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Five Poems
Commemorative Plates for Al Duvall

Back then nostalgia was a doll,
you could swallow. 


“The ride begins—our boxcar ethos streamlined
to these flights of mechanical horses.”

Under the boardwalk, we’re slaves
to the headache wine, receive a mild cudgeling.

“While Victrolas are aimed out of every window.
Their sounds overlapping till there’s a stasis-a silence.
Though nothing has stopped running.”

We see proficiency in banjo, ukulele.
A time of retreating from our street-level bravado
to the fumes of the ether-cone,

and the rough seas replicated by rows
of wooden waves. Back and forth.

A dark corner of surf

                                    We find the bones missing
                                    from your feet. 


“Don’t think of these instants as finite—
—punch a hole in the photograph, and
another air’s released on the water …” 


Gargoyle dips a finger in the clockworks.

Its hard times on the stereopticon,
lead nipples for the Incubators,
a booth that sells globes of the dust bowl.

Stagelights shown through the Missing Link,
shadows to “mirror the ‘journey of the soul.’”

Organ pipes wizened to resemble the tusks
of certain rumored animals, or jawlines
through which much marrow can sluice … 


“A mermaid on the rocks … mouthful of needles,
takes a bite of something like a brain … 
this will be the patch for our corps …” 


That year, our nightlife was rated “Hobbesian.”

A hand tosses a gun up through a sewer grate;
gropes blindly to find it again.

And from trash fire redoubts, tires are thrown
to catch a good lookin’ drifter in a stack.

A textbook napoleon waits at the bottle depot.
Soapbox and 2-liver perched on the tombs.

“We learned hard that one dog can be replaced
by another, and the whole continues seamless.” 


“And these seafood dives, bathrooms labeled
‘buoys’ & ‘gulls’ are no haven for clean spirits …”

There are fewer of us now.

Pay no attention to the ones shaking lice
from their hair in time with the music.

There are victims-poisoned legs kicking
under the water tower

on days when the wind funnels to the shooting gallery,

“… and the sky moves like the hypno-coin,
                                    ’cept more gray.”


“On the panels rotating on the carousel:

the lost ones roaming hillocks & pastures;
faces hidden behind thick masks of dirt,
hardened by the sun.

Hands appear, try to chip back to flesh.
Slice open a cheek and it shines now
like the inside of a stone.”


In a map of the world, where
ominous clouds puff their cheeks:

Porcelain heads on a ledge—

the wind blows through the holes in their eyes,

and the howl makes us look up
from our desks and porches.

“… though these concerns had long before
been dismissed or assimilated into the
evening tranquility—

dust on the classroom, parlor—

                                    the (agreed-to) conversation continues,
                                    but stripped of its anecdotal gloss.”

We find skulls at the bottom of feedbags.

And though there’s still cordiality on the streets,
neighbors are eyed with a new suspicion. 


And you and I have followed the rails,
fallen to the epicenter of a miner’s war-song.
Waited arm in arm to be shanghaied
                                    under a green moon. 


When we arrived, the square was deserted;
the bandstand caved in.

The ice statues were still there, left
to tower over us.

I had to stand on your shoulders to see
the creatures frozen in their chests.

Couldn’t make out the faces, just meat & wings;
We decided not to leave.

“In your songs, the undercurrents assert
an official purity, and these panics—

—well-shellacked and untethered—
share our highway tonight.”

Our scarves unspooled in a wind.

“We’re still there when these bodies
turn to water,

a dark animal flies from their remains.” 


Script for a Single-Cell

We didn’t have no “fables,”

had to trust that pale-artichoke light
to follow us down the hall.

A parade of originals, born
in the same chemical tub, same buckteeth.

Our fur grew just under skin,
spread like a bruise.

In our slapdash tenderloin,
dark houses have an anthropomorphic rep,
kids grow up jumpy …
… put something down, minute later, it’s gone.

“If I’d known you were coming,
Ida brought crutches. Don’t be concerned,
sawteeth’ll come through the floorboards.
Here, take this mallet.”

Though a tail would be convenient
for foraging, escaping when necessary.

Our shapes are crude, yet prematurely old,

surpassed by babyface versions of ourselves
“… who point to no predecessor, yet cover
us up by their presence.”

And our naiveté—a set of paintings
whose parts kept moving—

“You’d see mayflies rush out of an ear canal
towards the promise of accordion music,

to a time when the machines were this clumsy,
the door wide open to subversion.” 


Where the Anchorite and the Spare Wife Meet

Sparks flash in a cattail’s head—

“I thought they woulda burned out,
or darkened with my unease …”

You came up to me; three scars
on your eyebrow

A sculpture garden was the place
to address the laws of growth & speed.

As teenagers, we stole
a crucial piece of the sundial,

dropped a coin in the book
and read for the allotted time—

—little scions of the Christmas tree lots
brought town-gown relations to an all-time low,

chicken-fighting in the hedgerows.

“… but as if spooked by an early peace,
we saw danger in each new contentment.”

It was time to go over the wall,
go native.

We work in the bodega de-boning 
these immaculate sea creatures,

phosphorous drips down our hands.

But there was food for the journey,
graffiti and starlight,

greenhouse churches “where the interior
remains a humid constant, while 
clear walls draw all outdoors into its service.”

If you bring a femur from a nest,
an eraser to give your thigh a birthmark—

“Years later, the wine drops begin
to calcify, we carry a stone child
in our chests.” 



Our hiding place becomes a monument.

“A whale’s song pumped in to haunt the core.”

A dog is tossed out of the storm, one leg missing.
Now she sleeps where you sleep,
dreams what you dream.

Between the yard and the city
the phenomenon—

—we carve our initials,
they are swallowed by the wood. 



Winter sky tincture of steel
There’s an eye that watches,
an eye that drops its skin to the ground.

An empty motel pool
shapes like larvae pulse deep in the neon.

The first time you came down here
you got arrested.

You will come back for me.