Unfixable

Last week standing on Monhegan’s headlands, alongside other sweat-soaked
first-timers with their trail-maps, cameras, sloshing water bottles, it happened
again. They shushed their children and we all looked down on wheeling
gulls, slope-browed eiders, gannets gliding inches above
the rumpled-shirt surface of the waves.  A little girl in red
shorts clambered up a boulder, flapped her arms,
cried out, I’m flying! She had to be gathered in
mid-leap by her father. On those cliffs, sky-spill
and sea-tilt blending blues, wings everywhere,
even the yellow fans of clicking grasshoppers,
I felt this familiar, spreading sense of seepage,
as if I were bleeding but unable to locate the source.
The day was all leaking away before filling up;
there was no way to fix it, no container
sound enough to keep the above
from trickling into the below,
to yoke me to the moment,
to prevent sky from sliding
down lopsided like broken
blinds, waves from scattering
into feathers, or birds
from whirling into
children who slip
over an edge,
unnoticed and
uncatch-
able.

“Unfixable” was the winning Goodreads poem of the month in April, 2012.

 

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Ten Easy Steps

I can barely drag the box
to the basement stairs. The unassembled
shelving unit slides out of my hands
the last ten steps, crushes a cardboard corner,
and splinters a piece of plywood.
I should have waited for help,

but as my father used to say,
Shoulds are just needles
you poke in your own eyes.

I shimmy the rest of the boards out,
plus twenty slotted braces and beams
pegged with rivets. For all my hands know,
they might be parts of a windmill
or some giant erector set clanging
its warning on the concrete:

Hard—this will be painfully hard
for inept, grown-up sons of handy fathers.
And where are your shoes? Idiot,

he would have said. Socks are no protection
against suburban shrapnel—razor blades,
splinters, dropped glass pitchers.
Steel is unforgiving, death-dealing, the stuff
scimitars and howitzers are made of.
I can hear him rattle off another saw:

Whether the pitcher hits the stone,
or the stone hits the pitcher,
it’s going to be bad for the pitcher.

The instructions are ripped
and inscrutable in all five languages.
I have to balance the first two pieces
in place, with no hands left
to secure the third. Nowhere
on the box does it say

Stop! You can’t do this alone. You need
a handy father, someone with a sense
of how parts fit together, how they fall apart.

After the brace detaches and gashes my toe,
I curse in the voice of my father. He
would have shaken his head at the way
the shelves wobble, clucked at the blood
soaking through my sock and turned
his back on the extra piece I still hold

in my hand like an undriven stake.

First appeared in The Naugatuck River Review, Winter 2012

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Attic Fan

Three young men, shirtless
in the attic. Two snap chalk
lines, one cuts boards to size.
Their hands are almost musical:
Crescendo, de-crescendo
of the skill saw, compressed,
rhythmic retort of the nail gun,
contrapuntal hammering,
trombone sliding of their banter.

They are aware of their beauty.
Sawdust sticks to their glistening;
their bodies move like water
rippling over stones. They pose
and push one another. One
grabs a water bottle, takes
a long swig, sprays the others.
They kick blocks of waste wood
towards his nimble feet. I

do what I can to be near
the commotion, the danger,
I bring them more water,
but I’m in the way, avoid
one plank headed for a corner
cut, trip over a tangle
of cords, nearly upset
the floor fan. I pretend
it was intentional. The father

with mute hands, I grab
the fan’s throat, dip low
as if we are dancing
a tango. At least they laugh,
appreciate the angle
I can still make, crooked bowing
before all that straightness,
the casual exactitude of lines
measured out like music.

First appeared in The Northern New England Review, Vol. 32, 2010

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Bad Math

They say the handwork teacher died
of cancer because she was a hoarder—
shelves clotted with tangled skeins,
shadows of puppets, driftwood dowels,
piles of jaundiced newspapers, bird bones,
jars of beads  and regret.
Who doesn’t understand
the unappeasable urge to amass,
her addiction to textures, to graspability,
reminding us of what we are not?
She finally figured it out after hearing
the words “a mass,” clearcut a swath
through her life, not only the closet clutter—
her husband, the house, three sons.

Iscador injections, potentized, they say,
turn rogue cells docile
for a time.  She rebloomed,
traveled to Japan, resisted the urge
to buy jade and pearls, even as
the math in her went wild.

They say things are only things,
as if their calling out to us
could be muzzled, as if all the bodies
we desire to hold and hold
onto didn’t change in our grasp,
as if it were a cinch to divide
this world into the living
and the even more alive.

Originally appeared in Words and Images, Spring 2012

It was the winner of the 2012 Betsy Sholl Award, given by the University of Southern Maine 

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