that think we’re twins. By 18
we’d both wished secretly that it
& that it wasn’t. Since we were 9
we met here on stealth banks of August,
each year another Savior
& sweet thanks be
to Jesus for that old rowboat.
Remember my instructions when we met?
I’d bent a coffee can
into a scoop to hunt
the mud banks for crawfish. “The
trick with blue pinchers is getting in behind
without setting off a stir on their tail.” Now
getting to be His age. But apart
from watches & sky dates, you know how to find
when my head’s full of scuppernong blossoms.
So we cast off past wisteria
& into night silk beyond the river’s edge. Empty
of tree snakes, ash vibrissa, draw the canopy.
Tangles of moss wisp past my cheeks,
fall out of a lullaby. No moon. If I spark
willows young & old pretend they don’t breathe
the dark, don’t slip thru nights
with cypress & Saturn tuned in to bent
underwater reeds. Posed they stand
like a big-city
crowd at a bust stop, & just reach
off the bank for elbow room. Come out that white blouse
& upside down, you watch open lilies fall away,
of your daddy’s parachute into the Mekong Delta.
A back bend arched over the bow, your bare torso slips
thru a summer
a hush in the cicada din. A pale gash torn past my lips
leaves the night open. Light-plays off my chrome
Zippo. Hershey’s kisses harden
into rose thorns dense as a shut eye’s faith
My name, dry salt on an arch-smooth eyebrow,
vanishes into steamed woods & gut-heavy
air like sweat into a prayer for rain.
We take on water
in each Decatur Street groan for Mercy. It’s far too
slipway a damned sight too steep
Esperanto or one-eyed jacks. To pull the moon
back with cracked oars curved
like tusks, you’d better
mean it. It’s about time
for round two.
Oceanus descends with an acetylene tear & dreams
of a blue tip, a cool flame; the other eye’s been gone
years, blind & lid turned cold side out.
-from Paragh of Bone & Other Kinds of Blue, 2001
A Brief History of Now and At least
Elbow's Worth of Headroom
It was heaven there for a minute
but let’s not talk about me.
Let’s talk about the year
of nights that left scars
soft as a finger down new suede.
talk first & I’ll listen
to music pulse thru invisible hair
my veins. Let’s talk
about a tongue’s open sky drawn
of holes left by glitch-gone stars
across lips smooth as knots
& cast iron tea
cups full of molten silver. Let’s talk
that ox bow vein I love
under your tongue & the ghostly taste of elm
say I leave in your mouth. The night
sky spins pink into spiral shells and moonless
of fluid in the inner ear. Let’s roll backward
if the last Golgotha moth
might still lift up
off the dusted tip of
cat nose. Let’s keep key insights
The day you couldn’t recognize
yourself & we tried to repair
antique mirror. Let’s flip a coin
for who wears the satin mask
found behind the glass.
Let’s talk as if all that’s behind us
an empty web & a blind hole
where lead wore away.
You be the bent
nails. I’ll be the rusted wire.
You wind that caught a wing of eyes
in dawn’s hollow-boned chest & I’ll be
the death-song of the flightless
bird. Let’s both talk at once, the crimson monsoon
of 1021 that salved
the mad mind of Caliph
Al-Hakim & reversed the flow
of the Nile.
I’ll persecute the astrologers
& burn all the women’s shoes. You be the sister
with the knife at my throat. Let's play a game
& go on under our breath
back til gull-winds expose the tomb door
drifts of white feathers
veil openings to the cave.
dive in the leaves on the count of three
& use any voice we can for the miracle
that we both fell
between bamboo spikes in the pit. Recall
father outside Tunis
holed up at the walled fort. You take the voice
could crack a skull & turn
it on a heavy wheel in his son’s head.
take wet clay
& fire pitched by yellow wings glazed in arsenic.
close if you’re going to talk me down
when I’m whipped wild & half-hinged,
a busted shutter
blown thru by mad light
in the brain.
Speak low when your voice shifts
on a herd of stolen
painted with tar & doused with paraffin.
these fool minds
between every syllable
like they’re bareback
on a roan
riding a death-bright web of flame
thru the drop-gate
of the Sultan. Let’s use aesthetics
of the past like “everyone goes deep.”
in a street ball huddle
go thru along dirt paths
on the palm of the biggest boy’s hand.
Let’s ride for the black crystal
crown of flint & attack
the equilibrium Sirius before it dawns on us
that it blew long before dawn
in the human head.
play charts of lost scales
from Shiva’s flute, songs
in flames & the truce
between Seljuk & Mahmud of Ghazna.
charge and sing ourselves blind
& numb as sunlight on bleached femurs.
surrender like perfect critics
back into this rag tag
dance of stolen flesh
laced with tongue-along-feather
songs drawn back
by clan archers turned musicians
& Firdawsi’s miracle-field metered
by raw knuckles & the rhythm of poppies
in bloom. You were saying? I’m
there & back
here like hell & gone again & your hand up
my jeans worn-torn & soft
as the faded fringe of blue.
hum me, I’ll find
your pulse like we’re lost in the dark,
blood in a green vein, the dead taste of money
& a sharp whiff of cordite & opium
khaki-packed on a donkey
& led untouched through a stone maze
in Ishkashim on its way to a high path
thru Pamir. “C Major Wars” from
last weeks TLS
enfolded in a burka’s secret
as an elbow-cradle
for a GPS grip duct taped on a Kalashnikov stock,
silent slide of a tongue along
from across the room til every
cut’s been cut
again with the vibrato of piano
wire strung across
the path of an eyelash
blown from the back of a stranger’s
Let it all course in us & touch me
like Doppler drone
from a neon
thrown from a balcony at the first blood on dawn’s open lips.
-from Labors Lost Left Unfinished