Winner of the River Styx 2011 International Poetry Competition:
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:
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
Published in The Threepenny Review, Summer 2000:
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,