proteins on a skeleton
I feel the web tangled in my back,
twisting around my vertebrae,
stifling the commands to my legs
to move, to get out and run again,
away from a closed shade room
and pumpkin and the hard wood floors
that show every dent and groove
of every shoe and broken glass.
I feel the spiders crawling
through my nerves, their sinewy blueprints
brought to life between my bones,
their teeth a needle pulling silk thread
through muscles that have atrophied
with encouragement and well-wishes
of those who cannot know.
I don’t blame them for sitting.
I don’t blame them for this resting place
or how they wrapped me solid
in glistening fibers creating a shell
of the person I had not yet become.
catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away…
it echoed now, off the brick walls of the empty alley, in the trash can cushion and broken wooden crates and through the rippling rain puddles that soaked the cuffs of my sagging pants. My mother’s voice rerunning in my head... She had sung to us as kids, trying to sooth our midnight cries switched on by dreams of bloodthirsty clowns and giant cockroaches. She would wipe the hair from our damp foreheads and tell us that stars lit up even the darkest parts of space. She would tell us that love was like stars, able to light up even the darkest parts of life; so bright that everyone can see the love-light shine out of you. She would tell us we were her stars; that she kept pictures of us in her pocket and whenever life got dark for her, she would take out our shining faces and the love-light would break through. But that was when my skin was still smooth and innocent. That was before they told us days after it happened that they found our pictures next to the bathtub, our young faces covered in blood. We never did get the pictures back but I imagine it was the one from the Christmas where I wore my green tie and you cried because you were afraid of Santa Claus. But you moved to Missouri to get married while I stayed and got a job at the pier gutting fish. And I think about my face now with its leather skin and the steel cloud layer that reflects only the city lights. There are no stars here. There is nothing to pierce the metal and the leather. Alone again tonight, I will burn and smolder, becoming an ember—a once bright shining sphere, fading in the murky morning light. When they find me, stardust will be falling out of my pockets.
the night I lost
You touch my hand like Christmas pine
and pull the skin on my wrist to extract a scent,
a sense of wellbeing. Ribbon-wrapped,
I’ll be the first to open.
until the day breaks to light
and your socked feet stomp the stair.
O what gift sits there so longing,
so primed for tearing?
Invisible adhesive is no match for fingernails.
They scream at me “I will dig you out yet!"
compensation for your work against boxes.
And as you cling to my edges
and strip me of my paper,
I am thinking of picking apricots from the tree
that grows over my grandmother’s back wall in spring. to rebuild broken stories
I hang up the phone. It is one of those moments when you can feel life shifting. As if all the components of existence and interaction suddenly become tangible little blocks—the colorful cardboard ones you have as a kid that are so flimsy and yet indestructible because they are so flimsy and the only way you can get them to actually stay stacked is to stack them against a corner so that they have a sturdy support to lean against—you remember…
But this—THIS—is the instant when someone shuts the door too firmly and the fragile paper castle I've built implodes into a pool of red and green and blue and yellow. I no longer have anything to say to the people I once never had to say anything to. The people I couldn't breathe without are now just eyes and ears and bones that sit across from me, sipping away at coffee on a regular Tuesday afternoon after the allure of Christmas break has waned. We hug and touch cheeks and swear to keep in touch, then release and wave goodbye from sunglasses before sliding behind tinted glass and steering wheel and four cylinders in reverse to couch cushion and fresh prince reruns. Did you see Brooke today? Yes mother. How is she? Oh, fine. As if I could go into intimate details of my fading friend's present existence, because intimacy is superfluous porticos on my simple structure, I don't need these balconies and archways, I have my symmetrical box, right?
But here, in the split-second pause between the click of my phone, balancing in my limp left hand, and a sigh… I see the girl who was always like me and his poorly grown facial hair and that dopey smile and the way her chin fit in my shoulder and our hair blowing in the wind in my convertible and that one time when I got really drunk on the beach—scattered helpless across the knobby crème carpet and me still shaking in the reverberation of a shut door.
Maybe tomorrow I'll just use the yellow blocks. I've always liked the color yellow.
the road trip
The highway is an easy stretch through Iowa
pig-stench to a home town I don’t remember.
Role the windows down to feel the wind
pierce our hands like the toothpicks
we’d carry in our mouths, pretending to be mobsters
without a family heritage. Crisp March air beats
like crickets wings between my watch and my skin.
Smoking in our t-shirts because we were too afraid
our guilt would be caught in the fleece of our sweaters,
forgetting about the silent kid in the back
who months later will drive three hundred miles
to confess that he is in love you.
Hold the cigarette between your legs
to keep the air from claiming your light.
Cross the state line and count the ten thousand lakes
to ten thousand and three, yelling each one out
like a mugger on an empty street. Let’s wear skimasks
and scare the blue hairs in traffic while driving back
to your house from Duluth where the boys give free hugs
from bomb threats and the girls are jealous
we can be so bold in an empty courtyard.
We never looked more free than we did that day
under the strobe light dancing le disco
in the darkness of your basement bathroom.
is there a doctor in the house?
Please be patient
with my routine inconsistency
as I tear from my ears
the tongues of mouths
belonging to everyone
I carry inside of me.
Every night I leave them
lying wet and wounded
on the muddy path
without intentions of returning
every morning to check for a pulse
without intentions of discerning
a cure to their disease.
They are still my desire.
I have the same ability
to save them
as they have
to save me.
So I lay like a shabby baby-blanket
next to them, and as I watch their chests
rise and fall, they become nothing
more than tattered, fleshy rags
in tiny sticky pools of red
and the trail we’re on a miniature exodus.
So please, be a steady surgeon.
Take this contracting heart
in a calm hand,
and with firm fingers
and a sharp needle
and a long thread,
work.three perspectives on sept. 11
The radio still turned on to the Rick Dees morning show. The bed covers still felt like lead as I dragged them off my still fatigued body. My room was still dark behind its plastic shades. People were still on their way to work. The temperature was still rising. There still wasn’t any chance of rain. The West Coast was still on the west. Life was still living. I still had to go to school; to biology first period with a teacher from Iran who still counted attendance in Farsi; to world cultures second period with a teacher who still didn’t believe I was smart enough for her honors class; with students who still understood politics and money better than me and cared about it more than me; to lunch with friends I still had from sixth grade; to a Christian club that still didn’t have the answers to my questions. I still had to wait for my mother to pick me up from the parking lot behind the theatre. My sister and I still watched Disney together. And by dinner, my parents are still talking about the buildings I still knew nothing about.
I bring my seat and tray-table to their upright and locked positions. My stomach tightens, churning with acid and preparations. It is upset with the food I couldn’t eat or the steps that I’m anxious to take. But I am a statue of nerves and tendons stretching in tension. My fingers curl into tightly packed flesh balls and I wonder what burning skin smells like. An image of my home bubbles before my eyes, the dust and the chaos and yuba and omaa and mosque. This is right this is good this is right this is good lather rinse repeat slather my sense of retreat with the encouragement of a better world and better faith and virgins. I must remember this is God’s bidding, this is right this is good, there is no other thought. There are so many people. This must be done. Except that one woman and her son who have the same colored skin as me. They live here now, it doesn’t matter. I reach to separate my collar from my neck where it is stuck with sweat. It is cold here. I think about the desert air and the sun and our goats. I will be remembered in eternity for this. I will be loved. They will see this is the only way.
I heard the loud noise of skin tearing as it shot through me. I heard their cries as my flesh bore into theirs. I heard the crack of my spine and split of the intruder’s skull. I heard the crack of wings on my ribs. I heard the ggrrrfuhchtchshhhhh of its belly on my carpet, like a snake through dry grass. I heard their bones break within mine as they crashed through floors and floors of my vital organs. I heard them pound my thighs and knees as they flew to the ground. I heard their hearts sing of weddings and little league and college graduations into mine. I heard the earth shake as my brother fell into himself. I heard the silence in the moment Death swallowed the screams of passengers and pagers and telephones and copiers and cubicle gossip and early morning meetings. I felt them bleed my blood.
we'll tell the truth between our teeth
I didn’t realize how much I loved you until you began to love another. I have been so cold in my life. The heater is on. I sit under blankets in sweats and a sweatshirt and I freeze. There are no more thoughts, no more thoughts about weddings and forever and climbing into bed with you and kissing our son’s goodnight on the forehead. You were the only on I could see myself waking up to every morning. But night lasts, and morning is always tomorrow. There is no here. This house is quite. There are no thoughts to echo off the walls, no images to be written on their skin, because there is no you and I to imagine. There is only crème carpet and open windows without blinds and a couch that we shared. I know it could never be, it was not, but I was the first you spoke those words to and I was scared and now a month later, I imagine you will whisper them into her ear and you will take her to the lighthouse and she will learn more about you perhaps than you told me. Will she see you cry? It does not matter because you are not mine and I know that it is better. I have no breath until I am on my knees in crème carpet, gasping, sobbing.