Bridge

arches

First a bridge is made, overarching clouds
That gather at the top of red bluffs

I am here with answers, the answer man says, 
I  am here. But we, poor fools, have 
no questions today.

A bridge overarching high clouds
pulls the parallel chords of voice and structure
into an open webbing of questions

that gather at the top of red bluffs. The answer
man says, I am here, here with answers
as we stand wavering on the bridge in high wind.

I am here, he says into the wind, wind 
keening and rocking the bridge where we stand,
open mouths, open throats. Your singing is carried 

away, the answer man says, but his voice is thin
as spider’s silk, thin as the air at the top of the chords
where the bridge meets the bluff

where red clay meets red clouds
and the sun goes down, dust to dust to dust.

Felipe II

Felipe II was the finest creator and destroyer of roadside attractions ever seen along Route 66 back in the day. Or roadside distractions, as he liked to call them.  Felipe had quick and changeable interests. The plastic reproduction of the redwood forest in Chloride, Arizona held his interest until it was two-thirds completed, and now it lies, a city of cracked and petrified plastic wood, with bumper stickers fading on the date shake shack – from the gulfstream waters to the Chloride forest – and the exit itself is a cluster of broken asphalt, a closed, possessive world. Felipe never looked back, it was said. Rumor had it there was no Felipe I, that’s what they said.

Felipe II wore a quirky wood band around his head, giving him the look of a suffering Christ with the figure of a Bob’s Big Boy. He did not tolerate philosophical discussions, but he did love time and the road itself.

“The older I become,” he told me the day we met – the only time we met – “the more connections I can make between time, experience and place.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Nothing, what the hell do you think I mean?” He said, and pulled out his map of California. Death Valley – good place for a dinosaur museum and ice skating rink. The Thing – it is whatever you want it to be. Wherever you want it to be. The roadside fruit stands, the tarantula meandering across the yellow lines, the shimmering road itself. That was time. I think that was time. To Felipe. Every crack in the road, every fissure, was another idea, another tumbleweed, another billboard. Every 100 miles a sign said “next gas 100 miles, stop here!” and we did. We bought copper bracelets and moccasins, postcards and ashtrays, plastic fish skeleton combs, mirrors with dead city logos embossed on the back.

Felipe II died in Flagstaff in 1982. His body was taken by Mexican bandits and laid out on the top of a flat red butte, and there he rejoined the earth, turning slowly into Felipe jerky, lines of his life spreading out on the hot surface, still visible even 30 years later. A faint tracing, like an old town, you can see it still, if you can find the way up.

 

Name Day

Patch of skin, paste made of bone, bits of cartilage in a jar. Around me a spiral of blue scrubs, a gurney spins, mask floats mid air. Somewhere above, I hear an incantation from the wizard of anesthesia: count backward from one hundred . . .

morphine dreams of lions licking flowers, voices not mine say rest, lie back.
Inside these foggy walls I’m three years old again, fearful that someone
is changing my name.

Coming back, I wake holding tight to a starched skirt begging please hold me, push the button, send me back down. I can’t move, can’t speak, can’t rise beyond this fluorescent pain. A warm black hand unlocks my fingers, calls me milady in an island voice, pushes the hair off my forehead. I fall past the pain, past all dreaming as I watch the silent drip of comfort in a small plastic bag at my side.

I was silent for three years as a child, when the bones were cut from my face. Three years of no mouth, a name I couldn’t say, a name she tried
to change. I didn’t know how to answer when mom called me other names, so I didn’t answer at all, spent my days riding wishes like horses, chanting in my missing voice . . .

give me bones in my face I told stars, told wells, told dandelions, told apple stems, twisting not for true love like my sisters. My true love’s name starts with B, he is bones in my face. In dreams he calls my real name, and I answer in a clear, steady voice.

I go to sleep thirty years later, and wake with wishes granted. This face is stronger now, filled with skin bone cartilage where before was nothing but voiceless air and the battle to name an absence. I say my name with bruised lips; the force of new bone makes me ache. I didn’t know the hardware of wishes would batter me, burn me so deep.

Dad hated my cancer, he gave it my name. Mom hated my cancer, fought it and me with a rage that burned her dry, left nothing but bone she couldn’t give and new names for me she thought I would could should want to say.

But this is my name, don’t call me any other. I couldn’t speak, she couldn’t listen, and we became mute. We became mute.

In this room, with new bone and my name on the chart at my feet, I wish we could talk. I would say, if you could hear, that I know you were with me. I know you carried me to birth, then through that hospital with my blood soaking your dress. But I have built this face with bone and skin from my own body. I have earned this name, and it is mine.

Name Day was written many years ago. It has an interesting history as a performance piece, and has been used as text and conceptually in dance, music and theater works.

Spring scramble

Dark chocolate jumps from hand to mouth,
Crusty bread sings aioli not hymns.

On the rooftop our just washed sheets dance and flirt,
April wind sees them waving, so much like old friends.

I chew my pencil for juice and for comfort,
scramble my metaphors like lizards not eggs.

Lettuce opens like a rose, fork hovers full
at the first cool mouthful of spring.

I saw

I saw – I thought I saw – the outward flight of birds
rising up from the water, this watery tomb,
this sunken parish.

I saw – I thought I saw – the roots of a drowning oak
reaching out, gasping for air. The children dancing
in the mud had keys in their mouths.

I saw – I thought I saw – a bridge, broken down broken
down I thought I saw a white fox cry,
beautiful in the moonlight.

Conceit is not a disease. A monument is not a disease.
A plaque remembering another another
tragedy is not a disease.

I saw – I thought I saw – the birds circle home,
the moon rise on the silvery water.
Let it stop there. Let it stop there.

At nothing

At nothing – which so often led to nothing – I
stopped. And stopping, found self and sea still,
clear as glass. In the harbor that day, waves hung mid-
air in a moment of paralyzed force. Look, I said. Look.

Dog looked, questioning, hopeful, and so we walked.
Starting then, we walked all morning through
the frozen town – the black and oozy wharves, shop windows
filled with heads. So much to see, so much to smell.

Small walnuts in a pile near a motionless squirrel
made dog superstitious – this is not right, dog said –
this is not right. Look here, I said. Look.
Together we walked, together we looked until

the moment breaks, waves come crashing, squirrel skitters
away, dog chases squirrel, smiling and happy at last.

 

Bellies

My thought is as free as the sun,
rampaging, billowing, fire and bones.
This earth may sing, I will sing too,

to the brave, unpitying stones,
that break, break, crush the blood
right out of my veins.

What is it I really want? What narrow
bed, what unlit path? My thought is as
free as the sun, that sun spinning mid-

air in an endless gallows dance, counting centuries
and seconds alike, mystic, vulgar, transient, full
as bellies in a peaceful time.


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