Halloween

My grandmother died in May
but nobody told me.
I found out because my cousin posted
A eulogy on Facebook.
I read it during my friend’s birthday party.
I didn’t mean to—
I wanted to see pictures of other people’s babies,
underwear advertisements,
unsolicited gardening advice—
But that’s what I saw instead.

Afterwards, I was very quiet.
I walked outside to smoke a cigarette,
Then left in a hurry even though
it was just barely getting dark.
I was stoned and a little drunk,
and I thought I could feel her watching me,
knowing now that her eyes had become the sky,
and her hands the bird houses,
and her spine the line in the middle of the road.

She was terribly abusive, my grandmother.
When she died my mom said she was surprised
that my father was sad
after everything she had done to him.
Still, he talked to her once a week on the phone
until she lost the ability to speak.

We went on a family vacation in June,
nobody mentioned my grandmother
except my aunt who said
“You look just like her when she was young.”
I thought
I am crazy too
I am angry too
And I have hurt people, and they have hurt me.

My father, sometimes he was terribly abusive—
Spitting, screaming, holding me until
his hands went white at the knuckle.
I still call him on the phone, though infrequently.
When he dies I think I will lose the ability
to speak, and all the pain will rush out
like engine oil from a cracked gasket.
It will vaporize,
I won’t be able to hold its shape.

After my grandmother died I wrote her a eulogy
and shared it on Facebook.
I said I miss the way your hair smelled
and I forgive you for getting drunk and crying
at my 13th birthday party.
I sent two dozen roses to the funeral home in Louisiana
where she was to be cremated.
They were expensive—I felt nervous about buying them
but didn’t know what else to do.

Her wake was held over zoom.
I didn’t go, neither did my father, or my mother,
or my brothers.
It was too strange to imagine seeing a picture of her picture.
She wanted a big celebration,
with lots of family and crying babies.
It’s just as well, my father said.

That was months ago, but all the days
turn out exactly the same
and so it’s as if no time has passed.
Grief is unstuck in time.
It does not register the changes of the seasons.
It knocks on the door always with the same urgency.
You must open the door.
You must set the table.
You must pour two drinks
and picture a face that has not changed
and never will.

In October my work threw a Halloween party
For the people there.
A pretty woman from downstairs came to do tarot readings.
I was the last person in line,
I sat down in a black chair, in candlelight
and she asked me if I had any questions.
Earlier that week, a resident was strangled
by her boyfriend.
Afterwards, I touched the ligature marks on her neck
while my dog licked hot tears off her temple.
I said to the tarot reader,
“It has been a horrible week,
and a horrible year,
I want to know why.”
So she pulled three sets of cards,
and one of course was Death.
She said when something dies it doesn’t disappear,
it is recycled, it changes forms,
nothing is lost.

Then she asked me “do you have a grandmother?”
I said yes, but that she had died.
She smiled and said my grandmother was watching us,
and I knew this was technically true
seeing as her eyes are the sky,
and her hands are the bird houses,
and her spine is the line in the road.
She wants you to know that she received the flowers,
said the woman-turned-oracle,
but she is giving them back to you—
She wants you to have them.
My coworker was in the room with us.
Her face was pale, like she had just
seen a ghost.

I don’t believe in ghosts,
but I do believe my grandmother would have wanted me
to have the flowers,
And is a ghost any different than a longing
to be loved by someone who is gone?
Your grandmother loves you,
said the oracle.
She is proud of you, she is happy.

In my eulogy I wrote that
we must give ourselves the gifts
we could not give to the people who raised us,
and the people who raised them.
I am crazy,
I have hurt people,
but, goddamnit, I still deserve my roses.

The night after the party it rained
until early in the morning,
and there was a full moon making
a gauzy orb of light behind the clouds.
I heard a knock on my door,
And began to set the table.

Boulder Reflections (Draft)

everything is a   reflection
of                           everything

the sky the           water
the mountains    my shoulders
the drag bar         the church

once you suggested that time dies with its creator
and so I think of you now in all the beautiful places
your hands      this soil
your voice        this valley

something so much bigger than I am
it forces tears into my eyes
my heart          the geyser

this shattered earth is precious
people come from all over to marvel
at its brokenness
I was born here, the land
breaths its breath into my nose
and I exhale summits
its peaks           redemption

Riis Beach

In search of queer utopia. 

On their bikes the Jersey City boys leer
At the mass of slick bodies blooming
From the gold-colored sand.

But I don’t mind the way their hawk eyes
Linger on the sticky hair beneath my arms
And on the sweet shortness of your dress.

I smell Bacardi slipping from pink plastic cups,
And strawberry lipgloss stuck to the end of
A brown paper spliff, glittering.

On a bench three topless dancers dance
To a cellphone playing Cardi B, while the femmes
Sipping daiquiris in the tin cantina cheer.

Laid out on our blankets we are as numerous
As sea shells, incendiary with our red-painted
Toenails and bare asses lazing.

We are an oiled up, kiss-drunk riot,
Smacking hungry lips and throwing our love
Into the light—how it audibly buzzes

With a force that threatens to quake
The glass towers of Manhattan,
Now faint as memory beyond the beachgrass.

This is the Eden most never dreamed of,
Not the Jersey boys, not the President or the police.
But we were Paradise before they damned it.

I passed through a tunnel to get here,
I saw the Atlantic Ocean open its jaws
Wide to give us this garden.

The gender fucked and gender free,
The pansies and queers and libertines.
From sunrise to sunset,

In this world but not of it.

Falling Forever

In Paradise Adam had the counsel of angels to
Steer him away from evil and towards the soft
Contours of Godly love, but of course Eve slept
And so had to fortify herself with the lone and
Desperate ambition of a thief uncloaking
A hand gun at the register, pocketing
The cash and then whispering solemnly
“I only took what was absolutely necessary.”

So it goes she was collared, pushed with her
Lover into the wasteland that would become
A sprawling supercell of universities and
Housing projects, strip malls and trigger happy
Policemen—how could she have imagined
That arid soil producing such strange fruits
As the electric chair, the Wells Fargo, the
Madhouse and the Speculum?

In catholic school my mother learned to call
It “original sin” so as to stress what came
After—the feminine mystique,
The abortion pill, single motherhood,
And, God forbid, lesbianism.

She was whipped for sitting impolitely,
So it goes the law is holy,
And the commandment righteous and good.
It is backbreaking work, keeping a woman
From falling forever.
It makes the men weary, whether fingering
The dictates of their holy books or
Polishing the skin on their rifles.
What is their law without its felons?
What is a prison without its prisoners?

My mother left the church then gave her only
Daughter a biblical name, as if to say you will walk
In the shade of my history, and when you speak
Out it will feel like a crime, and when you gaze at
Yourself in the mirror it will feel like a crime,
And when you write your books and flaunt your
Knowledge they will say it is a crime.

But some of my sisters, they say, are criminals;
Locked wrongly in men’s prisons,
Or bleeding on the floors of their concrete cells
For lack of clean cotton,
Or shot in daylit streets after stealing
Food for their babies.

What is The Fall to them
But just another exile?
What is the Apple but another
Need withheld?
What is God’s redemption
But a simple lawman wagging his
Gun in the air like a flag
Saying I am the judge and the executioner?

A world made abundant but not free
Is only a cage,
And what is a cage without the promise
Of insurrection?

Snow Day

I was 16 and hated high school.
When the forecast called for snow I stayed up
Late and prayed for a blizzard strong enough
To cover the gymnasium doors with concrete
Drifts and a week of sleeping in past noon
Or at least one day of idleness, and as it were
Those bended country roads froze easily and
Vanished without fighting.

I had a neighbor I liked back then, a pink
Haired girl who offered me cigarettes
And pressed razors into the thin-denim
Of her jeans; my prayers answered I walked
The half mile from my house to hers sky still
Spitting and the plows making their way sure
As tanks under lines of pearled, heavy trees.
In my boots I shook and sweated.

On her basement floor we crept under a
Sleeping bag and kissed with open eyes;
She asked me to kiss her harder but
I didn’t know how.
Outside, columns of snow stalled the light
Pushing in through the window, the streets
Were silent and mostly gone, we both
Fell easily into nervous laughter.

That winter there were projects I cared for
But abandoned all the same, swayed towards
The unknown ends of college applications and
A general sense that home might as well be a
Block of ice floating in deep sea, ambulation after
Ambulation—when I left I took nothing
With me because there was no other way.
All my memory was a vapor dispersing

Into clear, cold air. Time froze and then melted.

Daylight Ext.

It is an illusion, the artificial
Lengthening of days, accomplished
By the clumsy lobbing off of daylight
In the mornings, and then the haphazard
Pasting of it onto a blustery March afternoon,
So long marked by early darkness, now
Distended with confusion; I ate my dinner
At 9:00pm, I woke late in utter indigo
And nearly crashed my car stumbling to
Work, but I don’t care—I need the myth
Of spring, like I need the idea of God and
The cupped palms of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When I squint my eyes to see the balled,
Pearl-like flower buds trimming the bare
Wood of the pear trees, and the schoolchildren
Stretching their recesses into suppertime,
I think dreamily of confession, like Catholicism’s
Last vestigial lace tickling my middle spine.
Colors I forgot about are rushing to the edges
Of parking lots and factory yards, how could
I answer them with shame? For years that
Unraveled into decades I heard my Father’s
Anger in every word I spoke to myself,
Swallowed hungrily my mother’s silence,
And shrunk to the size of a match’s flame.
To some suffering is irredeemable—
I am still undecided; but lately I’ve loved
Greedily, hastily; people who knew me once
Gawk at the woman I am now, my selfishness,
My audacity. And I am proud to surprise them,
Like the jejune grasses that electrify the thwarted
Dirt, like the robin trill that precludes a freeze.

Vacation

Tell me why I am still looking
For something I lost in the surf
As a girl, tell me why the ocean—
Not even the whole of it, just the
Oscillating sound or the wet, salty
Wind or the smell of brine and wood—
Makes my stomach ache and my
Hands clench around an invisible stone.
Tell me what I am expecting to see
When I look over the horizon, as flat
And featureless as the days of my life,
And open my eyes wide as a moon crater.
I am so ready, for my mother’s love
Like a haloed ship parting the dusk;
For my father’s forgiveness, like
A warm current cozying the shock
Of cold water; for you to park your
Car in my driveway and storm the
Porch, saying, we don’t have to fight it.
And though you won’t say what “it” is
I know you mean loss, or would you
Call it absence? In the fathomless sky,
There are fields of empty space, deep
And gut-wrenching, bigger than us
Or what we think we know—you
Have claimed that it is a miracle, to
Wake up abandoned. Tell me.

schoolteacher

Following the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 students and teachers died. 
At Planet Fitness, they play daytime
Television on twenty different screens while
I brace myself against the awkward arms of
A treadmill—to my right, a rerun of Chopped
Loops silently, I imagine the sound of shrimp
Sizzling in a well-greased pan and run faster;
To my left, an old school Law and Order: SUV
Is on, Mariska brushes a hand through her pixie
Cut while sizing up the bruised and swollen torso
Of a DB as they call it in the precinct, I think
Definite homicide and run faster still; directly in
Front of me, CBS projects the afternoon news:
Today high school students are running across a
Bright green lawn in Florida, their hands lifted
Above their heads, a camera chasing after them—
The spectacle, the responsibility—one lens zooms
In on what I think is a dead child’s purple tennis
Shoes, another shows a yellow-haired mother
Wailing in mute, her face mangled by sudden
Realization; I think, where are the fathers of
These bullet-scarred children? In office buildings?
Hiding tears in the collars of fine pressed shirts?
Wondering if they have failed and when? My dad
Never promised me that there would be safe places
And for that I am sometimes grateful; it’s been
Weeks since I last cried, heaving, choking on your
Soft suede couch but somehow I am crying again
Now as I turn up the speed on this clunky machine
And think of you, schoolteacher,++++++++++++ and
The children I may one day have,+++++++++++ and
The promises I will not will not make them.

There is so much to run from++++++++++++++ and
Nowhere to go.

Valentine’s Day

I wear red so I will not be counted among
The dead things: the taupe branches frozen
In chokeholds, the gauzy sky fracturing cold
Light, the ice crust like a burial sheet—
And where are the birds? February makes even
The mountains look like cages, I guess.

At work, I look for aquamarine pools and coral
Peonies in the flickering blue of a computer
Screen—does the static not resemble an ocean
Viewed from far away? Anything is possible,
Even love—in a voice that sounds like mine
But isn’t, Facebook warmly taunts me:

We care about you and your memories.
And then it regurgitates a picture of an old
Lover I still dream of—suppose the greyish
Matter in my mind is not unlike whatever
Algorithm a machine uses to reanimate the past:
Everything that’s happened is happening still

All at once, though my memories are not so perfect;
Your eyes change color, and I can’t look directly
At your hands or I will know that I am dreaming
And you will disappear just like you really did, in
Reality; your virtual ghost is not so real but its eyes
Are solid brown and its hands are touching “my” face

And the sky that crests above us—I mean our hollow,
Binary projections—is fuzzy with heat and rose-gold.
I try to remember that this is just a code the computer
Doesn’t know will hurt me—it can’t touch the surface
Of a relentless, silent winter; it doesn’t sit at a desk
And think of what it means to sit there, waiting

For the sunlight season, for the wildflowers and the
Next worthwhile pursuit that will wash all the failed
Ones out with the storm water and loose tobacco;
It can’t forget the color of people’s eyes, or how
It felt to see them walking slowly into an empty room;
But to me the dead are dead, nothing lingers

But the image, voiceless though I imagine how it
Might wake up to say: Forgive me, forgive me.

Bluets

Four little poems I wrote after reading half of Maggie Nelson’s “Bluets” one sunless morning.

My stomach, balled like a fist
Against a closed door.
There is something in me, rotten.
There is something in me, holy.
I speak to you without proper language,
I speak to you with the whites of my
Eyes, pink and raw as a wound
Against the field of snow-heavy clouds
Above us.

Spring is still too soft of a wind to unstick
The cold from where it sleeps—
Will the river yet melt and twist away
From its steely banks? Will you hair grow
Long enough to pull into braids?
Will you let my hands do the work?
Muted sunlight, honey-like over the boney
Mountains; a fog that never lifts.
What is guaranteed? Nothing.

***

The ground is wet and soft, an
Open mouth choking on violets, or
The place I ran my fingers through,
Hoping to feel how you loved me
From the inside.

I plunge a fist in first, wanting
To know how deep the softness goes,
And if the heart of the world is really so
Tender, bottomless—
Does it suffer?

If it is anything like my heart,
It does.

***

I fed your memory to the sea:
Pushed it far out with painted
Fingernails, my knees like pillars in
The shifting sand, shoulders
Sure as stone—I was a monument,
Caked with slime and seaweed but
Sparkling nonetheless.

Looking back, perhaps it will seem
A half-full gesture; one day I will be
Old and I’ll know that I am dying and
I’ll wish then to hold all of the crying,
Fighting, multiplying versions of myself
Inside my arms like a fat bouquet, but now
The world is overrun with futures so countless
I kill most out of mercy, and whatever
Is lost looks just like another ripple;
My eyes can’t hold it as unique among the
Other currents that comprise the ocean’s
Endless, shivering indifference, and so
The décor of my life floats dumbly away;
I don’t need it—even you and you and you
May turn blue and float forever.

***
I wrote you letters, left them to rot
Beneath the leaves, called my
Mother, said I’m not sick just sleeping,

Said I dreamt of my pain as water
In a river, flowing downward to
The open mouth of the sea,

Where it becomes one ripple
In a desert of blue light, one
Ripple lost under a tarp of blue sky.