optics

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

arcane, Delphic

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

float

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

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

thirteen hours
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

bath

I could’ve stayed in the bath all afternoon,
until the evening light plummed
and my fingers pruned

questions, again

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

 

taxiderm

at nine, I could
not understand
the remodeling of death, to
       wall-hanging -
my uncle in his camouflaged
cap, the first grizzly
I ever saw, draped
like a bath-towel over
a metal sink.

the Jay

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
three wineglasses

and all the time, the noisy SHEENK!

of the bird
attempting again, again, again
to escape the windowpanes
of our livingroom, growing

wearier
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
                                              thirty

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

1

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
crease, gather

long hair, still tucked with ear
wrist, still lifting pot, still
slab of counter
white bowl

leaning, ever-slight
pouring


2

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

tells me,

I have piano player’s fingers
which doesn’t excuse that I’m a quitter

knuckled and weedy

Helsinki Memoria

let’s revisit the well,
Helsinki,

Moomin and moon

fire-flies

nights that shut-eyes brings the only dark -
nights for palegirls,

how good
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


and mom
mom in the 80s
searching, in Finland, in the 80s

red Reeboks

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)

part 2

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.