for SK

You take the words right
out of my brain, and into your mouth—
I can hear you tasting them like the caramel
coins of some unfamiliar candy currency.

Myself, reversed. What was light in me
is heavy in you, obscured. The North pole
and the South, flipped unexpectedly,
must feel much as we do.

And Socrates would be proud of us,
as we work the seam that marks where we
were torn apart at incarnation,
we are Platonic in the Truth of it.


Catching sight of my
self in the bathroom mirror
I know the muted horror
of stumbling on portents —
as damning as the washer
at the stream, she who beats
out the blood of the witness,
that will soon shed itself
according to omen —

I meet my own basilisk-
dark gaze calmly, as my
hands continue to scuff
at the blood that bears witness
to my recurring death-wound.


The fear of ice split my head like a melon
a creeping thought of you
gnawed in the crack
but silvery whispers, seeds twitching dark
and in the interim, warned
or warmed me on.
I’m stopped up with you instantly,
constantly; my sidelong escapes
revert to their furrow
and in the back garden
the crown of your row
your sunflower soul
blackens sweetly, slowly.
So like a good little mole,
I subvert a cold hand
to dig up your old gnawed one.

king of ravens

Your puffed grey idolatries are quick
to pick up these new diversions.
Their motley flashes a warning,
warming this cold court. They are dark
as a tarot pack, closed to your
over-quick eyes even
when they fan out like peacocks.

Their colors toll in my blood,
my sleep. Their hunched shapes complement
my thickened brain. I read
strange words in their bent
forms and blooded colors.
When they drop
like so many soured leaves
having played out a dead court
in this, my stunned one,
one of your many lackeys
scrapes them up again.

I am crossed, reversed
by the influence of birds –
the Ace of Owls, round eye sharp and
yellow as a talon,
bends his bishop’s face upon me again.

I would order them all banished,
flights of doves emigrating vexed
from the realm of your amusement,
but I am augured against it
by the Queens of old ambassadors,
their Spanish coats glinting
startled in candlelight.

Dimly can I hear
a bloodier answer – deal
another round of Ravens.
My clothes are
budding black, my hands and hooks
yellowing. The cards knock in my grip,
pecking; I toll them out again.  

(Skull) No. 1

You bare your cracked mouth
in a yellowing arc of bone.
I shine my worn eyes white
on you – pared and slender man,
and in your sockets’ sink-basin shadows
see my own drawn heart.

My gestures dwindle like the heart
of a skeleton; your broken mouth
makes my fingers half a shadow
of slim cigarette bone.
and I can’t wrap their secrets like a dead man
would – you rolled them tight and white.

Continue reading (Skull) No. 1


All day I struggle in sunlight
against circling shark-memory,
and then, exhausted by the effort
of fortifying myself against it,
sink unguarded into a thick and navy sleep
where the tenderness of its attack surprises me,
the way it gapes and silently rushes,
disguised as dream,
through those cold waters.

So we open sweetly into salt-dark sleep
like a starfish’s clenched hand relaxing,
only to be undermined by that which we fought
so violently and so steadily
during the calm sad waking hours,
when waves like light flickered over
the rippled floor, and the pale
bubble of surface above seemed so high,
so out of reach.

the glass sellers

Venetian glass-sellers:
the blond boy, crewcut and Germanically
ruddy, bulbous-eyed,
leaning back in his chair,
tilting his head at you,
the glass girl, fifteen or less,
long brown limbs
loosely arranged like straight-
blown rods in a vase,
your almost stylish red-brown hair
swinging downward as you look into
your red-and-blue lap,
though his washed bottle
ones are fixed on you
unremittingly, as if bending
the force of a will upon you,
and I sense some strange coercion there,
some resignation on your part,
unwilling forgiveness –
though what this sixteen-year-old
cocky one could have done is beyond me,
unless it’s having been blown wrong –
and as you stand up
he takes hold of your brown
grasshopper arm, pulling,
and you just stand there
for the minute it takes me
to walk around the side of the building
to where I can look back
through the arch and continue spying,
your sad and disbelieving
dark-amber head
tilted as if to say don’t look at me that way,
and then I witness
the slow dissolution of your resistance,
(that weakened ache in the bone
that I know so intimately)
sinking forward and down to
an elbowy, reserved embrace
that nevertheless goes on for
quite a while – I look
back fully five minutes later
and you are still frozen
in that cold position
you are fused, the dark glass of your hair
flowing into the glazed
white of his shirt.

The North Ship

(with apologies to Philip Larkin)

Polar as an iceberg: with just such a bony,
shuddering dryness I might creak
my way to shore — only to boomerang,
sickeningly, with all the wretched persistence
of this numb season.
It has its arctic beauty — unimaginable cold
as the expanse of space, the chill, lacy halo
framing the moon, frozen tree branches encased in ice,
silvery, edged, fragile and deadly as the Snow Queen’s palace —
but this ship’s an icebreaker,
darkening, avenging, toothed and brutal;
it bites into the stilled wheel of the compass
without propelling it. My nights are stark,
but bitterly valid.

Am I a North Ship?
Steeled and calm, signally icebound,
avoiding all encounters, perpetually self-aligned
to the red thorn of the polar thumb,
the darkest, coldest point of it,
leading in this direction:

There is no north but North,
no star but that fixed and oldest one
that bluely draws on the frost-bite sail;
that with its very silence commands
some cold complicity.

on reading this name somewhere with poetry

Marvin Bell – your sonorous name,
ringing and rattling my stiff little heart –
I dash myself against your rock-like unknownness,
I might break again on the pocked reef of your smile.
How can I write and feel this towards you,
when you are so exquisitely alien?
But by the force of your pine-tree, your delicate name
you press upon me all the weight of the brain’s
obscure longings, and sighing I press through the cracks
to meet the imagined you,
bearer of sweet names in a year of cold outcomes.

Tomorrow I will read your poetry and your small biography –
the old birth-year, the colleges my friends might have gone to,
the wife and children to whom I have no connection at all –
I will peer through your window and examine your countenance
like one smudged in a yearbook, that we watch for some small opening,
some hint in the blur to tell why we twitched.
No matter what you say to me in your stanzas,
(for I will take every line as a personal address)
in what power or grace, in what coldness or ecstasy,
I will not know you then as we know the imagined;
I will not love you then as we love the unreal.