Look Back In Longing

I wait inside while strangers cart boxes through depleted rooms;
my mother's house empty now in fact instead of theory.
Thumbed to the inside of a pantry door, a calender dated 1961
holds watch. Here is the transience of x'ed out days;
I've come to name the ghosts in this sudden unhinging of air.

It's '61 again, and Eddie loses his footing on a low stool
while crepe myrtles bob purple heads outside the window,
leaving a silence, an absence of light beneath a door.
Mother listens to Debussy, La Danse De Puck, and does not cry;
I watch the weight draw lazy circles in the dusk of day.
It will be spring in a while; I never wanted to go to Paris.

This is the summer Joan found the husk and bark
of Dylan, threatened to move to Greenwich Village, get a job
pouring coffee at Gerde's Folk City. She named a took-up sooner
Woody, got caught behind Conner's Feed 'n Seed with a boy
who looked a lot like Bob. She disappeared that summer,
"away with an aunt", they said; returned before fall set in,
the arc of EST still visible in the fine hair at her temples.
Afterwards, she was always barefoot, humming behind a frozen smile.

Autumn has come, wind scares up old leaves that tick down in spirals.
"Take a picture of this" says my father; now he hides in the slump
of a stranger photographed beside a pearl-gray sedan, his face
too far away to see the set of his mouth; tight-lipped until
he drank it loose. I smell rain in the swelling dearth of sky.
I am not like him, all flesh and hollow bone. He speaks in loud tones
of the nigger allowed on his crosstown bus, reason enough, he says,
for the Buick. The camera doesn't record the stink of his breath.

It is winter. I have carried the cold in from the outside.
The movers are done, their trucks packed and idling at the curb;
exhaust curls from their pipes and dissolves as I watch them pull away.
I think of whatever it is that looks back in longing, how the hibiscus
still blooms in February and my God, it's been years since I've seen snow.


Deconstructing Mother



She shook off Perihelion
one strangled afternoon
in a perfect gnash of gears;
a dirt burg south of Bakersfield
so hot Hell shunned membership
and so did she; flipped a fed-up

finger at the Mediterranean Cafe,
dried-out dive where simple sallies
ply pussy for promises and warm
mescal; they snickered behind
spidery hands as she played her
crafty ass flush on that final

fuck-all score and when
the heat rose like fetid smog
she yanked it loose; scorched sand
with a stripped-down skyline painted
horizon blue and raced the devil
to Babylon in a fifty-nine Ford.



Mama got implants
the year the Sox traded that lousy southpaw,
because she wanted her audience of one
sorry son-of-a-bitchin' bricklayer to pay
more attention but it only made him tease-
he said they made her teeter worse
than those jade-colored juleps
she was constantly sipping because she thought
they were so couth, so uptown Savannah

but mama always did wear
her avarice on her pink velour sleeves;
even bought parquet-patterned linoleum
for our rented kitchen floor and when
the son-of-a-bitch caught that last caboose
to Birmingham one hot July night
she woke us all up; put Percy on the box-
slow-dragged us around the black and white,
her breath like mint against our upturned faces.


Near The End

When mother fucked the mechanic,
years after accusations fell and nestled
into pastel carpets, along eggshell baseboards,

she led him in with coffee in a bone cup-
took his coat, his hat, his hands;
laid him down on pink nap beside a cracked

leather sofa that stank of rum, of shalimar
and hip on hip they rocked; wrung doubt
from shadows watching behind papered walls

while we watched Peyton Place upstairs,
while the calico in the window watched rain
patter against a pearl-gray sedan-

its hood up, opened like a secret.


Last Look

She takes martinis in the morning,
three jiggers to a pilsner glass;
spoon-stirred because shaking
bruises good London gin, every
Barton's baby knows that and then

she eddies angostura down the
crystalline well, arid as a nun's glove
because vermouth is only wine,
never was anyone's secret recipe
and besides, she's been to Trinidad;

danced slick-skinned on Tobago sand
while island boys watched behind
hidden eyes, swinging promises
between twitching flanks and now
her days are dry, the nights dusty-

so she drinks martinis in the morning,
three decades to a pilsner glass.


Talking To Walls

She was a big, bottle blonde
kissing the backside of forty,
looking like Mansfield might
if she hadn't blown Biloxi in the rain;
cartoon tits packing Lana Turner sweaters,
checkerberry breath clinging to tacky lips
like the promise of something sweet.
Flashing teeth and thigh six nights
out of seven, she works counter
down at the Angelica Theatre on fifty-third,
selling zabars and popcorn in greasy sacks
to strangers sweating behind familiar features;
they count their change as they walk away.

She shares time and a three-room walk-up
with a dyke she met in Jersey city,
creole stripper half her age who calls her doll
and doesn't know that mama named her Gravis,
reminder of days grown heavy, nights gone hard;
the chance missed to die without scars.

She's never talked of how she split at fifteen,
another ant struggling from someone elses afterbirth,
never telling how it felt when the cord snapped
somewhere east of Idaho; the severed end
drags behind her, erasing the ways back.

She doesn't speak of lying belly-flat
on a sheet-draped table while a man she didn't know
inked his thoughts beneath her skin; he hung
a new moon off the base of her spine, indigo stain
posed like an unfinished question.
In her dreams, faceless people hide answers
under the impossible designs; they leave clues
in concatenate patterns behind her eyes.

Sometimes late at night,
she puts Holiday on the box, sips cold duck
from a tea glass and listens to a closed throat
croon about how things get lost, how turns go wrong.
She watches the girl sleep, her still-firm flesh
the color of peppered honey; and she wonders
will years stretch it slack, or will it ride off
into some sunset in a pink Electra, wind up
on a sheet-covered stretcher, face-up to the dead.

But mostly, she thinks of voices and young girls,
how they last while they last; everything is only until.
She pours herself a kill-shot, rubs absently
at the nag buried in the small of her back,
fingers moving in concentric circles;
their remembered rhythms shushing the tell-tale moon.


Where The Road Runs

He drove himself down every road.

In a Plymouth with tires balder than his head,
slicker than onions growing wild in the ditch.

Does he see the feral cats race his shadow
as it whips through the rabbit grass?
Can he hear the cicadas whirr in the Digger pines?

He claimed he saw a coyote chasing its tail
through fields white with bolls, never admitting
that coyotes ain't common around cotton;
then he would laugh like chuckles were dollars.

His opinions meant everything; his weight pulled
carts filled with sand down at the cement yard
until his yield grew so slack the big boss noticed;
let his time go with a watch and a gold smile-
he had grinned, said it was just another bone

for the archeology folks up state way to dig up
one fine afternoon, to study over like he studied roads-
everyday, a different road. He always said
he heard his oasis calling, heard the slip of streams,
smelled suckle dripping from the vine somewhere
out past the end of the Butternut groves.

Take me back, he'd say-
lead me where the roads run to earth;
leave me drink from the slipping streams,
let me draw communion from its song;
bring me grapes that hang from strapped stakes,
feed me honeysuckle sweet as time-
wash away years like the river smooths stone.

Those blacktops earned his admiration,
hugged his glass tires, pushed his days forward.
He said his satisfaction was always just ahead-
lurking in the sawgrass, swimming with water striders
across the flat planes of Gardner's pond,
caught on a high soar with the morning doves
throwing shadows like bullets on the two-lane;
their flight cutting delicate arcs through thoughts.

He paid attention to clouds, drew their chaos
in the dust on his hood. He chewed sour-thorne
as he drove, said its tang called memories
of a girl he once kissed beneath a fingernail moon.
He collected thistle from bullrushes,
strew it out his windows for the architect birds
building homes in the Silver Birch stands.
He carried a trowel in his trunk for small burials.
He couldn't remember his childrens names.

He died on a Saturday.
Parked his Plymouth on a slow rise
out where split-rails lean against the sky.
He opened his arms to a fading sun,
lent his voice to a slipping stream-
Take me! Lead me where the road runs to earth!
They found an old man on Monday, the papers said;
pillowed on piles of thistle miles from the rush thickets,
his eyes full of dew, his pockets full of grapes.


Notes To Rachel

You gave me bunny slippers
for Easter, and a copy of Watership Down;
it earned you the benefit of a doubt.
I wonder how long before you are gone,
after you've vanished.

This morning the refridgerator
dumped cold on my bare feet;
I thought about the way
your back arched around my toes.

Estelle came today
with a shoebox of photographs
you had taken on our trip to Vermont;
you scribbled notes on the back
of every one.

When she was gone,
I read the words on each photo
over and over.

I walked to the mailbox
four times ahead of the mailman.
Mrs. Campos next door
thinks I'm going insane.
Maybe she's right.

This afternoon
I sat and watched the wallpaper peel
from the corner where the glue
never took; after a while
it looked like a time-lapse film
of rotting fruit.
I decided to get the TV fixed.

Estelle came by again-
this time with a girl
who looked a lot like you used to,
before those I-want lines
furrowed your forehead.
You named them all after me.

Estelle left and she stayed;
we drank Tanqueray with no ice
until you disappeared.
Afterwards, she slept naked
on the blue couch downstairs.

She was gone this morning,
left a note under your smiley magnet.
I didn't read it.
It wasn't from you.

I went to Delmar's for breakfast,
but negatives of you live there,
the leatherette booths mocked me.
I snuck out before my order was up;
I can't go back.

Going home,
I thought I saw your head
above a clutch of backpacks on sixth street;
but it turned out to be
just another blurred ghost.

Mrs. Campos watches me
walk up the drive;
I grin and wave like a lunatic-
as if I never saw the falling,
as if I don't know it will be years
before I feel the crash.