researching my astigmatism
I am surprised, once again, by this body
slight droop of almond-shaped cornea
nothing’s registering on your retina
a doctor explains, describing images
entering my brain the way world passes
on a carousel
farsighted too, in attempt to see the big picture
I tell myself, unwilling to throw up these hands
in defeat, to lay against the floor
and pound my fist, which is a nice fist
good fingers, I like the mole on my index,
I like the width of my thumb, there is nothing
mis-aligned about this hand, I am fine
my eyes though, they are two dried-up
balls of kelp, quarreling siblings, different
times of day. Umami and sweet. A conversation
I had with my grandfather about politics.
the leaky faucet and its porcelain tub,
a slice of fruit dropped in sand,
a split board, a sobbing basket
abandoned at my door
beside the lake where I live, moon rises like the tip of a thumb
in the night. bone white swan. a single light from the window
of the cabin where my eyes sleep, lid and lid. water receding into
dark, the moment when trying to remember fails and the memory
slips completely, for years even, to resurface in a dream
when the shape of our faces has settled. all of the riches
I own on the shore: dust-covered pearls, shell, relic.
before driving back to the city in the morning, I walk out
into the water, cold on my ankles. I think of my aunt
sitting in her cancer, her daughter, her husband
whose hair grayed in a single hour
you told me once about the lake where you lived, and I laughed
the idea of needing a body of water
beside our bodies, to hold this weight, float us
rules for insomnia
There are two birds in my yard
trailing each other in arcs. They keep
switching directions, can’t remember
who they were following or why. I am
not sure if they are in love, or if they
think they are each others’ shadows
falling across the damp grass this morning,
clouds like wet smudges on a glass plate.
If I could help them, I wouldn’t. I am
not sitting here to play God. I do not
know which direction is best. Yesterday
I hiked to the top of a ridge and then
along it, my ankles detaching themselves
bone by bone across the rock until I
could not feel myself moving. It is like
sprinting in a dream, how you lose
the ground and then the air around you,
and thank god when you wake, head
on pillow, thick sap of drool beneath lip.
I had a friend who was an insomniac.
I used to make rules for his sickness.
Would say, you cannot stare at me as I
fall asleep after we have made love. It is
not my problem that you cannot sleep
and he would kiss my forehead and gaze
at the ceiling. There is always plenty to learn
from a ceiling. Ours was like cleanly combed
hair of an old man, so white he was barely
alive. My grandfather lives like that.
Always aging but not yet disintegrated,
the mind stubborn, an outmoded house
in the country after a highway has cut
through the land. There is only so long
you can stay in a place. Tonight I fall asleep
to the steady pant of crickets in my yard.
Short orchestra on repeat. I imagine
gathering them all, string-legs and
exoskeletons, constant noise. Like
shouting across a canyon in Wyoming
with my sister, our red car pulled
to the side of the road, faces gummed
with heat. It is one of those moments
I never knew I would remember.
How our cries held themselves for
a full minute before fading into land.
How exhilarating it felt to catch ourselves,
joy, hunger and boredom recited from
every rock and fissure in the valley.
Later, stopping for a coke at a gas station,
we talked about what this life
would resemble if we saw it all at
once, a napkin unfurled in the lap
of a dinner guest. Each year marked
with a stain of soup, or wine. Each war,
each birth, every star in the galaxy
a thin wrinkle or crease in the cloth.
Dakota, we cried with you
I cried even after we left
your border, I’ll add – was a disappointment
the same eight-lane we came in on, went out
In truth I never visited the drive-by liquor store
nor corn palace (or was that Iowa??)
but I hold you to these billboards, I believe in you, Dakota
South & North
fence posts clocking the highway like a heart monitor
reminding us you are alive, even after
limbs folded against dashboard, my sister
driving, or maybe we stopped for a coke
forgetting your heat
how could we forget?
the vast eeriness of your Badlands, where I stepped
past the white jaw of a rattlesnake
past the signs that warn prairie dogs have the plague
your radio tells us a hay bale passed three towns, headed north
Linton and Steele
in Minnesota I missed you, out of convenience, a void
in a repeat pattern –
your absence so insignificant, I had to lament it
I could’ve stayed in the bath all afternoon,
until the evening light plummed
and my fingers pruned
When a poet dies, do we grieve for body or words not written?
I walk to the beet-stained sink to test the water.
My grandmother was born in Hollywood.
I was born beside the school where I sat beneath the stairs to lose my lisp—
retheth, bithcle, grathhopper.
Was it kettle who taught you to whistle?
What is father who taught you to hum?
The vent outside my window catches and catches afternoon light –
argent, silvering, luster.
This week, I made a series of five chapbooks featuring five poems all about birds. It is entitled A Bird in The Hand, and was created for Mike Fink’s literature class Birds in Books.
View the collection HERE
at nine, I could
the remodeling of death, to
my uncle in his camouflaged
cap, the first grizzly
I ever saw, draped
like a bath-towel over
a metal sink.
We didn’t know
at first, whether we should laugh
or cry when the Jay
flew clean into our kitchen,
its blue body exploding about the room
like a meteorite
just feathers, and then
a broken vase
and all the time, the noisy SHEENK!
of the bird
attempting again, again, again
to escape the windowpanes
of our livingroom, growing
until finally it fell -
a great trapeze artist
upon our carpet
tell us, again
We drive past
the emu farm, empty now as a sports field
in off season, a few mosquitos
purring above the dim water, their
sun-flecked bodies like dust particles
rising from a great carpet.
We beg mom to tell us, again
of the man who lived there: the morning
his wife left him in their white Volkswagen
and he shot all the emus in the yard
one, another, and finally
round bird-bodies strewn like moon junk
on a far shore
& mom walking home
from school, her yellow
backpack no longer the heaviest
weight she carried
The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest
the woman in red pours soup for white bowl –
steam lazy, pot to air to windowpane, fog and still.
hands smooth, though
tinged with something that might grow in to age
long hair, still tucked with ear
wrist, still lifting pot, still
slab of counter
the woman in red exists in the New York Times
in a kitchen somewhere, white morninglight
motionless in the window
the arm stunned, mid-pour
not yet decided whether she is in the Midwest
or everywhere, at once
not yet sure what her name is
what age holds that silver hair
so crisp against the newsprint
I have piano player’s fingers
which doesn’t excuse that I’m a quitter
knuckled and weedy
let’s revisit the well,
Moomin and moon
nights that shut-eyes brings the only dark -
nights for palegirls,
to be young, in a country that loves where you came from
your name in every phone book
and Vappu, Vappu with her hands on the table like clean fish
reaching to hold you
the grass, those days
not color but mire scent –
a gazebo that exists in my mind only as patterned pillar
mom in the 80s
searching, in Finland, in the 80s
not knowing I would come, maybe
hearing the name
that I’d become
playing it over on her tongue
laughing it to the festering winter – so North the sun doesn’t
rise for weeks
and when it does
the village weeps
(built apon Part 1 & 2 below)
Vappu swims with us in the well.
if Vappu exists / if the well exists, I can’t be sure.
though they run to me now, flimsy and sentimental -
beside the clackclack of Swedish clogs and the wings
of a hundred pigeons fleeing cobblestones in Prague.