Out of the Ordinary

The summer we met you wrote:

 what it would be like to wake with a lover

   as accustomed as the sparrow’s serenade

   beautiful in its simplicity

   dear in its ordinariness 

Fourteen winters on

you call to me, urgent, from somewhere downstairs

deep in the recess of our house — go quick! to the kitchen

window! go! go! look!

I put down my pen, set aside the poem I am

always trying to write, reach the pane as your awestruck

voice fills the house: snow sparrows! snow sparrows!

— they are unlike any bird — part seagull, robin, polar fox —

tramping out a crisscrossed code in the snow,

never before seen in these parts, but they have found

our house, the one where every inch of lawn

is rock garden, flower bed or fish pond, all the work

of your hand and green thumb. The first three days

of this newborn arctic spring, they light rare awe-

some beauty on our simple, accustomed, ordinary life.

 

 

 

 

Our Ears Were Numb with the Concert (–survivor to the BBC)

Here it is arctic cold and I have too many rooms

to know where to go, too many

chairs and nowhere, no know how

to sit and love this world, though the sun

beams through the crotch of the mountain

onto the gray rippled fjord like a surge

of woodwind I cannot hear,

for the Marseillaise from Trafalgar Square

numbs my ears, even as I cannot

find the tune of it, afraid to find the tune

that always, even when there was no reason,

made me weep. I weep – allons enfants! – but send hearts

to my daughter – ton aînée n’y sera plus! – tell her

to set her worries aside – liberté cherie – there is still

more good than anything else in the world.

What Good is Green Grass?

What good is green grass if

your knee doesn’t work

and you can’t take off work

for the operation

and you can’t pay

for the operation

without the job

at which you are overworked

taxing the knee

to cover taxes and

your fifty dollar subsidised rent

in a slum

where you hobble to bed

then rise 

to hobble to work.

Everything between

is smooth cement

to ease the traffic.

You know who you are,

that once you loved

to lie in green grass

your long hippie hair

thrown back

and poked through by dandelions,

you could taste green

when you breathed

the fresh breeze-puffs

issuing from the fluffy clouds

you could watch for hours

even when you weren’t high.

Nature was what you loved most

but now, you don’t pause

to breathe in the green

or even go out to see

if there is any grass 

because you have no one

to lie down in the grass with

even if you could kneel

and bend

and touch the ground

Robert Shelton Wants to Chat

I hate google

trying to match me up,

improve my social standing, or life.

Accept the chat? Who the hell

is Robert Shelton?

The one of Ku Klux Klan born, Tuscaloosa, 1929?

or the Critic, Chicago, 1926, discoverer of Bob Dylan?

No – wait – he died… and so did the other…

Could it be Robert Shelton Associate Professor, Peace and Conflict Studies?

Or Robert Shelton former president, University of Arizona,

expert in condensed matter physics, now director

of the Fiesta Bowl?

He is at least living, and had a starting salary of $550,000

back in 2008, but, really now, what would we have to chat about?

And of all the images there is not one robert shelton

I recognize, no former Rio High School Viking,

or Oak Ridge alumni, just random variations:

robert shelton ownenergy, robert shelton newton,

robert shelton farmers insurance, robert shelton golf,

robert shelton photography, robert shelton pwc…

But look — on Results page 2 there is a dramatic turn — Fiesta Bowl

robert shelton abruptly resigned — he’s going back

“to the real love of my life”

“back to something I also feel passionate about”

Research Corporation for Science Advancement,

and for that step up from the Fiesta Bowl, I commend Robert Shelton,

but I still don’t want to chat with him, or any other

by that name, except — what’s this on page 3? Robert Shelton Tug,

MMSI 367057370, Callsign WD6515… yes, I would talk to a boat

named Robert Shelton — why not? We could discuss our various understandings

of Ocean as Metaphor for God and Self – hey Bob the Tug – if it was you,

chat me back — this time I just might accept.

Read all About It

On the day you will be born:

The U.S. eliminates 95% of H-

bomb fallout. Atom test rips

blockhouse 14 miles from blast

site. U.S. officers in Soviet radio-

TV accord. Law group head hits

high court. Free speech no

protection for obscenity high

court rules – and that is all

the news that’s fit to print,

or your mother has time to read,

in a taxi in Cincinnati, on her way

to meet you this fine morning

in June.

What Sounds Like Rain

small tapdancers

on a floor of water

a hundred leprechauns

finger snapping out of synch

hummingbirds hammering 

on plastic window panes

no – the sound of twenty one nineteen

year olds writing

five hour long

marathon mid-term

essay exams

 

And I get to sit here

and listen

 

Once We Were Sisters

Girl children

in matching sunsuits,

offering each other broken

Oreos, sand hidden

in the white cream

 

When I turned five

I would have to color inside

the lines, you said,

and watch my words

so they didn’t run out

 

The night our mother died

you tried to kill me

my child fled into the dark

 

Your name comes now

in dreams, shaped like a woman

parkbench sleeping

 

Then, we pricked our fingers,

crossed blood, touched tongues,

wound our hair together

into one brown silk braid

 

 

 

Quote

Det lange livet…

Det lange livet
Livet er så langt, av og til
varer det i flere måneder
avbrutt av høyt gress,
dype elver
og kyss
som varer like lenge som et eple
faller
i det lille sekundet mellom sommer og høst

Read this and you will know why I fell in love with Terje Johansen’s poems, and why I miss him. 

Forfatter: Terje Johanssen
Utgitt: Fra samlingen «Uttexti», Gyldendal 1997

Writing

Writing 

Is like living with a snake.

You spend a lot of time watching it sleep.

It requires only sporadic feeding,

When it moves, it unwinds slowly,

imperceptible, yet it will not be stopped.

It has a mind of its own. It will shed its skin

whether you are ready for it or not.

And when you are asleep, not watchful, think 

you are handling it just fine, the snake will

strike out, bite, and you will fear it.

You must not be afraid.

This is what snakes do.

You own the snake for this purpose.

The blow only startles. 

Suck the venom out, spit,

nurse the wound.

The scar you carry will remind you.

Losing It

Mike the headless chicken

brought in fifty-six thousand dollars a month

from people paying a quarter

to see him, this was nineteen forty-five

the war was over, twenty-five cents

was a lot, but times were good

and only going to get better

in America, we got Chevrolet

and the Atom Bomb, and a headless chicken

attracting more tourists than a castle would over in one of them

Europeeun countries, twenty-five cents a pop,

anyone can make a fortune if they just add it all up

and now, over a half a hundred years later,

a woman who has lost a tooth, and her phone,

and her job, and her son, and both her daughters, and all

her grandchildren, and both her parents, and both her brothers,

and soon the roof over her head, stands in Martin’s

with a borrowed contraption, trying to connect

to wireless WiFi,

trying to get a message out

and no one would pay a dime,

not even a penny, shucks, they could

watch her lose her both her head and her mind for free

but they don’t bother to stop and pay her any notice at all

and this is why, they say,

the extraterrestrials who are looking on

haven’t bothered making contact

with the likes of us

The One Poem in the World

You had a favourite poem

once but can’t

find it it was blue, the cover

and the author was Marco Polo something or other

but wait, there was another one another

language

which is your favourite

what about the early ones your first words from masters

Donne and Blake

who would you take – isn’t this what it comes down to – to a desert island

or is that deserted island, people say desert, what about

a thesaurus take that

instead of a favourite poem

but okay, yes,

this is not a trip

to a beach where the mermaids sing each to each

but not for you

what about that white book with the thin words on the front, a tinge of pink

some southern man

or another – here’s what to do, look through

all the books, forget covers and names

don’t read the poems,

rather look in the margins for your own pressing slant: find the poem

that made you have to write.

Another I May Never See Again

Greenish bluish velvety NSB upholstery,

ornamented with arrow tips, yellow specked,

widely spread, someone’s idea of beauty,

a designer, who went to school to learn

the art of textile, and celebrated with friends

this career boost: a commission to bedeck

the carriages of the NSB local Gardemoen – Drammen.

 

The greenish bluish upholstery of the past,

a past Norway I passed through when these

seats were new, and so was I, and hope

sat in a seat between us.

Tildragelse uten ord

ved årets slutt
tømmes gatene for folk
og diktene tømmes for ord
det er jul
og du og jeg og en hund
går tur i en mørk og stille
bydel som heter hjem

bakom julegardinene
sitter folk pent til bords
selvom pinnekjøtt ikke lar seg spise
pent med gaffel og kniv

det er en type tro, det samme
som får meg igjen og igjen
til å sitte pent foran et blankt skjerm
med stumme giddesløse fingre

sannheten er: ingenting fungerer
men alt går rundt,
se, kjære, et glimt av nyttår
skimmer der nede i svingen
like ved det røde huset
som lyser hjem

Julaften, bare voksne

når det er bare to kvinner som feirer jul sammen
lager ingen av dem middag
det blir ost og vin og knekkebrød kjøpt i sverige
på fotballturnering i juni
da det ennå var barn i huset

barna flyr sørover som fugler flest
når det nærmer seg jul
og vi står igjen med et tre
og tjue-fire pakker

jeg, den eldste, har lagt dem under treet
du, min ti år yngre kjæreste, kan ta dem opp
og dele dem ut, en til meg, flest parten til deg
når man når en viss alder er det lite jul igjen
å pakke opp

rett som det er, det… Men hvor er julestemningen
som alltid var i huset? små hvite lys i en mørkegrønn tre
fargete pakker, dufter av alt søtt og godt… det er
foreldrer som danner julestemningen, mine egne gjorde det
og jeg og deg for barna

uten barn i huset er jeg ingen foreldre, og jul
blir mest et bilde jeg står og ser på i min stue
uten å skjønne hvorfor den ser så flat ut
hva for en følelse er gjømt bak alt det kjente
glittrende pynt

I pausen ved sangens slutt, før klappingen tar i

Jeg sluttet å synge i kor
for å finne resonansbunnen
i ord, det blanke hvite rom
de lever i, som også heter
papir, et ark, det digitale arket
et et skjerm, og det var vel et ark
som reddet Noah
da verden gikk under i flom?

Verden går under i flom.
I dag er det flom i Brasil.
I går var det flomrammete
landet du jour Bangladesh.
Hele uke har det vært Australia
som drukner. Før jul var det Pakistan.
Telefonregningen for januar har
200 kroner ført på en post
til minne om det.

Å synge er å utløse et flom.
Du publikum, som sitter og smiler
og nikker i tak, vet du at vi drukner deg?
Sang er bare flytende ord, en del av den uendelige
samtalen vi lever i. Og dør i. En sang
er ditt liv, forkledd som musikk.

Jeg vil bort med forkleddning.
Forholde meg til rene ord
i et lydløs tomrom, prøv der
å høre dem skrik. Fordi jeg har ennå ikke
klart å høre hva ordene har å fortelle meg,
selv etter årevis med sang.

Den siste korsang jeg sang het Words
Words are ….
Det betydde jo ingenting, innså jeg. Det
var musikkløs og meningsløs og jeg
besluttet meg å slutte i kor, lete annenstads
etter ordenes resonansbunn.

Ordenes resonansbunn er ikke mine ord.
Det er noe jeg leste i avisen. Jeg forsøker
å forstå. Jeg tar opp min morgenkopp,
slurk kaffeen, bit i brødskyven, blad om.
Avisen er et tynnt lag papir dekket over
med ord. Tette, svarte ord, øsende som småkrypp
rundt bilder av flomoffrer fra alle land.
De ligner på hverandre og griper fast, til hverandre
til ting som vil flyte bort og drukne. De hører alle
det samme ordløse lyd dunkende i ørene, uten ord
uten navn de står på en liten tørr flekk som er
midtpunkt i verden.

Min avis er et ark dekket over av målrettet ord.
Jeg skjønner egentlig ingenting av det. Hverken
sang, stillhet, eller ord. Men jeg leter. Plukker bort
og kikker under, legger fra meg en og en
unødvendige ting, graver meg frem mot bunnen
hvor alt som er levende er i ord.

Morning Poem

There was a poem somewhere in the air
but it didn’t rhyme, it was
feeling something about meaning
something about feeling something
or was it thinking some things
are for thinking, some for meaning

it got lost
the air was too cold
dark bus exhaust snow

but it ended like this: someone
left a pen for me in the room that was well swept
it wasn’t left for me, it was left, and it was me
who came into the room so early it was dark
in the windows, the chairs scattered
the pen was white, small red words on it said:
better work, better life.

Hestdalen 13

Har du ikke sydd gardiner ennå?
spurte Olga
den dagen
hun fikk sønnen
til å kjøre henne forbi
det gamle huset
som var mitt nytt hus
som hadde vært
hennes drømmehus
den gang hun var en ung brud

hun pekte på den skravlete
hagen, den falleferdig trapp
og jeg lærte ett nytt ord
provisorisk
lurte på om jeg også
skulle få bruk for det ordet
en dag

Som japanske turister i Disneyland

Første sommeren 2001
hver gang vi kjørte hjem fra byen
i retning Mørkved
trakk vi pusten og ropte Se! Se! Se!
da vi rundet svingen
ved Stille Dahl
og fikk syn av Børvasstind
fjellveggen og skyene
som malt på himmelveggen
Se! Se! Se!
barna klatret mot vinduene
Trond saktet farten på bilen
jeg knipset med kamera
og tok video
som om vi var turister
som om vi ikke trodde
det gikk an å være så heldig
å få se et slik fenomen
som Børvasstind på en sommerdag
igjen

I Paradis jeg tenkte på deg

Da jeg ankom Paradis
Det Store Øyet Hawaii
med utsikt over sol-
nedgangen i Stillehavet
det første jeg tenkte
det først som slo meg, var
Nordland er penere en dette.

Vi bor i et postkort
sa en dame, jeg nikket,
vi sto og så ut over havet
hvor delfiner danset
i det hellige havvann
hvor Captain James Cook
ble drept av de innfødte.

Ja, vi bor i et postkort
sa hun igjen og jeg sa
ingenting, svelget
mine stumme, mine sorgfulle
ord – Du, du har ikke sett Nordland.

Før 11. september

Den første sommeren var så kald
det var så mye regn
at vi ikke kunne bli varm
uansett hvor mye klær
vi lånte fra slektninger

Vi forsto ikke
teip på badelysknappen
som skule stå alltid på

Vi ble redd tanken
at bursdagsbløtkaken
i slutten av juni
ble oppbevart kjølig nok
i et soverom

Hva ville skje med oss
om vi ikke lyktes i å lage brød
om vi ikke klarte forkjørselsretts regelen
og manøvrering i rundkjøring

Vi lå i svigermorens loft
sengen var liten og mørkebrun
og hvisket til hverandre – ingen ville forstå
hvordan det er for oss, bare vi to

Det var det siste vi hadde felles
et solidaritet, et samhold
i hvor fjern vi følte oss
hvor fremmed

Avskjed

jeg lente hodet mitt
mot vinduet
så ned på de
sommersvarte
fjelltoppene
og gråt mine stille
tårer
løsrivelsen var sårt
ikke fra folk
ikke fra slekt
bare fra fjellene
som bår mine gamle røtter hjem

jeg lente meg mot vindu glass
jeg fikk alltid vindu plass
han og jeg
i hver vår sete
bundet fast
av en tynn svart belte

Jeg hadde lært meg et gammelt språk

Mitt første møte
med det norske språket
etter tusenårskiftet
skjedde like ved
det urnorske spisestedet
Whimpys på City Nord
(hvorfor City Nord
og ikke By Nord for faen?
og hvis dere må bruke
et engelsk ord, hvorfor
ikke uttalle det som det er
C-i-ty og ikke SEEEEE TEEEEE
og mens vi snakker om det
hvorfor oppkalle restauranten
etter Popeye’s tullebukk venn
istedenfor en norsk figur,
Per Gynt f.eks.?)

Jeg var i ferd med å
gå ned trappa, gikk fort
gjennom folkemengden
snudde meg og dyttet
rett inn i en gutt
han var kanskje 14, jeg 41
jeg sa Unnskyld! (med god uttale)
han sa Sorry! og forsvant

Corner Kafé

Jeg kan være usynelig
i Corner Kafé
og ser kjentfolk gå forbi
uten å måtte reise meg
og si hei
det er godt å sitte med ryggen til
et blåttmalt vegg
delvis skult bak et plastikk tre
bak vinduet med hvite striper
malt halvveis opp
som en gitter

Det er bare meg

Det var noen stemmer
hengende i luften over bordet
men de dro hjem
til barnebarn

Folk går forbi
gittervinduet
folk jeg kjenner igjen
men kommer ikke på hva de heter
eller hvor jeg kjenner dem fra
flere ganger ser jeg Tore Johansen
han kunne være hvilket som helst
eller alle disse skallete menn
som går med raske skritt
og ryggen imot meg

Slaps

i
vi drakk rødfarget
med ekte kunstig bringebær
smak

ii
smaken av blå neon
ga oss svartedaudens
lepper

iii
suge
røret
rødt
og hvit
stripete
førte iskaldslaps
til hjernen
som frøs
og gjorde vondt

iv
papirkrus blå
isbjørn hvit
vi var barn
av vitenskapsmenn
i en by
hvor atombomben ble skapt

v
ikke visste vi
at slaps
var en naturfenomen
i nord
et hverdagslig værforhold

vi
hos oss
kostet det 10 cents
et istoppfjell
vi lærte å grave oss
gjennom
til sukkersjøen
som lå til grunn
for alt

Word – A Found Poem

Når du starter Word
vises et tomt
dokument der du kan begynne
å skrive en loddrett
blinkende strek
hvor teksten du
skriver vil settes inn
i motsetning trenger du
ikke teksten
automatisk
når du skal begynne
et nytt
Word
en kraftig
angre
du kan foreta et valg
ikke som ventet
ombestemme deg
omgjøre en angring
hverdagen føles
betryggende
under skriving
om du senere skulle ønske
ta være på
et annet sted
flere gir deg også
mulighet
midlertidig
fra et dokument
til et annet

Sommer Idyll

all the empty chairs
are facing me, blue-backed
straightbacked
like good soldiers
they do not look me in the eye
they do not move
to break the silence
which is not silence at all
but the noise of an empty room,
hum of fans, buzz of lamps
my breathing
these snapping keys

outside
through a wall of windows
June is grey, rain-laden cement
and green, the leaves and grass
who are the only ones who know
what to do with all this water

Reconstruction

The older the poem
the more uncut words
there are, the more said
the more meaning
thank god for manilla folders
and filing cabinets
for the egomania
of saving drafts

When we go back far enough
through the layers of cosmetics
past the rendering and polishing
and find the excess verbiage
we so cleverly excised that time
we were so clever with the pen-
knife, there in the heap of vowels
and consonants is a word

You must retrieve it, extract it
like a diamond from dung, see
how it pulsates, palpable
the very heartbeat of the poem
is there, the poem that became,
for want of it, a mere shell
a propped up scaffolding of bones
in the shape of something
you thought you knew

You knew nothing, thank god
you knew enough not to throw away
the pages behind the poem
you called finished
to finish well you must always
go back to the start
find out what it was
that stopped the world
and your breath
and had to be written down
what it was that you later removed
to make it all so neat

Neatness is for corpses, remember this
while you are still alive: shun neat
flail, fling, whirl, leap and turn
strive to increase, expand
take up space, fill the world with more
not less of you, use more words
that are pulsing, fewer that are
blank bones

Earth Hour

jeg trodde Bodø skulle slå av lyset
gatelys ihvertfall, lysløype lys
lyslampene langs E-6

jeg trodde jeg kunne stå i vinduet
og se ut over Hunstadmoen
at lysene sluknet en etter en
i alle mans hus over det ganske land

som en baklengs nyttårsaften
istedenfor lys og flamer spruklende over alt
jeg ville se lysene gå ut
en etter en i alle rom i alle husene
og i gatene imellom husene
til og med billys skulle slukkes
ja, det skulle bli så mørkt at til og med
de syv levende lys jeg hadde tenkt
i stuevinduet ville skinne altfor blindende
at også de måtte slukkes

jeg trodde alt skulle bli bare mørkt
midnattmørk kl 2030 på en lørdags kveld
helmørk, en ny mørk for en ny time

slik at mine øyne ville åpne
og svelge mørkheten som om det var lys
mørkheten et nytt lys å vende seg til

og etterhvert ville jeg kunne se
at det sto folk i alle stuevinduer
i alle hus, at det lystet fra ansiktene
hele familier som sto og blunket
og betraktet hverandre i den nye
blindende skimmrende
nakne verden

Was This My Life Passing Before My Eyes?

I have the keys and the security pass
I have the newer car

He has a plastic bag tied in a knot
carrying five homemade VHS tapes

They have his handwriting on the spine
some of them have mine

This is a rendez-vous arranged
after hours at my school
to record from expiring video tapes onto DVD
the anctics of our infant daughter and seven year old
in the first red house we owned
on a street lined with silver maples
named Hubbard after the nursery rhyme

In the DVD room of the library
on pause with her back to the camera
is our oldest daughter
as if waiting on a film set for the “action” call

He presses turbo-dubbing on the remote
and she turns, blond hair flying,
smiles at the camera with one tooth gone
wearing the tee shirt I never appreciated (until now,
where is that tee shirt, in the attic somewhere? it was
a hand-painted stylized flag designed by the wife
of the director at Broom Street Theater
for my costume in “Joe, A Life”)

Here she is at the sink in the kitchen
there is the brown plaid carpeting on the floor
there is the window filled with a tree

There she is pointing to her sister in the crib
we borrowed from the neighbor
the little baby sister with the heavy head
the same one who texted me just now saying
Will you pick us up smiley face
on her way to a concert

(The oldest one herself right now
planning her own first child
in a distant town)

He leans back in the office chair
which almost breaks under his weight
as I point out the step-by-step instructions
the staff is so proud of around here
the configurations of transfer from VHS to DVD
that we obtained like a druid science
and wrote down on a laminated card

He says that DVD is going by the wayside too

What will we do then, I wonder
as in one machine the old tape whirs
and in the other the bald disc tick-ticks
as the video player and DVD recorder
pass scenes of the children between them
like buckets in a fire brigade: Here, comrade,
take the naked baby in the crib, take the girl
now she is in blue jean cut-offs
now her hair has gotten short

He says there were more tapes, one from Rio years earlier
I remember it showed me twirling around the living room
our first-born inside my taut belly
my brother behind the camera making me laugh
and there was the one from my dad’s last visit
the tape with the yellow spine
found in the video camera at the bus stop where he died
in the video camera so big you had to prop it on your shoulder

I had gotten so tired of it, but he kept telling me to film more
film all of it, everybody, my aunts, uncles, my mother, daughter, him
keep filming honey all these situations here
as if he knew the next day he’d be gone

The only people who don’t show up on that tape
except as background voices, are me (who was holding the camera)
and the man who is sitting in this office chair
the man who was once a man who was my husband
the man who was once a man I wanted to marry and did
the man who was a different man from this one
this is the man I wanted to say not to
and finally did on a day in April on the path in front of our house
(this was red house number 2)
I don’t know what became of that other man
at what point, or where, he was gone

or where those tapes have gone

And now he is saying there was a box of small cassette films
they were the next generation after VHS
they were the modern ones we took over a decade ago
where are those?

You must have them, I say
No, I only have these two and my kite ones, he says
But you took the television and all the tapes.
I thought so too, but they must be in the filing cabinet, he says
The filing cabinet?
The metal filing cabinet.
What metal filing cabinet?
The one with two drawers.
You took that to put under your desktop.
No I took the wooden one.
I have the wooden one.
No, I am talking about the small gray metal one.
You must have that under your desk.
No, I didn’t take that one.
I’ve don’t know where there’s a metal filing cabinet in the house.
The tapes were lying in the back of the bottom drawer.
Yes, I remember it under your desk.
Maybe we got rid of it.
Why would we get rid of it?
It was useless, he says, two hollow drawers like wheelbarrows.
Yes, things were lying loose in it under your desk.

Maybe we threw it out in Hawaii.
Then it can’t be where the video tapes are.

Maybe they are with the camera, he says.
You mean the broken video camera I’ve been meaning to throw out?
It works if you can find the cord.
If it works why didn’t you take it?
It can be used to make VHS tapes out of those cassettes, if you find the cords.
I don’t know about any cords.
They’d be in the bag with the camera.
There is no bag, the camera is lying on a shelf, I thought it was broken.
Then the tapes are in a box.
I was going to throw the video camera out like we did that other one, I say.
What other one?
The digital camera from Hawaii.
I have that, it sort of works.
You have that old camera? Then you must have all the tapes.
I thought so too, but there are only these two
only these two you might call Family Ones, Baby Nadine 1 and Baby Nadine 2

I’ll look at home, I say

I tell him there are a lot of things I wonder where they are
among other things all the books he got rid of

I got rid of? he says

Yes you sold all my books to Ron Czerwin for $300, I am constantly
coming upon books I don’t have any more, like the one that was side-by-side parallel columns comparing the teachings of Jesus and Confuscious

Why did you get rid of that? he laughs
That was your decision, not mine!

No, I wasn’t making decisions
all the decisions were yours
all the decisions were his
I didn’t know what a decision was

And anyway, he says, you can buy the books back again

I tell him I used to think so too but if there is one thing I have learned
it is that you can’t just buy books back again, they’re not in every town
does he know how long I have searched for some of those books, like
the Salman Rusdie I couldn’t find in San Francisco, not in London either
no not Satanic Verses, the one called Shame, that takes place in the Defense Society in Karachi near my uncle’s house…

Did you look online? he says

… I found it of all places in a Trondheim charity shop

And anyway, he says, there are libraries everywhere full of books

I tell him that speaking of libraries my book group was reading Hamsun so I went to the library
and there on the shelf was my fifteen-volume red-covered Hamsun collected works
the very same one I had from 1984, I had to check out my own book

There you see, there are collections all over the place, he says

Ron Czerwin got my collected works of Ibsen too.

There is no tension between us, there is nothing between us
just some kind of amused irony in the air
and now the big girl is practicing strapping the baby girl
into the car seat that is standing on the living room floor on the flowered rug

We would agree about what happened to the flowered rug

And there is the brick fireplace, my wing chairs, the chairs I loved
and the horrible kitchen carpet and white walls I didn’t know how to get rid of
and my oval split-oak library table, there are the straight back chairs I refinished one by one
(why those chairs, why my birds-eye maple table, why were all of them gotten rid of?)
and there is the brown stove, that hated two-tone brown enamel, the white formica top
there is me wearing stupid bangs, dressed in a white nylon track suit
glancing unwillingly at him behind the camera, my eyes dark and vacant
chaos all around me of things I loved and didn’t love and could have changed
but didn’t know how

There was so much I didn’t know how

And he is saying that now that it’s started this tape will just have to run
it might go on for six hours

I say the DVD will be full in two
the laminated instructions say it will turn itself off
I say I’ll do some work, go swimming, come back at eight o’clock

He ties his kite videos up in the bag
along with the useless CD-R discs he brought
follows me into the library stacks
I am juggling my heavy keys in my hand
I am slowing down in the center of all these books
the library is dark but there is light from somewhere
from somewhere there is light enough

Is it just to walk out? he asks
Yes, I say, it is just to walk out.

Intern et Shopping

se hos Nille
sier gutten i kassen på Rema
som ikke vet
hvor man får kjøpe
farge, klesfarge, fargestoff
(jeg prøver alle
mulige sammen-
settninger)
til å farge klær med
(i vaskemaskin, skjønn du)
jeg rusler dit, litt haltende
med bare ni fungerende tær,
balansert loddrett
mellom to stappfulle
bareposer (du må kjøp melk,
kjøttdeig, salsa, argurk,
og rømme på vei hjem
er sms fra Bia som skal viss
lage middag… OK master
var det noe mer?
hun trur ikke det
men jeg kan kjøpe is til henne
så hun kan lage seg en smoothie
var det noe mer på lista?
tja, epler og noe uleselig…
ser ut som DYE…)

ja det var dye
jeg vil farge helsvart
tunikaen jeg kjøpte til dyre peng
den dagen du reiste fra meg
med dine to katter i buer
jeg var i sorg
men skjorte er blitt grå
med syv års bruk
jeg vil fornye den
jeg vil ikke at du synes den er
slitt, oppbrukt, ferdig
den vil jeg aldri kaste

Nille er tom for kunder
varene ligger stum og kirkestille
en skikkelse reiser seg bak disken
hun har flere piercinger, strå hår
tyggegummi, hei…
hei har dokker farge, fargestoff…
nei
jeg kikker bort til hylla
hvor jeg synes faktiskt det står
er du sikker? spør jeg
ja, se på Internet, sier hun
du finner det sikkert på Internet
det blir også billigere på Internet

billigere? jeg er jo på Nille
tenker jeg, men sier bare jada det gjør jeg takk
går med på det hun antyder
at det finnes et sted, en shopping senter
en butikk som heter
INTERNET 
hvor alt finnes 
alt er billigere
hvor svaret er alltid ja

Trimming the Tree

In a childhood
full of bad times
sad times, despair
there is only one
bad Christmas
memory

(besides the one
which I myself
made bad
by peeking into
every last present
ruining the surprise
of Christmas
but unable to stop myself
at age 11, the last gift
a brown wire-limbed
long and limber
yogi with red turban
which I would have loved
but instead hated
for being so lovely)

it was Detroit
ca 1960, the tree
was triangular
as good trees are
and Dad was on the ladder
putting up lights
or a star (or have I
just seen this on tv?)
and Mom was standing by
lending a hand or offering
irritating advice
they were on edge
there was tension
the electric lights
weren’t working

there was music
which annoyed them
accentuating as it did
their sour mood
and Dad said Turn off the radio
and Mom said I DID
turn off the radio
and they sent my sister
to turn off the radio
for I was too small
and she came back saying
she, too, had turned
off the radio
but still the music played
and the lights weren’t working
and the ladder was unsteady
and Mom was jittery
and Dad was angry

and the damned music
just made it all worse
so one of them, or all of us,
marched out of the room
to put an end to it
following the strains
past the dead radio
to the front door
behind which stood
a small chorus of carolers
repeating a refrain
over and over
with the patience of Christ
believing in their hearts
that someone, we
were home

Say Thank You, She Says

The woman who once
on a whim in a bookstore
pointed to a book on the shelf
and said, I’ll buy you that.

It was a small square book
the kind that is full of quotations
small pearls of wisdom
a miniature coffee table book
made to be browsed through
to achieve random moments
of inspiration.

It was called GENEROSITY.

I don’t want it, I wanted to say
but I didn’t
I didn’t dare not say Thank You
and force a little smile
over the gift
that felt heavy in my hand
square and compact as it was
with potential criticism
no thanks, I wanted to say

but I said Thank You

because on one page
of that little book
was a definition of generosity
that said Generosity
is what you do
when you don’t want to
but do it anyway.

god save me

from insistent clichés
that entrench upon my brain
like a front
of sleep-dead soldiers
save me
from impotent metaphors
jettisoning
from a flaccid pen
save me
from ambitions
of proving profundity
give me
a word
that is mine
my own
one word
that will end this
and begin
a poem

Begin Again

It is my mother’s season
the end of November
foggy winter
the evening time of year
when day looks like night
and clouds rise from the ground.

It will always be
the Saturday before Thanksgiving
that she awoke at dawn
sat up
on the edge of her bed
put her hands down
one on each thigh
and died
without blinking an eye
when the angel came
out of her walk-in closet
carrying a brown and white
baby saddle shoe
flattened from years
of lying in the bottom
of one of her boxes of papers.

Her sacrosanct papers
hidden under the crossed lids
of cardboard boxes
bound in strapping tape
and carried from house to house
state to state
in and out of moving vans
like the talmud
the host
or any unapproachable sacred text.

In one of the boxes
I found the other flattened
brown and white saddle shoe
(the one the angel left behind
for there must have been a pair)
and a brown bottle of Ritalin
prescribed to my grandmother
by Doctor Poser in the 1970s
no wonder Ma always sat
drumming her fingers on the table
saying Nei, nei, det e ikkje greit å være i Amerika!
gumming a smile
rocking back and forth
in her straightback chair.

I did not question
why my mother saved those pills
for nearly twenty-five years.
They might come in handy
was how she thought, she wasn’t
the go-to-the-doctor type.
But whose shoe was it
this hardly worn Baby’s First Shoe
and why was it there
along with documentation
of her name change from Tallulah
(how she scorned her parents taste
in naming her after a movie star)
to Sylvia, and poetry scraps
drafts and redrafts of lines of verse
and of her own letters
which she wrote and rewrote
to get just right, keeping a copy
for herself as evidence, proof
of what she did and did not say
in case someone should accuse
and because it pleased her
to re-read what she wrote
and enjoy once again
being well spoken and right.

My mother did not know
that somehow
that day
even though she had closed the blinds
and bolted her bedroom door
from the inside
the angel would get into her closet
and she would die
she did not expect this
or she would have destroyed
the draft of a letter she wrote
to a man, a married man, a doctor
circa anno 1970
her long well formulated cursive
tilting firmly to the right
something insistent and sulky
between the lines
about them meeting again
or not or where or why
it was not like my mother to whine
or hurl the words your wife
like a knife.

But there it was
and I remembered the time she left
my sister and me to babysit, it was night
and Paul lay upside down on his bunkbed
bracing his feet on the paneled wall
crying When is mommy coming home?
When is mommy coming home?
as we jeered and mocked him
we didn’t know why or where she went
only that she had gone in a taxi
because though in her forties
she didn’t know how to drive yet.

I didn’t tell anyone about that letter
except maybe my husband
if I was still telling him everything then
I don’t remember, all I know is that
when it got to be four, five o’clock
and it seemed my mother
had still not gotten up
he kicked down the bedroom door
took two steps in
and turned around nodding
She’s dead
How do you know? I said
pushing past him
and there she sat
staring straight ahead
one hand on each thigh, like Buddha
if Buddha had ever sat
on the edge of a daybed
her enormous belly
bearing the blue scar
wide as a tire track
where first my dead brother
and then the other two
were pulled out.
I didn’t recognize my own voice
a child wailing My mommy!
My mommy! My mommy!

anymore than I recognized
the possibility that this woman
my mother
would have allowed herself
to be caught dead
wearing neon pink bikini briefs.

But there she was
up at dawn
in black bra and pink underwear
on the Saturday before Thanksgiving
when I was supposed
to take her shopping
for something to wear to her sister’s
but she had taken the other
brown and white shoe
and gone, not caring
for the first time in her life
what anyone thought
of her body
or if anyone read
her papers
or how disgraceful the house looked
to neighbors
if the blinds weren’t drawn.

After the burial
clouds rose from the ground
shrouding the tombstones
at the pioneer church
and Aunt Lucille said
isn’t this weather just like Sylvia
as we drove to her house
for Thanksgiving leftovers
blinded by fog
and the impenetrable black.

Poetry Lesson

Give me something
to write a poem about
a reason to write
an observation
an insight
a moment
turned inside out
said the girl
to her teacher
who said, Describe for me
a spiral staircase. Don’t
use your hands.

That’s a cliché
said the girl, that’s
been said before
and what does it really mean
anyway?

Does it have to mean
anything? said the teacher.
A poem should not mean
but be.

Be what? said the girl.
What’s the point? I get to the end
and what’s the point, who cares?
And most of all – how do I know
it’s a poem if it doesn’t rhyme?

How do you know it is a poem
if it does rhyme? said her teacher
as she ran a long brown finger
over a pear, a plum, a mango
lying in a bowl between them.
A poem, she said
should be palpable and mute.
Like a globed fruit.

That rhymed! said the girl.
Say, did you just make all that up?
No, said the teacher, it was
Archibald Macleish
and the girl said, I think
I heard a him, yeah
I’m pretty sure
I saw him once on TV.

Elegy

Lawrence is dead
you said
in a sms
I could read
even without my glasses on
the words so incongruous
they stood out
like boldface

Lawrence who you
hated and cursed
Lawrence who
saved your life
against your will
at the turn
of the millenium

Lawrence the other half
of the dream team
your significant
other of a sort
that only he
knows, but now
all that

Lawrence knows
or knew is buried
in the medieval churchyard
where once
you found a piece of skull
and took it home
or was it a jaw
and did you tell

Lawrence? it was
the sort of thing
he may not have understood
his understanding of you
was running thin
in those days
and you told him
you were
letting him go

Lawrence asked you to
put it in writing
and you did
in the language
of the government
not the language
you and he used
when word by word
he got you, taught you
to match word
to thought
the way jaw
matches skull

Lawrence cannot
be lying in a churchyard
like a full stop
there was no notice
no stays no bans
we were not getting
the newspaper

Lawrence gone
to where the dead go
taking the you he knew
along, dead, dead dead
do the dead
proclaim our name in song
and we who hear the echo
do we, should we
sing along

Lawrence, the name
is carved on a stone
at the place he stopped
and lay down in the ground
go there
scream at him
as you once
would have done

Lawrence
goddamn you
Lawrence
I hate you
Lawrence
this isn’t fair
Lawrence
this isn’t done

Lawrence knows
how you turned to the wall
he waited, believing you
would turn back around
he knew you would live
and knows even now
you will turn back
from his grave
to live
and love
and carry on

Autumn Verse

i.
the first northern lights of the year
shimmer dim brilliance
the wind kicks up
and the animals want us to come out and play
though it is dark
and you have gone early to bed

ii.
the newly gilded Hansa roses
flame against the red of our house
just the way you said they would
when you planted them
small twigs
that held the promise
of rosehips

iii
there is half a cake on the freezer
a wild berry torte
left over from Con Brio 45 years
the chamber choir
born half way between our birth cries
where we both now sing
where we met over a single lost gold pencil
that when found
turned out to have never been lost at all

iv
you made the cake
carried it to the party
in a cake box labeled
with my ex-mother-in-law’s name
in old school cursive
on masking tape
that has brittled and easily pulls off

v
she must have wanted that cake box
returned
and I must have meant to do it
or thought he should
her son
and he didn’t, leaving it for me
and there it sat
in our mutual neglect and refusal
while the old woman
climbed the seventy-five steps
from basement to attic
so many times
she forgot what she was looking for

Counting Time

When I walk to school
a forward movement
(for the most part)
Garrison Keillor
counts the days for me
backward in time
This is the Writer’s Almanac
for Sunday October 11th
This is the Writer’s Almanac
for Saturday October 10th
This is the Writer’s Almanac
for Friday October 9th

So by the time I reach school
it is last week
when I know everything that happened
when everyone one I know
was still alive
and none of us knew for sure
that we would arrive here
today
at school on time
with a plan
that might or might not
work

Same Window, New View

There is something burning yellow flames
against Turid’s wall where before
was green

The hedge that finally camouflaged
her laundry line has been chopped
and shorn

Holes in the papyrus leaves
that hang like wet parchment
curling in

The magpies have turned
first into crows and now into
eagles

There was a longing for you
an ache, a tear in the sky one spring
long ago

Now you are in the kitchen clinking pans
pulling drawers, shuffling spoons, soon you will call
tea time!

Or, because you think I am occupied with some
important word-work, you will slip in, take the cup
fill it

Bring me my meds in a small dish shaped like a leaf
saying out of sight, out of mind! which means
don’t forget

And I have forgotten what it looked like outside my window
when there was no yellow no green nothing to write on
no you

I don’t ask

if she had the baby
or had an abortion
or knew the father
or brought him back
with her, the girl
who told me she
was an exchange student
in Ori Michigan last year
saying I was there two weeks
then got pregnant
and was sent home

in a perfect Midwestern
monotone, adding that she
still has contact
with her host mother
who is coming to Norway
to visit her at Christmas
and I wonder at the ties
the halfhitched over and
underhanded nontrivial
trefoil knots that can be
wound and pulled taut
to bind and choke
in no more time than
it takes a plane to land
and jetlag to wane
in a flat-roofed small town
on the brink of nowhere

Hva profeten ønsket seg til jul

å gud hvis jeg hadde
et hemmelig språk
ville jeg si noe her
som bare du, ja du ikke gud
skulle lese
og skjønne, det ville lyde
noe slikt: qnwzixssm
og ingen
skulle tørre kommentere
eller beundre
eller misunne
eller fordomme
det som guds håndflate
maler i fingermalingens
tydelige farger
ja da måtte jeg også
ti stille og lytte
og kanskje skjønne
noe som alle disse
vellskapte og gjenkjennlige ord
ikke snakker om
ikke skjønne
ikke sier

Found Poem

Prairie dogs
emerge from their burrows
at dawn
press their hands together
facing east
for thirty minutes

at dusk they return to the burrow
and face west
palms pressed together
for thirty minutes
before going inside

in between this hour
they are as busy
as prairie dogs

busy as a prairie dog
isn’t that a saying?
though we haven’t said
much about them at all
up through the years

now a man has dissected
prairie dog barking
into some hundred items
of communication

there is the word that means
man with gun
and the one that means
man without gun
and the one that means
woman with red shirt

it seems all this time
the prairie dogs
of which only
nine colonies remain
have been watching us
talking about us
among themselves

but when Lewis and Clark
gained a peak
and beheld them
four miles wide
and seven miles deep
prairie dogs had only
use for one word: buffalo

What Barnacles Are Not

Barnacles look like cement
but they are soft, flaky
fragile shells
that crush if pushed
inside a purse
where they don’t belong
or if pecked
by a gull
where they do

so is it all the same?
that I bring one home
from an island called Angel
though the vikings meant angle
a crook to hook a fish on

because I found it at the bottom
of the ocean
attached to a stone
on the ocean floor
one evening when the ocean was not at home
and left its shore open and wide
for me to thieve in

is it all the same
purse or gull
where the illusion of strength
crumbles?

Happy Campers

Narcomen
gather in the shady corner
of the park
making happy sounds
standing to greet each other
smiling, nodding, patting
each other on the shoulder
they are the happy ones
they are the lively ones
they are the drunks
and narcomaniacs
keeping company
on the other side of the fountain
keeping a safe distance
from the suburban women
strolling their toddlers
strapped in behind chrome bars
shaded under hoods
of navy blue
the color of success

The Girl Waiting for Her Mother in Gina Tricot

waits alone
in a small bubble
her fist so close
to her compact cheeks
to the little knob of her nose
this is it, all of her
right here in this little bag

she drills one finger into a nostril
over and over
but nothing comes out
it is hollow
she is empty
but digs all the same
trying to reach within
since there is nothing without
everything in the world
is right there

it is all so small
and inside the invisible walls
she is huge and alone and insignificant
wiping her dry finger along the counter
as if to leave a trace, a smudge, a smear of her slime
as if to mark a trail in the dust
but at Gina Tricot it has all been wiped away
there is nothing for her to touch
outside
and nothing for her to reach
within

she rubs and dubs her nose
it is all she has
this distance between nose and fist
but it is not enough
and she doesn’t question
how the world can be so completely full
of nothing
she doesn’t wonder if it could be unlike this
somewhere else
she knows only this, it is everything
and it is
so
not
enough

The Morning After

We lie in bed with the windows wide so the summer curtains billow into the room with the midnight breezes flowing down from the mountains across the fjord on a night that looks like day, and it could be day except for how tired we feel and the noctural critters we just photographed in the flower beds: a frog and a hedgehog, all the birds are quiet and even the dog has put himself to bed.

The neighbor is awake and has visitors, a man and a woman have joined Per on his patio which we know for sure is a stone’s throw from our bedroom balcony because on New Years you and I wrote 2009 intentions on a Tibetan paper lantern which, once lit and launched, dove and perched aflame on Per’s railing and I didn’t know what I feared most: burning down his house or him discovering the charred remnants of what I had written.

It is Per and the woman we hear talking, first in normal intermittant tones, but by the time we have settled, you cupping your whisky while I read aloud from Moby Dick – the cetology of whales in Book II (Octavo) Chapter IV (Killer) in which Melville reasons the name holds no distinction “for we are all killers on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks included” – the talk on the patio next door has gotten louder.

Are they arguing? you ask in a whisper and I lay Melville down to listen. If they are it is on the order of The Rowan Berries Are Early This Year So That Means We’ll Have Snow No It DOESN’T It Means It Will Be Mild I say and go back to reading but it is difficult to ignore their voices which are now in the room and getting louder, the woman gaining the lead with words that carry her spit, a ballast of spite, hate, blame, disgust.

I get up and shut the door and windows, gently so they won’t hear, and return to my reading, but it’s no use. Melville’s cetology cannot compete and you get up curious to hear what they are talking about and open the window facing the patio as if you are on an adventure but I lie motionless worried, ashamed, as if listening to my parents’ muffled row.

I want you to stop swinging the window so it creaks on its hinges and they could hear you listening to them, they will be mad at us, we’ll be in trouble, but you want them to hear and get interrupted and stop their bickering or at least take it inside and I wonder why I feel I am the one who has done something wrong, the way I used to fear the neighbors could hear the bellowing that shook the walls between his rage and my mute tongue during those final days when we fought unchecked all day long while the kids were at school and neither of us at work.

The woman seems upset about the way people are around here, you report returning to bed and I tell you I am reminded of me and him and you say Oh and I read on through the chapter called First Night-Watch.

In the morning you put your arms around me and ask if I had also been reminded of us and I say no of course not we don’t fight and you grin and say we could try where did you put the teapot why did you put it there that’s no good that was dumb

and I say I only put it where it has to be since your coffee pot took up all the room and then we giggle, you see it doesn’t work, I say, but you decide to spend the rest of the day trying to pick a fight, a glint in your eye at the challenge, the sport of tossing I’m the only one who does anything around here into the hoop of you’re not listening to what I said and I grow weary of trying to take offense.

That night as we lean in the open kitchen window looking at the koi swim in the pond you make one last attempt, something about the three buckets of weeds I aim to pick each day getting left standing around unemptied, each with a garden spade left in – don’t forget the pair of gloves I say – yes, that’s why I can never find any gloves you say and behind those three buckets are the three buckets from the day before, and three from the day before that – I would empty them, I say, if you left room in the compost but now I can’t do any more weeding because all the buckets are full and I can’t empty the weeds because there’s no room in the compost so things have ground to a halt in the garden I guess we’ll just have to sell the house.

And so on it went, our argument, but we were laughing so hard the pee started running and we had to hang our heads out the window and gasp for air and pound the sills with our fists and fall back into the room doubled over on the floor and I marveled at how this laughter could make me feel so drunk.

The next day at waffles my daughter age fourteen says What was wrong with you two last night? We look uncomprehending until she says, You could have woken up the whole neighborhood, carrying on in the middle of the night … We still can’t get what she means until she says, you were laughing so loud I was afraid the neighbors could hear, something about weeds…

we look at each other – Weeds?! The Neighbors Could Hear!? – and die laughing all over again.

Digitalis Obscura

one shot was of her dancing feet turned
elegantly inward like paired swans
she wore high heels
and roller skates
and flew upwards, backwards
as I caught her in my lens
but there was sand, mud on the glass
I rubbed it clean with my shirt corner and spit

the camera had been tossed on the ground
so many times during this scene
which had a horse in it and children
and swings and a two dimensional sand lot
I was among the visitors or the only visitor
to these old familiar friends

at the moment we tune in to the scene
I am leaving or preparing to leave
perhaps it is the round of goodbyes
that takes on a circus show aspect
with the woman, my friend, someone
who loved and appreciated me, dancing
from end to end of the canvas

there was a straw duck, like an egg basket
for the breakfast table, but seated by it
a real duck with an emerald eye took position
like a mirrored reflection, a complimentary
Janus if I could position the shot just right

the scene ended before I ever got to leave
or to find out if my camera lens showed only mud
or to remember what was so wonderful about this
place, all these people among whom I belonged
but nonetheless was just passing through

Not one, but two

We drove home talking of the
requiem of our choir in the day-
light of ten-thirty p.m.
parked cloudberry the car
still grumbling over napoleon-
sized Nils who deems himself
King Owner, Anders who holds
his fine voice hostage while
naming his terms, Gunnar
the Entitled by Nature of
his Fluty Voice, all these crumbling
cornerstones that won’t let go
of the institution they wear like badges
like we all do, the prestige of con brio
with spirit, gusto, verv, vivacity, animation,
with get-up-and-go, but they won’t
get it up for con brio, no they are the
Gods of Good Enough, a measure
set by the effort they deign to make

while the rest of us want to sing con brio
want to rattle the three-feet-thick walls
of the medieval church, want to raise Lazarus
from the dust of the crematorium
where we rehearse on Thursday nights

ah, fuck it, I’ll quit, I can retire from choir
even though it is the one civic activity
I have always done and wanted to do
starting back at Robertsville Baptist church
Peggy Mead and I in the alto section of the choir
sitting on puritanically straight backed chairs
staring at the white pages of lines and notes
as we sang led by our ears to the soprano melody
of Just As I Am Softly And Tenderly How Great Thou Art

and later it was the first disappointment
of my marriage, the young man with star blue eyes
who promised we would always sing together in a choir
but never did – con brio was his hometown choir
this is his hometown, now mine
where at ten-thirty at night it is what anywhere else
would be called day, the last sun of April gone down
somewhere beyond the mountain fringed fjord
but the only nocturnal evidence

is the moose that appears like a granular
silhouette shadow of gray and gray against
the dun colored grass, no green here yet
in fact a mound of dirty snow taller than the moose
is to the left of the mailboxes where the moose
is having a look around at the houses
like a visitor to the neighborhood trying to see
the house number of his friend he thinks lives
somewhere around here

a car coming up the hill stops in the curve
pointed like an armed tank toward the moose’s
skinny legs that hold up its Bullwinkle bulk –
the people in the car are watching it, we
are watching it, your arm around my shoulder,
me shooting ill-fated photos with my hopeless phone

a man working near his garage just down from
the mailboxes where the moose’s huge nose
is swaying back and forth scenting for a direction
doesn’t see the moose, Moose! you shout
to warn him and as if on cue another moose
trots forth to replace this one that has decided his fate
lies on the other side of the yellow house, exit
first moose, enter moose number two as if pulled
by an invisible string to the same spot

when moose walk it is a floating motion of exaggerated
ankle bends and knee lifts, the massive body perched
on these thin bone colored legs, and still the beast
floats like a dancer who has no real regard for the solidity
of ground, air is the element of moose movement
silent progress of seemingly impossible proportions

and isn’t that what song is, music as incongruous
and as startling as this sight of the King of the Forest
among our houses, a thing that makes us all stop and gasp
and listen for what we can’t hear but is so obviously there
see what we have no evidence of but know is there
moose floating in and out of our sight
leaving no visible trace
no sound

like song sung con brio
the effect of it,
the thing you try to tell people about the next day
but can’t

they don’t know what it was like the moment
a moose materialized putting an end
to your speculation about the adherence to choir
regulations by the various choral members

shut up and watch the moose with your mouth agape
shut up and sing
con brio
whenever, wherever you can

Not A Muse: The Inner Lives of Women

not a muse
not amuse
not amused
knot of my ooze

all this the interior
of a woman
rooms of a house
that is woman
all the roles
the rolls of women

read one page a day
and you will find me
at the end of one year

you will find me looking
you will find me by looking
I will be the one looking
down looking for something
hidden something lost
something I feel I lost
though I don’t know it
by name or shape
only know it is missing
so I go on looking

and you go on reading
there are many more pages
of poems, many more poems
of rooms of states of ages of eras
the book is as thick as a bible
though here there is more room
between words

the empty spaces have their own language
they are what we are not
defining, there is not
a muse to be seen in the whole place, just rooms
the interior spaces

each room a name of an age
of woman, and I
you will find me where they found
it meet and fitting to put me
among the keepers of secrets

I had not known myself
which room on the interior of woman
was mine, but when I see the title on the door
I know it is home, it has always been home

and this is why everything I say
and don’t say is a woman’s articulation
manifestation, transfiguration, transubstantiation
of what is not said, do you hear

do you hear
what I say is what is not said
and this is how you know me
this is how you hear me tell you
my name, it echoes
in all the empty spaces
between the jots and loops and tittles

where the voice resides
like a hum, a purr, resonance of a mechanism
ticking, ticking, like a heart marking the minutes
marking the words, five thousand or more
words not to amuse but to silence you
to make you listen, here

hear my heart hear me swallow hear
me not tell you anything
and everything
in the same word

List Hobbies and Interests Here

This is what they want
all those singles sitting in
front of computer screens in
rooms called living or study

When they compose
their likes and dislikes
it boils down to this:
an evening walk through a forest
then up a mountaintop
with a big brown dog
return to a hearth: candles, good wine, a fire
the sharp taste of cheese imported from Britain
swirls of foam on a real espresso
talk of literature and film
music in the background, something baroque

but what they don’t write
in their profiles, the unforeseen mark
of compatibility in outlook, aesthetic, desire
is that these two women
followed down the mountain by the big brown dog
on their way to cheese, wine, candles, fire, espresso
have each picked up a stone
the one broad and square, a solid base
the other a hand-sized paisley teardrop

the women walk down the mountainside
each holding a white stone
in her left hand
she has picked up along the way
to show the other

In Transit

finding somewhere
to put things, finding something
to say, saying someone’s
name like something
familiar, a taste
a satisfying texture
like squeaky crunch of snow
when all the world is white
and shadow free

another person would
see only clutter
in all this you call
home, all these things
covered in your fingerprints
all this that has nowhere
to go

Place Response Here

Come on
talk to me don’t talk
in teletype canned responses
corresponding in cadence and chronology
to what I said I mean fuck I feel like
a fill in the blank with a logical response on the dotted line you will be graded
on how precisely your response directly reflects the prompt

It was not a prompt I wrote
It was not a proof that needing your logic imposed
your admonitions and instructions your you should you should you should
this that this that means this means that

This is not a conversation
This is not communication
This is two teletype machines feigning intelligence
Almost human enough to enjoy the clack of their own keys
smack the regurgitated flavor of comeuppance of feed
back you think you told me something hear this hear that

so every word I breathed was a backdraft
blocked on its way out of my mouth by your word
that was bigger and better and brighter
because it was yours and you know better than anyone how to cross
the t’s dot the i’s place the full stop on all these words
we throw at one another like flares saying here here here I mean
hear hear hear me speak I am trying to speak
don’t take my words away

Found Poem: Everything Returns, after Adam Zagajewski

(“Is it more important to focus on the loss or the coming back?”, Theresa D. Smith in “An Interview with Adam Zagajewski,” Sycamore Review, vol. 21, issue 1, 2009)

Poetry, like philosophy
and every art, is preparation
for death, trying to establish
at every single turn
the last thing that happens.

The departure from a native city
is a one-time event.
Each visit back is not
a real return
the city gives the artist a huge gift
a paradoxical anchor
a negative anchor
a kind of a poisoned gift
because you also lose something.

Once you get that gift
you have to be careful
to not overdo it
hysterical nostalgia.

Terms of departures
and returns
are not about place,
it is the state of mind
which produces poetry, poetry
is the thing that disappears
and returns all the time.

One day
we’ll disappear forever
poetry
is a way to tame
the hostility of the world
by stressing this rhythm
of departing
and return.

Making a living

howmuchdotheypay
youtosittherelikethatdoing
nothingofanyuseto
anybodynotevenyour
self

huh?

seenotathoughtinthat
headofyoursjust
fluffpuffautomatic
typesetphrases
slategreyskyiceclad
pathohmyhowlong
thewinterseemsthis
yeardonchathink
timesaflyingaint
gettinganyyoungerwhadya

say?

nowthecowscomehomethe
chickenroostsmellslikepickle
brinethetimeiscometosay
somethingsignificantwecould
rememberyoubydonchawanna
berememberedforsomethingyou

did?

tellusthensomethingwe
didntalreadyknowliketheweatherdont
tellustheweathertelluswhytellus
whyweshouldcarewhattheweatherdid
toyourbrownshoeswithlittlepinholesin
thewingtipstellushowyoudidit
keptfromfallingontheice
ofyourlifetellus

how?

The Man

The Man Who Hated Women
is on the shelves just out new release wow
last year it was The Man Who Loved Yngve
everyone raved about just had to read
after the film came out
and before that the revival of The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat onstage all the rage

Maybe it’s the same man
Maybe there is just one man
mistook his wife for a hat so now
he hates women and loves Yngve who
by the way is a man too
so no, there isn’t one man there’s two:
Yngve
and the guy everyone writes about

How Snow

how snow softens
the blow
of silence

how silent bursts
of sounded rage
carry
in unvoiced thoughts
like the wind carried
a few brown leaves
up from autumnal graves last week
and laid them on the thawing ground
saying, See, Spring again will come
there will be green warm ground
believe me

and I believed
but now the same wind
treacherously indifferent
lays the snow heavy wet shroud
over the muffled ground
the forgotten leaves
the voices
that dared to speak

Yes, but

yes but you said No
I said
Yes can mean no
I agree
or disagree
English has no word
for the French word si
the Scandinavian jo
the negation of a negative
the affirmation of what
you didn’t mean or
rather what you did mean
was wrong

count the words
tally the wrongs
go on
lay them in store
let them be
your wealth
your layby
for hard times
to come

days of roses
and pansies

The Girl is In Love

The girl is in love
can’t stop talking about
you know, all the details, the mundane
specialities, the quirks

being in love is like having
an obsession, seeing through a filter
a lens that puts everything into
the same perspective

she can’t talk about anything
not food the post the weather
or a good night’s sleep without mention
of the beloved, everything relates
everything points back to the one concern
of her heart

so there is no doubt the girl is in love
with her wedding

Walls of Water, No Door

You are controlling the ocean
he said when I said
perhaps I am too controlling or rather
I am used to being in control it is
the one skill I was taught
it kept me from growing up

what did they want those parents
who wanted a third adult in their seven year old
who stroked her hair saying we can count
on you honey

you be the good one we can count
on

controlling the ocean? I mused
while the walls, the office building windows,
the fake persian rug and rattatan furniture
the ekorn stratalounger the cheap
box of kleenex all went crashing under
churned in the snorting, tossing, galloping
uncorralled ocean

Coming Home at Nine

I got Marilyn in the bag
and big fat strawberry chews
and big fat strawberries covered
in chocolate
white for you
milk chocolate for me
I got nougat
wrapped in that thin
paper you can eat
and Malabar espresso beans
from India
acid-free the lady said
in the foreign food shop
No! real! she said, quite insulted
when I asked if the strawberry chews
were fake, if they were candy

they looked like candy
like cheap candy at 13.90 a bag
but she tossed the bag on a scale at the checkout
13.90 a hecto
so they got to be real
strawberries

and I got a four-novels-in-one volume
of John Steinbeck, and an English reader
for Gymnasium from 1951
and a three-novels-in-one volume
of an author I never heard of
but the jacket quoted the Post and Times
saying he is an American treasure
we should know about

and I got Roald Dahl’s stories for grown-up
and The Bloomsbury Reader, a cross-reference
that says if you liked this author
you will also like that one
the same with books
it directs you through a literary
maze of must reads
a must, I thought, for our library
which is twelve or fifteen
or some such number of bookcases
bookcases in every room
bookcases as common as chairs
in our house

so when you said Bring me a present
I knew it had to be a book or two
I got five actually
and when I found the Marilyn Monroe hatbox
I had to bring her home to you too

so I sent my carry-on as luggage
with the books, and Marilyn’s got the coffee
and chewy candy looking strawberries
in her hatbox, and I’ve got Marilyn
in a big brown paper bag
and all I have to do now is decide
if you get her for Christmas
or for when I get home at nine
you said we’ll have spaghetti boulagnaise
if the plane’s on time
which it is, I am sure because I heard
the message bell tinkle on my phone
right as the woman next to me
got buzzed with a message
and the two bald men in matching blue shirts
that match the blue of the waiting lounge chairs
they both got messages and reached
like synchronized swimmers into their back pockets
as the old woman in the rain parka
and tennis shoes also got a message

all these phones pinging and zinging
so it was obvious the airline had sent little
welcome on board reminders
to get ourselves to the airport
so I didn’t bother to look at my phone
since all the others looked at theirs
and remained calm

all that’s left for me to do
is what criminals have always done:
line up and lay my finger on the pad
and they’ll let me through the gate
carrying Marilyn with her big fat
chocolate covered chewy strawberries
we’ll have for dessert
we’ll drink espresso from India
we’ll read a story at bedtime
so set the table, open the wine
I’ll be home at nine bearing gifts
all these and more I may have forgotten
just for you, for nobody else
but you