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Poetry

Poems on all the major topics: cats, dreams, and the end of the world.




Kola Superdeep Borehole

No roadside attraction invites me 
to See the World's Deepest Hole 
 
but I stop here in dreams, on imagined, 
world's-end roadtrips. I turn off my car, 
 
zip up my parka, crunch snow and glass 
in the overgrown parking lot. 
 
Scientists drilled the hole.  
It ends almost eight miles down in rock hot and plastic. 
 
When they had learned what they wanted 
about what was down there, 

when the drill mouth had chewed copper and granite  
and choked on mud boiling with hydrogen 
 
they welded the borehole shut and left it to the taiga. 
Some walls are gone, the laboratories looted, 
 
but the cinderblock and rebar are pushed clear 
of the hand-width hole. I kick the rusted plug 
 
with quilted boot, sensing the organ pipe voice  
of the space below. I know I'm safe 
 
from that depth—nothing on earth is bottomless,  
nowhere will I fall forever— 
 
still, some things are lost; they aren't buried 
where people look, where their shovels dig. 
 
I don't linger. I hear again the call of far places  
where I will step unrecognized through undivided rooms.

August 2013

First fall in Illinois

Put on a coat, go back to school. 
Eat an apple, see a tragedy, want something 
you can't have. Bargain  
for furniture, plan for snow, 
 
and in your Mission chairs, in your canned food 
and your camp fuel, find again your intention— 
all summer it stalled, but tend it now 
to a fiery overwintering.  
 
This should be the start of the year: 
you could be reborn in these departures. 
You could inhabit 
this meter, these variations.

September 2013

South

At fourteen in Mississippi 
you didn't make it easy, didn't hide  
your bad schools and your Jesus billboards, 
 
your cockroaches and closed minds, 
the war flags, revised history, and the way  
no one even seemed ashamed of it all. 
 
You weren't anything like my happy childhood  
memories, black-eyed peas and barbecue, 
Lucinda singing about car wheels on a gravel road  
 
on the stereo, our road trip anthem  
on the way to grandparents  
and dairy cows in Tennessee: 
 
the origin we swung around when the Air Force gave orders  
to Germany or Japan, Knoxville  
with the farm cats and fireflies. 
 
Now some nights in Illinois 
I bake biscuits and research by screen-glow, 
family trees and genes, 
 
could tell you my haplogroup, 
trace the inheritance 
of my eyeglasses and curls. 
 
You never asked if I needed a home. 
You never told me what you contain. 
You never welcomed me, 
 
only marked me and let me go, 
sure that I'd sneak back—oh, to rock again 
in that complicated cradle.

October 2013

Cat

In bad dreams she won’t cooperate. We have time 
to outrun the tornado but she’s under the bed, her limbs
so slippery and she screams when I drag on her tail—

or I can’t lock this door, the bolt is crooked, won’t fit
and someone is going to open it and let her out 
where I won’t find her again. In life she’s independent, 

cleans herself, learns secrets, observes with slow blink
or dilated pupil—open door, dark planet, aperture
that snaps wide, friction of claws in substrate,

rocket launch, escape velocity. Swat of a bandit’s tail
warns of concealed weapons, but furred digits accept
my clumsy gestures in their tender grasp— 

nose touch, imitated mew. It’s the end of the world
and I have a plan, we’ll walk to my uncle’s place
in the mountains in Carolina and  it will be safe there

but she hates me for cramming her into the cage,
cries on top of the pack in the sun, won’t walk beside me,
can’t be trusted to hunt for herself, will run away and die

like a dumb animal. I only know how to take care of myself.
I wake to something tugging, grooming my hair, 
a sexless mother in her own dream of instinct and origin.

October 2013

On the way to Mars

On the way to Mars 
we drill for the landing  
and do crosswords— 
 
trivia of a canon 
we're forgetting.  
Fourth grade blurs: 
 
something about 
Mesopotamia, lions  
in the coliseum, the meaning  
 
of thirteen red and white stripes. 
The gods live on  
the Olympus Mons,  
 
but no one can remember 
what tickertape parade 
was supposed to mean. 
 
On the way to Mars 
I dream of snow between stations 
and red rust falling, 
 
of steeples swallowed 
and quarries filled 
with slag of bridge and plow. 
 
It's quiet. 
On the way I start to forget 
the meaning of my name— 
 
something about desire 
or possession. On the surface  
there will be no saints, 
 
no bones. Someday a school, 
lettuce growing  
under domes, but no myth 
 
ripening to oil  
underground, 
no swords in stones.

December 2010

The fighter pilot

The throttle, the pressure suit, the callsign, 
the rubber sleeves, the formation. The story  
about being hit by lightning. The squadron on a Saturday 
but at least take the kids: there are rows of fake switches  
 
in the simulator to flip all on, all off, and test flights 
on the bench-press. The bar songs with the dirty parts  
disguised, re-rhymed, the crud table, the afterburners,  
the sortie, the tower, the roofstomp: 
 
lexicon of all the nomad people who must have left  
these rituals for us, although scattered 
in pieces between Alabama, Virginia, Germany, 
Rhode Island, Mississippi. The burning piano,  
 
solemn prank and memorial for some long-dead 
R.A.F. aviator, repeated here for the unspoken name  
and for what might happen. The one about  
the dead lizard in the Philippines. The broken nose. 
 
The war stories, the sand, the contractors  
on the farm where he grew up, building a silo,  
who didn't want advice, college boy. 
Always the catfish meunière on the first night home 
 
from the desert. (He said the soft-serve in the DFAC 
wasn't bad at all.) When I was a baby in Japan,  
my feet never touched the ground until the box 
of Tennessee dirt from my Nanu arrived, 
 
until the proper ceremony, the flag, all the men 
in dress blues filling the little house. Never 
the slightest doubt about any tale in this canon. 
I have seen the movies. I know fighter pilots   
 
are supposed to have a tragic flaw and someone dies  
before the end. It wasn't like that, but in August 
on bike-rides we would peel out from the driveway  
in formation. And at bedtime the trundle bed  
 
was a runway: procedure was observed, the tower notified,   
landing gear extended, instruments checked, and I had to  
call the ball, Rebecca. It was better than any cinema dogfight.  
We never needed enemies or flames.

October 2010

Los Alamos, 2010

There are beds with Navajo blankets 
in the bathrooms, somehow ominous, 
showers with ancient soap curds  
 
dried up in the drains. For the night  
when we sleep in shifts, when you 
take your turn waiting by the phone 
 
and the window—for what?  
The president? Tanks rolling up the mesa? 
They would send you home, and anyway 
 
it wouldn't happen now. The beds 
are for techs running the accelerator, 
for geneticists growing things, for nano-stuff 
 
or for nothing really, just left over. 
The site was chosen primarily because  
it was remote and relatively unpopulated.
 
Still you might want to stay. It could be 
like a treehouse or when the power went out  
and we all lit candles, like blankets  
 
in the back seat, all-night drives,  
tornado drills, codenames, science fiction— 
and maybe it would stop the way you dream  
 
about defending your old high school  
as a fortress under siege, about tunnels,  
canned food, green glass, the surface of the sun.

September 2010

Living fossils

I.  
 
It doesn't seem to belong to the past of this planet 
with four hearts, two brains, a single testicle— 
worm with a skull, dark embryo: the hagfish. 
 
No child fascinated by dinosaurs could love 
this living fossil, unchanged in 300 million years.  
Not petrified, but preserved in thick time 
on the cold bed of the ocean, 
 
so dark, so deep it escaped evolution  
or was left behind: the round mouth turning like a gear, 
forever the lensless eye. 
 
 
II. 
 
The saltwater crocodile is thriving in the coastal rivers  
near Darwin, Australia, as dinosaurs burn on the roads 
in fossil fuel. Long ago, in the ferns, did an ancestor pray  
 
for immortality? Now everything familiar is dust  
and oil. A tagged crocodile leaves the coast, 
swims far into the open ocean, sometimes reappears 
hundreds of miles away—and sometimes vanishes. 
 
Maybe the tag came loose and sank too deep for radios  
to hear. Or maybe he paused in the waves, inhaled  
the salt air once more and dove: deep down, out of time  
to reptile Valhalla, to take his place among the ferns 
being crushed to grease in the heart of the Earth. 

September 2010

Leaving Holland

My bike is about to break— 
it's time to go home. What should I do with it?  
Release it in the pasture with the cows? 
 
It was supposed to be disposable, 
handlebars loose, the cheapest I could find. 
Over a bridge and through another town, 
 
another road I dream I ride to school on, 
and there a tree house, someone else's yard. 
I stop, hold still, don't breathe, can't look away: 
 
silver sunlight is about to overflow 
that long dark cloud on the horizon 
and spill like mercury into the fields.

January 2010