In All Their Animal
They smelled like gristle and lost rivers,
I wore them around my neck
on fishing line.
They guarded that palace behind my breastbone
where the soul takes its R & R.
The creatures that pair of legs perished
Pull the tendons, and the talons
and closing like a sweet maniac
deciding between death by hurricane
and death by slow volcano.
And when the talons gripped my finger
till it purpled I felt great wings
feathering the air, pulling
against the sorry truths that held me to
II. By Road, and By Sky
Hit and left for dead, this porcupine. A
mess of flesh
and entrails in a smear of blood. It jerked
then tried dragging itself away. My father
over and rummaged in the trunk for something
it off. His hands were coolness that night.
Or were they grace?
He straddled that twitching porcupine and
a tire iron above his head. I watched. Still,
it was my mother
I loved. My mother in the front seat, with
her pill box hat
and apricot skirt. My mother, with a sweet
of moles above her collar bone and her left
overlapping the right. She turned away from
of high beams across asphalt and the valley
I was not her first son, or favorite. But
the one lucky
enough to be in the backseat that night.
The one whose face
she used as a mirror to watch my father
six shivering blows. She reached for me
across the seat,
then turned on the radio, as if I or the
serenading. The wedding reception we were
late for could wait.
And the city juggling its neon promises.
And my father
explaining that bad driving is to accidents
as a tire iron
is to mercy. My mother held me. The ghost
of the porcupine
hovered over its remains, then rose with
and drifted south. The crickets sang darkly,
and the road
said never and the sky said always
and both told the truth.
III. Good Friday in San Bernardo, Chile
First a wavery premonition, then their snouts
breaking through haze, finally a rumble
of shank and muscled fat. Was it patience
that filled their pig eyes? Awe that filled
Down the street they came, through a veil
of fog and taboo. Smartly hooved, faces
lifted, as if being unclean also made them
Seven of them, which I, on my way to buy
bread, had divided. Seven days, seven venial
seven sacred holes in this unholy face,
times seventy the times I must wash in ashes
and kiss the gristle of this sweet dying
seven heavens watching. And they trotted,
my tallness less to them than a pillar of
IV. Spider Luck
One toe-nudge too many and she exploded,
mother spider, into a slick of babiesno
than spilled commas, unless you knelt
at the open door with a used paperback of
as I did, to rescue them, and happened
to notice the pool playing hide the button
with Cassiopeia and wondered about heroic
in general and my cowardice in specific
for not swimming naked at 2:30 am and which
neighbor slipped into my apartment to steal
half a rotisseried chicken while I mailed
and which one I should trust to water my
and why rain is almost never a possessive
and whether I was the only one awake enough
to hear the wind saying with its hundred
mouths, Never mind, little orphan, never
V. Infinity Hopscotch
How do you honor a dead calico whose owner
is bicycling Nova Scotia? I've washed
most of the blood off. I've gentled the
and admired their waxy labyrinths. Even
her toe pads till her claws signaled the
time keeper of cats perched in the sycamore.
Now I'm burying, on my side of the mums
in case my neighbor is squeamish about owning
the dead. No rain, but a sky bent on trying
and a damp smell midway between old suppers
and penance. Like a good citizen, I try
under and through all this. Which leads
to my driveand a newly chalked hopscotch
She grins in pastels, electric and maternal,
the work of who knows which cul-de-sac imp?
From her pink scribbled hair, chalk circles
patient as dinner plates lead to the darkening
orchard. So much hopping, so many erasable
worlds. And this dirty shovel growing heavy.
VI. Landscape for Several Pairs of Hands
No one is going to save me from the rest
of my life,
though my father,
seat belted and ruddy, hands like a surgeon's,
believes otherwise. He drives
as if landscape were no more than a long
of obedient patient. But this is Wyoming,
where even angels and barbed wire
wait till after midnight to hold their Q.
Between us, a bleached cow skull,
a sepulchre of a faceour only souvenir
after hunting arrowheads all morning and
rivulets that branched and crossed,
crossed and branched.
Next spring and onward into a geologist's
my father will hang this skull in the crotch
of our cherry treea warning
to marauding robins. Which they will ignore.
I am not quite asleep,
but can already feel hands crescendoing
across the horizon, hands
playing tuneful mirages that quiet away
just as I'm about to recognize
a melody. When I wake up
I will occupy a stronger, but sadder body.
It is August, nobody's birthday.
I am cold enough
in this shimmering heat to know my days
as a son
are numbered. And still
my father's right palm rests on the cow
We have crossed the meandering
Green River three times in the last hour,
though our unpaid-for car is aimed straight
Landscape, with Hungry
If I said burial, if I said a lovely
prepare the body, who would I startle?
Not this pair of teenage girls in matching
a mound of their brother.
And not the boy himself, laid out like a
rye, who volunteered for interment.
In the language of skin, he knows that
patience, and that patience worketh
a blue sky dotted with gulls, if only he
enough. And he does, his face a cameo
dusted with sparkling grains. Meanwhile,
me offerings he has dug up
a jaw bone, a pair of vertebrae, ribs like
planks, three teeth.
my feet, an ancient horse assembles.
A lesson in calcification? A beginner's
the sea gulls canvassing the beach
are questions, then the pelican riding the
the buoys is an admonition, but to what?
The sisters are at work again, making a
daisy of their brother's face,
six pieces of popcorn per petal, his eyes
they scatter leftover kernels across the
like sextons scattering lime. To my left,
deep in shallows, my son catches minnows.
No, not minnows, damsel fly larvae,
swim like minnows but have six legs.
He places them in a moat, so they can swim
enough they will climb this castle wall.
Soon enough they will shed their syntax
language for another, like a good translation.
The sisters have moved further down the
hopes that the sea gulls will gently
nibble their brother. So many motives. Theirs:
body in the sands of is as though tomorrow
His: to taste the world, mouth to beak.
gulls draw closer, to peck at his heart.
I am trying to pretend the body is only
watch the pelican. I have to keep reminding
A pelican is not a pterodactyl with feathers.
pelican is not doing moral reconnaissance.
A pelican does not know my name.
close my eyes long enough to drift up and
Poor man, napping there, far below, who
smells like me, but is stuck in a beach
Quick, someone teach him to bank and hover.
this horse my son is decorating the moat
broken into pieces so various and eloquent
are its pastures, does it have enough to
Yes, the zucchinis grow heavy and wicked,
and yes, a porcupine parses the orchard
one rummy apple at a time.
But the true inventory begins when two boys
in mummy bags carve up Cassiopeia,
first with index fingers, then with closed
and a buried love of their mothers, expressed
Next the bicycle hanging on the porch pedals
backwards, a poor man's time machine.
Which means it's time
for the zephyr and the uncle smoking
a hand-rolled cigarette
under the eaves to trade places.
Prepare then to say hello to wind tucked
into scuffed boots, to salute a laid-off
pushing clouds across the lake.
Meanwhile, a croquet hoop and an ax
in the peonies create
a cautionary tale by moonlight,
whose heroine huddles in the front room
trying to free Chopin from torn sheet music.
Beneath her, in the basement, her older
on a plastic wand that turns
her misgivings the shade of her boyfriend's
To the side of the house,
a salamander in a bucket holds the night
ransom. Up ahead, one peach tree, three
like agony buried in Jesus and the two thieves.
The Father who suffered him to be nailed
climbs over the fence. Wanders his overgrown
vineyard in an underfed body, to remember
lostness. Takes a swig of syrupy Coke
left out all day, coughs once, then wipes
his mouth on the neck of a sleeping dog,
who dreams apocalypse in greens and terrible