By nightfall

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She knows / settled into her land
she knows / the land will settle onto her
she knows / she is wholly unafraid she

lost her Silas twenty-
seven years come September they

stood through blighted mornings / stooped
beneath gritty eaves / toed
over ice bubbled gravel / laid hands
upon evening’s shimmered
lantern light

their shadows bled into one another
in life / in stillness

she makes herself become still at night
and inside her stillness he
still reaches for her she
still reaches for him
and the scent of their sweat has paled

we still claim the earth each morning
he said/ and she will change her mind by nightfall

they worked the land hard / they
worked each other harder / they
tried not to hurt each other with seventy-
six rough acres at their feet
and two baby girls at her breasts

sometimes they grew
a good season
and sometimes they
fell into the dust with
useless / ruined labor
and they knew they were only
one particular kind of dust / the kind
spat out from the clouds

each layer sacred
each grain a lesson

and she buried him in the middle of a quarter acre
that never grew anything but goldenrod
his shirt buttons were pale as potato flowers

he was without a topcoat
but his collar was clean
his hands and neck were scrubbed

the girls could not make it home
that season
in time to say goodbye
it did not rain

she re-reads their letters at the kitchen
table / their absences
and regrets written in an exaggerated
and flowery kind of script/ she sees

a certain trail of jittered sugar
between the bowl and her blue coffee cup/ it
seems almost elegant
on the crepe paper tablecloth

she brushes it away
and will sweep it all up by nightfall

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Brewers Mills 1971

There we were, 
burying a goddamn horse
all the clouds smashing
against a depthless sky

we waited in strained attentiveness
for the sound of a moon
to howl back at us 

we knew this was
the distance we were
from kings

Detected in a moment of profound silence

It might as well be written in paraffin, she said,
the way this will all burn between us

Uncle Nathan would not regret choosing the white athletic socks
as an accoutrement to his burial suit,
nor his choice of “Love in Vain”
at his memorial service

and there he is, with a lavish depiction of goldfish
scales on his bow tie,
Yves Saint Laurent tidal-gray shirt and a fleur-de-lis
stitched
on the breast pocket of his forty-year-old wedding jacket

the nieces will be outraged and
the nephews, not so much
did he have any money
who was he, anyway?

might as well be buried
between two Valencia orange crates
as between these two half-grieving ex-wives
who study the pink in each other’s blouse:

Dee, the round, idiosyncratic blonde, fifteen years
younger than he / a subscriber to three
plant-based leggings franchises

and

Dorian, the angular other blonde, twenty-seven, smarter
than everyone else in the room, who still cannot measure
the time it took for him to dissolve their
prenup

he kept folded photocopies of his parents’
obituaries in his wallet and they have turned brown
and unimportantly crisp — like well-preserved October
leaves, or Ore-Ida tater tots

and

he kept his necessary papers — driver’s license,
blood donor card, theater
tickets — in his left shoe / told his grandchildren
he was wounded in some war / hence the perpetual
limp

and now

a flourish of ghosts gather
at the dais

today we say goodbye to
a fine man…

Aunt Marlene, a flask of high-octane bourbon
in the confounding folds of her dress / takes
a petite swallow / she’ll be damned
if she shares it with the impotent man pretending
to be her husband two seats down
from that shaggy empirical redhead
he tries to impress with the cut of his
motorcycle boots

in the sixty-seventh and final mortal year of our dear
Uncle Nathan

and then

there is that sacred moment between

‘can you give me’

and the conspicuous dirty silence,
when all the introspective heartbeats and
the slightly humid exclamations
stop

and

the sweat dangles from the lip
the tear struggles to define itself and fall
in a meaningful display of public mourning

and

the voice becomes
a bellicose yowl of unashamed grief

and

eternity is, all at once, undressed / then clothed
between the dry heaves of bored deprivation /pity,

and then

the sky pulls back its pretty laced veil
to reveal its demanding blistered face

‘an amen for brother Nathan?’

and amen

and

the nieces / nephews
stare at each other on their cellphones confused
and then make their plans
for when this
boring shit is over

Caius

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we sleep above the roots
our legs knotted
our hands folded
beneath us
listening for the weeds to rinse
from our ears all
the twitches of the road

we have seen all there is,
you say,
and we will eat
what first must be blessed —
old hamburger meat
and flour tortillas from torn plastic bags
behind Trader Joe’s,
a feast for boys who first learned how to crawl
on a dirt kitchen floor

these things we must see
these things we must know:
these fallow graveyards the shape of oceans
these gravel pits filled with factory-defective coffins
with cracked lids and split silk liners —
deep discounts
for the dead on a budget

i see you run towards me in your sock feet your
leathered arms pumping
as if you were still a
child
as if I had the strength
to catch you in my arms

do you remember the
summery brine of sweat and rain
that dribbled down our faces
when we were boys
and did not think to be men
until much later

she has her chores, you said,
and I am one of them

brother Caius
you have become my chore now,
and I have become yours

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Ruby, my dear

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(Inspired by Ruby, My Dear by Thelonious Monk)

She has forgotten the beats
of her lightness
the circadian rhythm of rest
of motion
of rest

each passing morning presses into her belly
and each passing day cinches around her hips
and each passing night brails across her breasts
and each passing year reaches a suffocating end

the years, Ruby, my dear, the years,
you’ll know that cry
when it finds the lowest
part of your heart,
sets its roots there
and
that cry is a lot like a cigarette ember
that sparks through your bra and bites
into your skin
or maybe it’s like that Alabama belt buckle
that cracked its weight
against your bare thigh
and dropped you to the kitchen floor

and made you notice the crumbs
you missed
in your rush for a quick smoke
outside

Ruby, my dear
you’ll recognize that cry when it holds you down
and you’ll carry it with you whenever you fall into
another broken moment,
forced to hide your grace
in a rush to be any place else but here

She forgets the name of the man
who pours her husband’s afternoon pints
in an unmarked barroom
somewhere downtown.

She can’t stand to hear the push of her name
leave his mouth

— Roooooby — he says and

she feels reduced to that sound he blows through his lips
every time he
comes around.

He is a peculiar fellow: tall,
narrow of bone, dressed in a way
that seems so elaborate
for a man who carries that kind of grin.

If we had stayed in Georgia, she thinks.
if we just left those few heartbreaks behind us
we might still be fine.

But here, in these shallow rooms
of petulant conversations
there’s just this constant rhythm
of widening fault lines
thrumming through the air
and not-so-hidden resentments
behind every rushed goodbye kiss

The avocado-colored bed sheets
she bought them for their 30th
two years ago
are already unthreading, bleach-stained,
or bourbon-stained,
depending on who you ask
and how drunk he is

the plumes of disinfectant
settle on the cupboards and
matching countertop appliances,
on the cuffs of the olive-green work shirts
he drags across the kitchen table
every morning when he drinks his morning coffee

the residue leaves a stain you hope he won’t notice
but he always notices
and he will always tell you
about him noticing, and when and why

but he won’t take a sick day
just because of a goddamn cold
so you end up counting the cough syrup spoons
and goopy yellowed tissues he tosses
on y’all’s TV trays
over the long weekend
when you were planning on sitting outside
and smelling the air,
maybe planting a small box of herbs
inside the dandelion courtyard
that he never mows

and she sits on the edge of the bed,
broken down to her essential parts,
box spring and mattress both removed,
both ruined.
The frame is not a comfortable sit,
but when the man tells you to wait,
you wait because
she has been trained to defer,
and has come to dislike that about herself.

She forgets the name of the man
who will deliver her new bed
and she does not wish to re-learn it
every time he
comes around
whistling her name in a single sour breath

— Roooooby — he says.

Ruby, my dear
Years, baby, years, all those beaten-down years
and those beats of neglected lightness are done.
Do you know it’s okay for you to leave now
Do you know you don’t have to rush now?

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

An orange beach bucket on her 12th story balcony

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i. Alleluya
She sang
Alleluya for my mother
Alleluya for her husband
Alleluya for my father
Alleluya for his wife

ii. Songs for an audience of one
She sits as close to the sun as she can pull herself
in her Vaillancourt patio chair
an orange beach bucket beside her feet
Allah opp, motherfuckers, she yells
and then she laughs
and then she sings
in a sterling voice:

I am a girl disguised as kindness
between the camera and the water
my heart beats greedy raindrop beats
you see me but cannot see me,
it ain’t that easy.
You never could, mama
You never could, papa
You gone now, to each other
All gone now, I suspect,
but you can’t see me at all just yet
you can’t see me at all just yet.

She sees me in my fold-up lawn chair
fourteen-ninety-five on sale from Sears
three summers ago
with a can of Fresca in my good hand
untethered headphones in the other,
my naked legs a cry for help
and she waves at me, and smiles anyway,
drops her hand into the orange beach bucket beside her feet

Allah opp, motherfucker, she yells
and then laughs
One more for my audience of one
and in a sterling voice, she sings:

I am the mother of the children
who never knew me
who dream of unfading skin, glowing
unpaved roads that lead me
here to where they will never see me,
we all bleed the same without knowing it

and she drops her hand into the orange beach bucket beside her feet
and she is silent for a while
alone on her 12th story balcony
and I wave to her, tentatively
from the 12th story balcony
from a separate building
but she does not wave back
and it all feels hollow
except for her.

iii. Nightjar
We see each other from our distant places
above the spaces of plague and dissidence
almost every day or every other day she is there
just there
whenever she chooses and she sits
in her expensive coiled chair

and I lean back into my sagging lawn chair
and she sings and she chants and sometimes there is no rhyme
but there is a steady beat in her voice, strong enough
to open other tenants’ windows.
I am her only real audience, I think.

I cannot clearly see her face
I can feel the smile she sends me sad and disquiet
and I listen, never speak, because that is how she prefers it.

She wears a colorful modest skirt and blouse each time
and now I wear my best slacks, freshly pressed and laundered
every night
for her,
and a button-up shirt
and I brush my hair
and wear proper shoes and I sit and wait for her to show
and sometimes she comes out
and sometimes she does not
she is like a rare nightjar
and sometimes we both sit in our respective chairs
and say nothing
and sometimes she leaves without singing
and I sit a while longer
until the cold air brings me back inside.

Photo by Todd Trapani from Pexels

A slight confession of sins

lower-case he and me

Late Thursday breakfast, at last I confessed myself 
to a poorly-dressed but well-bearded priest. 
This priest (I did not catch his name, so I will call him  
Father, or perhaps lower-case he), 
was a sleepy-eyed fool behind his drugstore specs, 
and he did not recall the extent of my sins even after 
I recited them from my torn sheet of foolscap. 

Distracted, he told me his dreams of 
a cemetery of trees,
of branches falling and ravens calling, 
and stale mausoleums filled 
with herbs and seeds.

There was no place for my words 
to brace against his filthy cassock. 
He seemed to be an aching arch of rumored bones 
and unpleasant knees,
and I was concerned for his soul — 
and sagging flesh and ash-stained hands and shallow chest — 
as much as I was for my own design of infinity 
and the fragility of my possible divinity. 

“The God you may know,” he said,
“he is one slow hijo de puta 
painting this canvas.” 
He paused for effect, which was odd and yet
he held 
his breath and, saith he:
“This place is his divine piece, you see, 
and we are what he has painted into the corners. 
The poets — I see you are one, from your long list 
of synonyms to best describe your best sins– 
mostly suffer from agraphia when regarding the faith 
of their pens. 
But I forgive you, I guess, if that makes you less 
inclined to bother me with your mistakes again.” 

“These are not mere mistakes,” I cryeth, 
“I have broken the Commandments, some of them 
several times, and one of them in a brothel.
Perhaps three of them in the same brothel, 
but at different times. 
Can I please be forgiven? 
What words can I say, what deeds need be committed 
to memory, compounded by shame? 
Give me the name of one who can forgive me,
if not you.”

Father and lower-case he, both being the same, 
paused again. 
“Son, I have committed these same misdeeds,” 
he said, 
“which is why I myself became a priest. 
My poor father. And my grievous mother! 
Ashamed! 
But I could not help myself. 
My sins were so wondrous,
and that was the curse given us,
given us all. 
To feel good is so shameful, is it not? 
And more so when you’re caught,
and even when you ought to know better! 
Say twenty-and-three Hail Mary’s and 
get thy gins behind thee, 
and I will join you, boy, bring your coins with ye, boy! 
Even now, in this comedy of errors, 
before the devil’s veiled terrors, 
I will join you in the brothel, 
(and I know that sounds so awful), 
but we will chant the prayers of the Lord, 
over Scotch whiskey and flaming swords. 
I am yet uncertain that it is not a sin, 
but pour that gin, boy, and then pour it again.”

With that, he removed his specs 
and wiped the lenses with his wet sleeve. 
“It has been so long since I last confessed 
my own misdeeds,” he said. 
“They are sins, of course, a horse
by any other name is still a good wager. 
I hear you belabor the forgiveness you seek, 
but for cab fare and a peek
at that place downtown, 
I will anoint your crown with my useless mercy. 
Agreed?”

“Indeed,” I said, learning nothing by and large.

“We borrow today to pay for tomorrow. 
If you agree to go onward, by tomorrow 
go forward, and sin no more.”

“Say no more,” saith I, 
and my friend Father and lower-case he
both being the same, 
stepped outside, beyond our prison’d door. 
There was no place for my words 
to brace against my filthy cassock. 
“Say no more,” saith I again 
to no one in particular, 
dreaming perpendicular, 
and then began to turn away.

Dimitri and me

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Dimitri and me
we lived by the sea

we saw a horizon
hard and infinite 
a great ruthless sea
conversationally intimate
a sea so calm yet god so deliberate
we saw and we drank our darkest wines
and we watched the deepest ships unwind
ahead of us
far beyond us far between us

for a life beyond the greatest hope of us,
for a life we waited and we wished for both of us,
we promised it would be us one day
if courage one day
would be our blessing some day
but Dimitri was killed
in March of 1948
and so

I live in this place
of hush
where moon hides the darkest heart of 
me

of us

of foaming arrangements of the remainder you see
the brightest of lights of life upon sea
and my days and nights of Dimitri and me

that wash away
our ballast
into the sea
of me and Dimitri and we
stay behind and live inside 
a soft and infinite sea of us.

Dimitri and me
we live by the sea
and we see a horizon
wide and so infinite
beyond us a sea

of only Dimitri and me.

photo courtesy of Pixaby

 

Aeschylus, mourning his brother

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Brother, are we known yet
by our scars?
or by the small voices we have raised to hearten
others to taste these small morsel’d words?

yes, we have been forged by the same gods
who choose us, and now we are
purged of our tender meekness,
we are surely due our conceits
leading so purely from Prometheus’ dim breath

why should we, I ask,
still fear these lesser gods who cheer us 
our each broken bitter step,
they
mock us
with their effete threats,
deny us dance and music and verse,
and of the fruit that was never meant for us

for all their piety,
they drink, perhaps, or tempt us with 
their envenomed chalice,
and sing with us
and fight with us;
are we to become their tarnished adornments
as they witness our foulest desires? 

we swallow each of our solitary breaths
and we, breathless, exclaim a certain cowardice
t’wards death.
No, I plead, not that least deed,
No, my brother, you are not that man

brother, with each considered step taken
I beg you, please awaken
now
as I stretch my limbs upon this planked stage,
to bleed, to serve our noble philosophies –
these badly displayed indignities
of heroes, of men, as common as we,
to remind them that
we are too mortal, and such tragedy befalls us by
failing
against
our common foes:
ourselves, our gods, our fate to witness  
our weary’d children watch us fail,
our swords not doused with our antagonists’ blood,
to beg great Victory
to kiss us quickly, each of us,
even in defeat as
we will timely lose to death’s fevered rages

but, brother, who will call another actor
to calm these words
to step between the worlds and
to petition the rages of the chorus?

is this us, brother,
can this be us?
What do they say of us
that we have not heard?
Our tragedy will be told
tenfold as I grow older and you do not,
the things that they say of us
that we have not already heard of us

we are celebrated in the Ancient City now,
more well-spoken than before,
the costumed ghosts speak to me deliberately they
speak to me eloquently they
speak to me and they

all wear your voice.

oh brother, Euripides has not forgotten us.
He implores me to tell more tales
but I fear there are no more.
I have left Marathon behind me
and the Furies have brought me to this place.
May murder and devastation
Never come to tear this city, I said with all my truth.
Ah, but a tired man can be forgiven in time
for his ignorance and his youth.
We both know the Eleusinians were wrong,
we have that to enjoy between us.

oh my good brother,
Gela has called my name.

brother, are we known yet
by our scars?
I have not heard from you lately
and I know we have each traveled far.

, published on 08 March 2015 under the following license: CC BY-NC-SA

delilah

you know my excesses / delilah / for the bleeding abscesses / of sunsets strung 

together 

you and I we tasted the soft meat of our virgin hearts / wasted blind drunk in an absinthe state of sex and regret / and I whispered and may even have worshiped you / delilah

 I tried to wash the veins of dead leaves / from my cold feet but they roiled

and uncoiled / and still crossed the border and folded across your clean / parquet floor and 

I suppose 

our limbs mashed in a tarantula pose / we rose and fell and slept in veneration in our clothes

like a dance

in a trance

and still I ask

is if you know that I wish I was as certain of God / as I am of death / and of you /

and who / just this once / is thus subdued under a spill of moon / that traces our bed 

and warms our faces /

delilah