Jack of Many Trades
layers and layers of humming
white noise gone blinding
weighing down the noise
of a thousand thousand thoughts
that wouldn’t quiet themselves
pressing me down, curling
my spine, as I sink
down and pull the noise,
a blanket over my head
moonlight like a dropcloth over the landscape
blurring the shapes and throwing deep shadows
don’t look at the clock because it tells lies
saying you’re almost there when you’ll never
arrive. here in the high desert the roads flow
on, Möbius strips of tar over the scrub bushes
your foot pushes a little harder on the pedal
weighed down with the distance you’ve driven
and the emptiness ahead, valleys of pure void
with no well of light to welcome you home
her eyes were traffic lights
amber and glowing
daring me to go faster
to test my luck
why should I slow down
when I only need
to push a little harder
let her pull
then a flash of sun
on a bumper
at sunset, and after that
it’s only red
The Tenth Plague
when I cut the cord
the first rush of anxiety
cut through me in return,
other roads and possibilities
slowly beating to a stop,
crumbling to sand in shaking hands
I was bowed before the finality
of the obligation, with no
take-backs, no regrets,
refusing to run out into the sea
and being drowned regardless
I hold back the tide of fear
with faith and deep breaths
we have a precious burden
not to be lifted, for she will have
so much work to do
I keep the windows closed
so no one can see me looking out of them
tracking my corner of the world
by sound instead, the trains passing by
in the night with screeches
that leave me tense and waiting
for crashes that never come, car doors
slamming and greetings as neighbors
come and go to work or welcome friends,
the ambient brightness of
other peoples’ porch lights (never mine)
occasional sirens, garbage trucks,
all the shrieking thuds
of the industrial warehouses
across the tracks
I keep time by the roar
of airplanes on approach,
by the flicker of streetlamps,
by the morning and the evening commute
as they track across the sky
of my awareness, now sunrise,
now sunset, now the deepest of midnight,
now three in the morning
when it’s finally safe
to walk outside and breathe
and mark the winds
Skull and Crossroads
there’s a certain stiffness when I turn my neck
not the kind I’m used to, a different sense
of rubber bands rubbing against sharp corners,
elastic stretched too tight and knotted up.
when I reach up there’s a small blossom of pain
against my fingertips, a certain swelling
that isn’t supposed to be there, that I check
with both hands against the right side.
fear settles low inside my chest, beating
moths against a rib cage, circling a flame
that sputters, anxious, but never manages
to go out, never manages to burn brightly.
endless high-pitched echoes stretch ahead
one beep after another, bouncing around my head
as I struggle to hold my breath, to never move,
magnetic resonance drawing me back there again.
the wind is like nothing
he’s fought off before, frost biting
as he pokes his head out
he wrestles a glance around
no answers blowing
no ride home, he ducks
back inside, discontent
but stranded in the ruins
copper wires pulse through vinyl skin.
do they taste like blood or does
the blood taste like them? I’ve lost
track. we’re all machines anyway, iron
and electronic pulses in the wires,
looking for someone to write the code.
in any programming class the teacher
will tell you that the computer has no
heart, no response, no ill will. if it
gives you garbage, you put your crumpled
receipts and taco wrappers in there.
it can do only what you’ve programmed
and no more.
on the train home I’m bent over my laptop,
cursing the compiler and my own weaknesses.
someone’s asking for change and I hand him
a dollar. the next guy complains about him,
about the poor, about society and why
doesn’t he just get a job anyway. I hesitate
and turn up my headphones.
when the program finally runs I laugh
under my breath, then look down, avoiding
the eyes of my fellow commuters.
at least my creation does what I tell it
and the bitter taste in my mouth is
probably blood and not copper at all.
she stands under the corpse-grey sky
her heart insubstantial, nothing but
an illusion cast by her mind, the light
playing with her again.
she is the bone in the rabid dog’s mouth,
shaken, hair in her eyes, silk stitching
her mouth shut, ears closed against the horns.
none of it penetrates, none of it is real
least of all dying.
I grew up a plant
in the dark, overshadowed and unsure
what sunlight was, reaching
for it anyway, confused
when I found myself with a handful
of stardust or moon rocks or broken glass.
Not sunlight, as everyone
was quick to point out.
I’ve built myself a greenhouse
out of old windows and wire.
I get pretty good reception out here
and it’ll help gather up
all the sunlight that’s going to come
any day now,
when they all move out of the way.
I’m spending all this time, though,
with sparkling glass shards and stardust,
shiny rocks and bits of tin foil.
I’m not so worried anymore
about that sun I’ve never seen.
again with the crows
in the tree outside my apartment
on the line above the bus stop
circling over the building
where I work. they don’t speak
to me but I know they’re
keeping an eye out.
when I was a child
my father was an idea and not
personal, not like my mother
who wrapped me in blankets and guilt.
he was there, always,
if I talked, he talked back
but I was awkward
and he was awkward.
silence seemed the solution.
at the county fair, he came with me
on the ferris wheel, mom and tiny sister
left below. wind blew around me,
caught my hair, my imagination, my wings,
sent me flying with a hundred images
and nothing to say,
just circling around his silence.
I call for the holiday and when
I get silent, my mother hands him
the phone. we sit like that, breathing
at each other, still as strangers.
finally my mother thinks of
something else I should have done,
takes it back, and I realize
I prefer honest silence.
the morning when there are no crows
is too still.
spiders crawling the web-shattered screen
music up too loud, black eyes daring anyone
to say something, to complain, to offer
to save her, and I’d swear she can see through me,
x-ray vision to the spandex under my jeans.
I watch her put on makeup, flawless hands
on a jerking train, the most graceful fly I’ve ever seen
caught, tied, twisting, a trapeze artist who’s far more
elegant than I’ve ever been in the air
as if you can save me, she glares.
I’ve been caught looking, I’m the one left twisting,
awkward. as if.
she walks away from the train into the sunset-night,
into the park across the street. I could follow her-
I’m not the fastest, but it wouldn’t be hard-
but the doors close and I let her go.
as if I could save her.
as if I could save anyone. as if.
Let It Go
the thing about ice is
you think it’s solid but it’s not,
it’s just slowed down, sometimes
waiting to break loose in the river,
sometimes on glacial time
but still moving
you can’t stay where you are.
the earth rotates, air cycles
through your lungs, and even a broken
heart still beats twice a day.
I see your hair blowing in the wind
well-shampooed, posed, perfectly poised
your emotions set just so
like a home decorator came through
and arranged your pain in neat vignettes
a broken mug, a lost ring, a gunshot
one set against the other for contrast
you drape yourself in red
drawing the curtain to protect yourself
even as you turn inside out
begging her to trip on your intestines
and fall into your arms
and wear your blood for a dress
but she persists in wearing white
crisp and bleached and insulting
taunting you with her starch
and her high heels
the way she never falls
the way you never have to catch her
the way she never lets you hold her up
she slaps you
when you try to remove her glasses
refusing to be blinded by you
she keeps her hair up tight
against your remodeling advances
and will not be your prom date
in a button-down white gown
lace peeking out from sleeves you will never push up
ruffles spreading into bleached-white wings
as she ascends
to heights too rarefied and towers too ivory
for your breath to catch
her hand does not slip from yours
she lets go, preferring the embrace of gravity
to your own halting attempts
to tie her to the earth in red silk and gold claws
you did not lose her
she was never yours to lose
she climbed her own tower,
with hook and rope and fingertips
dug into the chinks in the stone.
she let the sounds of the forest
fade below her, only her heavy breath
and the blood rushing in her own ears.
through the window at the top,
she collapsed onto the cool stone floor
and pulled the rope up after her.
sweat mixed with salt tears,
drying together into a mask on her skin.
she relished the silence, her footfalls
deliberate clicks, the echoes fully
under her control. she kept herself
warm with her own fires on stone beds.
if she noticed when her footsteps
became claw-tipped and the mask
became scales and freedom burst
from her back in leather wings,
the tower become a mountain steeped
in magic and salt falls, she said nothing
but there was no one to speak to.
over time she forgot what she had been
before she wore scales.
when she heard heavy breathing
outside below her cave, she looked down
in confusion to see a young woman there.
“I am fleeing a marriage,” she confessed.
“May I…?” she didn’t finish, but
the dragon welcomed her in, fed her
and combed her hair as best she could
with claws that had long forgotten,
held her while she cried and waited
until she slept before enjoying
the sound of breathing around her.