A Death at Pictured Rocks
They arrested the husband, who said he turned his back
for only as long as a man’s urine takes to hiss steamslicing
through concise spring air
to the ground
at his feet and when he turned back around to face the view
he saw only his wife’s sandal and immediately passed out.
Waking, he crawled to the edge of the cliff — saw
something white below — passed out again.
This was his first story.
Later that same day, still, no doubt, adjusting to his new reality,
he admitted he’d made it up in hopes
he said of protecting his wife’s reputation when in fact
he’d seen her jump, “making some reference to God
in the process.”
By the next morning he’d changed the words again —
he saw her slip and fall, a simple accident. This was nine days
after they finalized their will but some time before
prosecutors found out about the life insurance policies.
And the debt. And the affair in the late 1990s.
So goddamned inelegant, isn’t it? So clumsy. My favorite
is the first story,
in which this husband passed out twice —
such blatant bullshit it deserves to be believed or even
true, or a poem, authentic like that, I mean, God, the passion
just kills you. Imagine: the thought, the very possibility
of a loss of that magnitude — bam, down you go
in a useless heap of flesh,
maybe landing in the still-warm piss you just puddled
at the fringes of a Pitcher’s thistle — Cirsium pitcheri —
on the verge
of the only blooming season in its lifetime —
this is a plant that grows for five years, or eight,
before creamy pink flowers burst from silver leaves.
It’s not as spectacular as it sounds. It’s smaller,
as most things are when you get up close,
and breaks down
into actions, reactions: photosynthesis: energy
neither created nor destroyed but transformed
(this, too, poemlike): plant takes what it needs —
carbon dioxide from the air, heat from sun,
water from water — and in turn provides,
what, beauty? A plant cannot think itself beautiful,
or care, but here is where even I feel obliged
to make some reference to God in the process,
because why else? And who else to blame — or credit —
or turn to — whose name do you dare speak aloud
in that unanimated instant when there is
— suddenly — no rock
underfoot, when you wonder if you felt hands at your back,
or are those the nubs of wings you always believed you must have?
— when the vista before you tilts and swivels
and ten thousand waves beckon brightly in the cold sun
in ten thousand shades of a color between white and silver
and you fall or fly — created, destroyed, transformed.
Begin with a mystery: locked room,
body, puddle of water – killer, too,
but no murder weapon. Unsolvable,
inconsolable, insoluble, these inchoate
passions do not so easily dissolve.
A boy disappeared into the water
at the Grand Haven Pier. Jumped in,
never came out. There was a storm,
there was wind and there was the end
of one life, two, ten: girlfriend
who always said she didn’t think it safe
and saw his hands as they sank
beneath the froth and chop;
friends who also jumped
but did not disappear;
parents whose grief washes up on shore
every summer night like
so much bleached driftwood
in graceful boneshapes,
smooth from a distance,
scars like fish hooks
if you get too close. It is so unfair
of me to steal their pain
for my love poem – or didn’t you know
this was a love poem?
Here’s a secret: they all are.
Another: it’s not even summer,
it’s the deepest part of February,
in a state where that month means
freeze and thaw and flood and freeze again.
Somewhere far from here,
the first daffodils – least mysterious
flower in the world, yellow,
celebratory, celestial. Imagine
just one, chosen with care
from among a million like it,
picked, wrapped in a wet paper towel,
packed inside a Pringles tube,
sent to a long-separated lover
four states to the north
without a note, in hope –
to bring a smile, a sliver of spring,
to spark ashy ember back to flame.
The bloom will never survive the trip,
pitifully. Petals will wilt and brown
and curl up like small tongues, stem
turn to mush like rotted celery,
and the former lover will be mystified
to receive a damp can
that once held snacks.
There is a moral here:
matters of the heart
demand priority shipping. The body,
though, the body sometimes
receives messages otherwise missed.
Maybe, if even the faintest whisper
of the faintest scent of daffodil lingers,
it will invent or bring to mind
that beginning of a certain spring
some time now vanished
into the thickest dust of memory
the hum and rattle of a silent movie:
dusk sliding into a locked room,
two bodies coming together
all skin and elastic and electricity –
this was then, this was before,
before the icicle –
that’s the answer, you know,
the clue was that puddle of water,
enough time melting all weapons –
even an icicle to the heart,
the murder of spring, a cold goodbye.
Such water sustains and devours us all.
Dorothy Visits the Cyclone in the Convalescence Home for Natural Disasters
“The cyclone had set the house down
very gently – for a cyclone – in the midst
of a country of marvelous beauty.”
– L. Frank Baum
I know you seek scarlet-toed memories,
small dogs, doorbell songs, but my stories
these days happen outside my apartment window:
rock quarry sparks & flares all night,
I watch dusk-smeared men holding hands,
if there’s no wind I hear them singing.
Our lives are littered with what we do not say,
unkempt promises. Do you ever
think things should have been different
between us? Are we measured
by our actions or our hesitations?
Sometimes I forget to breathe.
It’s a curious business, I do not mean
this growing old, or even forgiveness
but the way thunderheads build on horizon,
impossible mountains of dark: I mean:
my inability to love. Here, I brought flowers.
I could not stand these yellow walls –
this is the curse you placed upon me,
expectation of adventure, rootlessness,
belief that fear might be molded like tar.
It’s time for me to go. I have failed again.
Next week I will tell you about distant lightning,
ginger smell of burning gravel, other dreams
I always see coming but never outrun.
A Partial Short-Faced Bear Skeleton from an Ozark Cave with Comments on the Paleobiology of the Species
in The Journal of Cave Studies
about this bear who
based on the layers
of silt and the animal’s
in a flash flood
while recovering from childbirth
and who now represents
the most complete
specimen of her species
discovered by a hunter,
an ass who stumbled
over the jawbone
for a place to piss
after drinking beer
the whole drive up
from Little Rock
and aggravating his pals
with incessant bitching
about his wife’s
about his leaving
her with the kids
and his first thought was
won’t this skull
look good in the den,
a promise that almost
made up for his wife
being such a pain
in his ass
but all he got
is a certificate
from the university
for his contribution
to the furthering of human
and the bear bones
are sorted and locked
in the back room of a museum
while his smug, sober buddy
bagged an ten-point buck
for over the mantle
of the home
this buddy shares
with the woman
the hunter loves
more than daylight
and always has
for even bones
do not remember
what dies with the skin.