When the dead rise in movies they're hideous
and slow. They stagger uphill toward the farmhouse
like drunks headed home from the bar.
Maybe they only want to lie down inside
while some room spins around them, maybe that's why
they bang on the windows while the living
hammer up boards and count out shotgun shells.
The living have plans: to get to the pickup parked
in the yard, to drive like hell to the next town.
The dead with their leaky brains,
their dangling limbs and ruptured hearts,
are sick of all that. They'd rather stumble
blind through the field until they collide
with a tree, or fall through a doorway
like they're the door itself, sprung from its hinges
and slammed flat on the linoleum. That's the life
for a dead person: wham, wham, wham
until you forget your name, your own stinking
face, the reason you jolted awake
in the first place. Why are you here,
whatever were you hoping as you lay
in your casket like a dumb clarinet?
You know better now. The soundtrack's depressing
and the living hate your guts. Come closer
and they'll show you how much. Wham, wham, wham,
you're killed again. Thank God this time
they're burning your body, thank God
it can't drag you around anymore
except in nightmares, late-night reruns
where you lift up the lid, and crawl out
once more, and start up the hill toward the house.
Marc says the suffering that we don't see
still makes a sort of sound — a subtle, soft
noise, nothing like the cries of screams that we
might think of — more the slight scrape of a hat doffed
by a quiet man, ignored as he stands back
to let a lovely woman pass, her dress
just brushing his coat. Or else it's like a crack
in an old foundation, slowly widening, the stress
and slippage going on unnoticed by
the family upstairs, the daughter leaving
for a date, her mother's resigned sigh
when she sees her. It's like the heaving
of a stone into a lake, before it drops.
It's shy, it's barely there. It never stops.
She's the one sleeping all day, in a room
at the back of your brain. She wakes up
at the sound of a cork twisted free
of a bottle, a stabbed olive
plopped into gin. She's prettier than you
and right now you bore the shit out of her,
sitting there sipping when she wants
to stand on the rim of the glass, naked,
dive straight to the bottom and lie there
looking up, amazed at how the world
wavers and then comes clear. You're not
going to let her. You've locked her in
with her perfume and cheap novels,
her deep need for trouble. She's the one
calling to you through the keyhole,
then sneaking away to squirm out
a window and tear her silk dress.
You can't guess where she's going,
or who you'll wake up with
when you finally wake up,
your head throbbing like a heart.
She's the one you're scared of,
the one who dares you to go ahead
and completely disappear. It's not
you the boys are noticing, not you
turning toward them and throwing off light.
You're crouched in a corner, coming undone.
She's in love with you now. She's the one.
I used an arrow to kill the spider.
I used a steamroller to flatten the worm.
For the ants I called in an air strike.
Bee that found its way in through the screen:
The mammals were easier—
a bucket of water for submerging the cat,
a poisoned word thrown to the dog.
For love, only a kitchen match. That
and a stove leaking gas
and waiting until the dinner
was good and burned.
For you I undress down to the sheaths of my nerves.
I remove my jewelry and set it on the nightstand,
I unhook my ribs, spread my lungs flat on a chair.
I dissolve like a remedy in water, in wine.
I spill without staining, and leave without stirring the air.
I do it for love. For love, I disappear.
There are people who will tell you
that using the word fuck in a poem
indicates a serious lapse
of taste, or imagination,
or both. It's vulgar,
indecorous, an obscenity
that crashes down like an anvil
falling through a skylight
to land on a restaurant table,
on the white linen, the cut-glass vase of lilacs.
But if you were sitting
over coffee when the metal
hit your saucer like a missile,
wouldn't that be the first thing
you'd say? Wouldn't you leap back
shouting, or at least thinking it,
over and over, bell-note riotously clanging
in the church of your brain
while the solicitous waiter
led you away, wouldn't you prop
your shaking elbows on the bar
and order your first drink in months,
telling yourself you were lucky
to be alive? And if you wouldn't
say anything but Mercy or Oh my
or Land sakes, well then
I don't want to know you anyway
and I don't give a fuck what you think
of my poem. The world is divided
into those whose opinions matter
and those who will never have
a clue, and if you knew
which one you were I could talk
to you, and tell you that sometimes
there's only one word that means
what you need it to mean, the way
there's only one person
when you first fall in love,
or one infant's cry that calls forth
the burning milk, one name
that you pray to when prayer
is what's left to you. I'm saying
in the beginning was the word
and it was good, it meant one human
entering another and it's still
what I love, the word made
flesh. Fuck me, I say to the one
whose lovely body I want close,
and as we fuck I know it's holy,
a psalm, a hymn, a hammer
ringing down on an anvil,
forging a whole new world.
You don't know what love is
but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she'll try to eat solid food. She'll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she's headed, you know she'll wake up
with an ache she can't locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.
I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.
for Aya at fifteen
Damp-haired from the bath, you drape yourself
upside down across the sofa, reading,
one hand idly sunk into a bowl
of crackers, goldfish with smiles stamped on.
I think they are growing gills, swimming
up the sweet air to reach you. Small girl,
my slim miracle, they multiply.
In the black hours when I lie sleepless,
near drowning, dread-heavy, your face
is the bright lure I look for, love's hook
piercing me, hauling me cleanly up.
Give me the strongest cheese, the one that stinks best;
and I want the good wine, the swirl in crystal
surrendering the bruised scent of blackberries,
or cherries, the rich spurt in the back
of the throat, the holding it there before swallowing.
Give me the lover who yanks open the door
of his house and presses me to the wall
in the dim hallway, and keeps me there until I'm drenched
and shaking, whose kisses arrive by the boatload
and begin their delicious diaspora
through the cities and small towns of my body.
To hell with the saints, with martyrs
of my childhood meant to instruct me
in the power of endurance and faith,
to hell with the next world and its pallid angels
swooning and sighing like Victorian girls.
I want this world. I want to walk into
the ocean and feel it trying to drag me along
like I'm nothing but a broken bit of scratched glass,
and I want to resist it. I want to go
staggering and flailing my way
through the bars and back rooms,
through the gleaming hotels and weedy
lots of abandoned sunflowers and the parks
where dogs are let off their leashes
in spite of the signs, where they sniff each
other and roll together in the grass, I want to
lie down somewhere and suffer for love until
it nearly kills me, and then I want to get up again
and put on that little black dress and wait
for you, yes you, to come over here
and get down on your knees and tell me
just how fucking good I look