Sheet Music (for Scott Joplin)

“The secret of leaving things behind
isn’t names
branding the flanks of the world,
it’s footsteps.
It’s not the buildings they burn,
It’s the songs we hum
while we work.
It’s all the things that don’t make book.
Rain gnaws the edges of my small-town street,
baring cobblestone teeth.
Forgotten dance steps litter the dirt
in layers under the grocery store,
and I’m thinking about legacies
and the thin halocline
between living and dying.
Where am I on this river? How much time
before the salt trickles in,
pulling me home to the ocean?…”


I’ve had just about enough.
The rattling of my car’s heat shield
against the rattling of my brains
cobbled together with failing adhesive. 
Driving home from another government office.
The same songs on Spotify; I’m discovering weakly
that I can’t trust victory. A motor oil bottle leaking
onto rags on the carpet; corn chips on the floor.
The smell of defeat.

One step forward, two steps back;
my heart reminds me it’s planning an attack.
A chime from the woman who sends me snakes;
all of my lovers live far away…


This was this place we’d go, every Wednesday
when I was off work—and it was just this tiny portable
you fastened safely against me,
babbling meaningfully to yourself,
and the airplanes:
from this hill with a winding path,
across the river from Chelsea and its oil drums.

I knew you understood things then,
and had chosen to be here now, in this place
where the only thing I had to give you was me,
and these things I curated through eyes
that saw for you until you learned what to see…

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning
and it’s just you and me
on this day,
unseasonably cool
and bright with the promise
of dawn and nourishment
as you stand beside me
carefully, chair tucked
backward against the counter
just as I’ve showed you—
you offer
onomonapeaic commentary
on the sizzle of pancakes
we co-create,
frozen blueberries dropping
within each pale thought-bubble
to a backdrop of jazz…

Storm Watch

A tree falls dead at my feet.
In its wake, black wire serpents
flail. Their sparkler tails
burn and flare—
a sort of sati
portending missed voicemails
of suicide and love:
the cords snap,
cell phone towers down
and I’m blank
as the matte-slate air—…


“When you’re five, endings are sweet.
The familiar turning of a car on your street
in your sleep, and the sighing of brakes
before the door opens to wake you
with the cool taste of night.
The sound of rustling paper—
last page falling on the story your mother
read you, when you’re already tucked in bed:
“The End,” in all-caps whisper—
“Sleep well,” ‘Good night.'”

Morning Pyschopomp Raga

There are so many rooms in the house of sleep,
and for too long,
I’ve been pacing the hallway
listening to things clatter from behind locked doors,
and I’ve been too tired to stop
and search my cluttered pockets
for the keys.

It’s easy to talk myself into
believing this isn’t necessary,
that I have everything I need
in this narrow corridor—
but last night sleep possessed me
on the couch, still in my coat.
There was no arguing with it…

The Gift

A discreet sort of madness 

in the raw opal of my iris,
a blue flame that sets me apart—
ecstatic, relentless,
intriguing and sly,
quick as a comet—
but this didn’t come from the sky
or from some stardust I swallowed
that forever poisoned me
with its brilliance

so I have to give credit
where credit is due:

oh you—
the reason for me,
I can’t escape

Little Girl

After a day like today
of wrestling with your curls,
washing paint from your shirt
and dirt from your hair

After a day like today:
a two-bath day of noise,
tears and no, muffin crumbs,
a nap truncated by the runs—

is the perfect day
to remember you just so…

Cat’s Cradle

We fit like zig-zags, 
serrated teeth
biting in opposite directions. 

We gnashed our hungry ghosts
and lashed electric DNA 
on time’s angry barbed-wire fence,
calling all the cockatoos
to our sleeping tree. 

The child is the one who stayed,
bending the branches low
and, with her pink disarming chirping,
demanded the moon obey…


for Tori Amos (who appeared in the guise of a guardian angel in a dream)

in a place safe from battle
she awoke me from my deathbed
gently in a dream
of mauve and velvet
and the starry crowns

of violet-green passiflora

exploding from a fire escape,

attracting sparrows—
the only indicator

of surrealism

and half-asleep and blinking
I waited at her wooden table
as a teapot whistled—
and as she rode through the doorframe
like a birthday candle flame
in a dress made of peacock feathers,

I just listened


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