There are no limits to this life.
The cup can be brimming over with pain
but there are always more chalices.
Don’t speak to me of soil when you mean shit.
Don’t exalt sacrifice
in the slaughterhouse.
Speak the truth if you can:
that the gods draw their strength
from the dead alone—like mushrooms,
like mold, like the must
that turns water to wine.
Listen you lovers of youth, an augury
Apollo would have me suppress:
Know others as thyself
if you crave ambrosia.
I leave you
with every breath.
It’s false, the world we carry inside us
like a kernel of unpopped corn in a chicken’s crop,
or its twin the grain of gravel, the false tooth.
This winter light; the red haze of maple buds
beginning to swell; the story in the paper about
the walled-off beach in Haiti
where cruise ships disgorge their passengers
without telling them where they are,
& the local man interviewed for the story saying
They want to come here, because they’ve been everywhere else
& my country is the loveliest of them all:
it hurts, this world, it makes us ache with longing.
Yet no amount of saliva will grow a pearl around it,
because it is not the real world, which we do not know.
But the world knows us. It doesn’t stop
where we do, at the fingertips, doesn’t get sidetracked
in the labyrinths of lung & gut. We glow
in its shadow the way the moon glows, lurid,
during an eclipse. It lurks at the end
of the light in a tunnel formed by two mirrors turned
face to face. It seeds us with cities,
this world that was once a womb.
When we die, the abandoned residents
eat themselves out of house & home.
Our corpses glow with the heat of their brief revolutions.
I gave everything I had to the rich,
who seemed in greater need of it
than the poor, who are accustomed to getting by
on corn spilled by the harvester & the widow’s mite.
I poured an entire bottle of expensive ointment
over the head of a former prostitute
& watched it run down her face, titillating
all my companions but one —
the zealot of the bunch. I figured I was buying
my own death sentence, & why stint on that?
Oh Peter, stone of my gizzard, I’ll be back!
But like the wing hiding in the wishbone,
I want to take my own sweet time.
my nights never end
without pain’s acrid exclamation point
my eyelids bagged with the weight of visions
piling up like snow
canvas is so expensive these days
I was the stillborn child:
miscarried zygote wrapped in cellophane
the little red rooster in my chest
never learned to crow
layers of paint crack like dry lips
every morning I sought some novel
egress from the womb
any way to avoid the clutch of forceps
and the endless playground taunts
colors melt in my mouth like carnival treats
but fear has been the finest of teachers
I’ve learned to say grace
every time I draw
a lungful of air
my brush is more accurate than any needle
for Amy & Kim
Hands are queer things.
They can read your fortune in soft loaves
fresh from the oven
they can trace the invisible lines on a back
color in maps of passion
they can fly through oceans of skin
all the way to the baroque heart of an artichoke
they can lock fingers.
They wrinkle up after long immersion
in the depths of an afternoon
& follow each other endlessly
until like circling ravens they merge
with the mind’s very own blue.
When obscene labels & hateful looks
start swirling like a mob of crows
let your hands & mine remember
the secret names they speak
together in the shadows.
homage to Johnny Shines
blue ribbon of tar runs by
my baby’s door where
I am bound
make a couple
play it tight
write: here’s luck
you can bell the cat & clip
the eagle’s wing
talkin bout heaven
aint goin there
prayer: in this city lord
there’s no horizon
where can I rest my eye
The first time I did it for money
I crouched in a cave of filthy sheets
& bit the back of my hand to keep from crying.
The moon has teeth.
I was marked at birth: a bad apple.
No doors or windows so secure
my rot couldn’t spread,
no evil I didn’t wish
on the ones who loved me,
the ones who tried to help me with such
immaculate gloves & methods.
Even the shadow of my little toe
The moon’s hair is caked with her own blood.
Her fingernails are ragged
because she gnaws them like an animal.
You whom I torment are my tool.
When you tie me up I can escape.
When you rape me you reap the whirlwind
whose voice is the banshee mob.
The moon is barren but never lonely.
The scars on her face are a codex
limning her many contacts with aliens
whose purposes surpass all understanding.
They tell me you’re there, all
you would-be witnesses. Clustered
outside the gate. Each of you
clutching your candle
like a little white lie, right hand
cupping the flame,
the hot wax dribbling down the side.
If they’d let me, I’d come out there
& tell you one or two things.
I have done what most men merely
dream about, living proof that life is
a pale, weak thing. I broke the bones
in her face the way you’d ash
out a cigarette. Fear has a smell
like sour milk & it can turn, oh Jesus!
it can turn you so goddamn ugly.
From the moment you slimed your way
into the world, having just fucked
your mother backwards, you were
a creature incapable of innocence,
a pink grub, a howling abyss.
If I had my way there’d be a lethal
injection chamber on every street corner.
They’d be like video games. Only
the truly ruthless would be able
to walk past one without trembling like
a virgin. Those of you with
a guilty conscience would be
the first in line.
Be careful, now – something’s
diving toward the flame.
That’s right, drive it away.
For its own good, little moth.
Deprive it of its final joy.