Thursday, November 08, 2012

melismata desiderata

“She would have drowned herself long ago if she had not had me; that’s the truth. She doesn’t do that because, perhaps, I am more dreadful than the water.” –Dostoeyevski, The Idiot

Or do you not think so far ahead? -Frank Ocean

It’s somewhere past 11 p.m. and so purple out,
the machistas in full machismata
to live the cruciallest lives in Detroit,
Channel Orange rolling in and out the windows
over the wither streets and gas stops
when you confess it all so strange:
I’ve still never been with anybody
smarter than me, why, why
so you reach for cigarette after cigarette
using only your eyes, seeing it
as if never seeing, like, what the fuck—
from a woman so otherwise at ease
with her melismas of despair,
Motown melisma melismata desiderata,
a soundtrack to a movie called
“God Help Me That I’ve, Me, Never Did Anything
So Truly Stupid As Anything Like This,
which is what I say, hand-over-wheel,
because I’m always out of it alive,
base measure of stupid being "dead,
dead, dead, dead," when you say I’m running
just like this car is running when you threaten to plunge it
into any ocean where you'll sink enough,
enough that you stop singing in time
to wake up and remember to swim,

except this is the river, and that’s only Ontario,
and I always park on that side somewhere
just waiting for you 

Friday, October 05, 2012

empty baths

And violence loved me,

what watching does to bodies.

3 a.m. in empty baths,

the empty waiting.

The weighted end of silence

the fury muse comes to break.

The eighty lamps inside your head

that drizzle dark instead of light.

The dark is why this always happens

when bullets puncture glass.

Why it's always raining

when blood on windows shows us nothing.

Why I read of borders

while boys ride death in heaven.

Why boys ride anywhere at all.

Why I end up fine and write you anything.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the genius of it all

A long hike in the foothills,
the sun so low it haloes the hills,
autumn falling, streetlights warming up.
Everything beautiful, better running away.
I’m running away. I don’t slide, don’t talk
or write letters and hope they go unanswered.
That’s the problem with goodbyes,
they’re terribly effective.
Baby, if I had a yes in my heart,
it would fill my mouth more often.
I’m swaddled by stories
that rock between tellings and
small, unmappable meridians,
toward love beyond love, light beyond light (et cetera),
but let’s tell the truth at the end this time:
I don’t want you to be alone anymore,
don’t want to be out of all this
and as senseless with life as we always were.
Failure is a one-act classic,
but we are always fond, oh-so-fond of it,
the genius of it all,
the genius of ourselves
and the way we pour ourselves out
and sometimes mean it.

in reach

Time, o time: I am but a wastrel in a Cadillac
with a whole year of heartache
and a modest talent with words.
Look around. Everywhere things where they shouldn’t be.
But everything’s in reach. You’re in reach,
sometimes at night I think of reaching you
when happiness is a kind of hysteria
that requires looking in the mirror
for too long in the mornings. OK, the truth is better:
I’m better a little lonely. I’m better in the cold.
I’m better missing you from places I’d almost never escaped.
I’m better in New York, where I haven’t stopped looking up.
I’m better in New Orleans after all is lost.
Once all is lost, I’ll listen to your voice from Venice
or Neptune or wherever you’ve fallen in love to last.
I don’t know if technology fixes loneliness
but it will make sadness more precise.
I fall in love to you when
each transmission is complete,
when the last beer glass
still glows with light from the TV,
when I fill this house with song
and then burn it all down.

old catalonias

No loss for words,
more words won each minute.
Chaos agents across the land
change the rates of measure,
leave some numbers the same.
Bullets in the walls, hiding in the wells,
battles I don’t remember every time
the park is empty and I hear a sound.
Maybe we never quit seeing soldiers.
They never really quit for better words:
I’ve never been to hell but there are lot of people
who say I should go. OK.
Then every suffering for itself,
and whiskey take the hindmost.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

butchers' hands, gentle souls

"You're not as bad as they say,"
she told me, only half-jokingly,

as I cupped her cheek with my hand.
We were on my bed. It was autumn,

not yet dark. "What does that mean?"
There exist separate worlds where

I love with my hands and sometimes
watch men die. I am good with blood

and the right words now and then
when she is upset. I've got a few

useful qualities, and one of them
is that I rarely react to violence.

Instead I watch: The rising
of her hands on her chest,

the limbs draped lifelessly
over a fleeing motorcycle,

the puzzlement on her face
as she overpacks. Sometimes

she looks up for me, to see that
I'm still there, checking in like sonar,

and sometimes I'm miles and lives away,
watching with the dread and wonderment

of some ancient faith while history
vomits up blood on the sidewalk in front of me.

Later, I knock on the apartment door of a killer,
or she knocks a little softly on mine,

dressed for the night and holding a bottle of wine,
somewhere I'm not as bad as they say.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

east capitol

The summer’s first moment of true beauty:
A Sunday barbecue on a rooftop patio along East Capitol
that had glazed into the specific kind
of elevated early-afternoon drunkenness
that I’d only seen happen in D.C.
A former U.N. War Crimes Tribunal prosecutor,
on sabbatical from the law school where he taught,
had commandeered a cheap seafoam-green folding chair
and pointed it toward the visible tip of the Capitol,
like his Mecca, his bare feet rested on the cement lip
of the patio with a West African anklet
drooping from one of his ankles just beneath the slacks.

“No, sir, I am going to tell you about love,”
said Ian — that was his name — wagging his Budweiser
at me as he towed the final words through
the gravelly tunnel of his lower throat.
This was a prosecution on how to lead the good life,
and I was the jury. “You young guys keep running around,
sleeping with anybody who will light up the landing strip,”
he said, his narrow expression indicating
that nothing here would be open for negotiation.
“You’re doing it wrong, because you think
you’ll just try and try and try until
you land somewhere that isn’t engulfed in flames,
and then you’re going to end up
with a family for the wrong reasons.”

Like any good prosecutor mid-harangue,
Ian wanted to leave minimal doubt about
which way I’d lean by the time he was done with me,
and sensing inbound profundity, my buddy Pete,
wearing a stupid purple Pixies t-shirt
and playing his acoustic, started cycling around
some gentle Beatles choruses as he listened in.
“I thought this was a story about the right way to love, Ian.”

Sensing my doubt, Ian jabbed his empty beer at my shoulder.
“You find the right thing, and you wait for it.
Don’t be the guy who fucks around
with the right thing when you find it.
The problem with you boys is that you don’t even
bother looking for the right thing to begin with.”

Finished and clearly not awaiting a rebuttal,
Ian stared at the dome of the Capitol,
the man a mass of passive mental energy,
seemingly less in thought than at peace,
a conduit through which only
the universe’s rightest decisions flowed.

Ian had three daughters, the oldest Pete’s and my age,
two of them Rhodes Scholar finalists. His home was beautiful,
I’d heard, though he couldn’t have seen much of it lately.
His wife died of breast cancer in 2005,
and we’d started hearing his name popping up again
on the international-crisis circuit a lot more after that.
He kept showing up in my inbox every time he was in D.C.,
mostly in the form of an imperative: Come out for a round.
I’d sensed either a violent assault on his age
or a conspiracy to launder away loneliness.

“Should’ve indicted Qaddafi long ago,”
Ian murmured as the conversation turned to Libya,
and neither Pete nor I saw a reason to disagree.
I popped open another beer, and flipped the bottle cap
off the roof toward the Library of Congress,
letting myself drift out. We’d all seen the bodies.
Now it was summer again, and the sun already bore down
unfairly on us for so early in June.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

everything is better

It was late October. The sun
bent low over the street as the cabs
hurried away from us. I liked the way
she was funny, the cadence of it,
every third sentence oozing into a laugh.

October. A good time to fall in love.
My hands shook from cold and a little fear.
Some of it real, more of it imagined.
I didn't like the dark and also worried
I thought of love the wrong way and then
worried about something stupid I was
about to do, but then she'd laugh and
slip a hand down to my hip and
push me away a little before coming close.

It unraveled my attention to stupid things.
Calamities I always wandered toward,
townships obliterated by errant tornadoes,
guns and the terrible things teenagers did
with them. She kept close until
my hands stopped shaking.

They shook for the last time
three years later. I'd forgotten about her
and fell in love in another city.
The sun dropped the same
but I'd gotten over all that and how
her huge blue eyes funneled in on words that I
had lost my gift for using. They're still there
the way she's still there, like October is there
when it's spring and everything's better.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

red says

Red says I'm a little orthodox
which I can't disprove on Wednesdays
when I pay my weekly one-dollar worship
to the world's worst cone of yogurt.
It drips on our copies of Homage to Catalonia,
and by the way, we fetishize other fights
in lieu of the ones we couldn't get to or create,
for different reasons, of course.

But wait: Today Red said
something profound about Starbucks,
though I had to goad her into it
(she's yet to recognize patience
as my most irritating advantage),
but it's fine. States will come to recognize
each other's governments,

though Red won't have much of one,
and I still don't get the men thing,
and she's still oblivious to
my Midwest quest for solitude.
But it's fine! Wait, Odd-Couple syndrome:
Turns out "up your alley"
isn't what you think it means.

Chapter Two: Tomorrow, Red files
lagoons of wit-bedizened copy
while I motor around looking for totalitarians
and other young American disasters,
and I'm sure all of us will get famous
if we don't get everything horribly wrong
or attempt small careers in hip-hop,

and if we ever lie or play it wrong
put that on the list of things
I'm gonna land on like a Steinway

in the later years,
when Red says
we'll burn down the hurt
and wash the ashes together for love,
though I still think
love goes it alone.

Monday, February 27, 2012


It's somewhere in Mayabeque, outside Havana,
mounted on the endless roadside:
This land, those signs, begging work
for the eternal revolution.
No work, no food. No food, no life. So work.

A month later, at my local pizza joint,
they work. Just a bland block of capitalism
hunched on the corner across from
the brick inexistence of a was-been gas station.
It hangs urgently over one of the ovens:

No reminders say REMEMBER LOVE
or LIFE IS SO GOOD because
the love has always been natural
and the movies too on some afternoon
when you shouldn't have gone,

and when sadness descends
my cut of mind never needs
instruction on each of
the all of each

just bubbles,
bubbles and the beggings of life.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

late january, outside a cafe

The conversation failed, fell open
and awoke a long silence.
They stared soft at each other. (No snow.)
Each on some island of private dissent.
He thought of work and terrible failure,
she of her work too and the wait
for him to show terrible weakness.

Weakness would be more interesting in a man:
a giant plaster figurine held aright
by the prettiest needles of glass.

Friday, February 24, 2012


State-sponsored forgetting. The land was clean
and tidied by rage and green as the spring could make it.
The partisans held missiles of stone in each hand,
the smaller boys sometimes just one. But they will grow.
The fuckers one town over had disgraced themselves
and insulted the air with their songs of sociopathic
local glory. No decent people could be proud,
could think themselves so human, they who
insult our daughters with false mouths
and the hands of their terrible bodies.

The border is invisible, no actually,
a barbed-wire fence runs near it. Our town
wrapped itself in it to better stop the thought,
but the cattle then wandered to every province,
and I thought of the time I'd woken up
to find my lover alone at the television
dressed in flames and telling me of the weather.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

mixture #10

Her lips unfurl and her mouth is a flame.
I am aflame. The advice you gave
is what you couldn't follow.
In Paris, the news cut in for a celebrity death:
Somebody died of bonheur.
I am dead of night and you can be morning.
This mourning is convex and a little warmer
than forecasted. It would be.
Her lips unfurl and her mouth is a flame.