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ANTHROPOCENE COOL

{Originally published in West Branch}

Tell me what

you deserve

 

& I’ll give it

at my expense.

 

Give me

enough string

 

& I’ll twine

your desire

 

to its fruit.

So long

 

as its fruit

is me. Other-

 

wise, go indigent

& handsome

 

on your road.

Go crimson

 

& unpronounceable,

your cosmology

 

porcine & gasket,

your grief an

 

incandescent cancer

that conjugates

 

all joy into loss—

your congregation

 

curtained as a circus

must be to protect

 

its profits from

payless eyes.

 

Likewise,

we’re curtailed

 

by pretension,

unappreciated

 

by everything

from maharaja

 

to messiah,

mulberry bush

 

to song about it.

We wander grass-

 

fed boutiques

of jussive animals

 

like Victorian

pensioners, twirling

 

umbrellas & in lace,

calling the lion

 

old-fashioned,

long-in-tooth.

 

Nostalgia confers

narcissism like

 

a tree. So we sit

in the audience

 

of that circus,

suspect & brigand,

 

like a magazine

so estranged from

 

its congressman

that it falls

 

out of circulation.

So we smile

 

& show the barcode

of our teeth.

 

So we run. So

we run. Blown

 

out like a bride

on a beach,

 

all bluster &

white, the sky

 

armored

with birds & secular

 

as a tomb

given to tourism.

THE BELL SYSTEM

{Winner of the Poetry Society of America's 2016 George Bogin Memorial Award}

 

Goodnight—Mary, Jane, Pat.
Sleep tight, you sweet operators

of America, your voices strung
like laundry across this nation

drowsy with a full century's-worth
of light. There's nothing you

can't tell me that I haven't already
heard gift-wrapped in your General

American grace, but still I wonder
in what chamber of a horse's ant-

eaten skull I'll recover my youth.
Our human garden grows rich

in these green suburbs and what I feel
is not so much loss as a lessening,

as if the self was nothing more
than a late-model sedan crossing

the city limit in search of a better
resale value. It's funny, this franchise

of molecules that fizzes up in each
of us, like motels viral along the interstate:

some full while others flicker and die.
When will the stars rain down

like cheap plaster? When will language
be little more than a dandruff shaken

from our heads? Ladies, you tell me
the number I've been calling has been

disconnected, but where did the person
it belonged to go? Alone on the line

I find only a prairie alive with funneled
wind, a nation heavy with wheat and light,

its chorus of dim voices locked in a kind
of pharmaceutical sleep. I find a system

unchanged, charged with electrical pulses
that send the receiver scurrying in their cradle,

the longhand breath of ghosts rising
through switchboards to ask Who's there?

Well, tell me. Who is there? Who goes?
Ladies, please wake up. I want to try again.

THE HALLOWEEN HABIT

{Originally published in Gulf Coast}

 

We were poor in heat, poor in

       plumbing.

 

                         Poverty then a plum

                                            uneaten in the icebox.

 

  The bank account a lunchbox

that ate itself.

 

                         On Halloween I hid

                                        in the swimming pool.

 

          Our house was forever

                     latched in dusk.

 

                                                 There were snakes

                                       in the walls.

 

                                                            They slithered a bitter

                                           alphabet as we slept.

 

                                                                                One day my father cut

                                                             a door in the wall.

 

                          A samba of sparks & venom

                  showered out.

 

                                           The ceiling fell like snow

                                                                         and the next morning

                                 I handled spent cigarettes

                                                           with a curator’s careful lips.

MUTINY BY FISH

{Originally published in Denver Quarterly}

 

Argument grew

 

like algae after,

but only the emergency

 

exit would do

 

so we took our faith

in geography

 

and put it to the test.

 

                                    Then down to the soap-

                                    bones we decided to break

 

                                    even and took half of nothing

                                    nowhere the other was going.

 

 

                      In travel I saw buffalo, dorado,

                      cuckoo, & macaw.

 

                                                             I saw

                      murder & the missive peace

                      of small-town summer.

 

                                                                Certain states had

                                                                a hydroelectric hum

                                                                to them, as if their

                                                                fossils were angry

                                                                at being woken up.

 

 

                                                                                         A junebug

                                                                                                     of smoke

                                                                            lullabied Kansas.

 

                A wedding party

                                             of rocks wept

                                                                     in the Dakotas.

 

                                                   Everywhere I found

                                                   the long-lost bottom

                                                   of the sea.

 

                        Everywhere I found

                        gas stations & beauty parlors.

 

  Everywhere I found

  someone & something

  to sell.

 

                                                                      I broke up

                                                                      over Nebraska

                                                                      and showered down.

WRISTWATCH TO DISAPPOINT

{Originally published in Anti-}

1.


          Locusts
eat Ohio alive.
June is the first
month in bank
robbery season.

 

             Silky
tornado
nestles in
the trash.
Angles of
neckties act
as compasses
for flight.


2.


You will
disappear.

 

3.

 

You will feel
the need
to disappear.


4.

 

In an abandoned lot,
a slow conglomerate
of green tongues
devour a dead bird.

 

5.

 

Fill in the blank:
“This new-century
sky is ______.”

 

a) Noctilucent.
b) Nacreous.
c) Lenticular.
d) Unidentifiable
as fluoride.
e) All of the above.

 

6.

 

The sky is
a cinderblock
smashed by
hydrogen
and mothlight.

7.

 

Wreckage
is a kind
of question.

 

It asks you
to reconsider
your inventory.


8.

 

Broken jackknife?
Decoder ring?

 

Come back.
 

Milk-white set
of marbles?

 

Come back.
 

Boiled shark
jaws? Sloop load

 

of clams? Antique
 

copper broach?
Please, come back.

 

This wristwatch
 

won’t tick,
won’t heirloom,

 

but disappoint.

9.

 

In its abandoned lot,
the dead bird is gone.
Green tongues twist
slowly with its memory—

 

                         memory
             a thing
                              that devours
                                 things
     that will devour
        things.


10.

 

Spare licks
of lightning
pepper the pan-

handle.

 

Trees teethe
in a locust
zone.

 

11.

 

Come back.

12.

 

Construction
workers wear
Federal orange

 

vests, smoke
cigarettes in
the noon haze

 

as they undo
the street’s
ceiling. Cars

 

run on boiled
bones. Smog
rolls in like

 

a prehistoric ghost
to slumber. At
night our cities

 

are swallowed
in swamps
of orange light.

 

Ghosts, federal
as bone, boil
around us.

13.


According to
local sources,
a well-kept lawn
is the simplest
indicator of
economic stability.


                   Also,
burglars operate
under the night’s
braille blanket.

 

Conversation is
a politic of trivia.

 

A newspaper is
a politic of a tree.

 

14.

 

In the beginning
atoms collided
like German
consonants.

 

Everything
else stewed in
the oilfields of
Los Angeles.


15.


And ghosts,
federal as bone,
boil still around us.

16.

 

Already heat has broke
loose of its zoo.

 

                          Children
chew tar, kick cans, call
strangers collect.

 

                        They drown
the radioman in his radio.


17.

 

Come back. Come back,
children. Come back


and see the Midwest’s
checkerboard from

 

30,000 feet, the smoke
of industry leering like

 

syrup over the river,
alming the sky of life.

THE MOSQUITO MONOCRACY

{Originally published in Boston Review}

1.

 

Josephine, I’ve junked

a jazz band, some squall

grullo by the cobweb’s logic.

All skulls and bouillabaisse

but we’ll see come Zulu

time if it’s of goodwill

or gall the Zoroaster sings.

All this in the hallway where

July stalls jetlagged,

in the hallway where

the lemonade light lingers.

 

2.

 

Every day was Halloween

in the Middle Ages:

the cravats of betrayed

consiglieri crispened under

Carpathian sun. So long,

Main Street. So sorry.

I’ve rung you jealous

to say slender things

from this fickle well.

I think it best we go

to bed now.

 

3.

 

Roll them bones

at benthic measure.

The bankers of sleep

bicker in the break

room. I find telephones

humming in their buoyant

cases everywhere along

the river, all unanswered;

all when answered yield

the voice that calls

you to waking.

 

4.

 

From the calcite

mountains of our mouths.

 

5.

 

My time in Malaria,

among the mystic

zombies who dragged

themselves like trash

through the tropics

chanting no time

like this time like

this time to waste,

was accurately reported

as an adventure in

rudimentary calisthenics.

They haunt me like

hemoglobin. From behind

bus terminals they ply

us in paper suits, watch

us like iceboxes.

 

6.

 

Upon alkaline lakes we

skate on alkaline skates.

In ermine the eel eats

the eggs of each oak tree.

I eye the exit out into

the taxi-infested night.

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