Migration of Souls
Sometimes, I sit alone in my modest house,
worry about the furnace. Is it time to change
the filter? Replace the starter? Will it last
one more season before I have to find a way to live
with the cold?
Sometimes, the sound of traffic
can’t shush the few trains that grumble through town,
can’t hush the cry of emergency sirens, can’t stop
the rush of people leaving this town
for smoother streets, better jobs, cleaner water,
all the rarities of this world.
Too often, I sleep too late to make a difference.
The bed goes unmade.
Food goes wasted
in the fridge, lettuce browns in bins,
milk curdles careless on the top shelf. Today,
at least, there’s still power and water and gas.
There’s still dust in the corners, mail on the counters,
leavings of daily life piled up in every room.
Is it time to remove debris?
books and boxes, bones and belongings?
No matter belonging is so hard to find. No matter
bones rattle around in all our broken bodies.
I have seen the ghosts of this town rise like steam
after rain on summer-fired pavement.
I’ve seen them leave with nothing
but the worries they always meant to leave behind.
A Man's World
My mother married the first man she dated.
She lost her shoe, but she never believed in fairy tales.
I think she remains skeptical, even today.
She likes to dig up trilliums and transplant them
to a garden under a sugar maple.
I never ask why. I assume
she likes the number three—three leaves,
three petals, three aspects of one being.
And when she threw Dad out because he was cheating,
we were three: my mother, my sister, and me.
My mother kept the books for the local airport,
a single one-mile runway on the outskirts of town,
a runway that only hopped, skipped, and jumped
to another hop, skip, and jump. She never mentions
her Cherokee grandmother, but not from shame,
more a matter of memory, or the lack thereof.
And she’s never had any dreams,
no presentiments of glory,
no aspirations for wealth, no wild longings for fame.
My mother makes forgiveness look easy,
even for my father. I know
I should be more like her. I know
the wild phlox in her garden loves the shade of the tree.
When she digs in the soil,
she gets down on her knees.
Three-Quarter Moon on the Fourth of July
Neighbors set off their bombs,
the pop-pop of staccato thunder,
the sizzle and squeal of missiles over our roofs.
The halfway house on Fifth Street remains
boarded to the hordes because someone ran
a meth lab on the first floor.
Now we are all out of luck.
The air is littered with failed stars and stripes of smoke, and half the dogs bark their fool heads off, either scared or ready for battle.
Through my bedroom window, flashes of light keep finding the most unexpected shadows. To my left, the house is for sale, but who would move into a war-torn land. To my right, a guy named Steve gets drunk and whoops and hollers
at every explosion. This is America
cat-calling through the night.
Aren’t homosexuals lacing fireworks
with gene-altering chemicals,
brain-washing chlorides, sexually-deviant
This time tomorrow, we will all be transsexual, and we’ll all be confused as we stand outside bathroom doors
waiting for laws to keep up with justice, which always goes running off into the night,
chasing the moon and stars
and getting distracted by streetlights,
and porch lights, and traffic.
This time tomorrow,
we will wander the ruins of crumbling streets, and crumbling walls, and crumbling bridges
that are falling down, falling down,
my fair Lady Liberty. And on the back of the
Thirteenth Street Apartments,
someone has spray-painted,
“Mark sucks dick for food stamps.”
And maybe he does, but he’s getting by.
Still, the war goes on.
Even children are lighting fuses.
Some come home missing fingers,
burns up their arms, across their faces. Tonight,
I am another civilian watching the news and talk show comedians,
and I am trying not to be scared, but I am.
The slightest pause is another chance to reload and aim
for the treasonous breeze rushing to hide somewhere in the sky.
The clock reads 10:43, 12:19, 4:24,
any time, any day, hands reach in
from the side of the desk, from underneath,
from behind your back. Letters are displaced
beside each other, moneme, phoneme,
word, clause, phrase. Spiders calculate
their geometric patterns
under street lights and porch lights,
across fences and doors.
A faceless figure stands
in the shadows of monuments
and flagpoles and Doric columns.
I take my time to disguise
my handwriting, my diction, my style.
I cover my visage in cobwebs,
vest my body in twilight.
Wrath races drunk through hallowed halls.
Gnats and whiteflies scatter.
Crickets burrow deep into the tangles of grass.
Cicadas yell for truth from their perches
high in the branches of deciduous trees.
And I will yell with them, safely
hidden in the crowd, all our voices
united to shout down the walls.
The Atheist Opines the Creation of the Universe
at the Rusty Nail While the Television above the Bar Flickers Images from a Documentary about Amphibian Mutations
The prevailing theory is that from one thing came all other things.
Which is imprecise and ignores the proof of origin. The story,
as I see it, could be this—two or more dense gravitational fields collided,
light and matter erupted into wild plumes; or it was a series of collisions (because the sperm of the universe wasn’t motile,
or the egg sloughed out of the womb to reappear as stars). And then,
to make it even more complicated, though possibly easier to swallow, someone swore the whole thing evidence of deism,
one god shuffling feet, or another dancing or stumbling around
until positive and negative charges blistered through nothingness (but what nothing comes from is anyone’s guess),
until those charges congealed into atoms, until atoms started to cling together like molecular gangs of teenagers in shopping center parking lots, until molecules began to make trouble (also from nothing) clumping into segregated bits, matter and energy, but the energy whispered reverently while the matter stood up and gave itself a name.
And gave everything its name. Like my mother swaying her hips to The Righteous Brothers, each spice named as she cast it into the stew, each spoonful called forth as she lifted it to her tongue.
But this doesn’t make sense
without an entire crew of gods. So, the first god would have had to reproduce, somehow tickle his progeny into any sort of womb.
Not he—certainly, the first would have had to be female and male,
hermaphroditic, like certain plants and sea creatures that just wait for wind or water to get the body excited.
And from this pointillistic fibrillation, buds warted the flesh (or whatever it is that makes an omnipotent being), buds that bulged and loosened and flung themselves, one-legged frogs, off the parent god
to become abstractions; namely, love, death, knowledge, power, pleasure, retribution.
And these gave into their own affairs
and birthed yet other gods—affecting thunder and rain, sun
and sky, ocean and earth, moon and fire. But, as I said,
this is imprecise, there is no proof,
not even to suggest that there must have been unnamed supernatural beings residing in the suburbs, event horizons
where nothing seems quite real;
that the house of the brain simply can’t accept this trickery
with the nails and hinges fabricated from the same ethereal stuff that proves nothing but valence, multi-valence, supra-valence. Okay,
so I made up that last one. But I’ll bet you almost bought it,
almost took it as gospel. Forget that— perhaps it is something simpler. Maybe
the only thing I meant to avoid was my father,
the rumor that I was the bastard son of a bastard son,
although it could be the confusion, the mind-body split,
statistics that say earth is an oddity and statistics that say otherwise, destiny versus free will.
Uncontained ideas and terrible abstractions follow me
as though gods in succession, generations of immortality,
which is inherently an oxymoron, and is daring as star clusters,
all that light and energy squeezed out by the closing
fingers of space.
Free space, unused rooms throughout the galaxy
left to asteroid and comet dust. Even these fingers point
toward conclusion, but not end,
a wishy-washy thing resembling partial eclipse, noncommittal
shade, anything so large it frightens every eschatologist into end-of-the-world shelters constructed just for this, shrines where they take up unfinished prayers, knowing exactly word and moment the last interruption.
All over town, they access designer religions, piecing it all together to atone for anything, addressing whatever all-mighty will listen. But nothing happens,
except perhaps a change in the planet’s magnetic polarity, effects that last without comprehension,
yet some contend can mend the flesh
like the hands of a faith healer,
who, once in contact with the dying, can reverse the ravages
of tuberculosis, leukemia, you name it,
any yet-to-be named or discovered pandemics
as they slip unnoticed through the atmosphere upon interstellar particles.
Crazy with definitions,
the pinpointed world manages to brush up another mystery or two, shoving remarkably mutated frogs at us in a polluted marsh somewhere in the Midwest,
not that I don’t see the causality; instead, it is chaos that drives toxins into gooey egg spirals, levels heretofore unknown. But this can be measured, the effect, the end result.
Imagine the instigator as nothing, a void, a chasm. Even different
classes of nothingness all rushed together, until, finally,
single-celled and multi-celled organisms barely recognized each other, and every rule broken when they began to communicate doubt in every primitive and sophisticated tongue,
and there were no gods for that.