Unknowing

My enlightenment began as a mute explosion of colors
but multiplied into the dazzling panes of a deck of mirrors;
what seemed transparent was in fact a reflection,
and what seemed lucid and safely defined
ripped itself into questions.

I kept discerning indistinct shapes:
a prismatic arc trembled under a sunbeam
and the last few cinders of an evaporated hell
split in the stratosphere. A smothered voice
spoke intimately. Torn loose blowing scraps
clung in the semblance of letters
to a bed of white sand
erased as it was read.

At last
I built my house in the fog,
fishing from windows
for the ununderstandable,
and with a shard of pure color
scrawled my stained illuminations
by light of an angel bulb;
and each night ended in an epiphany
that rose shining and redefined
this maze the size of the universe.

Spider Season

Eight-eyed airmen
parachuted at twilight
into our garden
of good evil.

It was spider season,
and he & I roamed fairytale streets,
conspiring to destroy reality
and weave a universe.

In real life
we were besieged
by centipedes,
burned girlfriends,
and worst of all,
ourselves,
but with his grubby bedroom
as HQ of Creation,
we freestyled scripts past sunsets,
and worlds hatched down the walls,
while episodes coalesced:
characters debated from cradle to ash,
civilizations tipped over
and smashed,
and an immortal celebrity
realized he was the Deity;
first one city filled all galaxies,
then one mind.

We
were in that place
we could only reach
together.

Spiders sewed potholes shut
and sheathed the city in lace;
it was the Year of the Weaving,
and the twenty-one years before
had been really fucking long:
I’d kept my hands in fists and
crossed bridges without reaching land;
but now I blared nonstop free jazz
on my throat-trumpet,
grew a threadbare beard
to embrace ugliness,
and believed in everything we did,
and nothing else,

but especially
in him.

Binging on books,
he lazed with a permanent smirk,
never endeavored
but always hit with instant wit,
ate like shit
yet had Botticelli ringlets
and cheekbones like knuckles
under ice-moon eyes,
and deep below sunrise
coolly composed razor-glass prose
magnitudes greater than mine
though I tried much harder;
and oh, how my envy
hurt me;

I thought about him
constantly.

And one insomniac afternoon
of a necessary day,
in the high summer of youth,
amid a fever symphony of dreams,
he sprawled on my ramshackle sofa,
scheming yet another killer scene;
and waking up in place I witnessed
loose light crown his crow angles,
and forbidden words jumped lips—
for after 30 hours awake,
I could see freely,
love without flinching,
worship without remembering
I needed to be king.

In a weightless metropolis
spiders spun silk fortresses
with firefly chandeliers;
and from our separate nests,
manic with happiness,
we stepwise unmasked
our secret past:
like, when mistaken for a couple,
how queerly we’d chuckled;
or the night we raced two girls
back to my place,
and just
ignored them
to talk to each other;
or when he ditched our city suddenly
and I stranded my damsel
and shadowed him
just to stay inside us.

Our love,
forced to rot in closets,
had tainted our relations
and poisoned all our toilings;
but now the dark stick stuck
in the spokes of our luck
broke,
and beaming like projectors
we wrote
of him and me as we,
two male mothers
unbent in unhoped heaven,
spinning mazes from air
in a constant conversation
that would itself be
an act of creation.

Toward the end of our universe,
in an unwritten script,
a cartoon spaceship pursued by God
absconds beyond all stars,
its crew of two
talking in the dark;
yet when the lights arc on,
the two are no longer characters
but people.

For us,
there would come an evening,
a room, a bed, an hour
in each other’s arms,
just
one evening
out of all we’d promised
to ourselves and each other,
one trip to a different world
that never really existed:
for in that crawling dark
we finally spoke
not of knitted cities
but of ourselves—
and nothing fit.
With one hand I invited,
with the other I pushed away,
teeth hit teeth,
and his silences grew darker,
the subtle fangs sharper,
the smiles slick & sicker,
and the hidden venom
fermented;
and the spiders
ate themselves;
or the spiders
caught each other,
just two flies in disguise
forced by fear
and propelled by pride
into absurd verbal brawling,
brisk back- & frontstabbing,
a bitter diabolic break-up,
and an aftermath of barren
horror,

and the wilting and wastage
of a universe.

There’s freedom in truth,
but I wanted the dream.

It was the Century of Hunger,
and we scaled night mountains;
spotlights painted spirals in mist,
and a high red light signaled above,
telling me to look up…

In Winter

In winter I shut the windows
and seal the bright noise;
I breathe old air, and the birds become strangers,
and my head a stifled womb in no mother.
Sweating, thoughts echoing all around,
one blue-white morning I tilt the pane
and the air is a song, and I suddenly remember
believing.

The Hairy Cross That Bears Itself

God and I broke up when I was eleven;
I didn’t like the way he talked to me.
Religion is the curse
laid on the living
by the dead.

So now it’s just me,
a puddle of pink shivers
laughed at by skulls,

and I flatten my ape hand
against mindless light
and watch blood feed flesh
through an aging machine
that built itself
and generated me
to pilot it,
its blueprints
encrypted in every cell,
DNA a four-letter word
scripted by a unifying explosion
inside a birth engine
whose own genes were born
through countless perishings
in a manifold lineage
in which every dictator,
lion and portobello,
linden and paramecium,
is my distant relative,
in the all-embracing
and self-braiding
planetary
fractal of life
among whose
billion-year branches
I’m just another tip
yearning through my excerpt,
every shooting second
slamming shut
behind me.

Eternity expired;
now time is a landscape
through which I bear the hairy cross
of my body, wagging my fist
at the bureaucratic sky,
begging nobody
for one
more

day.

The light sways,
frilling out like a cosmic king’s
shroud.

Every honeydew morning is stolen
from the saliva-jeweled jaws of death,

and the sparrows sing hallelujah,

and there isn’t even anybody
to thank.

Cookie Tin

Water snakes hiss in the walls.
The day ruffles its frigid blue pages
until I peel myself from bed
to harvest a few shards of light
from the horizons over my desk.
Hours fold up and vanish:
Every thought’s a landscape
I fall into; every line a ledge
I cling to. I climb a page
then plunge my hand
into a candy bowl
full of ticking clocks,
my ears exhaling
black-windowed trains.
The universe is a sublime torture chamber
inside which I am building a thrill park.
In a wasteland this bleak
only children play.
Up all night pulling fire from the sky,
I glance down at what the streets say about me:
Every supreme flight is also a cry of anguish.
Whatever. I stuff these few fancies in a cookie tin
and wait for salvation.

Away

I was made of years piled up.

I was eyes falling through time.

There had been a strange but not unpleasant smell of bitter peppermint, then my mind split into a hundred minds that all slumped into darkness and drowned.

On the bed, somebody lay in my space, breathing with my lungs and seeing with my eyes, surrounded by everyday objects whose functions seemed hopelessly abstract and theoretical.

A jeweled melody slithered around.

Had music been playing all along?

This song was a favorite, but now I’d never heard it before.

Framed in a window, the penthouse of a distant high-rise resembled the top of an armored vehicle.

Then it drove away, leaving behind a steamrolled sky.

The music watered me until I could stand again.

*

The apartment and its contents had once been mine, but now they belonged to someone else, and they exuded the strangeness and hostility of all foreign possessions.

Those blind mirrors. That living ghost.

I had to get out before the owner returned.

His shoes reminded me of a pair I used to own.

They fit perfectly.

*

In the elevator’s mirrors, three copies of me imitated my expressions.

One copy gaped slackly, paralyzed by what he saw.

But I didn’t feel horrible.

I felt very far away.

It was as if I were ten meters behind my eyes.

As if my eyes were circular windows through which I glimpsed crescent rinds of reality.

I closed my eyes till the ding.

*

I was walking down to a harbor.

The clouds red. The water red.

All the buildings empty.

Doors angling into rooms with barred windows.

Litter beetling over sleeping streets.

There would be no one ever again.

Just me, forever.

And the one red gull that followed me shrieking.

In slow-motion I chased a single thought around the double-windowed room of my skull.

I opened my eyes every few minutes to a new display.

Briefly I saw one of my faces flattened on a car window.

A concrete orca burst up through the urbanscape and solidified as its jaws snapped shut. On its vertical flanks sprouted balconies, and in its rectangular ribcage many lights came on simultaneously.

When I released my breath, the people would return.

I held my breath till the pavement inflated.

*

But when I allowed in people, they were all wrong.

Like piano keys they lined the streets, and my passing plunked them.

I threw my head from side to side and the players sprang and fell, displaying exactly the features I would have imagined.

Everyone looked like someone I knew, though their faces were only many-sided origami sculptures with fewer details than some virtual characters, their noses and ears barely present, their hyperrealistic eyes aflame with visionary intensity.

An old friend leaned against a wall, staring vacantly.

Someone shuffled by with odd violence, as if fast-forwarded.

It occurred to me—with a total lack of emotion—that I might be trapped in a simulation constructed from the contents of my own consciousness.

Was that why nothing felt real?

*

Then a familiar smell slid into my nostrils.

Ghastly, rotten and sweet:

Bitter peppermint.

*

My brain stopped filtering reality.

All sights and sounds and smells and tastes and feelings assaulted me at once, and in all that buzzing rumbling thudding sparkling modulating droning inane brilliance, there was no spacetime to comprehend any individual corner, no handhold for any understanding.

No one could think with all that world in the way.

Every surface rushed at me, and each fractured facet reflected a pair of my panicked eyes, and my own likeness in various costumes fanned out like a glass tarot deck falling toward me.

But just before impact and explosion, the reality shards froze, stuttered, and ran in reverse, and the world unbroke like a window.

Dizzy I stepped from the curb and landed in the middle of a shallow river. Atop a bridge a ramrod figure in a gas mask, silhouetted against a flesh sun, brought up one arm and pointed at me.

I looked at the finger. The finger looked at me.

Everything became an image of itself.

*

I don’t remember how I was taken.

It all went by in pieces:

A window seat in a black bus.

Highways like diagrams.

Cars like icons.

Lights whipping our sides.

Checkpoints I barely registered.

Low tin buildings with white numbers.

Me slumping on a foldout chair in semi-darkness.

A cone of light widening between my legs.

The polished boots of my trainer.

*

Rules and regulations:

Precise times to sleep and wake.

The daily weightlifting. The chuffing through fields. The shaping of hands that at first did not close around what was offered.

The layer after layer of locked doors, each with a guard whose riddles were impossible.

I was not the only zero. There were thousands.

We ate nondescript food in silence in long halls.

But who could tell anyone apart?

There were inexplicable beatings, while I calmly searched inside my black-hole head for something that refused to come back.

There were the various guns. The knives and the grenades.

Every evening we inhaled from canisters of bitter peppermint.

And there was no one there.

Not even me.

What Does She See?

When we enter, Oma’s gazing at the wall.
Unsmiling. Her eyes red hollows.
Opa announces that I crossed Germany to see her.
She asks for a tissue but can’t bring it to her face.
Holding up the spread square of tissue, frozen.
Opa wipes her raw nose, pulls her straight.
Her body always caves around that missing hip.
He asks, “Remember the last time you saw Stefan?”
Shrinking back, she names an event ten years past.
He starts to correct her…
But just tips the sippycup of coffee to her trembling lips.
And laughing rolls her fingers, one by one, between his own.
I suck on sweets and look out at the parking lot.
He deposits in her limp palm a rubber spikeball.
I can’t, Oma whimpers. I can’t I can’t there’s no use.
And the sunlight comes in like a memory; we sweat.
One drives till the vehicle breaks down.
Till the windows go blind.
Into the cold that neither begins nor ends.
Following his lead, she lifts one hand over her head.
Then slowly, painfully, the other hand.
And her eyes say:
rat death shit fire filth maggot mold ash.
We leave her lopsided in her wheelchair.
Once more staring at the wall.

V,

I remember checking the schedule
to find when our shifts crossed,
and how you stayed late talking to me.

How it cost me
to approach you,
the circuitous routes
concealed even from myself.

I see your ex around;
he tries to be friendly
but
he hates me.

I remember May Day
as your profile against various backdrops.

I remember feeling safe with you,
wanting thunderstorms to bless us,
how we starved because
we didn’t want to get up.

We’d found something familiar in each other.

You sent me pictures
of your sunburn, all red,
mad at yourself.

I picked little curls of skin
from your nose.

When you needed help
I helped
but complained
and I’m sorry.

Now your head’s all new
and I won’t look
behind those eyes again.

After He Did What He Was Always Gonna Do

He pushes her away
just in time to save
himself, then flees sweating
onto the treadmill,
and room after room, city upon city,
sky atop sky, flower overhead,
and his shining glasses reflect
his favorite hallucinations.

Another close call,
he thinks cheerfully,
congratulating himself for his part
in this perfectly reasonable and mutually
correct break-up. What form! What
finesse! See how flawless the fracture,
how intellectual the incision: he appears
unhurt. It seems he’s drawn back
just as the teeth meshed closed,
before he felt too much
and toppled screaming
into twoness.

But when he gets home
it’s five a.m.
and he’s alone,
really alone,
with no way out. He prepares for bed
gravely, considering her bra:
how to return it
without disturbing her?
Should he mail it?

Listening to leaves conversing,
he recollects her rumpled silhouette
smoking an apologetic cigarette
after another ten-hour adventure
through their heads. They slept braided,
and in the morning she completed the room
with her puns and sly laughter. He remembers
the party they’d ignored for each other,
and the bookshelves in her brain.
Kneeling by her on the canal:
how she’d blushed so lightly.
No more kissing for too long,
or mouthfuls of wine
the morning after.
No more fun together, no
more fear. The last looks
have been exchanged;
first the wrenching,
now the estrangement.

He started another fire
and rescued only himself.

Wanting something he can’t name,
he seeks it outside in the warm morning
where wind bounces through streets
unburdened by other people,
and birdshouts slice a sky
juicy as cerulean melon
over haggard lindens swooning in a row
before the ghostly beauty of a sickly willow
draped in sequined swaths of sunlight.

Basking in the manic-
depressive shadows
of the dying trees,
in the all-encompassing shadow
of the dying world,
he can’t keep
his awful smile
away.