At night after our ritual
entwinement I move
from you decrementally.
My bedboat breaks away
and the currents carry
me past charnel beaches and
To the temple of Janus
to offer a husk of a poem,
from behind the ink.
In the morning, when
the warmth of your body
draws me back, I will begin
to remember your name.
The house emerged from under
A museum of purposeful chairs:
the overstuffed green variety,
Nan’s highchair with stenciled flowers,
straight back kitchen chairs.
Plates still out, dusty by time.
The weight of years without
hands to clean and dirty them.
The curtains repurposed as
fractured calico floor scraps.
Even after washing dishes in the brook,
hanging our coats over the windows,
we cannot stay.
Our life here an unconceivable one.
Those memories of beds and forks,
must have belonged to others.
Strange filters around the distant fights
and sherry-filled parties.
Two days later—the comforters restuffed with hay,
the albums dusted off, books breathing again
—we return to the woods.
The house a monument, a museum, a library.
Not needed, and not ours.
How strange it felt, to pile leaves on top
of my wool sweater. Tie orange sleeve to orange sleeve
before laying my head down.
My brother covered my body with leaves and needles,
so I could be nothing worth notice
and warm. Food was hard to find
before we discovered roots for winter,
rosehips for spring. In the summer and fall
bounty overwhelmed us. The longings we once held
for mattresses, refrigerators, lamps,
replaced by lakes and loons before the sun rose.
Knitting scraps of wool into sweaters.
Praying every day, earnest words
to the God we could all now feel coming.
After an overcast day of mist and wind from the intertidal coastline, our faces were wind and sunburned after gathering sweetgrass for basket weaving. I staggered up the riprap with a heavy, awkward bundle of rush slung over my shoulder, and there it was. How could I have walked by it this morning? Like a plank to the face, certain senses are impossible to ignore. My teeth clenched, and both nostrils flared before I could breathe through my mouth. Otherworldly while it lived, now a couple of weeks dead, this ten-foot enormous black soap-thing was barely recognizable, stranded on the high reaches of this strip of beach in Hoquiam. Back at our cars, I asked the other basket weavers if they had seen it, but they were too tired to care. Their minds were on beating the traffic to get back to Seattle. It was a door set in my path to another world. If I had been alone, I would have fallen, like Alice. Among the muck of old marine oil and sand, dried green algae, twists of decaying rope and bleached bones of trees, I leave this messenger to the rough benediction of rain off the gray Pacific, the lapping tides.
Deep into sleeptime, I kept my promise,
wrapped her in blankets, and woke her
into the cool night. I stood, waiting for our irises
to bloom. And the sky revealed itself.
I turned my almost-too-heavy bundle
to the east, and pointed. But in the time it takes
to turn, meteors vanish. Look, point,
turn, never fast enough to see
the brilliant flash on the sky. When she had missed
enough for one night, she had me
carry her inside, too sleepy
for disappointment, to the warmth
of her room and guardian bears. Another year,
another swarm, with me—or with some boy—
a candent slash across the belly of the dark.
In the woods,
boy at his side, stick in one hand,
cigar in the other, he posed
for the picture I am taking.
He watched his good child marry a man
of whom he approved, whom she would
divorce three years later, after
the boy was born.
He wanted to be
a good father and loving husband.
He glared into a mirror.
He saw himself, his father, and me.
He swung an axe,
pulled a saw, hefted the logs
onto the wagon I helped him pull home.
Imagine you’ve got one page
to tell your story: one page
to diagram the one heart you
had to lose, the one promise
you hoped to keep, to proclaim
the one God you feared most
but never quite believed in.
Time never seems short until
it is and the one debt you could
never pay comes due, the one
word you hoped to say belongs
to someone else, and the one
light you hoped to follow slips
into a gown of fog.
This may be your one chance
to set the record straight,
the one place where the stars
line up like dominoes, the one
piece of real estate you appraised
correctly before investing.
Imagine you’ve got one page,
only one. One line for each seed
you planted. You can talk about
the drought or rain, the heat or ice,
about the ghosts you stalked
until their footsteps disappeared.
Imagine this is your page.
Tell me how you laughed and lied,
tell me how the world became
your lover, how every truth
you swallowed hypnotized your soul.
Imagine this is your page, not mine.
Please, tell me everything.
Slow sweet music plays and she
Begins to move her hands as we
O yes she whispers this could be
The granite limits passing me
O wrap me round and quarry me
She swims my waters deep and she
Splash she nestles closer dear
Grove she whispers in my ear
The hazel green trees rustling near
Tangle of laces, tangle of fingers & toes,
your first kiss, your first pair of shoes,
the sequence is crucial, you’re eager,
running, running barefoot through the fields.
Tangle of laces & thumbs, octopus arms
sorted out, one tentacle embracing
another, bringing it under, hands
& fingers & laces intertwining.
Your laces must be tightened on your shoes,
one strand looped, & then the index aimed
to pin the bow, hard, as you would a moth.
No running! Not barefoot through the fields.
Pressure, pressure, the laces like locks
of hair combed out, one strand thrown over
and knotted tight, repeated to double.
Mangle of tongues & whispering voices.
Tangle of grasses, strangle of thumbs.
Start again, setting one over the other,
bring it under, don’t hurry the first, first.
No running! No feet bare in the fields.
Tangle of laces & grasses & voices,
Skipping the kisses, missing the faces.
Another loop, & the rabbit is hanged,
tangle of laces, of fingers & toes,
barefoot, barefoot, running through the fields.
a silk scarf
thrown lightly about
the shoulders lest it stifle thee
||PETER — 30s
MARLÉ (Mar-lay) — 30s
A room with a futon. A desk. A window. A door to the kitchen. A door out.
Party noise. PETER on his futon, dabbing at a spill with a cloth. MARLÉ stands in the door, bag packed, coat on, holding a champagne bottle. Party noise down. PETER stops cleaning, looks up at her.
PETER: All right, I'll tell you. I'm afraid of losing this. I hope for more. Much more. But I'm afraid of having less.
MARLÉ: Than this?
PETER: Than what you see. [pause] I should be plotting a future. A portfolio and so forth. My investments and so forth. As you remind me day after day. [pause] Desktop publishing and so forth. [He brandishes an envelope.] But I have to say, I don't think too much about “what's my strategy?” You know? “What's my strategy?” What's your strategy? I'm trying to love a woman. I'm trying to find out if there's a relationship out there. With a woman. In the present. That's the kind of strategy I'm thinking about.
MARLÉ: You're saying I'm this woman? Or what?
PETER: I had hoped to be married.
Read full play
When the first Martian knocks, I open the door
with a bowl of chocolate, suckers, and quarters.
This Martian is a typical Martian: green skin,
long thin limbs, and maybe three feet tall.
The Martian’s eyes glitter. I ask, Who are you?
The Martian is silent. Then a Fairy, Superman,
and two Military Specialists crowd the porch
holding plastic gourds. I extend the bowl of candy.
Thank you! says the Fairy whose wings shiver.
She dashes down the steps into the night.
Then Superman, the military, they all leave,
but the Martian remains. I ask, Where’s your mom?
I scan the street and note my neighbors
on their lawn pretending to be stuffed dummies.
As the Fairy climbs their driveway, they growl.
I study the Martian, then glance up and down the street.
I do what any normal person would do.
I take a limp hand and pull the Martian inside.
Judging from the changes that I have seen to occur from year to year in these spots,
one could believe that these changing grayish areas are due to Martian vegetation
undergoing seasonal changes. ∼Étienne L. Trouvelot, French astronomer, 1884
The Martian ate my comforter, mattress pad, and dust ruffle.
I only left the Martian in the bedroom for a moment as I dashed
to the guest bathroom to lay out toiletries, a towel, and washcloth.
There was batting everywhere. Large billows of spun polyester
on the floor, atop the fish tank, against the screen as the wind blew.
Long brown and maroon scraps, which were once my 500 count
Egyptian cotton sheets, draped from the lamp and dresser.
The Martian stood there in the middle of it all. No look of guilt. No
bulge in the belly to belie the act done. No sign of recognition.
This is where you sleep, not eat, I said. The Martian’s eyes
were flat and empty. I reached to grab a three-fingered hand,
but the Martian backed away as if I had done something wrong.
As I sort and scoop compost into the wheelbarrow
the Martian coughs and says, We’re not from Mars.
I crouch on my knees and push aside brittle leaves
from the worms and refuse. I respond, If not Mars,
where are you from? I glance from the hollow stalks
of sunflowers and withered arms of tomato plants.
The Martian sweeps away a swath of pine needles.
In the dry silt beneath, the Martian draws a canal
in a desert of saguaros. Next the Martian sketches
bison on glacial ice and spears inside Mammoth Cave.
Third, the Martian traces a labyrinth, a ball of twine,
and Minoans writing lists in a dead language
no one has yet to translate. You’re a lost people,
I infer, an unknown. The Martian adds a fourth image,
a galaxy of stars and planets and a medieval sundial.
All these people, the Martian says, have been named by you
because you didn’t know what they called themselves.
I begin to ask about the outline of three large moons,
but the Martian grabs my hand and pulls me up
until my palm is flat against the Martian’s green chest.
Shhh, the Martian says, We’ve never been lost.
It is not so hard to believe
that one’s husband
has murdered his brother
once you have time
to get used to the notion,
tells Katharine Hepburn
in Vincente Minnelli’s
dizzying film noir.
with his fine eye
for the details of women’s clothes,
has transformed Hepburn’s
from confident screwball
to stylish, mature victim.
As her silhouette
her confidence has eroded.
Even her crisp diction
has softened with confusion.
How we want to believe
that a past event
dictates the present,
which encrypts the future.
“Undercurrent” is in eight parts. To read the complete poem, click here.