Monday, February 28, 2011

The Abandonment of the Oak Burrow

I flipped over the electric bill, and
With a trembling wing, made a list of the things that
I could still call mine.
I had barely gotten to my ankles,
When the soft rustle of her feathers
Brushed the jagged oak doorframe.
We had hollowed it out together for the winter.
I didn’t look up. I blamed it on the harsh light,
Filtering in over her shoulder.
She dropped another tearful tissue near the pile
Amassing in the corner of our room.
They were like a funeral procession to the wastebasket.
I gazed and imagined that she did as well
at the mouse-tail-trophy above our bed.
The one we hunted on our first date.

She selected my favorite book from the shelf –
A violet one without a title.
She laid it out across the sunny, beaming tyranny
Of the afternoon lawn.
I began to ask her to take good care of it,
But she was already shoving the book hastily
Into her moleskin bag.
Instead, I watched a dangling leaf shiver, shake,
and tear itself from its branch.
I turned around and, hunching over my chestnut desk,
Scrawled a slow, wavering black line
Through the first item on my list.

Running out of Places we have not Been

Burglars, I thought,
Every time the clock ticked without warning.
In 1997, in the summer,
days fall off the calendar like leaves.
And I wondered like I did every morning,
Why someone would park an entire train
On a grassy lot across from a house,
or from the H. Carter Construction Co.
Which was really just a house –
One in which you must
Navigate stacks of yellowed paper
Piled on root-beer stained carpet,
To find the office.
My father, some guy I called “Dad,” sat there
Behind this desk; so full of the most frustrating things
Like pens, documents, paperclips, calculators,
And every other weapon
You might find in a businessman’s arsenal.

Repeatedly I asked for access to the train.
“No,” I was told. “It’s someone’s property.”
“Whose? And where is his key?”
No one ever knew.
Who was this lazy conductor?
Always late, never letting passengers aboard
The property express.

I crossed the street carefully,
as if wading into the ocean.
The rusting iron monster grew larger.
Even the windows were vaults.
Thick white curtains barred the slightest view.
The door on the final train car was a valve –
A bronze wheel that I knew was only just
beyond my ability to turn.
I used a branch in an attempt to pry it open
I used half the forest in an attempt to pry it open.
My hands raw, my clothes dirty,
while silhouettes hiding in the train
Laughed from the windows;
Explorers with more fortitude than I,
But less responsibility:
They turned it into suburbia.

Family (or: Biological Happenstance)

Your daughter’s arms are cigarettes, you notice,
after a long day.
Your mind has been alive one hundred and forty years;
your body only twenty-six.
And It has been twice as long since Uncle Gil, the catatonic flounder of a man,
has had a job.
You try to take him seriously but you cannot see beyond Gil’s gills.
He needs his tobacco. After all, he helped raise her
On healthy doses of smoke
and bruises.

Your mother thinks she should go to church,
Or at least be baptized in one name or another.
Gil would disagree. He has had wings all his life,
and knows a thing or two about the malice of angels.
“God is not good. We fought for years, he and I.
At the end, I nailed him back on the cross
and sent that fucker straight back to hell.”

Your job at the diner on Marlette St.
Since the record store burned down next door,
Everyone thinks the walls will burst into flame
between sips of coffee.
The record store now only plays the sounds of shifting ash and debris,
Which is maybe, you think, the next step for Americana:
The heartfelt soundtrack of a tract of land.

You keep trying to make the cigarettes quit your daughter
but they won’t.
Gil, always the role model,
is flying around the room, severing and collecting arms.
Having owned wings his entire life, he has a burning hatred for arms.

You retire to the crying chair you have worn down
your entire life. It has as little skin as you.
The window, open, fills the room with sky.
Nothing but happiness for you and yours.

Inaugurating the first Ballroom of Gliese 581g

Inaugurating the first Ballroom of Gliese 581g

Gregory takes another swallow of punch and
With a sort of limp flick of the wrist,
Motions for me to examine his attire.
“Picked it up yesterday. Vintage as fuck.
This is practically the Lunar Module edition.”
I stare at it with more of a glaze than a glance.
Feeling an overwhelming obligation to express interest,
I ask where he bought it from and
in the same breath,
Tell him with concern that the punch is all but gone
And that maybe he should get some more.
He furiously swims through the thin atmosphere;
A desperate missile towards the refreshment table.

In line for the restrooms, Cassandra asks why I wore flip flops
“Well, I thought it was a beach party,” I say,
Fiddling with the decorative iron valves on my suit.
“No! This is a formal ocean-side soirĂ©e,” she replies,
Pausing to maneuver her oxygen tank
Out of the chrome doorframe.

On the balcony, away from flailing elbows and rogue feet,
I run my hand over bamboo stalks, pulling one loose.
From the stage I can hear the first soft notes of
Stairway to Heaven, and like every time before
I plead with presumably my inner omnipotent deity
To make it stop.
Unlike every time before, a renewed sense of urgency
Uncoils inside me and curses each note,
each small and immaculate thing

I sail inside the ballroom,
Gregory, the valiant defender of the punch bowl,
Screams obscenities from his half-open mission specialist visor
“I love this song!”
I heave my blunt bamboo spear I’ve pulled from the Earth –
No, the Gliese – No, the planet
Uprooting the guitarist from his revered spot
and make history as the first rebel
of Gliese 581g.

For the Anniversary of the Nuclear Age

At 7:53:19 AM, the clamps release.
Pilot Y feels it in every vertebra –
the gleaming metal chassis falling, twirling;
a child’s toy dangling over a crib.

At 7:53:26, Mother N pushes for the last time.
Son X, a mess of flesh and raw humanity,
has time to breathe in the cold city air only once.
Tears from Mother N fall on his face like
a makeshift baptism.

At 7:53:28, Son X cries for an instant.
In protest? In fear? In awe?
Why not compete to outshine the sun
with brilliant atomic flare?
What could match such an immense contribution
to the altar of human progress?

At 7:53:29, Progress barrels through the roof,
the happy home reduced to fragments.
Mother N watches her heart melt with her child in the glow.

Son X dreams of what Pilot Y
teaches his own boy.
“Careful not to confuse murder and heroism, son.
One of them wears a uniform.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Like Jacob, Like Esau

Daniel finished placing the last of the forks and knives on the dinner table and turned around to head back to the kitchen. Three places set at the table tonight – unusual for this household. It would take some getting used to.

Daniel was still trying to be optimistic about the arrival of his older brother late last night. Mark had just served a fifteen month tour in Iraq and came back with more brutality in his eyes than he had left with. But Daniel had to have known that it would have happened that way. He just hoped that maybe the environment of war had gotten to Mark and convinced him of the horrors of a career in death.

On the surface, the previous evening had actually gone remarkably well. Daniel’s mother broke down, of course, and engulfed Mark in the largest hug Daniel had ever seen her give. He had been hesitant about the moment where they came face to face again – when Mark left they weren’t even on speaking terms. So Daniel stood behind his mother, half hiding and half waiting for his obligatory turn to embrace the third and final member of their family. Shuffling nervously, he watched his older brother turn and offer him a hearty smile. Mark had extended a powerful arm to slap Daniel on the back, and then pulled him into a bear-hug.

“Good to see you, Dan. I’d call you little brother but you’re looking like more of a man these days,” Mark had said.

“Missed you too, Mark,” Daniel mumbled through a smile. For a brief moment, he was happy to see his brother.

And that had been all there was to it. After the normal motions of becoming reacquainted with one another, they all three sat in the living room until well after midnight listening to Mark recount glorious war stories and life-changing experiences in foreign lands. And after his mother went to bed, Mark’s old high school friends came over to welcome him with several beers in hand. Daniel had retreated upstairs to his room – he had no interest in socializing with them. But through his cracked door he could hear Mark’s tone change, and his stories became more about “killing fucking towelheads” than the noble heroism he had related in his mother’s presence. Daniel had shifted in his bed endlessly that night. Mark hadn’t changed. He was worse.

And so the following evening Daniel wandered into the kitchen and grabbed the bowl of spaghetti – Mark’s favorite – and carried it to the table he had just set. He worried that all he would hear tonight is more stories of celebrated violence and irresponsible adventuring in foreign lands. Mark was right to say that Daniel had done some growing up. In their time apart, Daniel had gone through the usual changes and self-discovery one experiences in their late teens. He had taken extensive interest in philosophy and politics and emerged as a young man with a highly developed set of moral principles. Daniel had even veered towards what he knew some people might call extremism.

Mark soon came bounding down the stairs from his room, freshly showered and shaved. He strutted over to the dining room and playfully bumped into Daniel’s shoulder before finding his seat at the head of the table.
“This looks amazing,” Mark complimented his mother as she walked out with a pitcher of iced tea and a bottle of wine, placing them near the pasta and salad.
“Thanks,” his mother returned with a pleased look. She and Daniel sat down at their usual places.

“Would you say the blessing, Dan?”

Daniel was completely taken aback. He couldn’t remember the last time a blessing was said before dinner in this house. His mother’s tone seemed to suggest that this was as routine a thing as the sunset.

“Wait, we believe in God now?” Daniel asked in genuine awe.

“Just say it please.”

Daniel quickly resolved his composure, retracted his slightly hanging jaw, and began awkwardly stumbling through the only dinner table prayer he could remember.

“Bless us, O Lord and these… thy gifts? Thy gifts. Which…” His mother opened her eyes long enough to shoot him a brief quizzical glance. Daniel straightened in his chair and sped up. “…We are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” He looked up and saw the disappointment in his mother’s eyes and immediately realized what he had forgotten. “And thank God for bringing Mark back to us safe and sound,” he finished. She seemed pleased with this and offered an especially loving smile at Mark before reaching for the wine. Mark began serving himself a massive portion of spaghetti while Daniel reached for the salad first. After a moment of silence, Daniel detected that some sort of glance or unspoken communication had been exchanged between Mark and his mother.

“So Dan,” Mark began, “You’re going to be starting college soon. Just one more year, right? What do you plan on doing?”

Daniel cringed. It had begun. This is exactly the conversation he had feared. An earlier incarnation of it had occurred back when Mark was getting ready to leave for basic training, and that had led to one of the fiercest arguments the two brothers had ever experienced. It was the reason they weren’t speaking when Mark left, other than the usual animosity he subjected Daniel to on a regular basis.
As young as six years old, Daniel could remember being in his brother’s shadow. That was when his father was still alive and the drugs were still in the house and empty beer bottles were found scattered around the place as commonly as toys, shoes, or even dust. But more vivid to him than the addiction and decay was Daniel’s memory of Mark as the favorite. Their mother, though a submissive and quiet woman, had loved the both of them equally. But Mark was the only one in his father’s eyes. He was a naturally built athlete and he had enough aggression to fill every boy on his team. By the time the brothers reached High School, when Mark wasn’t playing football he was playing baseball. And when baseball was out of season, Mark was busy finding ways to torment his younger brother. Daniel had always been the type to be perfectly satisfied reading alone in his room, or playing piano and trying to figure out how to create songs with his hands. In the occasions that Daniel was dragged along with Mark and his friends, he usually came back bruised and bleeding.

At the table, Daniel idly rearranged some leaves of lettuce in his salad bowl.

“I’m not really sure what I want to do yet. It seems like such a heavy decision to make so suddenly.”

“Yeah,” replied Mark, “I heard you were having some difficulty finding direction.” It became immediately obvious that Mark had been planning this talk.

“Yeah, but I hear plenty of people go into college completely unsure of how they’ll end up. I’m sure I’ll figure it out somewhere along the way.” But Daniel knew it was pointless before he spoke. It wouldn’t be enough to deter this train-wreck. Mark knew how Daniel felt about the military; surely he wouldn’t suggest what Daniel feared he might.

“You know, the army really isn’t so bad. It’s tough at first, I’ll admit, but –“

“No thanks, I don’t feel like killing people, it’s not really one of my strengths,” Daniel said, cutting him off. He didn’t know if he had just killed the conversation or insured its persistence. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Killing people? If that’s what you want to call it. More like fighting for your country,” Mark said while peering at him through a hardened face.

“Mark, I understand that you joined the army and you’re behind it one-hundred-percent. But it’s not for me. Please don’t give me this tired bit about ‘fighting for my freedoms,’ you and I both know that’s ridiculous.”

“You fucking kidding me?” Mark asked incredulously. Daniel heard his mother choke on the sip of wine she had been drinking.

“No, Mark, I’m not kidding. You can justify murder with whatever labels you want but it’s still murder at the end of the day.”

“You’re still just a damn child. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I thought by now you were old enough to listen to some sense, but I was apparently wrong. I’ve made sacrifices, I’m a fucking hero and I don’t have to listen to this shit. I do what I do for you, and for Mom. For our country. It’s called honor and defense, not murder.”

“You became a trained soldier at will. You were taught to kill, and you are paid to employ that training against people in other countries just because they are that – people who are from other countries. But in politics, if a hitman puts on a green outfit, it suddenly makes him a hero. I don’t think it works that way. Whether a gang leader asks you to kill or the president does, it is still murder. To try and differentiate between the two is completely morally inconsistent.”

Mark dropped the spaghetti he had been stuffing in his mouth. It fell to the edge of the plate and the noodles dangled over the side like limp and bloodied arms. Their mother’s meek attempts to intervene were ignored. Daniel continued.

“I heard you talking to your friends last night. So did you ask the people you killed if they felt their deaths were worth your banner of ‘bringing democracy’ or did you just decide for them with a bullet?” Daniel was completely surprised at the words coming out of his own mouth. He had never spoken these things out loud before.

“You’re out of your fucking mind,” Mark snarled, barely able to contain his anger into verbal form. “You have no idea what war is like. You have no fucking clue of the things I’ve done. I fight so you have the right to sit here and spew this bullshit out of your mouth. So shut the fuck up before you end up regretting this.”

“I never asked for anyone to fight for me. The way I know you’re not ‘fighting for anyone’s freedoms’ is because we as citizens don’t have the option to refuse your services. It’s all a big fucking circle of violence. Taxation is the initiation of violence. The people are coerced into paying the government money, and the government uses that as blood money to spread their violent imperialism around the world. You’re not fighting for me, you’re not fighting for America, you’re fighting to fill the wallets of politicians.”

Mark’s jaw clenched and he reached across the table and backhanded Daniel across the face. Daniel was completely frozen for an instant. Their mother shrieked and slammed her glass down on the table.

“And now you’ve brought the violence into your own family, just like Dad.” Daniel said quietly as he rubbed the sting from his face. “I wish you had come home from prison instead of war. At least then you would have paid for your crimes. ”

Mark’s face contorted in a rage more pure than any that Daniel had ever seen. He watched his older brother rise from his seat and with scarred and muscular hands, Mark grabbed Daniel by his shirt collar. Within seconds, Daniel was being dragged through the back door.

“I told you to shut your fucking mouth! You’re no better than the goddamn Iraqis. You’re a spineless rat like all of them.”

Daniel was silent as he was dragged off the back porch and into the soft grass. He remained silent even as he felt Mark’s knuckles breaking his nose, bruising his eyes. He did not fight back even as he felt himself sinking into the soil from the brutality. He gasped as the last of his brother’s ‘lesson’ kicked him in the ribs, and left him coughing blood and saliva into the green grass. He saw through blurry eyes his mother weeping in the door frame, covering her face. Daniel rolled slowly onto his side and inhaled the air. Even that was painful. He exhaled quickly; sad but content that he had proven his point.

Mark walked away from the house and towards the back fence to breathe. He rubbed his red and purple hands. They were sore and there were traces of his brother’s blood in the cracked and jagged skin of his knuckles. Behind him, from the doorway of their small house, he could hear his mother’s soft sobs. Mark couldn’t bring himself to turn around yet, but at least he had proven his point.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moments, Movements


I don't write poems
to girls. Especially not
to you.
Instead I am biting/have bitten
neck, shoulders, arms, _____ , lips,
back, thighs, _____ , hips, every single space
is another moment with you.
And I am biting/have bitten
hard/harder just
But I can't break the skin no matter how
I try.


When your fingernails were inside my chest
I wished they weren't.
Not because I didn't like it
But more because it was the closest
you and I
have been/will ever be.
"Stop," I wanted to tell you.
"I'm losing too much blood."
I only said your name instead.
And I watched your fingers like
ten conductor's batons
make an orchestra of me.

I am an orchestra

The movements were in impossible time.
10/8, 11/4, 93/6.
Sometimes they were heartbeats,
sometimes they were hips.

I wanted to be more
badly. I wanted to be a symphony
But for you, it was just about
the moments and the movements
each one fading into the next
never coherently coming together
as one complete mass; or
a skeleton of a song
never sang.

There is so much
to tell you.
Like that I don't lie on my pillow
because it still smells
the way you do.