Read me a poem about loss I say.
Are you on the mend? I say.
I shake my head no.
I need a poem to ease my anxiety I say.
Why are you anxious I say.
I’ve lost the compilation of all my favorite sad songs I say.
Have you ever tried listening to opera in foreign languages I say.
All opera is in foreign languages I say.
No, all good opera is in foreign languages I say.
But not to those who understand opera I say.
You mean those born in the country of the language I say.
No, those who understand out of the greatest miseries survives the greatest beauty I say.
You mean the music and the singing I say.
I mean everything I say.
On the Bus
Riding from Knoxville to the Appalachian forests,
I’m hunched in the corner of my seat,
next to a man who seems to be unraveling,
striving for composure in the way
despondent men do: mouth agape
& drooling, eyes sunken as if his face
intends to make a cave of its own flesh.
He moans like there’s some creation
struggling to be born, as if
he is reincarnating himself,
as if doing so will allow him a second
chance to avoid mistakes he made
in his past life. & I cannot help but feel
pity for him, as I recall another bus ride,
the number 10 that wound its way around
the heart of Knoxville, & you were there beside me,
breathing softly, I remember, so softly I felt
the machinery of the inner ears churning
to process the sounds you were making.
I asked what’s the matter, & you hesitated.
So I persisted in the same way I did
when I urged you to make the long, cold walk
from your apartment to mine, to tell you
I tested negative when you were not
in the mood to celebrate as I had, only hours earlier,
with champagne & a lobster tail. & recalling
that moment, I realized why your breath
seemed to whisper. So I wept. Embarrassed.
Which coaxed more tears as I tried to learn compassion.
You said the virus had not taken its toll.
I was relieved. Or was it our years of friendship
that made me unafraid to touch,
to wrap my arms around,
to shoulder your grief.
But where is that compassion now?
This man is resting his bleached head on my shoulder.
For a moment I think it’s yours.
But he mumbles about forsythia, four-leaf clovers.
& I’m frightened because I will love you
with the same passion that I wonder if anyone will clamor
to pay respects to this half-living man.
I push him against the window.
Scoot farther to the edge of my seat, shuddering
when I hear his head
knocking against a pane of glass.
Existing in the MRI machine after a seizure due to delirium tremens
is like deplaning in a slow single file
conveyer belt of sluggish passengers still wired
into their sleep modes since it’s four in the morning
everyone shifting through the narrow aisle
gathering their wits their luggage but not
the human decency to maneuver with purpose
as Houdini once did to escape a straightjacket
padlocked inside a great tank of water
but turtling along as if shackled in ankle-cuffs
chains around their waists connecting more chains
in cross-sections of heavy metallic links
the length of their bodies
escorted on either side by guards
trundling in their own lackadaisical fashion
securing these passengers-turned-captives
beneath the arms & down the long corridor
they schlepp to the execution chamber
shuffling while meantime your head aches in peril
the kind of pain that must be like a blown-out tire
& no spare & the driver wracking his head
against the steering wheel until he groans
with regret for not spending a little extra
for a measly donut & now he’s stranded on the side of the road
with passersby carrying on the usual business of apathy
or else there isn’t enough time to stop & offer assistance
as they are needed at the airport to collect their friends & relatives
whisk them home unaware they’re in no hurry so early
in the morning to be “collected” weary as they are
as it’s been from Seattle to Portland to Atlanta to Knoxville
one insufferable layover & no booze to keep you starry-eyed
like a child’s propitious discovery of the well-kept secret
hideaway where the candy is kept
& he’ll sort through all the options of how
to make his belly ache as you would indulging a liquor
cabinet’s inventory to reacquaint yourself with a reliquary of spirits
you’ve been long without but still
jubilant as though you’ve happened upon
the most desirable of sundries
no more collateral damage
of days ransacking a room for even a milliliter
titled into the bottom of an errant bottle &
later crawling the floor with a lampshade around your ankles
purring like a walrus
all of this a sign of the wretched past & presently
a celebration akin to the serendipitous unearthing
of a chest of jewels buried among the ruins of a derelict field
if only the drink that brings back your soul will assuage this aching
that refers itself throughout your body
the way a clot transfers itself from the leg to the left ventricle
if it wants to kill a man if it wants
to commit itself to healing
the suffering you endure
when there isn’t a swill of liquor to be had
when a kink in the machinery reduces you to shivers
if you don’t soon taste the elixir to calm
your beating heart coding the S.O.S.
as you slope toward the revelation
you’re inside the belly of a ravenous beast
Poem to a Son
Finally I’m trying to forget
the impossibility I will ever father
Then remembering I’m trying
to forget, I remember
the forgetting & am heartbroken,
lying in bed, twilight slicing
into my flesh,
as if the arced moon intends to remind me
I’m prisoner to a grave fault.
& if the stretch of night would give itself
over to my grief, I would wrench
the crescent—stardust, helixes of galaxies,
isotopes, invisible matter—
from its smug, overbearing suspension.
But how will I feel in the morning, when
I overhear the old couple next door arguing
because the perfume of her gladiolas has become
so overwhelming, & he complains
of allergies? But later they make up
as there’s something to be said
about the long-coupled. They remind me
we must find shameless happiness
wherever it may be—in woodpiles
they spend stacking together, preparing
for winter. In the screech
of a raccoon chasing ghosts up cedars.
Even in the old house of my boyhood,
where the neighbors have a son.
I’ve seen only in the dim corner of his room,
back against window, tucked playing.
Some nights I’ve watched him
as his father stoops over the hill of his back,
gliding hands along the ridges of spine.
I watch the child lean into the cupped palm,
his father scratching the fine hairs of his head,
& I imagine joy welling inside a boy
with a face like mine.