I glide among the dead
males of my line
Irish and Danes
clearing their throats
with a horrible authority
scalps reeking of
whiskey and hair tonic.
Did I mention they’re naked?
in this dusty ballroom,
like stamens in
some deathless garden
of a Blake poem.
Is that the far-off sound
of an army marching?
No, it’s their wrinkled fingers
rapping the tables,
heavy rings stamped
with old world marks.
I’d like one of them
to notice me. I yell,
I smoke cigars!
I went to a bullfight!
I ride motorcycles!
I’m not even gay!
I’d love to chew the fat
with this Bud Abbott
look-alike, about firetrucks
or Anna Karenina,
but he is sticking a gun
into his mouth.
No, it’s a liquor bottle.
I sit beside an unspecified
in a Confederate hat
lighting a handrolled cigarette,
and suddenly I am
my own mother
in a striped miniskirt
in English class
feet on the next desk
and he is my dad
smoking, eyeing me.
a palpable kick.
— (first appeared in Antioch Review, Fall 2018)
Child Soldier Song
There was a bee storm, my sister flung her headscarf over me.
A boy, she laughed, will chase a firefly
into a nightmare. Hark your sister,
my uncle said, She has a grandmotherly heart.
Early morning, it was spring,
we were ear to ear asleep in the orchard like dogs
when the dust unrolled upon us like a rug.
The river put on its hat, stumbled off.
Infants sucked but there was no milk.
My sister & I had a throat-torn goat, dragging it
one hoof each over the bladebones &
just then out of the woods the thin men stepped, rifles up,
like dowsers. Some carried hoes
but they were not farmers. The thin men gathered
like shadows at the balefire & when
finally they slept the wretched hairless dogs
edged into the light. The thin men
called us boys Little Ones. We drank their wine,
sang their songs. We tied our long hair back
as they did, with red bandanas.
We made noise night & day. In the noise was a silence.
They had a bandylegged bear on a chain.
It was blind & danced, milkeyed, like a prophet.
The rifle in my hands pointed
at a girl in a dragon mask.
She shivered as if visioning.
I shot, she lifted her arms in praise.
They were yelling at the bear,
Make him stop, make him stop singing!
I slipped out of bed.
I carried her to the orchard
under the silver tree of the gods.
I lowered her in a hole
with a firefly in a jar.
Time came to cover her
but I could not.
At dawn, the thin men
screamed like eagles
& the firefly dissolved.
— (first appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall 2019)
This This is the End
And when and when my snaggletooth wife
Backs out of the driveway beside a grinning fool
I think this this is the end
I drive all night I run over a cat
Her kitten clawing scrabbling blind in the dirt
I scoop her up she purrs
In the hook of my arm for a year
And when and when
My mother my impossibly kind mother
Holds an X-ray of her skull
Her finger upon a crabapple lump
And she no longer talks and she hums
That is no song I say and her eyes are stones
I think this this must be the end
I speak to the ocean at dusk
I say Dear Ocean am I not the worst thing
The spinning world has ever made
The waves drink my hair
The waves urge me like a leaf to my bed
And when and when I am kissed by a bus
The crystal bowl of my ribcage
Bursts and the ripened fruit within it
Burns to fossil and to ash
My father stands in a forest a Vicodin moon above
And my few close ones hold hands
And when and when a war erupts
For the water of my country
And survivors encamp in the ruins of malls
Thawing their souls at bonfires of books
Still the women walk slow
To the virulent river the rapturous river
To wash their hair at dawn
And when and when the last bird shuts its eyes
And the flesh of the last whale
Drifts like pollen in turquoise ink
And dust devils are lords of the squares
And trees reclaim the stairs
Still the stars glister like sparklers
Aloft in the hand of a girl
Still the earth our grave hurdles with grace in the dark
— (first appeared in American Poetry Review, 2018)
Other poems online
The Dismemberment of Philadelphia. Prolit. 2019
The Most Handsome Man in the Neighborhood. Literary Matters, 2019.
My Houseguest. Border Crossings / All Lit Up, 2020.
The Epic of Senge. Philadelphia Stories, 2019.
A Briefe & Marveyllous Hystory of Franklin. Literary Matters, 2019.
PC Song. The Awl, 2017.
Tale of the Boy with the Horse Head. The Stinging Fly, 2015.
The Unspoken word. Dalhousie Review, 2017.
Utøya. Malahat Review / E-Verse Radio, 2012.
On a Metro Gliding at the Edge of Jungles where Tigers Walked. Subtropics, 2015.
Crow & Fox in Love. The Puritan, 2016.
Last Words of the Old Man with the Photographic Memory. PRISM / Going Down Swinging, 2016.
An Old Man in Black Slippers at Rush Hour. Cortland Review, 2014.
Three Photos of Jayne Mansfield. Rattle, 2011.
Hypochondria Song. American Literary Review, 2015.
The Death of Jolly Dolly. Mudlark, 2014.
Festus, Hansel & Grendel. Literary Review of Canada, 2015.
Only Child Poem. POOL, 2016.
The Prince with No Asshole. The Puritan, 2016.
The Tongue of Allan Pinkerton. Prolit, 2019.
The Confession of Chunosuke Matsuyama. POOL, 2016.
Hydra. Literary Review of Canada, 2011.
Public Cremation. Asia Literary Review, 2012.
Tiny Pageants of the Soul. The Puritan, 2015.
Returning What was Stolen. Mudlark, 2014.
The Last Death. CV2, 2012.
The Falling Man. Forget Magazine, 2013.