City Mad

You can feel a city ache
if you stand on its streets
in the middle of the night,
when all its citizens
sleep quiet in their beds.

You can feel it, a creak and a groan,
almost titanic, almost tectonic,
a body of concrete and bone,
every street light clicks automatic
through its colors like a heartbeat
and you can stand there in the stream
of it, learning to loathe yourself.

Understand you are not the only one
hating yourself into the asphalt.

You are not the only one
pulling skyscrapers down on your head.

You are not the only one
crying out to the newspaper boys
on their early morning routes,
read all about it! read all about it!
Here is a man who breaks his ribs
from the inside.
Here is a man who gnaws
on a mouthful of teeth.

Hush. Hush.

Oh, it hurts,
but the whole city hurts,
you are not alone in it,
and even if they sleep
while you wander mad-eyed
and awake through the empty streets,

You are a fine thing.
You are constructed well,
brick by brick and bone by bone,
remind yourself how tall you stand,
how many people scurry into you
to find shelter,
open every story
of you and let the breeze
wash the stale out of you.

Tell the newspaper boys
to rewrite that goddamn headline:
Here is a man
who makes it to sunrise again.


I used to think a hole in the heart
could be patched like drywall.

All you had to do was
cut lines of poetry out
of a library worth of chapbooks
and weave them into a mesh.
Place it careful over the hole,
don’t let it bunch up and fold.
Stir up a spackle of music
and nature: rainstorms and Vivaldi,
maybe, or crows and The Crows,
trowel it on thick and layer it
over the sorrow hole,
over the ragged edges
of the leaky wound

and seal your worries in,
seal your fevers in,
seal your rage and your love,
remind a heart
it is the thing that holds it all,
and when you are done

sand it all smooth,
cure it over with a coat
of the most colorful paint
you can find in the art shop,
red if you want to be traditional,
but damn, just go with whatever,
if it strikes your fancy.

That’s all a little wrong, of course:
you heal by days,
just days and days,
but it doesn’t hurt any more
to beauty them up while they pass.

After Rain in Fall

Do you remember
the time we walked
after the rain?

Earthworms slunk
up through the mud
and the crows in the trees
shook droplets from their wings
before swooping down to eat.

You hopped like a child
through the puddles,
so proud of yourself
with every splash

and I thought of winter,
always rainy here,
and maybe we’d have to
bundle up against the chill

but there might be more days
like this in store for us.


I think you are a kind of whale.

Solitary giant, gentle beast,
you feast on seawater
and storms. You croon
to the barnacles that cling
to your belly and try
and try to love them,
pockmarked and ruptured
though they may be.

You have been poached for them,
prey creature, ocean queen,
lacerated and scarred by
harpoon barbs and propeller blades,
the tongues in the mouths
of the people who birthed you
into the black jewel of the sea
They have churned you
into a mad eyed migration
towards the sand bars.

You are an entire species endangered
and I keep expecting to come home
and find you’ve beached yourself,
that you writhe helpless on wet sand,
grit sticky with sea slime and tangled kelp,
that you drown yourself on air
and give yourself up
to wait for the black market men
with their buckets and knives sharpened
to carve out the precious parts of you.

You are too great for that.

I would break my bones
trying to haul you back into the sea.


After the shackles are on,
everything goes quiet
and he begins to sob.

Pick up the cast down dresser.
Kick the torn t-shirts into the hallway.
Inspect the fist holes in the sheetrock,
try to remember which are old
and which are fresh.

Inhale his unwashed body.

This is the way violence smells:
adrenaline and sweat and piss,
a fruit of exhaustion left too ripe.
It smells like muscles tremble,
like carpet burn on a cheekbone,
like tomorrow’s bruise and ache.
You will never forget this smell.

A year from now,
it will wake you in the middle of the night,
a hot burn in your nostrils
with the memory of a punching fist
and your name shaped into a scream.
Your wife will ask if you are okay.
You will roll over and pretend to fall asleep
without hearing her.

The officer speaks static to her radio,
white scramble and fuzz,
she has to repeat herself
before you realize she is asking you
What do you want to do?
Hey, hey, what do you want us to do?

There is no answer.

Every person in the room knows
there are no solutions here,
no cure-all snake oil,
no jail cell or group therapy
or medication cocktail
that will make it better
and introduce this soul
born with his powderkeg brain
to quiet thought and serenity.

Stroke the sweat in his hair
and tell him you love him.
He cries into your hand,
says I’m a good man,
I’m a good man,
I’m a good man,
I don’t know why
I want to hurt you all.

The Shade Tree

From you, I learned the world

does not allow both
in single trunk of flesh,

no matter how many
sun-charred children
you gather under your
wide-swept branches,
no matter how many
crinkled leaves of gold
you rain down into their
hungry open mouths.

This kind of healing
puts a dose of poison
in the roots, it comes
with sterile soil,
with a daily loosening,
and they will never know it,
not even when the trunk
begins to list and groan
in the wind issuing
from their wailing throats.

It would be such a simple lust,
to ache for aching
like they do,
to just give in to it
and ache like they do,
to swallow no one’s pain
but gallons of your own,
to feast on yourself.

Forget this strange nutrition.

Even if it lets your roots
knot their worried fingers
deeper into the hair
of your lover the earth,
even if it brings strength
beneath the earth,
it withers the limbs above.
It shades no one.

It would heal you with a cost:
a shrinking ring of shade,
and the sun rises ever higher,
it burns ever hotter
and here it never sets.

It lays hot on your back, yes,
but it sears these children
of sticks, and they are
already smoking.

Let them huddle closer.
Stretch your limbs
to encompass as many of them
until your bark cracks
with the strain of reaching.

Bathe their bodies, feed them,
and grow dizzy with it,
feel the earth kiss you
even as she loosens your fingers
from clutching so tightly,
teeter and hunch and splinter
but never stop shielding
the blistered beneath you.

How valuable is a shade tree
if it could not
come crashing down
one day?


Forget all else I have told you.

There is no calm inside me,
no serenity
no silence.

I have told you
I have nothing more to say
but I do
I do
and it comes out
only in wails at myself
when I get away from you.

I have hidden what I am:
a teething child

snapping at tombstones
and bricks.

I have chewed a box of knives
down to their handles,

gnawed curbs and sidewalks
for the taste of the moss in their cracks
and the feet that tread them.

I have ground my teeth down
to a mouthful of grit
and bloody nubs of gum.

I polish the back of my throat
in swallows.

Even that brings no quiet.

Call a dentist, please
please please.
Build me
a new grin with pieces
of chalk.

I was born with
a blackboard tongue
that needs scrawls
bitten into it.


You wake up one morning
with a great black splintered crack
through your belly,

edged out hard,
and chalked over.

This is what happens
when a crust of ache forms
on the froth white of hurt
and then breaks:
it sunders and splits
down the middle of you.

But listen close,
listen quiet,

to the sound issuing
out of it:

the hush-shush of sea
blue notes, the whale-whispers,
from your conch belly hollow,

the sour tired song
of a cold choir,
it scrapes back its chairs
and slaps its chests
with numb slabs of hand,

the mother rock wren
flits in with dead grass
and tangled hair
to nest down in your gut
and sing her dry trill song
among the spotted eggs
she’s laid.


If I had hollow bird bones,
you’d find me
in the corner,
filling them with buckshot.

Oh, I still want to fly.
Far up, higher
and higher
until blue air thins
and lungs catch fire
for scarcity

but you know
I’d never
come back down.

Weigh me here
with heft,
with burden,

crow’s feet
that never leave
the earth.


The rivers swelled that spring,
rose three feet an hour
until the front porch
looked out onto a sea
of muddy water.

There was nothing to do
but wait for the swell
to recede and wick back
down into the earth.

No way to reach town,
no supplies or news,
no power, so we scrounged
what we could
from the back of the pantry:

cans of white beans
and tinned meat
and a mason jar
full of last year’s
apricot preserves.

I lit a candle, and that night
we sat on the porch,
wrapped each other
in your grandmother’s
old hand stitched quilt
and ate those sticky
sweet gold preserves
of slices of crusty bread.

Listen to the water rushes by,
watch the candle flame flicker,
your mouth is sweet gold, too,
let the waters never drop.