A Few Poems from A Dog's Life (Jacar Press, 2016)

 

Woman and Dogs

My girlfriend’s dog is small and fat and neurotic
and smells at night like an African meat flower.
It loves her more than some people love anyone
in a riddle of love it worries at, lying there on the floor.
As she writes it makes strange sounds:
lickings, sighings, suckings, shiftings
like the worrying-tide of the world, like the vast
dog-tide of the world in its love of the moon
and of fetching sticks. My girlfriend is very quiet
and very white like the moon, and some people think
she is cold and uncaring just like it.
But her dog knows better, it knows she is quiet
like the sun as she writes her stories
tapping them quietly with her fingers, shaping
the messages she has heard of painful warmth
and love, quietly as a tree repeating the hard message
of the sun in its devotion of leaves and listening.
I have listened carefully to the dog. I have stolen
the dog’s secret about her. I have figured it out.
She is quiet and so she writes long stories
and I am loud and so I write quick poems
tiring myself out more quickly to look up at her
as lovingly and neurotically as the dog
perhaps never as lovingly as the dog
who unlike me has nothing to prove
who does not write poems except the thought-poems
of the chase, the sky, the walk, the meal.
Sick of the dog, I have had too much also of poems
petulant, filled with strange achings
I think of my navel which is too deep like a mine
I send my finger into it like a canary and feel sad
and weird and know I will die. But sometimes
she tells me she likes my chest and I take her
in my arms and feel for once superior to the dog.
Before this dog she had another dog I never met, a
golden retriever, who was not at all neurotic
who swallowed her childhood happily
like a white spiral fossil and brought it back
covered with a fine varnish fine slobber of evening
and died, and now is only a picture in a cheap frame
on the top of her desk as she writes. It makes me think
of all I can’t see: the long list of books she gave me
how they existed all my life and before it
and her story right now invisible to her too
like the idea of a flower to all the roots underneath
their gossipy brags and worries: how their flowers
grow tall as the spine of a young boy, go blue
as a nun’s lips in winter, unless the earth goes
upwards forever unbroken – but there she is
at least, complete: watched by the dog who is dead
watched by the dog who smells bad and is alive
watched by me, who am sick of poems and of life too maybe
but am alive and glad to look at her, at the tiny mark
on her cheek where the clamp brought her forth kicking
from the womb, to sit one day quietly in the
wound and fury of writing before the three of us
who cannot help, who wait in aches and shiftings
for her to turn round and speak gently our names.


Partner

Since we’re not married and
have been together so long
boyfriend and girlfriend is
starting to sound too hip, too sexy
for what we are, too Parisian –
like we take long strolls
on the Seine or make love in front
of mimes, like we tie our bodies
into balloon animals and float,
or ride the train under the
slimmest finger of ocean
to London, imagining Sherlock Holmes
hot on the trail of Moriarty
for the hundredth time too stupid
and obsessed to know his own
love for Watson if it hit him in the
face. They are partners, and I think it’s
time for us to steal their appellation
of dusty trusty hue that they stole
from Western Marlboro men
chewing tobacco and spitting
on cactuses, and not pronouncing
the “t,” as they moved
through the canyons, muscular
thighs draped over their horses.
We too journey side by side
on the trusty steeds of twin beds
or the single gigantic steed of a
California king, so my nighttime
imitations of a ninja won’t bother you,
so your thin form can be rolled up
like a cigarette in blankets
and be smoked by night
and the long plume of your dreams
can stay private. I love
how it’s all taken on faith,
the way day is partner to night,
or yesterday to today, knowing
no covenant keeps it all
together, no words stored
in a courthouse or promises made
before people who think love
is sealed by their getting drunk
for free, or by throwing rice on us
to plant in us a field we
we work all our lives –
I want you no sidekick or wife,
but choosing to be with me
and me with you day by day, stealthy
capable human partners planting
flags in a private happiness
without tiny sherpas of us
climbing to the top of a cake,
without the cake being sliced
into and floated out amidst a flock
of endless friends and relations
each jostling for the piece
with extra sugar – with the
frosting in which is written
congratulations and our names.

 

 

Contemporaries

Every dog born at your birth is now dead
every bottlenose dolphin and beaver
every mallard and mountain lion.
In the first 30 minutes of your life
all the fruit flies your age were dead.
Death started small:
when you turned three the last ant
your age turned its six legs to heaven.
When you blew out your first candles
your fellow bee ladled itself gently
into a flower. Now in spring you
meet their great-great-great-
grandson in a rose or hyacinth.
In 4th grade, the last prairie dog peered out.
As you had your first sexual experience,
the last goat born on your birthday
rubbed its itchy head against
the fence, bleated, and expired.
In your 20s, death snuck past
the last porcupine’s quills.
The cats and pigs like Virgil could only take you
half way through them too,
and turning 30 the long-faced
Beatrice of bison left you
as they left America, were hustled out
by drunk poachers firing bored
out of train windows, as all the tapirs
will go without your ever seeing one of them
(though they apparently live alone and have sex
in and out of water).
In your middle-years the last chimp
chucked his banana, the last Macaw
lost its luster, the last toad croaked,
and the last Asian elephant,
more fragile than the African versions collapsed,
was buried in a spot the younger ones,
trunks swaying like chimes,
refused to step on as they tossed the sad, cooling
earth onto their backs.
At sixty the last eagle plummets.
At seventy, the parrot who repeated all your
phrases goes mute. Silence fills
the room. After we are gone
what will linger? A few swans
will spit on our graves and be hateful,
a few turkey buzzards
born in their season will pick
at the bones by the highway,
themselves soon crushed
and peeled back to feathers.
And then only the swimming
things will remember the 20th century,
the bowhead whale dodging harpoons,
the sea turtles playing in the
turquoise waves of Kauai, and almost
mindless in their dazzling pink
and white pack, the koi
who keep rising toward the
rippling surface of the lake
to take their food from another world.

 

 

Carson Daly (after Christopher Smart)

For I will consider Carson Daly.
For in his youth he considered becoming a Catholic priest, but was too much of a
           sensualist.
For he is still known as the holy man of the industry and has a jacket embroidered that
           says so.
For he wants us to honor time’s passage and encourages young singers with beautiful
           voices.
For he helped discover Alanis Morissette whose anger helped me in high school.
For if in high school I hated him now I am pleased whenever his face illumines a TV.
For the sun of Santa Monica has shined kindly upon him.
For he is over 40 and aging well despite 16 years in the business.
For his voice can be heard late at night and just before dawn on the radio like an albatross
            for the lonely.
For he loves suits but is known to sport a casual cap.
For he loves golf and nothing makes him happier than a well-manicured green field.
For a green field reminds him above all of neatness, which pleases him best.
For he proclaims that America is tired of catfights and viciousness.
For he has been described as vanilla, which is the most popular flavor.
For other flavors are merely gimmicks but vanilla endures.
For vanilla is the color of fresh snow and in Spanish means little pod.
For vanilla reminds him of his mother’s milk which as a babe he drank greedily and
            with joy.

 

 

1WTC

Sometimes I lie in bed at night
with the shade pulled back,
and count all the lights still on.
This morning, in the distance, it hoists a scaffold
of shouting workers high in the air
who struggle to latch and graft its glittering
spire into place, the one needed
to reach its symbolic 1776 feet.

I hate the simplicity of its most American message:
we can do anything –
knock us down, we’ll rise up stronger –
and I think how little we’ve learned,
though it’s not unbeautiful, its bent
glass-sheen and shimmer. ‘At sunset
it takes on the color of the sky,’ says the doorman.

From my room at night it can seem delicate,
distant, even small, but running south
along the Hudson it grows
so quickly that I feel quickly helpless:
I see the simple myth of innocence
and perseverance writ large
in its monstrousness and I tilt my head back
until I see black in the corners of my vision.

I try to see in it those many who won’t                    
ride the elevators into the sky,
who won’t vacuum the floors, or barter for stocks,

or else to glimpse in it the families
who watch the new tower rise
up better and higher, like an elaborate
eulogy telling only a person’s best qualities,
one that in its very ethereal perfection teaches you
for the first time, that your beloved is dead.