreds have passed
through unnoticed and others
have almost burned us down
and others have left us clean and new
and others have just moved in.
What marks does a marriage leave
when one of them has gone
into another entanglement?
A bottle of wine chosen, forgotten.
A old cat dying slowly of kidney
failure. Some books no longer
valued, music of another decade
they used to dance to, back
when dancing was together.
A green wool sweater abandoned
in the corner of a closet. Railroad
tie steps they buried in the hillside.
Trees they planted now taller
than the house. A mask, a wooden
necklace from foreign travels.
Pain drying up like a pond dying
from the edges but still deep
enough in the center to drown.
Corner of Putnam and Pearl
We rented an apartment on Putnam
and Pearl at a stop sign where music
blared from cars all night boasting
their taste before they gunned away.
The top floor under the flat tar roof
was sodden with heat. Next door
on the steps of the halfway house
men drank from paper bags.
Always some dog was barking
like a saw cutting into rough wood.
Sirens blasted tunnels in thick
air and below, someone cursed.
Oddly, we were happy there,
our love still moist and sticky
a mousse that had not quite jelled
but sweet with ripe strawberries.
You came home at two reeking
of smoke and garlic, high from
restaurant drugs and afterwork
drinks with kitchen crews.
I banged away on my Olympia
typewriter, trying to pay off
debts from my bloody divorce.
We were growing into each
other, tentative roots like fragile
tentacles exploring the other’s
body and brain. By the time we
moved, we’d knotted to a couple.
Bang, crash over
Breakage. Yes, splinters, the shards
pierce my brain. In each friendship,
a new self grows different from any
other of the selves we make and unmake.
In every love however small as marbles
children roll in their palms and stare into,
we become. In the big ones, our faces
change and never quite resume.
So a piece tears off after the final
quarrel, after the argument that burned
the night to cinders and a wind of grey
ashes, after the wind has dispersed
even the last smear of ash and nothing
nothing at all stays but a friendship
whose dead weight hangs from your
neck like the sailor’s albatross, quite
murdered but still of sufficient weight
to bend your back. Your neck hurts.
Words clot in your throat like blood.
A lot of you hurts. Pain grabs attention
but is boring as it spikes and drones
on and on. Shut up you scream at it
at three a.m. But in the end months
years pass and you forget. Almost.
Sins of omission
Suppose hell were a room
where the lovers you broke
up with, the spouses you left,
the friends you discarded
all were waiting to question
you, with no time limit ever
but the explanations could last
halfway into eternity. Who
wouldn’t sooner leap into
a fire? There is no excuse
for the end of love or for
the fact that it never started
its engine into that lovely
roar but just coughed again
and again until you gave up
and got out and went off.
Some friendships are just not
sturdy enough to bear the daily
wear and weight. How to say,
but simply you bored me.
Then all the people you did
not help, the ones you hung
up on, letters unanswered,
loans denied, calls not returned
that endless line will be snaking
through the horizon, waiting
to demand what you would
not give, life’s unpaid bills.
Even if we try not to let go
Our minds cannot hold the dead.
They seep away. Their voices,
gone to silence no matter how
hard I try to cup them in my ear.
Their faces come apart, cubist
explosions of dark eyes, blue,
grey green, her nose, his flyaway
hair, the crumpled skin of hands.
Did she really say that? Or was
it April instead of October? What
year did measles hit? The color
of her red dress with fishscale sequins.
Did the glass break when he slammed
the door? He told that joke forty
times at least. Then suddenly he
laughs in my hair and I know him.
How we come apart in death,
not only our bodies decomposing
but our lives, stuck in random
pieces in the brains of others
who loved or hated us, who carry
us in memory or in their genes, who
slowly must let us drift like autumn
leaves down to the final ground.
We lie inert half open and spent
like flowers just past peak, loosened
but gloriously scented. When
a couple loves intensely, we
are even closer after sex than
during. More content. We still
touch but lightly in a kind of lull
that is totally complete.
We never ask, how was that
for you, because we know.
Practice makes whatever
of perfection we can have.
No longer joined at genitals
but in a larger longer joining
two meandering hard flowing
rivers melding into one.
We lie at peace on the sunporch
the woods all around us, wrens
tittering, a dragonfly just over
us on the translucent roof,
two cats snoozing one on each
red cushion and Xena watching
those wrens through the screen.
Everybody is safe. Today. Now.
The wonder of it
The wonder of it, building a home
in one another after so many false
starts, collapses, fires set
intentionally or by default,
paper houses the cold winds
blew into shreds.
Our foundation was tentative
enough, part-time. We began
with a rickety lean-to propped
against the walls of previous
matings. Then brick of trust
by brick we laid
this structure in which we
dwell, decade upon decade,
adding a room here, a bay
window to let the sun come
in, a new roof to keep out
the wind and snow.
Repairing is work that never
lets up, always some leak or stained
wall, loose floorboard, burnt
out plug. But we’ll never leave
this house except feet first
on a final stretcher.
Marinade for an elderly rabbit
NOTE ON A RECIPE IN A COOKBOOK
I could use some time in a marinade
myself. Perhaps Madeira on winter
evenings. A nice refreshing Chablis.
Champagne would be ritzy but ticklish.
A nice dry martini bath on hot days
would soften me up nicely.
Some days I feel leathery
I am dry as burnt pie dough.
Some days the winds of trouble
have left me scorched and crumbly.
Sometimes I’m just a bald tire.
Yes, prepare me a marinade, dear.
Soak me in it overnight. Tomorrow
you’ll find me far easier to digest.
Contemplating my breasts
Strange, these soft lumps on my front.
Like men with their pricks, women
whose breasts are large tend to be
somewhat obsessed with you.
We are always having to watch out
for you, pick out bras with the care
men spend selecting a new car.
Can’t lie on my stomach for long.
Watch you don’t get bumped too
hard. Notice blouses won’t button
when otherwise they fit just fine.
Men stare at them when addressing
me as if my nipples were talking.
Other author's books:
- Made in Detroit: PoemsGone to Soldiers: A NovelThe Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980-2010Woman on the Edge of TimeSleeping With CatsThe Longings of WomenThe Cost of Lunch, Etc.: Short StoriesCircles on the Water
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