Winner of the River Styx 2011 International Poetry Competition:

Octopus

 

She slept like a puppy, tangle of legs folded beneath,

eyes half-cocked and drifting up,

body inflating with her liquid breath

in and out and in again, suspended

between rock—real or fake?—and tank glass.

She seemed exhausted and deaf just then

to the buzzing rumble of human voices and feet,

which never paused to notice her there asleep.

 

Giant Pacific Octopus, biggest in the world,

she looked small and half-collapsed

like a plastic bag in the breeze,

but for her head, ballooning and ridged like an exo-brain.

 

I wondered how the white coats had caught this canny being

so quick and skilled at hiding,

squeezing through quarter-sized holes,

jetting free through a chaos of ink,

or, as they described, escaping over the top of the fifteen-foot tank

to be gathered up and plunged back in

by the night watchman.

 

You are a loner, they report,

rebuffing even the valiant attempt of your neighbor octopus,

who unturned every screw

in the partition wall to get to you.

 

Maybe you are just too sad to love anyone here

in this fabricated universe

where against your better judgment you are not dying

but surviving each attenuated day

where thoughts of the deep Pacific

ebb beyond your memory, as it washes up

bleached and stricken without you.

 

Published in Bloom, Spring 2007; republished by Poetry Corners 2014:

Spring Song

 

Lying brittle on the surgical table

I feel the needle graze the soft epidermal hairs

rocking in their sockets,

then plunge through pink cell membrane,

reddening sheaths of fascia,

minute estuaries of the heart, piercing

the constellation of nerves in spinal orbit

to the desiccated interior of my disc.

I always thought the sky would fall,

if at all, in one swift collapse,

not like this slow narrowing

where I can still remember kissing you

and how you climbed up me

like spring clematis, greening and flowering in,

effusion of blossoms

more beautiful the longer I smelled you,

tensile and twining through,

till I nearly believe again in my life—

its unbounded striving for light—

and I’m as young as you

with your dark-water eyes and relentless body

vining up into vast currents of sky

opening, astonishingly, to receive me.Spring Song in window

 

Published in The Threepenny Review, Summer 2000:

Oasis

 

In a swoon of rancid fast food grease

wafted across the highway

I click the nozzle to auto pump,

hear the liquid murmur through the line,

hands in my pocket slits, shoulders tight

against the gusts rushing the strip.

 

As the digits roll up, I suck

fuel vapor, feeling something like hunger

or nausea. In the hut: a gallery of neon food

dyed, bleached, and branded

in stupefying variety.

 

I scan the flat asphalt field

splotched with oil malignancies

and fringed with three anemic trees

writhing in the wind.

 

At seven I learned to ride a bike in one swift epiphany

and roared all that day with flooded heart

through June rain and steaming dusk

(believing I would always get better).

 

Out here the sky holds no past,

no sun or moon. And the horizon, if you look,

only disintegrates.