In Praise of Clean Panties, My Mother

Who even now might walk
through my front door with my own son
in tow, having kept him
for the night, having schlepped him
to church to praise the small ways
he points at the blood-tipped palms of Christ
and tells her “Jesus lives here, Mom-mom.”
Who even now might interrupt this chain
of thought, continue on the path of interrupted
chains of women linking word to airy word,
taking the much of misty thought
and make the word the thing itself. Oh holy absent
Father, oh Dad who even now drops coats and socks and Coors Light
tops along the halls she cleaned again before the sun
was all the way into the sky, I could ignore this
urge, once more immerse myself in making lines of absence, steeped
in theory, steeped in everything I’ve crammed
into the chains of cells still crammed
between my years, but

this morning ,that poem is a lie. This morning
I have folded 30-something pairs
of splashy, splotchy cotton, tinged with lace
or stamped with Superman’s bright S, the black
of Batman’s calling card, my lover’s daughter’s Monday,
Tuesday, Friday, her father’s undies, weird
with prints of French fries, scrambled eggs, the folds
belie the cock and ass I love to squeeze
before the children scamper in each blessed, living day.
I fold. I put away. Every other person in the house
relaxes, plays. My mother’s blessings rise
like daily bread, like how I might begin, somehow
to pray: Oh Temporary, Holy Bodies’ detritus, the faded stains
of those I love between my wifely hands– may I fold
another load of crumpled clothes
before I dare to bitch or moan
about my mother, my lover, my children, my life.

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There Is A God I’ve Wanted All My Life

The way you feel describing objective truth.

The way the shadow
of two bald blue branches
on your son’s pale nighttime
wall creak in and out
Like pincers, like rusted tweezers
Like a wishbone, like a horror

Like the dreams when you try to dial
a number, always the misfire
stupid little fuck, like your brain
has fingertips, come on

It’s Disneyworld in 1985: the 3-D glasses
your face is white cardstock
red cellophane, facing a witch’s
black mask coming at you, off
the screen– and who knew something
that wasn’t there could be there and possess
such trajectory; like that dream:

Two teen girls laughing & laughing, you can’t believe
the laughing, you can’t believe your life
went on with you hardly there at all:

It’s like you were objective truth, out there, someone
Was stabbing at you, grabbing at a mask that came for you, empty
Of all matter & resolve; the only reason

to believe in any of this is you believe in none of it at all.

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Hang In There, Baby

It’s hard sometimes, not being the king
of France, or even of a smaller, more tropical space, it’s hard
not having the whitest house, or whatever we’re all fighting for.

Like feminism.
I’m sorry to take this turn, especially in a poem
that began with such fierce comic promise, such
absurdity. Absurdity! Hahaha. It’s hard to make a joke and see it
to its pithy end, easier, for instance, to ask
What’s the ethos, in this poem, of the color blue? And you
would have two choices: wrack your brain for an answer
that doesn’t exist or admit you don’t know. And then
I’m forced to choose, too. Listen. We don’t have
to have that conversation. We don’t need to fake it
all the time. Because we have to do it, anyway, and here,
in this open space, leaving me and drawing me out, a magnetic field
of hope in a hopeless cosmos, I’d like the opportunity
to be both the able body and the theory-heavy mind, I’d like
to be Virginia Woolf tethered to her desk, hand moving
across the paper, and the idea she’s after in the ether, just barely
getting nailed down. I’d like to be the single breathing woman.
I do not want to be the trend.
I do not want to be the woman who acted according
to the norms of the way women acted then. Because no one
is equal. Because I will be boiled
down to my essentials. The early bird gets the worm, but no one
gives a fuck about the worm, coiled dead on the asphalt
like a length of forgotten garden hose, or falling from my nose
like some ghost, like the one who keeps pulling my hair and fetching
my breath at night, like that smiling gaggle of fools who don’t know
what they need, who know what they do, who, smiling, chat at length
on the verandah about the azure drapes, sip something
lovely, full of rose hips and poison darts.

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Imperatives

Send us your best ephemera, your mouse bones, your numbers seventeen, your wrap-around boyfriend wrapped around that other girl, the sweater he left at your house, make it sing, that sweater, make it recall the single glass of water you wanted but never got, when there was still hope for water, send us the time you yelled HALT to your son as he approached the bed with chocolate on his hands, the time you fell asleep thinking how that was a metaphor for the human need to classify and divide, the human belief in walls, which aren’t walls at all, since everything, if you think about it, touches everything else, submit that other time, when you still held faith in limits, not liminalities, send us your spaces, open and digital, crunching someone else’s numbers, a Pop tart between the teeth, the lone cricket leg on the bathroom floor, your pregnancy round as a harvest moon shedding light on a corn field full of your engaging ghost, your empty host, your very best, which will be certified upon arrival, sent back unopened, unafraid, left for dead, and pure.

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Now & at the hour of our death

Nearly 5 am–the Sylvia-Plath-before-the-milkman’s- rattling-bottles light barely glimpsed through the cracks in your blinds, your 3-year old’s foot crammed in your throat– Hail Mary, full of grace, your brain repeats, to try and pray itself, if not to silence, then to harrowed sleep. I’m so tired of her, you hear back. Some nasty man’s voice. You think, are you dreaming, did you really hear that? Did you “hear” it? Have you finally gone mad? What constitutes hearing? What should you believe? Does it matter how the dreams kicked in again– She left her carrots on the bed, another strange voice said, or said, or “said” and woke you up enough to make you plot a poem out in bed,

Hail Mary, full of grace
I’m so tired of her! he said
The Lord is with thee
She left her carrots on the bed, again!

Would that man even talk to you? Why imply a relationship? Why assume anyone loves you at all? You had another poem you were plotting called “Comp Lit” about the ideas that live in the ether above us, about what two things share when they appear to share nothing. You are dying for the day when the whole world stops addressing you at once, from every schizophrenic corner that you know, you know are meant only for you, this double poem, these dreams, these cloudy webs of bullshit meaning dragging you out of yourself until the world’s a constant wedding, a constant funeral, a bitterly drawn-out divorce, love, love, love all the time and beneath it, fucking nothing.

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I See The Face of Christ

for Pam Cross

In every face
the nun says
as a train barrels
as The Beast barrels
down tracks like twin tick marks
down tracks like a to-do list
this Honduran woman
clutching her 1-year old son
on its top–
not the belly–
on the top
of this beast
this is a list
she never gets to make
a clock that never stops
its tick, a list she never gets
to cross off
with a flourish
no flourish
like the flourish
we use to clutch
the baby we once held
in our belly
to our tit
trembling with the roar
of the beast

the car I drive to work
hums quietly
at no point today
will the lights go out
for good
no one wielding
a machete
will pull me by the hair
from the knit corners
of my office
that nun’s voice so clear & weighted
it’s like she clutches
that woman
her boy—she sees
the face of Christ
in every face she sees
the face—

some days it’s like
I can open my mouth
and inhale the whole of history
be full with it, release,
weep tears of blood
on stone, be Mary, be Mary
weep for the face
of Christ      I clutch
my son at night while he sleeps
he will never know: in every face
I see,
she says, her voice
a sharp thing: an arrow
to pierce my heart, some masked man’s
knife to my baby’s neck.

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VHS

for V

How tempting to begin
with the scientist telling me how the eye doesn’t see
at all, just transmits light and shape
to the greedy brain– poor, sad eye, just a blind blinking
light on the camera– is it on? we wonder
aloud at what amazes, disgusts:

3 men in masks
spot a woman
with a perfect, round ass
wrestle her shirt and bra
from her tits,
film her goodies,
cut her to bits–

If I commit the scientist
to paper, some critic
will hate it, offer it
as proof of my failure
to transmit the unseeable

at least 2000 ways to get inside of this
and I chose the scientist
with his hazel-flecked eyes
beneath the horn-rimmed glasses–

not of the spectacle of the woman
on her back, mouth flung carelessly
open, unable to see the mouth
parting her, fingers trapped
inside of her, some other vision
in the dark: the brain a blank
slate, the body just wants, wants, wants

all the time, wants–

like me, you’re afraid
to close your eyes at night
in bed. Who might get in?

Open eyes: twin cameras flashing.

Here is the unsayable always rising
up in a dream, the dark men
who could take my son, take me from
my son– you want a fence
around your daughter, around your heart
that beats inside her small
brown body: no one can say
what will happen when you hand over half
of yourself; sometimes, I thought

If I am quiet enough
I can hear the cells split;

how often I locked myself
in the bathroom, the black shapes
just shapes, divorced 
from my eye, from my tongue
two bodies just bodies of one dark fear
the man outside crashing, looking
to clutch at me, to reach for the body
inside me, his body was my body
then, just as suddenly, he was his–

You want a fence
you want a camera

but what you don’t know: the fence leads only
to another, you’ll want a camera inside the camera
to show you the inner workings, the thoughts
of whoever lurks just out beyond the angry links,

the chains that glisten in the moonlight, the doberman
with its pointed ears, their own kind of lens–

this is the perpetual night of your brain–

someone is picking the lock
someone is slipping inside
and he lives only in your unseen, invisible
blinking light of your naked eye, forced open

while your daughter sleeps

a half-smile on her lips.

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