Friday, July 22, 2011

victory at sea

Aboard the U.S.S. Midway

Etta James paints the year's end in amber. Cabs stalk the wharf.
You're wearing the best suit you got and can't wait to get it off.
Somewhere this Friday night slipped into metaphor
and you test the rails on the flight deck: Sturdy.
They say, go ye into the byways and bid them fly, son,
before all these safe harbors turn to honeytonks
toasting their Buds to another slo-mo demise.
Ancestors spit on you from heaven!
Your granddaddy flew a PBY and lost it near the Aleutians,
adrift in this same ocean while the Japanese
searched for war in the fog overhead.
He later turned alcoholic and abusive and died young,
and sometimes heroes do that, but who's a hero?
Couldn't say. Even five-by-fives go sixes and sevens.
You're just a body of bliss with a girl on your arm.
This New Year's Eve, 2010, it's San Diego,
where the wind off the Pacific whips your jacket.
Etta's in your ear. You wait your turn to fly by night.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


You and that goddamn smile,
it's cocktail hour again
somewhere across this twilit city
and you'll brook no opposition.
You know you're the only one I see.
Years off, a woman gently grasps my wrist
and I know you'd shiv her if she ever hurt me.
Even when I'm pulling my best
angel-of-death impression on some
barren stretch of humanity, I'm not gone.
It's you. And the summer comes again,
someone's playing Lauryn Hill again.
Must be something, I've been told,
but it's nothing, the only nothing
for me. A filament of light
dangling aching happy
on an elemental string.


He's seen war, hurricanes, famine,
death metastasized. He laughs.
He's holding a beer. "Love
is the only thing that can break me!"
It still breaks me too. I haven't
seen what he has, but probably will.
He married a musician, a jazz singer
from Austin, bird-boned and reedy-voiced
and apparently not ready to watch him
catalogue the vanishing points of the earth:
"I think she's in Toledo or somewhere out there now."
He moved into a studio apartment near mine,
where each of us barely live. He's been shot at, never hit.
No one's pointed a gun at me. He orders
another round and asks what's on the jukebox
and tells me to go talk to the blonde by the door.
I don't. I'm fine. I think of what pain is
and how it looks on paper. I'm not sure he does anymore.
I see him smile. His name is Jim.


Still remember them, the nights
sick with the pain of watching love fade out.
But gently. Like a Polaroid in reverse.
Like a dimming ruined house
that doesn't exist anywhere anymore.
Sheer devotion is hard to fathom
after you stop wanting to give it, and grow.

I build things, small things with my hands now,
and many. I make love. And how about
another movie? Let that old feeling
stay where the histories go,
let it accrete a dimension of false magnitude
brought on by -- what else? -- time,

And let ancient selves teach love older names,
as holy and forgotten
as these forgotten books of psalms.
You are and I am and it is
as at least as irrelevant and sacred as this
endless summer traffic flowing
beyond these separated windows
every which way and that.


The two of us: just a pair of ids,
clambering around in bodies too new

to really do any damage. His personality
seemed organized around the deep desire

to hold a gun. Mine too. We climbed trees.
Later, he joined the infantry,

and I became a writer,
because these were

the only ways either of us knew
how to feel powerful. He became cold.

I did too. Not on purpose.
We etiolated. Then one night

he loosed the full capacity
of his crazy on me. We fought.

I remember it now and then.
It had a certain poetry to it.

His fists, my words. We'd grown
into men destined to destroy each other.

Just a pair of ids, clambering around
in the insanity of growing up.