Winner of the 2013 Boulevard
Poetry Contest for Emerging Writers
Resembling himself, Tony sips the cool blue of
his wife’s Electric Lemonade through a curly straw,
and her lust pulses once in recognition.
Here he is, four months home from Kandahar,
refashioned from the silence of days beyond accounting for.
Scholars point to four different endings in The Odyssey.
There’s the vendetta; Athena’s intervention; a covenant of peace.
Each unsatisfied century tacking on its own two cents.
But how the original tales end: his bow bends back,
a dozen soon-dead suitors awed at the snap of that true arrow.
He never doubts his queen’s devotion. Never sniffs after rumors
like a dog through swamp grass. Or we never have to see it.
Never have to see her test him, half-stranger, in the mysteries of her need.
For all lovers, unwritten hours.
For these two, watching catspaw breezes soothe a tousled sea,
walking hand-in-hand to where dark green shadows dusk on a plum tree,
touching bark where once he carved initials in the broad afternoon —
an hour is its own consummation.
How close is rupture to rapture.
How far fruit grows from the ground.
Scholars point to different endings in The Odyssey, and why not?
Memory too is a mud-caked epic of bite marks and abatements.
Tony sips the cool blue of his wife’s Electric
Lemonade through a curly straw, while the streetlights,
turned on, will burn uniformly for hours. Fixture. Filament. Fuse.
And how like the singed edge of old papyrus,
impossible to choose which future
knuckles on the door
at the midnight of this final line.
Displacing Keeps the Thing￼
Without you, I wake
to watch the day’s slow
debut through windows
veined by quick, oblique
rivulets of rain
that run together
where they touch rather
coolly on the panes
like nothing happened.
On the cove, you strike
sail and rinse the deck.
How you’ve upended
us. The difference
between bilge water
and the slack water
beneath? Scant distance.
The hull’s displacing
keeps the thing afloat;
what could sink a boat
stays it. You’re lashing
long lines to the dock;
a box for the catch
is set out. I watch
to see if you look
home and back again.
When you walk the steep
climb here, each quick step
is, I imagine,
its own erasure.
What will go away
you bring with you. Why
is it our desire
needs some kind of lapse
to return? New light
sharpens shadows’ flat,
shapeless touch; perhaps
love’s like an eclipse.
The mast is naked,
sails stowed. A manic
clang of metal clips
against the spar stays
ringing on like bells.
Cause & Effect, Plus the Music
of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet
“Of course, the deposition of sediment carried
by the river slows the flow of this river, too.”
—Egyptian travel brochure
Spoons tap glasses. So we kiss. Y’know the drill.
Holding onto love, it’s like trying to nail a fart
to the wall, her uncle says. Some toast!
Then her father’s turn: if you lie, lie in bed.
If you cheat, cheat death. Liar & cheat himself.
But I love the guy — melancholy grump that he is.
Dinner & dancing, etc. We carve the cake
while the DJ plays Nefertiti’s title track, two
grainy horns hopscotching a fractured unison.
Craned-neck Nefertiti. Famous pharaoh queen
who ruled briefly before Tut’s ascension; each lavish day
requiring offerings, innumerable desert lilies lashed into Ankhs.
& here’s Williams, Shorter, Hancock, Carter, Davis . . .
stretching out like troubled blossoms in her name.
Their lonely, stoned ostinato, hot as Aten’s rays.
I saw Miles once, her father says. In Bremen.
Some three hundred-seater hall. 65, 66? During
my university days, and his blue-gray eyes alight.
He must’ve had a few dozen girls in his time —
Not like marriage stopped him. International
tin trader? Berlin. Brazil. Brooklyn Heights.
One of the only things he saved when they sold
the house after the split was a scrapbook of playbills.
His wedding gift to me: Ellington, Basie, Mingus, Dizzy,
& the dance-bands of northern Deutschland.
If all of this goes badly, I think, I’ll have to give it back.
& I look at her on the dance floor, broad swimmer’s shoulders
shaking to the cross-fade as Nefertiti
becomes Gloria Gaynor’s I will Survive,
though at first she was afraid, she was petrified.
Strange that I think it’s
strange to think I love her.
But I do, so I did. Of course I did.
What did we know? The clink
of spoons on glasses. More wine when
passions fade. Anger. Separation. Same drill.
& just a couple months before, it seemed, we took a day-trip
to the Rosicrucian Museum; we squished pennies
into scarabs with flattening machines
[alchemy weaves the esoteric
with the everyday, the
& then went down into that life-sized fabrication of
Tutankhamen’s cursed tomb. Cold, stiff air. Everything gold.
Not even yet a teen, this boy king who had to die to be preserved.
& somewhere up above — I remember thinking —
an hour churned like the slow wheel of
a wheat grinder over the world.
Thebes, San Jose, Bremen,
￼ 30th Street Studio, where Miles
recorded his last all-acoustic album,
forever testing different personnel.
There was no permanent electric lineup;
Miles wasn’t faithful to anything but music.
Two people meet up at a motel, dizzied
by passion & self-pity. They go from there.
They go into the dark. They go there together.
Later on they clink
glasses at the corner table
of a restaurant miles outside
of town. They rinse
down their shame, drill
a secret deep into themselves.
When I gave the book of playbills back, he leafed
carefully through its pages like an archivist.
It wasn’t disappointment on his face —
These things happen.
You kids were young.
Thanks for the book.
But the thing about endings,
he said & went silent —
pausing on Miles . . .
The thing about endings, it’s the loss of
what you were before that stays with you.
The Nile winding its way toward the Delta.
The Delta slowing the flow of the widening Nile.
The furrow where a skiff skims the bulrush, bringing
gold flakes upriver to the palace, so another new priesthood
can coat everything in the sun’s veneer. Now the reeds,
bent down by the boat, rise again into the humid air, where
an attar of marigold & myrrh lingers, after the boatsman has gone.