The Builder at Work
It’s the first moments after she leaves
that the house feels emptiest, a gutted
gourd still damp with human voice,
laughter, touch. In her wake, a lingering
scent of Chanel, a thinning of familiar.
I inhale. My ribs rise. I try holding air
until my chest aches with her, but she
fades to the rafters, presses through pine-
paneled knots and seams, seeks cloud
and star, leaving me hostage to myself.
I have to busy this hand and build:
grip the warm hammer handle,
drive despair from noisy nail heads,
ignore the blueprints of pity. I am
anomaly—the builder who marks
four walls that would measure him.
(first appeared in Angle Journal of English Poetry, spring/summer issue, 2015)
Three is the loneliest number on a clock
when the night can’t save you.
No doubt it is the constellated tug,
a conspiracy of stars, the silent, primal
voice that whispers the uselessness,
that grinds greater gears,
that mocks the hubris of careful plans,
set alarms. Every blanketed life around you
sleeps safe and happy and secure
like nothing can touch them, like change
has made its exception, named it you,
and passed finally over the frosted roof.
(first appeared in Amethyst Arsenic 3.1)
The Death of Narcissus
October, and the glen
resounds with want,
wind, yellow rain of birch leaves.
The face and body wander,
driven by disdain,
downhill where earth
hold their breath.
From a distance, silver
eye lashed by dying buttonbush.
At its flanks
the warmth of moss
pressing palms and knees.
Hemlock, sky, clouds
above and again in the depths
frame first the face,
then two deltoids of desire
tensing as he leans hard
over the stillness of self,
sensing a virgin desire.
Lowering his lips, he
feels the coolness of this first
kiss, never noticing the shadow
his beauty casts
over these violated waters.
(first appeared in The Silver Birch Press website, 29 October 2014)
YOUNG BRAIN IN A DAIRY BARN
At the fault line of my brain,
toeing the tectonic plates
of memory: that vet, that farmer,
and that cow, its calf nearby but separated.
“I’m going for the afterbirth,” the vet
explained. “Sometimes, after a calf is born,
the placenta stays behind
and that’s not good
for the mother, understand?”
I nodded. Just another manure
morning in Vermont, me a 9-year-old
in the cool marrow of bone-colored barn.
I inhaled the smell of iodine, hydrogen
peroxide, and rubber as the vet rolled
a python-sized glove past his elbow.
His arm dull as brown laundry
soap, his fingers doing a few calisthenics,
he squirted a solution along his
bound hand and arm, lifted the cow’s tail,
and eased his hand inside the fleshy
hole. The cow and I, equally surprised,
jumped together. Then the vet set
his boots, his legs a wishbone
of dried mud. A puff of air broke his lips
as he pushed and the cow rocked
and the head-gate rattled. It was like the cow’s
puckered mouth had migrated back, bit down
on a man’s arm, swallowing
it in steady sips. The vet was up to his
shoulder, his eyes on a high, dimly lit
window gauzed in spider webs.
He seemed to think with his hidden
hand; his eyes moved as if interpreting a foreign
tongue. When the eruption came, his arm
shot out before a shower of cow turd
splattering the floor. “Shit!” he shouted,
as if 9 years made me some damned fool.
The farmer, wearing buffalo plaid shirt,
suspenders and, until that moment,
no expression, grinned. “Friend or enema?”
he drawled. “Enemy,” I corrected. With
more than a little pride, too.
SCHOOL FOR EARTHWORMS
In nature, everything is mouth:
the jaws of a boy’s pinch fingers,
the barbed tongue of starved
hooks—their sharp appetites.
Hooks are not sated by silent
twisting and writhing, either.
Worms bleed soil
and blood like some Saint
Segmented Sebastian, but pain
only hardens things; pain whets
cruelty’s appetite for martyrs.
One whoosh of breath
and boy casts worm deep
into the wind’s esophagus—
the involuntary descent
through air toward the lake’s
achy and deep; the surface
swallows. Down line
and lead. The worm
suspends under a white-
hulled bobber, skin
gasping for dirt and stone,
skin crying for air
and earth until slowly,
slowly its impaled life curls
and twists and grows wan
with the waiting—
waiting for a final mouth.