Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time Tunnels

Sometimes it is hard to remember what time it is – suddenly it could be any year, or no particular year at all. Your pen slips and a date comes out without thinking, one you blink at and hurriedly erase, before anyone around you realizes you have time traveled, snuck sideways without their permission into a pocket of time that fits you so well it is hard to tell you have been somewhere else at all. An accidental slip of the foot can take you there, as though some moments wear the precise shape of your body, need only for you to relax to absorb you like a well-worn mattress, the homey lump of elbows left in wool.

Some people say time is not linear as we would like to believe - a straight chute for us to glide down to our gleaming destiny - but circular, or even more perplexing, snarled like a ball of yarn, criss-crossing and curlicuing like the cobbled streets of a French town. I used to push these descriptions away, disliking the jumbled, chattering way they made me feel. But now, in my twenty-sixth year, I am having the slow and unnerving realization that I am living all moments of my life simultaneously, whether I agree to it or not: the trapped, leathery feeling of the family car trip when I was seven, Dad exploding at a rest stop, shoulders huge before me in their plaid shirt, the landscape shocked in snow outside. That flash of whiteness and my subsequent crumbling will leap at me sometimes, clutching my chest. When a man looks at me with a certain blank disdain, or when anger freezes his jawbone. When I am in the backseat of a car going much too fast.

I seem to be foraging in the dark soil of the future as well, running my fingers through its pebbles and leaves unwittingly, here and there making acquaintance with an astonished root or vine, following it up to the surface…

Just today, I wrote the date as 2011, a year ahead. Some part of me knows I will be writing then, worrying about the future, trying to wring sorrow from the past, too busy tunneling into time to notice for more than an astonishing instant that I have already arrived.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pleasant Ridge

You sent me pictures of the land
where I grew up. Yes –
it was just as I remembered
the tiny white-washed country store
at the corner of highways Z and ZZ
hills rolling wheaty and bountiful
blue-tipped in the distance where they met
the low, lazy puff of clouds rising perpetually
from the wide Wisconsin River.

“Amazing cheeseburger location”
said the website you’d found. And there
was a picture of the famous burger, shining
like an old friend’s face – golden hill of bun
embracing meat, swaddled in cheese
cozy nest of French fries
pickles humble as a dog.

We drove past that store, you and I
back when it felt right to call you
the love of my life, safe –
we’d already had our happy ending.
But I know what happens to all roads
ZZ turns to Rosy Lane, to triple H, to 18-151
but all end eventually, in dust or pasture
ocean or concrete.

And if you retrace your steps
along an ended road, it’s never the same
leading you into nightfall, a rocky cliff
of limestone and sand, an apple orchard
glimmering with the last rays of sun.

A place you think you were happy once, but
the road no longer leads there
or your own treacherous memory, faltering as dusk
has fed you a fiction once again
trying to nurse stability
out of the constantly waving fields of grass.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Arena Township, 1998

When I was fourteen
I lived in honey, suspended
like a petrified bug.
The washed-out gold light
spilled down through the hills
by my piano teacher’s house
the sky dark and enormous
when I came outside later
stars itching like fireflies.

My fingers swarmed
over the clinking piano keys
learning to make them sing sweet
as a woman, tenderly
as a dancer pliés.

Nancy wore lipstick
that clung red to her teeth in places
threw her arms out wide
to measure of the feelings I struggled
to coax into awkward sound.
Her eyes pleaded, thinking
I might not get it.
We didn't talk about boys.

Sometimes, she took me up
the delicious, creaking staircase
to look from the huge windows
at the paint-spattered cows below.
Angels gilded the walls, their silent hands
cool and luminous.

A pot of soup always bubbled
seductively on the stove, a plate
of flower-shaped cookies on the table.
Nancy told me ladies never
licked their fingers or reached
for crumbs even a mouse
might miss.

But in that glowing
old barn of a house, I wanted
everything, my desire sharp as a needle
in the crazy quilt of hills
stitching my dreams
bold as silver.


The men who run our hostel
have sleepy eyes and charge for everything:
blankets, laundry, internet.
They never take a day off
expect us to entertain them
like awkward party guests.

We hear them breathing
the movement of their thoughts
as they sit for hours in front of the small tv
flip-flops shuffling on tile floor
irritable sigh.

I lay in bed drinking
boxed sangria well past noon.
I am not Picasso
I can’t turn a woman
into a thousand inside-out birds.
I grew up on corn, hard work, regret.

We flew across the moody Atlantic
eager to tame our longing, blue and rose.
After three weeks we are sunburned
feet blistered from walking cobbled streets.
At night we watch hordes of English boys
get drunk in fake Irish pubs.

In the hazy afternoon
we spiral up to fairytale Park Güell
perched in purple hills, filled
with pushing teenagers
from every country in the world.
Climb 2,000 steps to see the city spread
beneath us, breathless, laced with fog
hurried catch of minds
falling away to the sea .

In that dreamy darkness
none can avoid
we find our humid longing
impossible to repair, a mosaic
tender beneath our flesh
a treasure we cannot lose.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

So Easily

I come upon a squirrel carcass

twisted in damp grass

beneath a sheltering oak, almost

no longer an animal, becoming

something else entirely:

birchbark, driftwood, honeycomb.

Its gnarled feet point up

the roots beneath point down.

My legs shine like ignorant beacons

pointed straight toward nightfall

so caught up in movement I forget

I could so easily not be here at all.

Left Hand Says

I am destitute
coal mine.
Down in the earth
the rocks run black
with despair.

Right side is busy, cheerful
distracted, fast.

Left side is slow blond girl
locked in a room
alone with no allies.
Left side is mutiny.
Left side is left behind.

Left side is where
he left me at 5 and 25.
Different men, same
[ ____________ ]

Left side is the deep gray pull
of the ocean.

Left side is where you left me left me left me…

Crawl away
small child.

After the burning feast
of anger has been consumed
the sadness devours me.
No one to knock
on the locked door
for 20 years.

Now that I know you
what do I

Hold the blond child close
kiss her soft hair
lay my cheek
against her pounding head.

Hold her, hold her
until a soft flower begins
to bloom, a sad
open-hearted flower.

So full of love
it is the deepest strength
shining blue-red.
It pours out of us, around
between us.

That love
and is

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Away on the Wind

We biked all day
escaping Portland.

The gurgling river
kept track of us past

Swan Island, Ross Island, Toe Island
the proud silky geese standing guard

with their black faces and prizefighter’s chests
the amusement park lonely

singing itself a tinny song
that blew away on the wind.

We traveled through small
Midwestern towns

bright banners flying
antique stores mumbling the past.

Here is that mainstreet
you walked down once

on a yellow day in your childhood.
And here is the tiny café

I once spent three days in
eating through chocolate éclairs

licking the glossy gold custard
from the cracks in my knuckles.

The towns that kept us safe once
dissolve as the sun sets

and we drop hands, uncertain
what to trust

as the wind from the river
erases the breath from our tongues.

Monday, March 22, 2010


my first

I slept
on your floor
turning gears
all night.

at 7
into the

I was

of terror
to neck.

fast on
its heels:

to your
full of

in this
you must
feel this


Thursday, March 4, 2010

How to Avoid Change

Stick things in your ears.
Close your eyes and refuse
to open them for anyone, even if they are trying
to show you something beautiful – a watercolor
pigment still wet and earthy,
a bird skimming the silver grass of a field.

Close your mouth.
Change hovers just behind the teeth
ready to leap out.

Hold onto things tightly.
Any large, immobile object will do –
washers or dryers, monkey bars, cars and trucks,
porch railings, large boulders.
Don’t hang onto people.
People are always disappearing
worse than ghosts.
They can’t even be counted on
to haunt you.

Don’t use electricity.
You might see the world for a minute.
This morning the sky was pure gold
with one orange streak. Tonight
it is deep blue with thin pink threads.

Don’t move across the country.
Stay in the same town you grew up in
or pick the town you lived in the longest
and move back there.
You don’t need to be happy,
you will be safe.
You will recognize everything
with a sharp, defeated familiarity.

Imagine you are a potted plant,
a geranium or pansy,
a wreath made of dry twigs.
Imagine you are an immaculate stainless steel surface
the smooth, satisfied face of the refrigerator,
the placid curve of a mixing bowl.

Imagine you are a fresh white envelope, never sent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Magical Powers

I used to pull numbers round
from my pale head.
I was the kid who always won the guessing
games at birthday parties, leaving
Moriah and Kelly freckled and blank,
fists soft and half-melted around
pink napkins, chocolate whispering
above lips that were about to give
the wrong answer.

Mothers stopped letting me play.
There was nothing they could pull
from a paper bag I hadn’t already seen,
no item small enough to hide
behind the dark corners of their ears
I couldn’t coax out.
I heard the numbers’ square feet
marching whole minutes off,
saw them in a holy flash,
spit them out before I had time
to question how I knew.

They burned on my tongue
sweet as lightning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rain Falls

Rain falls and my pale suede boots get wet and water sneaks into my grubby white socks and my mind is racing and can't shut up - heartbreak, work, England - and I barely feel my toes flood cold as I stampede both the past and future at once.

Rain falls and suddenly I am aware of bird noise in the darkening afternoon, hundreds of little beaks and throats warbling in the same key and it's such an unusual sound for January that I crane my neck from underneath my green and white umbrella to see what all the commotion is about.

And there is a giant tree, barren but for hundreds of plump little birds camped among its branches, all moving and talking and singing at once, singing with gusto, not just the bare functionalities most birds could spare on a day deep in January, full of rain.

The birds are leaf-shaped, and as they twitter, the whole tree comes alive as if a summer wind blows through it. In all their tiny voices I hear one word repeated, one exuberant note, over and over again: spring.

And as I stand there stopped fully along the edge of this busy, homeless street, stopped mid-stride, mid-twenties, mid-heartbreak, they rise up all at once, twirling a few rounds of perfectly executed aerial acrobatics, before fluttering off to spread their news to another miserable, busy person, made fortunate for a moment by its hearing.