For Aliki's translations of C.P.Cavafy in this issue.
For more poetry in Fall 2000
My Career as a Flyer
My workshop smells of wax and ash and flesh. You can see,
I've made my shoulderblades into feathered muscles.
Now flapping my arms, tricks shimmering on my lips like silver coins,
angling between the shades of skyscrapers,
I'm wowed by a perfect accident: a jet flies across the full moon.
Finding you will be like that good omen
or the dart pitched in absolute darkness, striking the bull's eye.
Friends dance on a checkerboard floor,
and there I am, happy among the group,
music laying firm hands on my body,
in this room yet sidling up the fire escape, taking off
over rooftops and palms, into the panorama
of light-studded hills and freeways,
the thousands of shadowed minds surging
white, red, white, red headlights onto and off the Bay Bridge.
I soar into the euphoria of the wino in the Tenderloin,
who calls out, "Hey, girl! Take me home and save me!"
If someone says, "Why don't you take a flying fuck?"
I think, Why not? Why not a flying, wet, wingéd fuck,
our bodies iridescent among the clouds, solid life
rocking the color plane like Franz Marc's blue and red horses,
like fleshy trees arching into each other,
dancing mud or sheets and sheets of orange silk
flowing from the sun floating in your blue eye.
See how my body rises, the sea's pigment rising with me
to stain my skin, and I glide blue, spiraling above
freighters and tugboats and bridges of the Bay.
The towers wink out red warnings:
you can't help where you go, can't help flying out of yourself.
Look up, you can see me above the city,
the wind in my mouth, the night ink on my hands.
Euphoria at Zero
Euphoria is a cobalt winter sky that stings you.
A pink Cadillac fishtails 360 degrees—
then drives on. No accident.
The air deafens your skin, loud with zero and wind.
Cold is a lemon on your tongue. Bittersweet hunger.
You walk over your weaknesses
as if they were a sheet of ice,
knowing their dangers, not minding much,
confident in your big black boots.
When I walk into this Minnesota truckstop,
and he slides his sweet ass across red vinyl
to sit beside me, I contemplate
how I might use him to settle the score
with you. Our baby busily rubs sugar
against the table's swirled Formica surface
and pulls open packages of grape jelly
and paints her face purple, as he tells me
I intrigue him. How about I fuck this trucker,
our daughter sleeping in the cab's front seat,
us moaning on the little bed in back.
Or maybe I'd say drive just drive and I'd
suck him and he would twist his wrist to rub
my clit and the semi's magic fingers
would vibrate us to rapture. Now he lets
me know he's got me pegged, some kind of artist,
some grown-up hippie-chick, who's got the done-
drugs glow. I guess the ghosts of Blake and Ginsberg
are peeking out my ears. I guess my past
bounds out to thwart my plain Midwest disguise.
He cannot know back then I tried to be
a man, to prove I could outdrink, outdose
myself with LSD, outfuck them all.
I made my anthem "Love the one you're with,"
all that optimistic victorious
reveling in the now, so I could make
my travel plans, so I could always be
two places at once. Listen, what if I
let my leg lean against his? What if I
let my finger outline his rose tattoo?
What if I wake up his forearm's skin?
I can see you fall into the abyss—
I kiss oblivion. Bye-bye, bye-bye.
Our girl's arranged florets of scrambled egg
and toast around the floor beneath her chair,
and I collect our things, tip big, and leave,
my headlights aiming downhill, down the dark
interstate—interstate—good word to name
digression—down the banks to black waters,
the Mississippi—I'm driving this road,
a common road my design was to avoid.
I hold you in me wherever I go,
and I, not you, am keeper of the faith.
Good for You
You sit in your holy chair among your holy books,
flipping through the pages of a magazine as I talk.
Good for you with your fingers in your blond hair,
for the azure in your eyes, the shoulders I love
to touch, sexy and broad in a sweatshirt,
your clever words. Good for you mesmerized
by music, making sentences. Good for you.
Good for you for being good in bed.
Good for everything I love about you hurting.
Good for you writing to your fiction writer friend:
“This other woman climbed inside my head
and implanted a picture of herself there.
She isn't a throw away fling sort of chick.
This is some hardcore woman. That makes me
a chump with a daughter and this whole
domestic set-up situation. Guess I'm a neophyte
to the cheatin' heart game.” Good for the electric
shock under my fingernails, my heart short-circuiting.
Good for his advice: “If she hasn't left you yet, she won't—
she doesn't want to be stranded in South Dakota.
You must underplay the incident and lie.
You must make hollow promises. She will never
trust you again unless you reinvigorate lost love,
eat her pussy constantly, wait on her hand and foot
and prove your love. Question: Why did you confess?
Are you a stupid fucking asshole?” Glory be to men.
Glory be to cocks. Glory be to the altar on which
you, neophyte, sacrifice me. Raise your eyebrow,
and look toward me wasting away, your lies
parasites eating me from the inside out,
your promises hollowing out my cheeks and belly.
Give me an antibiotic. Give me a soporific.
Why don't you take me right here on the carpet
where I kneel toward you in your holy chair?
Why don't you implant yourself in me with her
picture implanted in your head? You have left
the sanctum where you and I alone coiled together,
to adorn yourself with the good old vestments,
to stand among men who celebrate their escape.
Good for us, they laugh, raising up their manly fists
to catch a tear, rearranging their big dicks. Good
for the return to the old order where no woman
is true, no woman is the one, the only god of love.
Good for you. Good for you. Good for you.
The sunset surgeon makes a dire incision
into the chest of the sky, reveals organs
pulsing in the cavity of the self.
Soon night will come carrying an armful of stars,
that wide bandage, the Milky Way.
Where will I be in the darkness? Will I
see the shape of self as I lie blinking
at the bedroom blinds? Will I scrutinize
my anatomy? An organ for each emotion?
Will I hold a healing balm in my hand
or find the nurse who can take my pulse,
blood pressure, temperature, inject me
with the correct drugs—just enough poison
to kill my disease yet let the body fight back,
just enough pain killer to numb me yet let me
keep my eyes open, find a will.
Kiss my arms, these empty arms, my belly
hollowed out by woe. The skin of my thighs
misses yours. Kiss my head, my face,
this wanting place and each of my eyes
staring West at the stark hilless landscape.
Kiss my scars, the gash where I love you. Kiss me
wherever you can, wherever my soul might be.
Kiss me here, where it hurts.
Tonight when you hold me in your sleep,
I know you love me again. Did you ever stop
or did I stop knowing or was your love asleep,
asleep as the body in pain, though morphine numbed,
rages against the brain's involuntary messages,
as the mind rages against the body for hurting,
against the union indivisible, the union cracked?
Was your love asleep as when the dreamer sees
emotions stand up incarnate with their painted faces,
boas, their enormous purple wings, sees them flash
their private parts from trenchcoats made of ink?
I guess you went to some inhospitable place
and I tried to follow. The dark comforted my eyes
yet I strained to see through the obscure blue,
to see the bright gash where you strode away
and streetlights cracked the night, glass shards
splintering out in circles. If I reached you, you shook
off my hand or turned your back or held my gaze
too briefly before you disappeared, leaving me
while your body stayed, terribly familiar.
So I lay down, my gut sliced down the center,
and babbled knowing I babbled,
making word sounds that were not words,
as I raved from half the split,
the mouth loosing syllables that craved meaning.
Tonight you hold me in your sleep. Yes. You hold me
in your sleep, your warm palm on my forehead.
Arms around torsos, legs across legs, our heated bodies
spiral around each other in sleep. Healing sleep,
reviving sleep, delicious sleep, sleep that cannot lie.
Looking Back with the Angels
Night comes early for the solstice is nearly here.
The sun hooks its orange chin on the shoulders of Nebraska,
then slips below the world and leaves embers and coals.
A squirrel—they're all fat now—runs high in the branches
of the elms and oaks and chestnuts that mesh over
the red sky. Our Christmas tree lights blink hypnotically
around the Indonesian angel, candy canes, wooden trains,
and polished papier-mâché apples. All is calm, all is bright,
I chant to myself as if the carols were piped in
from elsewhere, as if my inner space were an airport
or a department store. Yeah, right, I come back, remembering
our fights and the woman whom you once called a blessing.
In the dopey choir of my mind a hundred radio angels
lament cheating hearts. And there are angels everywhere,
in all the colored lights ringing trees and fences and houses,
in the nativity scenes, one whose wings span the tips
of the new moon and one looking over my shoulder,
whispering by turns good words, wishes of peace,
and curses, curses. All is never-ending, she says,
Words, acts can never be taken back. And she casts me
into the hell where the people's heads twist cruelly backward,
and they stride backward because deprived of forward vision,
where her face is your obsession—you hate me
and I hate my face in the mirror obscured by her blond light.
These days you say you love me, your rapturous cock rising.
Right now you're upstairs with our daughter, giving her a bath.
I'm stuck in a painful torque, looking back. Be an angel,
untwist me and face me forward toward you. Guide me out.
Walking Around Santa Cruz
—Did I tell you I lived a while on Seabright Avenue?
And all night listened to the sea lions
making the dark go purple with their moans.
I was alone, nothing was familiar, no one was.
At daybreak I walked to the beach, carrying my shoes
in one hand, feeling the sidewalk bite the soles of my feet.
Sometimes the sky was blue, precise, almost shrill,
demanding I look at all the details: eaves of houses,
window moldings, texture of stucco, the succulents
whose names I didn't know, blooming in the beds,
the pampas grass's haughty plumes.
The ocean was macho, rough; waves reached
muscular fists high before breaking with a clap.
Santa Cruz was so beautiful I was bitter
about the beach parties and dance clubs and bars
and wondering whom I wanted, if I were wanted.
I was tired of men talking to me about astrology
or spirulina or James Joyce or Pablo Neruda,
then not delivering the goods. I was tired
of the tease—Stevie Wonder's Inner Visions
coiling heat around dancers swaying in sand,
all of us high on expertly bred sinsemilla,
and the music spiraling in the smoke of a bonfire
made from redwood that drifted down
the San Lorenzo River in winter storms.
A man taught me the names of the pepper tree
and cormorant and the lapis flowering bush,
ceanothus. See and know this
was my mnemonic. He said, "I love you."
Four days later he was gone.
He said, "I'm a seller of dreams."
Seems I spent hours a day wandering around,
conjuring up a friend I'd run into before it happened
just to test the squeaking doorhinges of clairvoyance.
—Could I enter there? Could I dream you into being?
A woman in orange told me of the New Age,
each tooth in her smile shone forth,
as if her face were a neon sign advertising promise.
I climbed the stairs of the St. George Hotel,
held the rail painted black, counted
my sandpaper steps against the wood as air rose,
a hard globe in my throat, the invisible world
of despair swelling. I made her
my hope. Her room stank of smoke.
She lay on a ratty futon. —Why are you here?
I looked at the books stacked against the walls,
at the walls a grimy color I couldn't name.
Outside I walked in the rain, past the bookstore,
the coffee roasting company, the Catalyst—the club
nicknamed the Cattle Lust where I met
a man and a woman who took me home
and tried to take me to bed. I was tired
of being a woman, of the venomous environment,
of umbrellas, of worrying—Is my bellybutton sexy?
The storms washed away West Cliff Drive,
washed away the restaurants and stores
on Capitola Beach, and I kept walking around
day and night, past the Coconut Grove Motel,
the surfers and tourists, down to the boardwalk
to listen to the roller coaster's clattering slats,
the screams I could hear from far away,
the moans of the sea lions I heard in my room
on Seabright Avenue—now that I've found you
and lost you and found you again, did I tell you?
Do you remember the early days, lying in bed,
telling each other postcards of our biographies?
I can see lights of the roller coaster
chasing each other in helixes, the ocean beyond,
pelicans swooping up supper from the waves,
the homeless under the bridges, stroking dogs.
I can see myself in yoga class hanging from rope
upside down. Maybe the blood in my head
would turn my third eye into matter,
so I could see the future and know to hang on
until you saw me and knew me.
My neighbor believed she could read the signs
in the woods, could watch the animals
and predict the date of the Big One, the quake
that would crack the holy cross into smithereens—
Mother Earth having multiple orgasms, she said.
When she was wrong, she lit some candles
in the corners of her house, burned some sage,
closed her eyes and fists, opened them
and found new numbers inscribed in her palm.
I closed my eyes and found nothing in my hands,
only my yearning, only my long lifeline.