In Paris they ask the right questions

In Paris they ask the right questions

In Paris they ask the right questions:
“Cognac, armagnac, or calvados?”
And, “Why are your eyes so blue?”
“Do you know how to get back home?”
“Is it finally time to kiss you?”

If the black hole in the center of the galaxy
Is stoppering up a drainage pipe
That leads into another universe –
In other words, if Stephen Hawking is right –
In that place I’ve become your wife.

In that place where I’m your wife
I stand on Ponte Alexandre III, the river runs from me,
And I don’t try to hold it back.
I didn’t turn into a poet
I’m too happy for that.

In that place where I am me
Paris waits,
But both the wise and stupid men who called me here
Have been dead a long time since –
And marble angels press their fingers
Against their marble lips.

Some of us will hide our frowns
Behind the sturdy fences of gray beards.
Some of us will turn from fallen women
Into women with fallen breasts.
We will maybe sell some books,
And hug each other by each other’s graves.

Around the corner
Something says, “The horror”
And we wish to turn back
As we fall forward.

But still the dead queens on the walls
Insist the only time is now
And still the stars cluster like clots
Inside the arteries that pump
And twist through darkness’s hard heart
And still you never finish the sentence
That begins with “dans tes yeux…”
And I can’t tell pain from the pleasure
Which is why I would have loved to –
Paris, you know that I’d still love to –
Burn my tongue on you.

I wrote this a long time ago and then thought, “Well, everyone writes at least one stupid poem about Paris. This is embarrassing and it’s not going up.” Because of recent events, I dusted off the poem and realized that it’s actually strangely appropriate. Paris, ILY. Vive la France. 

A different ending is still an ending

A different ending is still an ending

Now that she is old, Helen walks on the beach
Remembering her old lovers
The temperamental merging of sea and sand
Makes her ponder men and women
Currents are wanderers
But it’s tectonic plates that are hard –
The stupid analogy falls apart
And Helen laughs and orders
Half a liter of wine on the corner.

Every woman in a silk dress
Lets her look back in time at herself –
Clavicles now are more fashionable than breasts
But Helen doesn’t mind
The past is the past.

When Helen walks home, the stars
Look down upon her between power lines
Crickets sing
The nights are getting longer
The Earth is already calling from beneath
Helen’s light but callused feet.

And peeking out from behind Earth’s shoulder is the Sun
Waiting for its chance to swallow everyone
Though the Sun will deny this and say,
“I’ll only call you home some day.”

At home Paris lies facedown on the couch
Waiting for the camphor and peppermint oil
That Helen will rub into his wide back –
Into constellations of freckles and muscle gone slack.

Love is more than cells that arrange themselves into flesh, Helen believes
But still she likes to think she has a little time left
To keep touching him.

A decade without

A decade without

When starting a letter to the other side,
I first want to point out that things are mostly fine
I mean, sure, there’s a war on, thousands have died
But I grew some nice boobs while you were away, Sir Robin (ha ha).

The economy you always lamented
Is somehow even deader
Than you could have imagined.

The clubs are still bad.
The roads are the worst.
The rich look like sores about to burst.

I’m penniless and getting older
My home is mostly a man’s shoulder.
I don’t mind.

You were right about my first love
You were right about what men want
The dead are never wrong.
You don’t feel dead to me, though
You’re just carbon no longer
You’re brighter than photons.

I’ve earned so many badges since I saw you last
I’m running out of space for letters on my chest
But it’s like what you always said
What unmakes the mind first unmakes the bed.

My son was playing the piano with his nanny
I walked into the room and had to walk right back out again
Made manifest to me
A message from you in precise calligraphy
Signed with a heart and that half-smile
On my little boy’s DNA
Oh, you’d love him, darling
And he you
Your beauty has so many unexpected homes
From piano keys to the way a bee drones.

There were many wounds I’ve minded.
Many times I’ve said
“What is this goddamn arrow lodged in my chest?”
My armor goes all the way to my bones, as you know
But every arrow eventually finds its way home
And when mine does I think I’ll be less afraid than some
Haven’t I always had you to lean on
When the tower falls
When the hanged man hangs
There it is, there is your face.

Home, briefly

Home, briefly

To paraphrase a silly movie I loved:
Dark matter, actually, is all around.

What if the tremor in my hand
Are unseen particles passing through
Having previously traveled through you.

I sat by the Washington Monument
And wanted someone to ask why I was crying
Even though I’d stuck a pair of big sunglasses on
And was doing a good job
Of pretending I had a raging cold.

I didn’t realize how nuts the years away were driving me
Tree rings like nooses, grating sedimentary rocks
Here the echinoid, and here the mollusk,
Here that crack running through
That nakedly splits me in two
(You’ve made another dirty joke in your head just now
Not clever enough to share on Facebook this time
And poured another girl more wine).

You’re damned if you don’t
You’re damned if you do
That’s why I only surrendered
An earlobe to you
My left breast
Went to someone else
My soul to the soldier –
Who never takes off his body armor
I feel it when I drape a leg across him
Before the dawn, when darkness is thickest
For God’s sake
Why do men have to be so complicated.

There are things one shouldn’t do without:
Love, friends, oyster lace, waiters that make small-talk, America.
America at dawn, with a small Baptist church
Like a dunce cap its too-big steeple
Being circled by – you guessed it – an eagle
As I stare dumbfounded with a plastic cup of coffee
Thinking “I need to come home again, finally, finally.”

My love, my love, America
Your reproachful security guards
Have a Hopper-like solitude in their eyes
Figures on a canvas together
That couldn’t be more apart.

What if all that you’re missing is on the other side
Of the particle divide?
What if dark matter is God
What if I one day learn to shut up.

There is no point in revealing
Only the safe, taut, irreproachable parts of oneself
The parts that ripen and grow heavy
For someone else’s pleasure
Before peaking and bursting and spilling
In a quick, ineffectual rain
Pounding the sidewalk in vain.

But there is equally no point
In thinking the elaborate, unreadable, too-personal patterns
Of your pain are worth someone else’s time.

We all walk through our own labyrinths
Just a few of us smart enough to carry string.

I’ve failed at everything I wanted
And I am so relieved.

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Evening, 1939
Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Evening, 1939

A song for your birthday

A song for your birthday

On your birthday I want to be together again
The others’ birthdays are all vague to me
Hahaha, I say, I’m bad with names and dates, you guys
And start getting drunk in too much of a hurry.

An old fortuneteller said the whips of hell been chasing me
But it was when I was extra good that you took off your belt
What the hell do those bitches know anyway?
Slavic women swear by them – which would explain a lot.

They say you throw some impressive shadow, babe,
Giants can’t help it if all their gestures are grand
That’s why your ladies-in-waiting carry poison in their rings
While you let your pets sharpen their teeth on your throne.

Power is power, was it the heat of your whisper in my ear –
Or just summer creeping up the back stairs again?
Those grass stains never did come out of my jeans
My mother has her own score to settle with the delivery man.

I’m a big girl all the way, but I bite the pillow at night
It was you who taught me that some stories must wait to be told
Those seeds of the future you brought me on your tongue –
I kissed the red clay ground and still wait for them to grow.

Baby, do you remember, stars dropping like recon units from the sky
You and I, the hood of the car cooling, transferring energy to us
I didn’t know this kind of beauty was even possible
Let alone that it was a product of the laws of physics.

You didn’t know your strength, I didn’t know my weakness
We got by alright. Killer, painter, singer, soldier, moneychanger you were
Scientist, dreamer, reaper, slaver, shaman and winemaker
And me in your lap, braiding roses and rattlesnakes into my hair.

Baby, on your birthday, it was always you who gave the gifts
Some I wanted, some you pressed into my hand anyway
And when your sleazebag accountant said the balance was due
I put my hair up and decorated the sidewalk with my bags

I had a dream I was in the backseat with Nabokov
Hot leather stuck to my bare legs
Your smile in the rearview, those expensive teeth
Asking – Darlin, will you spring for the gas?

Rules are only for children and good Protestants
You said when I saw you last, teetering on the stair
I had that funny walk and I have it still
Ain’t no room inside me for a bigger affair.