Every child ought
to have a dead uncle.
There should be only one surviving photograph,
or else a handful of epochal snapshots
where the face is always blurred, in half-light,
or otherwise indistinct. Much can be made of
the raised glass
in his hand and the quirked
corners of his smile. And who was that girl
standing with him? Ellie? Jean? No, the one
with the dogs.
You hadn't been born then anyway . . .
This is the one
whose fault it can be:
the slight warps, the spider-cracks in your speech,
the explanation for all of the wrongness
that made the other children pause, assess
a little coldly and pull back as one toward the playground.
Why all of the strange words seem to rise
from your tongue like damp, nocturnal creatures
into an unwelcoming light. Why you insist
on that turd-brown jacket that
a musty fruitcake. Why that one thumbnail
is always gnawed
to a puffed red crescent.
This man will be your phantom limb,
the thing once flesh,
thrust into absence,
now living as a restless pricking under your skin,
that inward itching, that impossible,
inescapable rue fretting to itself,
the way the mouth tries to form urgent words
in a dream. And you'll take out that
so that your eyes can retrace the details:
red shirt, a vague
mess of books
and cards on the table, half of one silver
aluminum can, a
bright nova hovering
over his left shoulder as though something
has chosen that
moment to rush into his body.
See, see there, his buttons are done
must have forgotten things
all the time, just like you.
My Mother is a Small
The hospital room at night
is the bottom of the ocean.
Knotted lengths of clear kelp
tether her to the bed,
and the electric thread of her heart
on the screen becomes a restless eel
questing the coral fan
of the horizontal blinds' shadow.
A half-dozen lionfish,
spines bright with toxins,
have the slow drift
helium balloons, their sides
inscribed with the rueful maxim
Love Me, Love My Danger.
She clicks the morphine
counting off fathoms.
By dawn, a whale the size
of a housecat will have nestled itself
in the crook of
conjuring a song
she'll follow into a lightless
a doorstep to the center of the earth.
-from The Diminishing House