In Broken Water

In broken water trees bend
until their knees touch the ground
above the blazing and the bloody crown
of the day fading in the city’s glass flanks,
washing windows with flame
and swathing in halos faces,
such faces,
vast smooth and immaculate faces that beseech us,
but what they want takes our entire lives to give,
and even if we wrested those lives back
the transaction would remain infinitesimal
under these miles of cloud-circled red
grading into black cold,
a cold on whose far side
all is drained and incomplete
as the fading memory of an idea
that once lit all existence—

it hurts now to remember—

but still farther wavers
an older, stranger light,
and a fluttering of voices
circling at the moment of birth.

Trust me you don’t want this dream to end.

Cradled over Cold Rails into the Twenty-First Century

Hi,
I come from your planet,
just another sperm walking this flooded toilet,
frankensteined from genetic alphabet
and then evicted from the womb.

I was injected with crucifix,
taught by volunteer cops,
and sentenced to the hamster wheel,
and managed into corners
and hammered into place,

while oceans gagged,
and insects coughed,
while we all boiled together.

Until finally,
I bolted my eyes,
barricaded my head,
shut my ears in the cupboard,
and locked myself out of me.

I pickled my soul.

I killed myself to stay alive.

Now I float over brutal tower blocks.
Now I tumble rattling after garbage trucks.
Now I yell through gulls and ventriloquize the sky.

On hills and in valleys,
in deserts and on coasts,
the human builds its iron nest,
the world does not smile back.

Death’s Daughter

I pilgrimaged to see her titanic head
floating against a skyline of shampoo bottles,
then swam up through black hair
and climbed into her ear.

A poetess,
a flaming thing who lived in soundwaves,
she wore cigarettes—
and oh! I thought,
how entropy became her!

Then her brain broke.
She mumbled to animals, saw faces in furniture,
and turned fearful toward the summoning light.
In her fever she forgave the rooftops,
and I, Sir Savior Worldhero,
drove deep into her madness.
I pled her down from sense precipices
and battled badge-eyed police with uniforms as skin.

It was October, and the cold wind cleaned my face.

“This is the afterlife,” she whispered,
“or the beforelife, with Stef Serpent from Eden.”

I stilled her skull
in the shadow
of the church
on the hill.

And she pulled me out of myself.

I had had other plans.
I wanted to become world dictator of words.
Trapped in the smallest of all rooms with myself,
I had been eking out a thousand-word novel,
and I had fed my mind to the clockwork of syntax,
and crucified myself on semi-colon and em-dash,
building the ruins of an idea I could live inside.

Now a new idea took me.
I had to rescue her,
I would take her over all borders,
personal and national,
up immigration mountain,
to my hermitage…
and she would give me a heart,
I guess.

II

I married my favourite audience,
a Victorian ghost with charcoaled eyes,
all black skirts and sad classical music,

and put her to bed for a year.

I had been working part time,
now I sliced my life into shift strips,
groveled in garbage jars
and waded hipdeep in greasepits.

And hiked home to tidy her head.
And ate her paranoia for supper.

Grappling in sheets,
long-shadowed in red rainstreets,
we talked the ten thousand miles of the trail to her childhood,
probed her cranial catacombs and dusted under her brainstem,
and found there three hundred of her father’s vodka flasks,
and a Bible with a thick black cover, and no words.

Then, sleepless, full of her, sore and penless,
I biked black windways under cinder skies to factory cities,
to erect sixty smokestacks in a clock circle,
every minute dribbling smoke from drabbest inferno;
I patrolled the fortresses of my enemies and masters,
jingling magic keys to the Land of Boredom,
where the hours crawled on thirty-six hundred legs
past binders and sticky notes, duplicated space,
and bosses’ nests. All my meanings rotting inside,

I went to bed to erase myself.
I limped in circles in a sphere of light.

Years died.

III

It seemed she’d outsmarted madness,
then one twilight she disrobed to greet the Lord—
as a favor to me, she did not look into His ravening face.
But I harangued her: so it began.
I jumped on her brain. I deflected her hungry touch.
I instructed her in all she shouldn’t be,
yet stopped permitting her into my alternative reality.

At work I obeyed a conveyor that carried autoparts,
that never slowed though an aged comrade cramped,
coughed up his heart, and waned into the roar…

At home I shouted from the privy,
gnawing cold day-old rat,
sobbing that I was born in Eden
and that she took it from me.

Night after night,
I vomited a piece of my mind.
She spoke of love and I spoke of time,
and it snowed thirty seasons straight
on the spattered stageboards
of our kitchenettes.
Finally she grounded her knees,
warped her fist through the window,
and declared herself the most sane agent of angels,
servant of the Plan and loud speaker of the Word.

This happens:
people turn 30,
regard the flaming ruins of their twenties,
and this one, manic and lost, retreats to her parents’ god.
and that one, tired and angry,
asks himself why he ever needed to save her.

Was it ever even possible?

I began to have my doubts.

And when she told me that she prayed for my poor lost soul,
that she feared for me if I didn’t repent before judgment,

I left.

Dust Keys (2010)

she hung right over there, boneless and clear,
a sky-thing strung up on cloud gallows of hair,
in that gristly winter,
in those last shots before the old unending black,
where the white jungle scribbled on the high blue night,
and the trumpet swayed between hothouse shrieks of paradise,
and the infinity of the pen fell to the oblivion of the page,
crumpled words floating ill-shaped in the sunlight.
I broke until I could understand what I was breaking
and I took,
and am taking,
and now, on this melting rim of morning,
light comes in like an endless fist,
and snow speaks and flames bang and
only a soiled path leads back through the sucking splash,
past the hustle of rash bells, past the smashed clocks
of our baroque history chiming like built birds rising

into the memory of our first night:
we sat by the graveyard gates.
(And there a clarity if just these lines would obey)
In that particular darkness, then
with the headlights moving so low below,
our awkwardness was a bright scratch on death’s strongbox.
O’s rebel jaw, her long brown arms
and claws, her piñata skull scattering wet candy;
that chopped hair forced back behind one ear. That feral stare.
Planning to be sad she had packed only black, soon unsuitable—
at times. Taller than I but in the way she defied
my loom was implied
as realities were passed through and left behind,
death murmuring from the radio sky:
death, in her bouts of déjà vu like bubbles of terror boiling,
bobbing up from the unknown, unaccounted-for past;
death, in skin janglings that summoned up old crimes
and their twilight-filled bootprints on her brain;
death, in how she spoke with such love of mania,
tugged out a chain of questions in final despair,
laughed dust. She came trusting me
like a knowing toe trusts cold ocean, O …

Oh whatever – it was my fault.
I said to her, come, rest with me awhile
I’ll take care of you I’ll garden your head;
but when it wasn’t easy,
and since she couldn’t wait until I wasn’t busy,
I whinged and stormed and finally made her leave.
Now I sit here, in my precious privacy,
weaving my spit-lace of words,
knowing she’s worse off than before me,
crazier and lonelier, re-shattered and cast out.

O?

O

O,
where are you? sleeper,
where do those fingers walk?
On the roofs of Soho retoned rainbow?
On the glowing-howl cell walls of psychic jail, part two?
On the minor keys of a cold polyphonal brightness,
The keys of motion, mood and ocean,
The keys of air?
Are you—
Are your songs speaking to you, dear? They never cease,
I know, and these questions make no sense
and I have no right to ask them
but it’s this silence,
that’s all;
this silence in here,
and those sirens outside,
and this February rain,
and a looping vision of your slain bliss:
you out dancing, all ruffles and eyelets,
your cheeks gleaming with mutating green,
your sweet hot breath briefly in my ear,
your whispers lost in the throbbing air,
in the woofing booms you spun away into,
the blade peak of you
floating back across
the gulfs of light,
of hard and heavy days,
the gulfs of night.

Listen, I—

No, forget it.

The Freshness of the First and Foremost of the Finest of the Lines

All philosophies condense to a line, with time,
and all songs dwindle to a single sooty melody,

and even if you sawed the locks off your senses,

even if you turned these letters
until light came through,
so that what’s behind them
could demand to be rescued,

even if you left behind the sentence,
tossed the whole scaffolding aside,
and let each moment become its own manifesto,

you would still fall back

to foil scraps and pigeon shit,
upturned take-out and puked noodles,
smashed flasks’ stained glass,
and sweatered smokers kicking
at the torn grey tissues

of dawn clouds.

Unprayer

I do not expect, O Lord, to ever believe in you again.

There was a time when your body was sunlight and you spoke through chills and inklings. I heard angelic choirs in an engine’s whining shudder. All history was evidence of your existence, and the lightning bolt a proof.

These days you get drunk and fall off bar stools. You were a trillion light years across; now you’re roommates with Zeus in the back of my skull, and you hammer on the bone walls in the hopes I’ll let you out.

I never will, though I sometimes allow you walk-on parts in my fantasies. With real fondness I watch you ham up your old omnipotence—beautiful again despite your destroyed face, amen.

Later I see you in the shared kitchen, slumping in a stained t-shirt over fried sausages and ketchup eggs, cheating at a crossword. With a grunt you lean back to open the fridge, glancing over the magnet-hung photos of Mary in her prime and the all-star son himself, handsome as ever.

You drink the grape juice straight from the bottle.

This Page Hallucinated Its Letters

That bird just described itself.

Three hundred explanations got up and walked around
but always came back to the same place

The canalhouses gazed into their own reflections
and hungered for the lives in their windows.

Wind kissed her and watched her walk away.
The night held her hand,
and the trees attempted to persuade her,
and it was the moon, I believe,
that nosed into her hair.

The song heard itself,
and stretched out on the purple mattress above the garden,
warm and safe and young, for now.

The Witness

I trembled as the metal pterodactyl bobbed and struck.
I watched screams being buried under courthouse trees.
I put ear to wall, and heard the hive’s heart humming.

Baffled, I turned to my mother
and stared into her red sunglasses
reflecting molten-glass apocalypses.

I opened my monitor and writhed inside.

I fragmented in parking lots across the divided states of hallucination.

Then winter wrapped white sheets around my face,
and reality’s severed legs inched back to its corpse,
and I slammed
into the absolute truth
of the floor

Reality Check

I’ve been up days talking god down from his tree,
scraping my skullsides for more sky,
and now, eating beans from the tin,
I await dawn,
eavesdropping on distant disasters.

Sit beside me on the ledge of the night,
and please don’t fear the bottles exulting against the rocks.
We court little dangers to remember the big one.

I have seen the future,
but it’s the future we’ve all seen.

The power will go out.

The power
will go out.

But shh shhh:
let the joke tell itself,
while electricity still trickles in,
and I bumble a tune on the guitar that unwinds time,
in this calm before the catastrophe.
Soon I’ll scuttle into darkness,
a skewered beetle,
the skewer tip scraping pavement
as I disappear into history,
leaving only my voice
enveloped in silence,
a sepia drop
oozing over white flowers
on the wallpaper
of someone else’s imagination

It Had Been A Long Exorcism

All night he has rowed their bed back across rivers of fire.

The deal is, if he looks away from her, even once,
she’ll disappear forever. She’s eaten the wrong fruit
and it’s melted her thoughts. She contorts over the bed,
babbling, and everything she says makes her more afraid.

Alone he’s a coward, but here, with no other choice,
he catches her wrists, strokes away her trembles,
pleads with her seized soul
for hours, wheedling, reasoning, begging,
until slowly her mind climbs back into her face
and her eyes become human again.

She laughs. She kisses him. She lights a cigarette
and parts the curtain. Light slices in;
the glowing window, frosted with white ferns,
resembles a medieval page. In awe she commands him
to look, then slides open the page and leans out high over
the cobbled street—pigeons erupt!—icicles drool brilliant
light onto her inked head, their rugged sheets. She
lifts hands laughing,
swaying. The city is an open-air church,
with houses as pews, and the crystal air celebrates
their close escape, the sweetness of saving
and being saved.

She asks, “Hey…
what was I freaking out about?
It seems so long ago…”

He says nothing.
He soaps his hands in the sink by their bed,
investigates his thorny cheeks in the spattered mirror,
his jumpy hair, the bunched-up red and stinking
eyes. Twenty-two years old and only at the beginning.
He’s pouring coffee when she steals up and
encircles him. They stoop there, worldless,
two skins breathing into each other. Over the next decade
he will explore her labyrinths, debate the minotaur
and then become him. He will garden her mind
till the bees stop eating from her head.
But through all the misery,
through all manner of much realer hells,
the purity of this opening will remain.

While she’s in the shower
he surveys the iron bedframe—their cage,
surrounded by debris. He still hasn’t slept.
He rehooks the sheets, bags the juice cartons,
the gum packs and stray butts,
scrubs her ashtray, shaves in the stained mirror,
and when she washes in on vanilla waves
all is clean and ready
for their next long journey,
through arctic drifts, to the supermarket,
where the busy shelves are like an atlas
of places they could go.