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.

This Circus Never Breaks (unlike my back)

I am sister to that goose-gray elephant balancer,
I set the stage for her cool and slanted ride.
I am the one who
stands against the wall.

Sometimes I hold a knife
between my teeth,
sharpening an eye on its
thin brilliance.
I hold out my arms
standing spread-eagled
half-listening to the timed patter
waiting for the perfect set of blows –

(punctuated by their half-gasps)
and I open my eyes and step out smiling,
leaving my handled silhouette.

Continue reading This Circus Never Breaks (unlike my back)

elephant girl

These carnival visions
that possess me with their
weird glimpses of sawdust, and swaying
mis-shapes, slimness:

My other girl the elephant
runner into the grey pack
she is spangle & blink, paint
glitter & perpetual substitute
as if she don’t know
but what she don’t know
can’t make her a shame
of her many acrobatics –
in the cool darkness of that
greenback tent, his fat-handed grope
won’t go unrewarded.
She turns her head to face
the crack of light
that flashes from beneath the canvas
edge, white as a blade.

Continue reading elephant girl