POEMS FROM MANY SMALL FIRES
We didn’t understand what we were holding,
but knew both penis and vagina on the piglet
meant something. We answered its squeals
with clucks and shush. Took note of its moonish,
hard belly. Sang “Twinkle, Twinkle” to distract
from the ear tag’s needle and punch. My body
was not the body the piglet longed for:
no mother’s teat, swollen and flabby, spritzing
milk; no fur slicked with manured hay to wallow
and warm. But song is song. Sailors, chain gangs,
boys with Corvettes and girls with Hondas—
we need song. I broke a flute once to get inside
the soft pads of each key. Found only metal and holes
and cold. That’s the way with searching, isn’t it?
We think we know before we know. In this world,
even babies hear their names before they’re born.
ARCHITECTURE OF THE VEIL
Islamic architecture often adorns the interior spaces as opposed to exterior spaces.
Commonly known as “architecture of the veil,” this style alludes to the nature of the infinite.
–R. E. Souser
Leaning over the low wall around our hotel roof, we are fooled
into thinking the city below might be understood by echo,
by prayer calls, car horns, hot spoons scraping woks of nasi goreng,
by gazing down on pishtaqs, minarets, cannons fashioned
into fountains. All afternoon, the faithful go on being faithful.
The faithless, faithless. Each chasing piety with sugar and sticks.
Green-flanked smog shifts directions, sweeps the clouds
into crumbs, into evening, into this thing called the infinite.
The architecture here secludes its beauty to inner spaces,
to what cannot be seen from the street where a costumed
macaque flees under a soup stall, his frustration blooming
into soapsuds rushing the gutter. A walker passes by adding
a spoonful of blood to her thickening placenta; a beggar
irritates his toothache into stone. And the mosaics repeat
and spin their cobalt patterns until the moon quivers one day
forward—and no one notices except that two mangoes rot
while green on the tree. All the while, the prophets’ daughters
strut by in their highest heels, busy poking the sun back
into the pieces it really is. This brokenness, we suspect,
is true about our own selves, despite the fluid strides we make
from city block to city block. We walk among sweet sulfur,
wondering what we cannot see, wondering which feast or fast
is behind which house’s wall. In each of us, a stray dog forgets
to ask for home; a pack of roving hounds guards the door.
LEMONS ARE NOT NIPPLES
The tip of a lemon is not a nipple. The spine
of a book is not the spine of a man. No thing
is anything else. These are lies a poet tells to avoid
certain truths. The closest I have come to holding
a dying man’s hand is witnessing a buffalo slaughtered.
Blood glugged out in rhythm with his tapering
heartbeat, but I couldn’t tell when life switched off.
An hour maybe before the animal stilled. I think
of my father, a man never without a suitcase or place
to leave. It will happen while he waits to cross the street,
bag in hand. He doesn’t notice the light changing, crowd
bumping his shoulders. Curb empties, yet he will remain,
drivers at the red light marveling at such stillness.
Less a man than a metaphor, pointing someplace else.
SPACE BEARS AND DOXOLOGY
First reports described a run-away bear wearing
a space helmet. I’m not surprised. It is Tennessee,
and black bears gone alien are a possibility.
Here, life not as it seems is the hope. So, after
a month, wildlife rescuers tracked the scat to find
a juvenile male with his head stuck in a plastic
Walmart candy jar. Bulk-sized Jujyfruits. Honey
of all hives. The vet judged the bear one winter
away from death having lost half its body weight.
He had learned to drink by lying down in shallow
streams where the water would seep in slow enough
to keep him from drowning. This story reminds me
how as a child I sewed pink curtains onto roach
motels, figuring they would like it better this way,
both coming and going. The curtains a lure
and an escort. I know the bear doesn’t debate
about any of this, but if there were such a thing
as heaven, wouldn’t it be the moment the jar
was removed, that rush of autumn air on his face?
No barrier between paw and tongue, touch
and taste. The world as it is now and ever shall be,
suddenly right before him, roughing cheeks
with sun on autumn mornings, and if he’s lucky,
pricking his eyes with the sting of sleet come winter.
Out of thirty-some jumpers off the Empire State, one
is known as The Most Beautiful Suicide. Evelyn McHale.
There are photos, blogs, paintings. We can appreciate
the desire to imagine death as she portrays it. A swirling
white scarf with the ferocity of teeth. The sudden bang.
Position of deep sleep. She was one of the few ever to land
whole. After ending an engagement, she decided to leap big
toward nothing, avoiding all terraces and signage. Witnesses
commented on how far out she jumped. Seemed grateful
for that American go-for-it-ness. What’s curious, though,
isn’t the limousine hood that crumpled around her
like a black satin pillow, nor her crossed ankles, her gloved
fingers touching her pearl necklace, but on that day,
she, like the rest of us, dressed for the cold: buttoned
her coat, knotted her scarf, and covered her head.
HOW TO MEASURE DISTANCE*
I. Only Use Light Years When Talking to the General Public
or to squirrels testing spring between two
branches. Or to a new mother saddened
by thoughts of earth and its death; sun’s death;
her death. She watches her husband leave
the room for a burp cloth, wonders, could she
do it without him? What’s the measurement
of distance between two people growing
too close, too quickly?
II. The Measures We Use Depend on What We Are Measuring
Distance between parents? Hills? Rogue comets?
Within our solar system, distance is
measured in Astronomical Units.
Or “A.U.,” an abbreviation that
sounds similar to the “ow” of a toe
stub. Or similar to the sound of a mother
teaching the beginning of all sound. “Ah,
eh, ee, oo, uu.” Watch her mouth widen,
purr, and close. This is the measurement
for what we call breath.
III. For Most Everything Else—Stars, Galaxies, Etc…. —the Distance Unit Is the Parsec (pc). This Is a Convenient Unit
for gathering groceries, grains in silos,
gasses we cannot package and discount.
This is convenient, too, when measuring
stars’ distances by triangulation.
1 pc = 3.26 light years =
about the distance to the nearest star.
An equal sign leading to an “about.”
An estimate. A close enough.
Close enough feels safer than being wrong.
Or exact. “Close enough,” we say of that
asteroid skimming past our atmosphere’s skin.
“Close enough,” we say when he returns
with a guest towel.
IV. For Distances Within our Galaxy or Other Galaxies, It Is Kiloparsecs
She is unsure what fatherhood will do
to him. Accurate measurements require
one to know where one stands, where one belongs,
where one imagines going. Rub the toe
of the blue shoe into the dust. See how
the dust is not a bit bluer. The shoe,
a bit browner. Distance = a thing
between and against.
V. The Exception to These Units Is When One is Studying a Smaller Object
Father to mother to early zygote.
Branch to squirrel to tail-twitch and release.
Knee to toe to spring mud too soft to flake.
No units for these.
VI. One Might Say, “Its Radius Is 5 Solar Radii”, Meaning It Is 5 Times the Size of our Sun
Her fear is five times the size of sun, five
times the hours of sleep or lack thereof.
Five times the huddle of father, mother,
child. Five times the energy created
for one nap as opposed to the distance
of that nap, that leap.
VII. She Wants Answers
but is realizing that won’t happen.
She fears the truth that nothing stays the same.
Rashes fade, yet skin will prickle again.
Cries will quiet, yet the quiet will cry.
The man will leave, yet the same man will leave
again. That’s why eyes are bloodshot, why she
answers questions as if she doesn’t care.
All answers are “almost” or “about”—
everything moving. And this thing called light
years is a distance she can’t comprehend,
yet somewhere she squirms at one forever-
changing end of it.
*Note: Italics indicate lines are from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center website written by Jonathan Keohane.
POEM FROM WEAVES A CLEAR NIGHT
HELEN OF TROY
The Trojans kept Helen for twelve years,
winning at least a little while.
So often we focus on the loss
rather than the years of attainment.
But any love that matters will one day
be taken for granted. Last night,
lying down to sleep next to you
on wrinkled sheets, warm where
the dog curled, cold by our feet,
I realized as your hand grazed my thigh
you hadn’t touched me all day.
Each morning when I wake I understand
you’re like an eagle scanning the next ridge.
The bed heaves as you rise first,
your steps hard, stiff, while the erupting
sky behind you eases from gravel gray
to blue. You don’t glance back
at the soft curve of my body,
not yet rigid with the day’s to-dos.
What you do is place cereal and fruit
in a bowl, then call my name.
The milk cold. The peach sliced.
Without motive or need
we sleep, eat, read, breathe together,
you running a hand under my shirt
whenever you want. But I was talking
about Helen, about how she loved
as she wished at least once, willing
to witness the loss of a world for it.