Original Sin

That sly infant has his own ideas.
Look in those eyes—

a pint-sized Svengali
swaddled in possibility.

But behind that beatific smile,
a beast-in-waiting.

Which will torture small animals
and fan secret fires?

Strangle truck stop waitresses
or beat his wife with a 5 iron?

And which will discover
a cure for cancer

and give a genocidal dictator
a new lease on life?

On this, Doctors Freud
and Augustine agree.

God only knows
where the child ends and the lie begins.

But the devil, with his practical paws, lets us choose.

Whether, in the long run, therapy or drugs work best for you.

Why the moon looks like a sugar cookie
on this warm November night

and what will come from chasing happiness when those adorable tiny feet

finally hit the ground.

 

 

Flagstaff

“They say he’s wanted in like three states . . .”

—Rainbow kid

On a blanket in the grass
a man named Gypsy and his band

of followers, children,
bartering toward the next forest,

next nowhere.
A handful of faux chevron beads

for a silver-wrapped moonstone,
his eyes like chips of prism crystal

in the shadow of a brown suede hat.
Come on along. Always room for more.

The sun setting behind the mountains,
the night we leave.

For us, the unknown stops here,
in this city of strange weather.

A peyote stitch,
a strand of blown-glass teardrops.

Seven dollars American, some change,
a three-finger pinch of tobacco.

The last exchange
a mossy smile and a nod.

Happy travels.
Keep it breezy.

Then, down the road, we hear they were
putting people in the soup,

doled out at gatherings.
Still out there, moving,

bellies full,
numbers growing,

shrinking,
trading trinkets for fuel.

 

 

Seed Store

what happens

to seeds
those that
don’t grow
don’t show
their roots
for assuredness
don’t show
their clear
bright flowers
for light
won’t grow
for others
whose green
fingers dip
and search
or for earth
dark hands
having dug
all before
are they
marked with
don’t sow
inside the
seed store or

what happens

 

 

Roadkill on Highway 154

After dinner I’m going to drive my Honda Civic
way too fast over a narrow mountain pass,
and 100 yards downhill from Painted Cave Road
I’m going to lose control and

overcorrect to the right then spinout to the left,
into the uphill lane where the Dodge Ram Pickup
is going to spear me on the passenger-side,
the whole mess coming to rest against the cliff.

I’m going to die and one of my passengers is going to
die and the other two of us are going to survive, just barely.
It’s going to be a real mess to clean. Scraping bodies out of
cars and scrubbing blood from pavement can be hard work.

The local news will focus on the road closure,
both directions being shut down for hours,
and how inconvenient it will be for the living to take
the long way around, through Goleta on the 101.

And in this knowing of my death soon to come, and in
clear view of the chaos I will create in the lives of others,
I now realize that pickup trucks made here in the U.S.A.
are much heavier than economy cars made in Japan,

that many dogs will get their dinner a few hours late tonight,
that they will be howling for their owners much like the dogs
on Staten Island in the days following September 11,
and that being hungry is so much easier than being full.

The Open Boat

“Shipwrecks are apropos of nothing.”

The open boat
has four men in it and me,
a stowaway,
sodden in the splashing tide
beneath their curled feet.

The shore is far away,
pencil-thin
on the gray slate horizon.

“Funny  He don’t see us . . . “

We drift stunned and still
on the slow-rolling waves,
the surf like capsized clouds.

We will spill into the sea
like astonished ash.

“Funny  He don’t see us . . .  “

We will watch for the hand
that will reach down
through the sunset haze
and pick us up,
fragile and whimpering,

for the hand
that will set us down,
like glass dolls,
among rooted bluebells
and polished pewter cups.

“Funny  He don’t see us . . .  “

The shark circles,
its fins glinting with stars.

 

 

Ghost Birch

it isn’t
just the
blanch
of its
growing,
the thin
curl
down to
the grass
like a white
peach peel
dried, or
an idaho
inside slice
dried too, or
snowqueen
doorenbos
himalayan,
these
jacquemontii;
even the
grayswood
ghost
stealing my
haunt of
blanc —
it is their
light in the
dark,
however
long it
grows
in this
life,
in this
dark, a
shade
of life,
we will
climb it

Magic

This sleight of hand
called life—

the wives
we make disappear

and children
we pull out of hats.

The parents who, over time,
we saw painlessly in half

and the complicated knots
that untie themselves.

The doves and serpents
pulled from Jehovah’s empty sleeve

to misdirect
the mischief of our making:

the compassion we feel
for a rag in the road

believing it to be
a squashed puppy.

Or the cock killed for Asclepius
to thank Houdini God,

our Chained Magician
drowning

in his locked box.

 

 

Definitions of an ordinary cancer

When my mom’s battle with cancer began,
it was supposed to be easy. The doctor used this word, said
it was ordinary cancer, as if that were an actual kind.
But I know (I know, I know, I know) and statistics know
that ordinary cancer eats people with flourish.

Each day after that, I was a bird too large
sitting on a branch that kept bending and bending—
a hawk, I’d say, or a falcon—and each day after that,
branches bent and bent,
and we’d watch sharp near the pressure point where
snapping would come into our lives—
just ordinary snapping.

There was the blood clot that was normal,
the bruising that sometimes happens,
lymph nodes seeming reasonable;
there was the common exhaustion from radiation,
the new ordinary lump on the underside,
and a removal of body parts, routine, I was told.

I imagined her ordinary coffin,
as if ordinary defined indecorous, not merely procedure:
a plain headstone, a normal clot of dirt.
What no one tells you when you feel your mother’s heartbeat slow
is how ordinary it is,
almost imperceptible—
how you try to rise from each limb a dove,
but motion dictates you must thrust down to get lift,
and the branch is already bending, bending, bending so.

The break is the same break that breaks us all,
but I’m told that after some time
even the broken spaces become ordinary.

 

 

After

After the rape
the world tilted at
an odd angle
like a broken neck.

The sun still rose, I still
breathed, walked, spoke;
but there was an
impenetrable layer

between me
and the world
between me and myself.
No one could see it.

I was dimly aware that when
I tried to touch the surface of my life
it was like rubbing
a cheek numbed with Novocaine.

My fingers can feel the skin
of my cheek
but my face does not
recognize the touch of my own hand.

 

Lifespans

With the leaves gone
a pageantry departs
all pretense of grooming
as only the dead
are so transparent.

When I walk in them
a grove like bones
the sun makes clear lines.
I tend to think
in lifespans.

They overlap, the patterns
only seen from above
when the summer woods
are full of noisy green
rooms. But through

these colder limbs
a circular truth
doesn’t need explaining,
warmed by the razor-blue
of shorter days.