Investigation

30 November 2007

I think of his fingernails
carving the outlines of nightmares into
the tender skin on the inside
of your seven-year old thighs.

You have floated all over this country,
appeared to strangers as an apparition,
left no blade of grass rooted in
the soil of your mind,
and still you do not know where
he hid the skin he stole.

I’ve studied the cuts in your flesh.
I’ve seen those types of marks before.
They’re left by lightening.

I imagine the weight that grows on your chest
every time you are reminded of that sizzle in your nose:
when you smell charcoal
or feel the heat of a bonfire on the beach.

Spelling tests and dirty socks crinkle,
shrink in the flames beneath your bed
as you’re standing two blocks down
in the cold, dripping with rain.

Lost objects, so lost,
you never knew they were missing.

Brendan

30 November 2007

He has been at sea for a thousand days.
His crew grows mutinous. And so, it seems,
do his extremities: his very skeleton aches
and sighs. The soft hair on his thighs goose
pimples. His face adopts a twitch.
The muscles whisper of rebellion.
His mustache plans a coup.
It is noon. The navigator’s vertebrae
click in anticipation. The fog sings soft, electrically.
Two low clouds part, leave room for destiny
to be seen. In the absence of breathing
you can hear the heat of the sun.

I am as if an apparition. I bless him
with my pale sands and the rocks
that dot my jagged coastline.
Rich green vegetation twists
in spirals around my dusty flesh.
He kneels to kiss the waves
that lap against my knees.

He makes his camp in the crook
of my elbow, so happy to have
discovered this home.
As he sleeps, I rock him back and forth,
tilt him towards the easier side
of dreaming, and wonder how soon
he will find that I am
no New World.

Sonsabitches

30 November 2007

“Sonsabitches,”
my mothers mother would mutter
and the nails of my father’s
rough tan hand would sting,
sunk deep into my mother’s soft palm.
It was an infamous phrase Nelly mostly used
in the direction of hundreds of bingo operators.

I can’t imagine my father’s mother
ever swore in in his presence:
Her name was Ruth. I called her Mim.
She would have stolen me anything
I wanted from Drug Emporium.
We walked there when she baby-sat me,
in between biscuit baking and dancing
to Michael Jackson videos on the television.
I wanted a soft bunny with a jean jacket.
She slipped it into her purse.

Later, I applied lipstick to Bunny’s small mouth.
When it didn’t come off,
I cried and cried and cried.

When Harry brought Jeane home to meet
his mother I never heard him call Mom,
Ruth cried. With happiness at seeing my
father’s arm around my mother’s small shoulders.
In Ruth, Jeane found another mother.
I’ve wondered about their relationship for years.

My mother gave me the sunflowers in my eyes.
Nelly gave Jeane her panic attacks.
My mother ran into her mother’s doctor in a hospital one night. “You may not remember me, but you gave my mother, Nelly Hugues, medication.” “Medication? Oh, I remember you, but I never gave Nelly meds. Those were sugar pills.”

Ruth gave everyone presents from Jomar.
“Oh, yeah, I really thought you’d like this,”
with a large ceramic turtle in her hands.

My mother teaches second grade and hugs everyone.
My father has never told me he loves me,
but after my first teenage relationship
went down the drain, we made a mess
of pots and pans on the kitchen floor,
banging on them and giggling.

Ruth was unable to watch me
by the time I reached big kid school.
My mother followed me there, from teaching kindergarten
at Bright Beginnings to third grade at St. Anselm.
My father visited Ruth in the nursing home
every Wednesday. She watched Highlander.
Soon, she didn’t know his name.

When I think back as far as I can,
my first memory is in a room
in the back of my mother’s parents’ apartment.
There is a trunk filled with odds and ends.
I have selected a tiny turtle figurine.
It is smooth and we have fallen in love.
Grandmom Nelly says I can have it.
He is warm from hiding in the cave of my palm.

Nelly and Ruth both died before
I was old enough to ask them
the questions I ask my parents today,
hoping for a glimmer of
grandmother-voice to peak through.
I’m not sure who’s responsible
for taking away old people
from the realm of the living,
but precedent requires
I refer to them as
“Sonsabitches.”

Kayak (part II of a series)

30 November 2007

If I were you,
my kayaks would be full of holes
and sink with the weight
of a bottomless want.

If you were me,
your poems would curve
towards the sky,
yield to the water,
find their roots in the earth,
and drift homeless.

We is the space between you and me,
and that space is jaded by growth and time.
Your ribs forget what your spine looks like.
Your toes dream of nuzzling your eyes.
Your octet and your sestet
lay ripped apart on separate sides of the room.
Your medulla oblongata hasn’t spoken
to your belly button in years.

You’re drifting over Lake Kayuga.
You do not slice. You paint the water,
spread it soft like peanut butter.

You’re holding your breathe beneath the waves.
Then, with a barely conscious movement,
the sun’s on your wet body.
A butterfly roll, you call it.

In a field, far away,
the freckles on my back
lace fingers with the grass.
Larvae inch around the blades
in minuscule embraces.
My eyes spread the sky,
roll in the sensation like
a hand dipped into a sack of grain,
like feet sunk in hot blue sand.

Us is a creature formed of relative distance.
Together, there is power
to silence even gulls.
Yet, their tracks on the wet sand span
lonely miles, along an
asymmetrical thread thinning
and thinning, regardless
of who pulls it
or who hangs on.

Catharsis

30 November 2007

I used to dream I was pregnant,
my stomach a porcelain bowl
of milk and cereal,
and I would wobble
with the weight
over stones at the coast
of the beach.
If I fell into the water
my limbs would expand:
numb, prickling,
packed with sand.
My lungs
and my baby’s lungs
would fill with water.

My mother spent three years
trying to grow me in her belly.
I have always carried that weight.

Now, trees droop with fuzzy auras
of yellow-green leaves in the spring.
My uncle catches a dark
round fish in the
Delaware Bay.
I lay in bed, awake,
and feel inverted,
staring at my hip bones.

1. I am in second grade. Our class is visiting the church for adoration and prayer during the yearly 40 Hours’ Devotion. I’ve been kneeling for what seems like hours, and I am trying to pray. I have my eyes closed tight. Something comes over me as if light had a feeling and it grew like a fungus in the stomach. I think it might be grace.

2. I am writing my first poem. It goes like this:
Candy canes, O candy canes!
Big ones, small ones, on my window panes!
I wanted to eat one but Mom said “No!
“Wait for Mr. Ho, Ho, Ho!”

3. It is the second day of high school. I have brought a piece of writing of which I am proud to the class about which I am most excited. In front of me is a tall black student whose braces fell off. He never bothered to get the glued-on pieces removed. He reads what he has written and every fear I’ve ever had about not being good enough comes true. I am trite.

4. I am realizing that the only way to be an artist to be as cynical as possible. I am being told that poetry doesn’t exist. I will believe this for a while, and try either to write small vignettes that don’t work as prose or huge action-packed monstrosities that are not what prose should ever be. I will also write essays, and slowly get the lesson beat into me that I can only write about things I know. I will learn that no one can tell me what my writing should be.

5. It is Christmas and I am receiving Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems as a gift from my mother. I am sitting in the back of a Christmas party, mouthing the words to myself of “Sunflower Sutra” over and over. “We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside.”

6. I have lost something. Always in my life there has been some undercurrent of loneliness. I try to combat that in many ways, often through my writing. But frequently the world seems too flooded with hypocrisy and injustice to overcome. The worst is when I see those things in myself. Times come where I am too depressed to speak. I stop doing anything. I reach a point where I have given myself to so many people in hopes of receiving compassion or understanding that I have given up. I can not reach out for help when I need it. My writing is frenetic and muddled: “His smoke raises to feed dusty stars. She wears luck on every finger. I run fingers through her hair, through lonely rings in her spine and sigh. Lame driver, can’t you see? Pin me down, there’s no luck in my spine. I hide it in my fingertips.”

7. Later, I will tell people that it felt like I was on auto-pilot, but now, I am thinking very clearly. Even later, I will know that it doesn’t have to be what makes sense, it just has to be the truth. I do not want to live anymore. It makes sense. The note says, “This is the truest thing I will ever write. I am not a writer.” I am searching in the bathroom cabinets for something sharp enough. I’m not sure what would be. Later, I will search for the razor and assume my parents threw it out in the days afterward. My dad knocks on the door. I cry harder than I’ve ever cried. I am ashamed. Later, I will still want to die.

8. My mother is signing me up for swimming classes so I get more happy chemicals. When I was young, it took me three years in the same level of swimming class to learn how to dive. I was the class project. I would stand on the edge of the pool, my hands in a feeble V pointing to the sky, panting, frozen with fear. Day after day for three summers hot tears would inevitably fall and the kids would look away as the instructor patted me on the back. I think his name was Mark.
“You persevered and you were so happy when you finally did, though.”
“I wonder if I still can.”
“I hope so. You’re going to have to learn to swim all over again if you don’t.”
It’s funny, the things you remember. The warmth of the room. The smell of chlorine in the back of your throat.
I am excellent at treading water. I am on the edge of learning that might not be good enough.

9. I think love works like this: There is one moment where you spontaneously find yourself fitting exactly and perfectly into another’s existence. You then spend the rest of your life fighting as hard as you can to stay there. That’s what it’s been like for me with writing. I figure at one point, this whole lifestyle decision to take stock on how I experience the world and record it, to give myself the daily terror of sensitivity, to be a poet, must have made sense. The struggle is fierce and passionate. I find myself wondering constantly how it is possible that there are three billion people on this tiny planet and so many of them still manage to be lonely. But now, when I feel alone, I realize all I have to do is make a poem to keep me company.

10. I am standing on the beach. The two of us have taken off our shoes. We are holding hands and staring into the sea. It is freezing. We are stupid to have spontaneously taken the train to Atlantic City on a cold day. I have my eyes closed tight. Something comes over me as if light had a feeling and it grew like a fungus in the stomach. Is it grace? Is it love? Will it keep coming back? Is it his, or is it mine? Do I have a choice? I feel like I am standing on the edge, my hands in a feeble V pointing to the sky, panting, frozen with fear. I tiptoe to the edge of the coast and let a wave run over my sandy feet. Shivers run through my body, and I squeeze my poem’s hand tight.