Truth is asphalt—you, too,
should wait for it to cool,
as slabs of it can and do
like uncrating a painting—
one word for it, its letters
x and y; its color, work.
You pick sentences up like sentience
or dust: “A semicolon isn’t usually
used in this situation; some dinosaurs
were no bigger than a chicken.”
Too much hope
for new or right life,
but what’s a few wrought
Phrases, arrived at, then suddenly,
stonily, in you, applied the livelong hour
as though they’ve been done to you.
You drink ink from the AWKs
in your marched-on margins,
your tongue in neutral, then jerk
and jerk and jerk, and you’re the edge
you need held taut against
the lurch of such remarks.
The perfect word away,
you feel a kind of scar there—
a world all under it—
that’s noticeably not
the word’s replacement.
New sounds just now
and in a different mouth,
and wanting to save
the file, you click “No.”
Take every eloquence in
the teeth—“It’s just language!”—
of not all that much to do
and money to snuff,
your licked thumb
and finger just enough.
Fat chance this piece
of paper will keep
that other one down—
you might have to write
an entire book.
You hated it so much, you didn’t live there so much
as in some scrunched-up idea of there, a function of
your always having been there, which was, at least, at first,
someone else’s fault, but then became a pair of words,
two parts of a voice you’re sure you never would’ve heard
had you been listening for anything promising.
TEACHING MILTON AT EIGHT A.M.
You’ve been not quite asked to be here,
and you’ve come all this way just to talk,
not just about the weather as it churns,
its gravid cumuli, but of progress, too,
so called, so far, the first edge of light
and sound and letters, breath and debt—
another poem, that (or every other)—
and of ships found in bottles, of cars
without garages, and of snarl after snarl
after snarl after snarl, none of this catnip
to the exurban wannabe alphas in the mix,
but here and here and here and here’s the thing:
all that’s vapid’s like glitter on an air horn;
a past mind has left behind a raging orchard.
A BIG EXPENSIVE PAINTING IN THE LOBBY OF A BANK
When is a corpse
an historical corpse,
and who’s the rare freak
who squeezes through?
Infinity’s on and off and on
in every zero, every one—
the brain fog it’s causing’s
thick as vault walls.
Your guests left early
(you said your goodbyes last night)
and washing the sheets can wait;
therefore, sixteen hours
for what you will, your brain,
therein, a pail you elaborately
and always overfill, a bowl
that sucks back only some
of what it spills; or rather,
assuming it’s in there (a thing,
the thing, that it can do),
your mind’s of two minds,
their waters of the same kind,
below which: the horror
of there maybe being more.
AT PHONEME FARM
Down, not on all fours,
but on some, and loud
as a fossil, just kissing
limit mumble, upper
limit a WAV file
of rainfall tapering off—
you’ll know by what
you cry at: music, color,
music, windchill, bliss
(you’ll be right back)
but back of that, thank
God, you can’t yet go.
“Oh, she’s an awful snob, but I’ve—
Mother, did you drop something?—
I’ve never heard her use the word caveat.”
Days are thinner—North River, late December;
the afternoon sawn, the blunted sun the blade;
the dimmest ice the dimmest ice, but dimmer.
Against your eyes’ and hand’s estimates,
a fly works the room, and once upon a time
and time again, THE END, as ache
pipes up, explains a noise you made.
You weren’t young for long,
and you haven’t been former in forever,
but now, defiance and deference,
together in thought, are of the essence.