New Orleans pt. iii (15/30)

Your first time down, Katrina is a hideous infant of 16 months. The kin nobody can leave because of blood. Because they’ll dream about her either way. St. Bernard stands naked, still sopping up the Gulf’s leftover puddles. Concrete slabs complete the map, a geography of used to be, of once. Any day the neighbors’ll be back tugging crowbars to expose mold. Old gypsum ripped from babies’ bedrooms, replaced with Chinese drywall. Every block another unresolved toxic lawsuit. Rumor of cancelled flood protection seeps into dreams, then conversation, then into the heart. Like a good neighbor State Farm leaves you hanging. Mrs. Grace’s the first house you’ll work on. Asks for any paint but antique white. Puts up a fight because what’s she got left when she can’t decide the hue of her own home?

Here you are, an insert in the mix: the picture of American compassion. Give a week then leave. School’s back soon and you can’t miss that. At night you sleep in hotel beds, sheets warm and fresh. Morning brings warm oatmeal and eggs.

You promise a someday return not knowing what you started, or how to finish.

New Orleans pt. ii (14/30)

Today you rent bikes and pedal out to Madaket. Pack picnic and snacks in soft cloth bags. Seagulls mine the sidewalks for breadcrumbs. Perhaps it’s not quite warm out and perhaps the steady wind will make the beach not perfectly pleasant but here you are, 16 in summertime with a dry sweater and khaki shorts; not 16 and swimming down the street you live on, or 16 and living now on the roof of a house you should be living in, your whole neighborhood an emergency and neither phones nor flares nor prayers yield to rescue.

None of that, because New Orleans is not your home yet, and when it is it won’t be a home you’ve had to tether to for survival. It won’t have stared you down to prove your loyalty. It is still years away and you are sleepy on vacation, not starving or trembling in foul, uninvited waters. Soon you will be at the beach and taste not tar nor gasoline because no petrol plants have snapped and drowned here. No sludge crept onto your block.

Later, on accident, you will swallow a half a cup of saltwater. You won’t give it a second thought.

New Orleans pt. i (13/30)

Rainy day vacationing off Cape Cod, late August. Television tells of a storm over New Orleans. More like torrent. Never known a flood yourself just know you don’t want to be in one. News flashes images of a city gone lights out, everything tilted, toppled. Vague greens and grays. Reminds you of annual Florida hurricanes, except so many stayed. The coming days report chaos. Masses packed in civic buildings, city turns quivering puddle. Levees arm wrestling the tide now lost; looks like the ocean stood up and moved. A Southern mother-nature 9/11. That aging disaster, your only point of reference.

Six years soon this is your home. People speak Katrina like she’s the fulcrum life got folded over into before and after.  Most everyone’s got a ghost story,

others just got ghosts.

The Dozens (12/30)

To the awful, shitty poet with no respect for the genre or those who came before and really needs to step off this mic:

Your poetry’s so bad:
Berries ferment in its presence.
Trees topple in its direction.
Teenagers use it as contraception.

Every time you read it:
A gallon of buttermilk sours.
Atmospheric CO2 rises by three parts per million.
A comedy theatre shutters its windows forever.

When you write something new:
Progressive social movements collapse and re-brand themselves in service of capitalism.
Great bands from the 60s resolve not to reunite after all.
Somewhere, deep in the heart of Siberia, Vladimir Putin experiences a deeply satisfying wet dream.

On the Eve of Losing His Voice, the Poet Speaks His Last Words (11/30)

After Abba Kovner's "When They Told Him"

This really doesn’t change things. I’ve
always worn feelings on sleeves.
Can’t hide pride or disinterest. My smile,
always my loudest vowel, eyes, two
constant consonants. From now on
I only ask that you assume the best.
24 years of speech, I hope I’ve earned that:

trust the next utterance originates
in love; assume it will make you
laugh or nod in satisfaction;
make you think hard and pause
to reflect. I hope I’ve used well
my share of air. Not wasted on
petty commentary, sarcasm,
small talk.

May my silence loom large.
May you miss my input.

Later at parties we’ll play
What would Sam say?
And you’ll put clever spins on things,
flatter me with imagined insight while
recalling all my verbal quirks:
the way I say orange;
how my hands flail when I’m mid-reliving.

You’ll place good nouns in my mouth.
Permit me strong verbs.
Have me sound more interesting
than I could ever actually sound
(because the past deserves hyperbole
if it helps us remember).

By then I’ll be a fine poet.
No need for a working throat
to give life to what I wrote. My pen,
a sound substitute for baritone notes.

This is the gift of the verse:
to find comfort in words
chosen and ordered,
not merely spoken.

I’ll live content with no voicebox;
I much prefer the notebook’s choice.
So in splendid poetic irony,
perhaps losing my sound
will allow me to find

my voice.

Orders from Göring (10/30)

Hermann Göring was a Nazi military and political leader who was, for a time, Hitler’s main deputy. He also coordinated the Nazi seizure of artwork, much of which was stolen from Jews.

1.
Break them.
Until they forget where they come from.
Sever them from their mothers,
their stories, their Sabbath.

Next, remind them who they are.
Tattoo worthlessness into forearms.
Stitch scarlet into shoulders.
Keep records.
Organize and number.
Do this in an orderly way.
Think them cattle.

Use them as you please,
they belong to you now.
Burn them when necessary,
but collect any jewelry first.

They mustn’t be anymore.
Mustn’t dream of Zion’s shores.
Teach them the cold, the broken glass,
the barbed-wire fence and gas.

2.
Be gentle.
Never touch a canvas
with bare hands.
Think it delicate.
Handle it by the frame.
Your fingers contain oils
that may corrode.

Hold it like you would
hold your beloved.

It’s no small responsibility,
to carry history.
This vision, this achievement.
This story of origin.

Keep records.
Organize and number.
For posterity.
For safe keeping.

Take great care
not to break anything.

Becoming (9/30)

The hardest part of wheel throwing
is keeping the clay centered. Takes
years to master. It’s about leaning in,
whole self, knees to elbows.

Clay uses what you give.
Energy moves between bodies.
Offer yourself to it.
Trust it’ll respond.

Don’t just throw the bowl,
Become one.
Imagine yourself open,
full, possible.

That’s how magic happens.

Driving in Cars with Bob Dylan (8/30)

"Louise she’s alright she’s just near
She’s delicate, and seems like the mirror
But she just makes it all to concise and too clear
That Johanna’s not here”

- “Visions of Johanna,” Blonde on Blonde (1966)

Bob Dylan speaks of loss.

Not the devastating kind.
The kind that makes you tear slowly, years later.
An absence felt in the presence of lesser love.
One made worse by ingratitude for all you’ve got.

I’m in a dying Ford Explorer when his words return to me.
We’re winding through the California desert in a borrowed car
that might not make it. The song comes on, and I’m overcome.

Of all the loss written into this album - The crass, communal sorrow of Rainy Day Woman, the mournful, bardic grinding of “Stuck Inside of Mobile,” the burdened, loving wonder of “Sad Eyed Lady” -
This one for me is the most difficult to shake.

I’ve had too many Louises,
too few Johannas.

Dylan summons this, gently, a wisp of breath
along the back of my neck. I have known
his handfuls of rain, his trick-playing nights,
flickering lights, coughing heat pipes.

It’s not fair, really.
He tells my loneliness story better than I can.

This song asks a part of me, so I give it.
I trust him with it. Make him my go-to for
angsty drives and lonesome nights.

I let the music speak for me.

Years later I’m still single and at a bar,
nursing a beer and another recent Louise.
Dylan appears, in a Super Bowl commercial,
flanked by cowboys, baseball, and James Dean.

America.

Two whole minutes he fools me.
Images flash unbranded.
I can appreciate this. He is the quintessence.
I will let him convince me to buy American.

The spot winds down. I’m content to move on,
when from the darkening screen appears a Chrysler logo:
a two-headed dagger,
idol-shatterer.

My hero,
the sellout.

Oracle of my heart,
a car salesman.

This is the worst kind of loss.
I will feel this for years.

Things have changed,
he sings,
grumbles,
as the screen fades to black.

Things have changed.

Bob Dylan speaks of loss.

Undertow (7/30)

In the quietest moment of my life,
I am facing away from the ocean.
My toes sunk in sand, surrounded,
I breathe saltwater vapor.
I am daydreaming, staring skyward.

Then
it is not the sky, but wet and pulling.
I am choking.
My feet
flipped from beneath.
I am too young to swim, too young to
call this panic drowning.
I hadn’t yet imagined death;
surprised by its silence.

Now I’m spinning.
Now I’m swallowing.
Now
I am finding my footing.
The sweeping hand of my mother.
She is pulling, hard,
not ready to give up her firstborn.

I can breathe again.
I am dry now, safe.
She is holding me.
Again
She is
           holding me.

Ten Men (6/30)

Ten men women have warned me against becoming: 

1.

The man who takes up too much space.
Whose legs need their own chair in
public spaces, who plays awful, shitty
guitar at parties, whose backpack
can’t touch his lap and must therefore
have its own seat on the bus
while senior citizens and young
children stay standing. 

2.

The man with the 1-10 scale, for whom
beauty is sport; for whom beauty is empty,
is foreign, is obvious. For whom beauty is
his to own, but never to know.

3.

The nice guy who’s so nice. He’s so nice!
SO NICE that he can’t possibly have done
anything wrong and why are you
speaking to him in that tone?

4.

He who believes you live to seek
his approval, so he withholds it
like an ugly hand-me-down
that nobody actually wants.

5.

He whose mouth is clamped open.
Whose talking points are a record
on repeat. Whose ears have wilted
from misuse and neglect because
listening, like, actually listening,
is a Herculean task in humility.

6.

He who makes a home in sheets
until the deed is done, but can’t be
bothered to share the sunrise. 

7.
The Soulmate. Flawless artist’s
hands too delicate to dirty so
when he learns of his beloved’s
depression, his beloved learns
how her sadness can shrink
a man back into boy.

8.

The boy with the strong thighs.                                             
Who does not ask permission.
Who calls his victim conquest.
Who calls it just another Saturday.

9.
The one who as a boy, raises
fists to his sister. As a man,
raises voice to his lover.
As a man, learns to speak
with satin tongue and
barbed-wire lips.

10.

The man with the wooden spoon.
Whose name is control.
Who sees his girl too skinny
so he fattens her until she’s full,
until she’s bursting,
until she sees his meals
reflected ugly in her flesh.

These men:
They are an army of specters digging
trenches behind my best intentions.
They are the eggshells beneath conversations. 

I have known and loved them.
I fear becoming them.
I have already been
the space taker, the beauty butcher,
the nice guy, the broken record,
the little sister abuser.
I can’t promise I haven’t been more.

More. It is the rallying call of my gender.
We are the tempted, the takers.
The never question our own power.
Never learned to human.
Only taught how not to monster.

Pray for the boys not blessed with women
whispering them through anger, through
ignorance, through fear. They are a navy
with no lighthouse. An ocean with no moon
tugging the water upward.