Keep Tokyo Weird.
we were the last kids to still have
wear shorts to skool
and be beaten with sticks
our parents dreamed of a
and whats worse
all their dreams came true
The river is a fish
and my tongue
is white paper
your hand on
and the sounds
on the waist
of a janitor
in an empty building
on the night of your birth
when the moon was
a live bird pinned
to a girl’s chest
and the color
of a beat-up door
that hides a paint chipped
life where we lick the throats
of passing trains
and wear bright pills
over our faces
like ghost masks
and move the tiny ghosts
that live in us
I’d lean close, my ear
to her whisper and roar,
her tongue scattered
She’d belt her brassy voice
over the waves’ backbeat.
No one sings better than her.
Would she ever bite
the inside of her cheek?
Would she yell at the moon
to quit tugging at her hem,
or would she whistle, drop
her blue dress and shimmy
through space to cleave
to that shimmer?
What did she mean to say
that morning she spit out
the emaciated whale
wearing a net for a corset?
All this emptying
on the sand. Eyeless
shrimp. Oiled pelicans.
Within her jaws the coral forests,
glittering fish, waves like teeth,
her hungry mortal brine.
Dad couldn’t stop crying after Kathy moved him into the facility.
When she came to visit, he’d cry and say he wanted to die. He
the same thing to the nurses. This went on for about a month
the doctor put him on an antidepressant especially for
patients. The next time Kathy came to visit, she found him in the
cafeteria, talking to some of the other residents and not crying at
all—just enjoying his lunch. When it was time for her to go, he
didn’t cry, but rather calmly escorted her to the car. “Do you like
this car? My wife and I were thinking about getting one,” he told
her. “That’s very interesting,” Kathy smiled, “because I am your
wife.” Dad chuckled, “Is that right?” He squinted over the palm
towards the freeway. So many cars. Busy busy busy. “Well, we’ll
you later, then,” he said, and shook her hand firmly, the way he’d
learned to do at Rotary. What funny new friends he was making.
Years later I’m standing before a roomful of young writers in a high school in Texas. I’ve asked them to locate an image in a poem we’d just read—their heads at this moment are bowed to the page. After some back & forth about the grass & a styrofoam cup, a girl raises her hand & asks, Does it matter? I smile—it is as if the universe balanced on those three words & we’ve landed in the unanswerable. I have to admit that no, it doesn’t, not really, matter, if rain is an image or rain is an idea or rain is a sound in our heads. But, I whisper, leaning in close, to get through the next forty-seven minutes we might have to pretend it does.
Every few months my friend and I get together
to talk about “what we’re doing” vis-à-vis
“the perceived goal of our dual attempt
to become masters of wordsmithing
in the face of insurmountable opposition.”
This is what I’m doing, we say,
compared to this person we don’t know
who does something similar
and is wildly more successful than us.
Powdered lips and lip powder
are quite the opposite
to anyone who’s ever powdered their lips
or shaved flakes off of their lips
in that great and violent kitchen of our beings.
Is it true, we wonder. Are our life-fates locked
aside from random pratfall, victim
of crime or illness? In twenty years
you’ll look back at this moment and go,
“whoa, weird,” but you’ll feel the same way
you feel now as you stare into the crisp,
dark city and say to yourself,
“whoa, weird.” I’m just trying
to get through this like the rest of us,
you used to think, with dextrose, maltodextrin,
malic acid, calcium stearate, carnauba wax,
blue 2, red 40, yellow 5,
less than 2% corn syrup and possibly egg
on my tongue. Who knows what could happen
to my lips. They could be powdered, shaved,
or ripped completely off my face
in one, impressive motion.
The cold orange hands of the
salamanders still wrap and
unwrap the baby he dreams he was
then long before there was any human family.
Then their work was just beginning on the
damp stones and mosses too.
He had to be as little strange as
possible. They were
making the world & working on him too. He
was warmer but less
strange than a moss or a stone
was, that saved him.
The moss worked on the stone too.
The stone worked
on him like a mind he
had to grow up to talk to or
dream to but without
turning strange. The
cold hands run over him.
They read the body he
dreams of as a baby’s to the
stone. Before there was any
human family the work that made him was
this work just beginning.
The little elf is dressed in a floppy cap
and he has a big rosy nose and flaring white eyebrows
with short legs and a jaunty step, though sometimes
he glides across an invisible pond with a bonfire glow on his cheeks:
it is northern Europe in the nineteenth century and people
are strolling around Copenhagen in the late afternoon,
mostly townspeople on their way somewhere,
perhaps to an early collation of smoked fish, rye bread, and cheese,
washed down with a dark beer: ha ha, I have eaten this excellent meal
and now I will smoke a little bit and sit back and stare down
at the golden gleam of my watch fob against the coarse dark wool of my vest,
and I will smile with a hideous contentment, because I am an evil man,
and tonight I will do something evil in this city!
Do not pretend that you don’t like it
when we threaten you.
We see you getting pheromone stink
under the collar, moaning, baldly.
Motionless, picturing decay.
When we creak your step,
when we crack your glass,
when we tap tap tap,
that is a bone
that is all we have
though we are very shiny,
and filled with beetles.
We are made entirely of bone.
Like an idol.
Like the tusk of some wonderful past.
When you cleave to us,
your skin will fuse,
hot calcium meth,
and in the myth,
you will be named for us.