Self-Portrait in 1970
Pisces, dawn of the Ram,
when my mother’s hips
push me into lamplight
This is where one voice ends
and another begins,
with a child bearing another child,
some low line
a rabbit’s foot stroked in a pocket.
cricket, little salt-boy
straddling two seasons,
making noise in a world
that already speaks so clearly of itself,
my pulse residual,
silence in my mother’s spine.
The sky above the hospital
holds tight to its astrology,
the bowl of a womb scraped out.
Below, standing in the road,
my father doesn’t know I’m born,
his horned son, a lungfish wriggling
into the language species.
It’s a gripper of a night,
so cold his dental fillings ache.
Why won’t he walk and warm himself?
Sober frostbite. Felon wind.
The road heading off in two directions.
I was bored until I began
rigging catastrophes: pitfalls,
tree snares, explosions. I dug a hole in the woods,
hoping that something would
fall and shatter a leg.
I shot at aerosol cans to burst
the forest silence.
Shrapnel tore through ferns. Rodents fled along branches.
And the trees bored me because I'd
climbed their gloom
to spy over our subdivision,
rowed colonials, each the same
because the mind of a developer planned them that way:
decks too small for barbeque,
monotonous shingles and brick.
Our colonial was
the only blue one in the neighborhood,
a color I liked, but I wasn't allowed to paint it with my father
needed a fresh coat. He didn't trust me to brush
caution and care, though he did let me watch while
he shot a squirrel with a BB gun one morning, a squirrel
lived in our eaves. That's when I gave up asking
chores around our house, my father at work in his mask,
sanding and priming rough spots, creaming a pail of trim.
Instead, I walked back to the woods and filled a hole
with my body, became a collector of hints and atmosphere.
I hunted for incidents, turtles that slipped from
feral slinks near the fringe. Once I found a pile of tires
in a ditch, but when I dragged out a pair, I couldn't find
a place for them, so I rolled them back to their
Those tires brimmed with water that only newts like,
and when I saw how the sun blinded their eyes, I stopped
meddling with tires and logs, vernal pools for the
This was near Billington Lake, where a girl once plunged
through the ice. She'd been trapped for hours before her body
was pulled from its frozen zone. When her brain
she told about a vision she had, how everything she touched,
living or dead, spun into a string of light. I wanted to have
such a vision, to feel ice dazzle my eyes, a carboniferous
smell in my nose while I slept with the newts and salamanders.
That hole I'd dug held me still, like the axle of a bike wheel,
a trick that spins backwards. While inside,
I was locked
in that girl's eye, her irises crisscrossed with wings.
This is what I meant earlier when I said catastrophe:
some trick art, some careful recording of nighthawk quips.
I still like to visit those woods near the colonial that is
no longer blue. The subdivision changed and is
perpetually changing: living tulips sent into exile,
crawling the chimneys. A pile of junk is a kind of faith:
rotten deadfalls, tires that sink, so I will always go back
to visit the blue colonial and run my fingers over
knowing I lived inside it once, maybe five coats ago.
I look for depressions in the woods where I dug holes
and climbed trees. I look for bike treads brailled
into the mud, an old thrill sculpting its chapter.
is a place that keeps me frozen: temporary flowers,
dung-tinged fumes. I walk until I find remnants, shade,
for sleep. I remember the trees by their shadows.