A Candle Called Tree-Death

My mom says it smells like tree-death outside today.

An oak falls in the neighbor’s backyard,

I open my bedroom window and breathe in its suicide.

If trees had eyes they would be soft brown

like chocolate left sitting by a fire.

I think sometimes trees see too much.

~

Plastic. My hands are plastic

and my house reeks of lavender incense.

We burn what smells nice burning.

The oak outside my window has started

melting into the ground, its chocolate eyes

looking out at me as if from my old dog’s skull

and I’m reminded of an animal

that doesn’t know death exists.

I hope my death smells like pine needles.

~

 Nature is only real in candles these days.

I bought one called “Autumn Glow”

and only light it in the summer.

I hope you understand where

I’m coming from when I say

that oak hasn’t left me,

but I’ve never found a candle

called Tree-Death

and wouldn’t burn it

even if I did.

Vibrations

I pick up a phone and the voice on the other side says

Stop needing your life to matter so much,

that these pieces of paper I crumple up and

toss at cave walls send no vibrations,

that the other side of the conversation

was only ever a mirror talking to itself.

Someone was shouting at me

from the end of this cavern

but all that’s left now is the echo of

my own yells seeping through the chasm

to promise me I’m not alone.

I sit with my back to the noise,

waiting for my pupils to dilate so

I can learn to live with this darkness.

Becoming Hands

I play violin outside because I like to feel grass under my feet

like the music I’m making will fall to the ground and plant itself there

the way nature falls silent to hear what Vivaldi thinks of it.

My arm unfolds in the air and it’s like my bow is an extension

of my body – a bone jutting from an open wound and

I become my hands.

I climb up onto a ladder in the bookstore and

my neck extends like a thumb and I think maybe my face

is an unreadable palm because I don’t have lines yet and

I’m terrified a fortuneteller in a smoke-filled tent will tell me

I’ve known nothing.

I write in my room because I like to feel the walls around me

like the stories I’m telling will drop to the carpet and stain it

the color of the day he left without saying goodbye

and I will paint those walls the red of unforgiveness.

I want to shed my limbs and be the kind of hand

that holds a flower and doesn’t crush it to a pulp.

I play violin outside because I think music notes could be fertilizer

and one day when I’m in a coffin in the ground I want my hands

to be the last part of me to decompose.

Thoughts from a Public School Student

They hand us a scan-tron and a

number two pencil and then wonder

why we can’t write stories.

They hold standardized tests over us

like swords above necks

then ask why we’re terrified

to open our mouths.

Think outside the box, they say,

but no writing outside of it -

the machines won’t register you.

This is the age of Sparknotes.

This is the age of Sharpee

on the bottom of your shoes

because your worst nightmare

is a wrong answer.

We are the middle of the rope

in a game of tug of war

between learning and testing,

between your thoughts and

the thoughts they’re looking for,

and we are unraveling – fraying – and it

won’t be long before we snap

and hang ourselves with

what’s left over -

but not before they approach

our jumping stool and hand us

an F in living.

You Fell in Love with The Girl in your English Class

You fell in love with the girl in your English class

and the way she read Shakespeare

and wore floral dresses even

when it wasn’t warm outside.

You were young and intellectual

so you fucked to classical music

in the backseat of a broken down car -

you touched her like a cello

and she moved like strings under your hands

and you finally understood Brahms

and all that music in his head.

You read poetry to each other

in the heat and after-sweat,

your arm draped over her thigh,

using words to touch her

in places your hands couldn’t

and as you both stumbled drunk

and groping out in the dark,

she turned to you and

said with her eyes what

Dickinson said in her letters:

that she was out with lanterns

looking for herself, and you said

that was fine, you could look together.

You fell in love with the girl in your English class

and the way her eyes told every story

and you could read novels just by

looking at her, how you could drink in

classics with your tongue on hers

how you could reach through her to

Austen and Bukowski and Wilde

and have conversations

with them through her skin.

You fell in love with the girl in your English class

and how she cried over finished stories

and how you resurrected them

by reading from the beginning

and together felt like God

and how you once made love to her

against her desk

as books rained down on your heads

attacked by an avalanche of fiction

and she screamed and

didn’t stop screaming

you fell in love with verse

and eating food raw,

leaving nothing but

bones on the plate

you fell in love with haiku

and seven-syllable lines lurking

behind eyelashes to fall at your touch

you fell in love with the girl in your English class

and you never stopped falling in love with her

and she scribbled your life down

like a sonnet onto a napkin

stained with her last meal

and you never grew tired hearing yourself told

through her 2 AM diner words.

Sweets

The moon from the fog like a breath

like a whisper from a passing fairy

a grain of sugar held in suspension

and all the tongues of the earth

raising to the sky to be

the first to lick it away.

if you could hold the universe

like a speck of salt between

your finger and your thumb

if you could taste stardust

like cinnamon on October apples

if you could climb up the ladder

of darkness and see it all beneath you

the size of a gumdrop

would you call it sweet

or would you tell me

your teeth are too rotten

for candy?

Falling of Bombs

I have had enough

of bombing children

humanity, have you finally run

your course?

I am behind every trigger

of every gun, killing myself

over and over

murderer and victim

I play every part

I am the mother at the border

and the guard turning me away

I am the woman in the dark alley

and the one raping me

I am the little girl shot down in school

and I am the gun advocate

I am everyone sometimes

encasing mankind, unable to snip away

the parts that don’t make sense

I die then go on living

and somewhere a child is told

that war is the only option

and that child will march

in an army on his father’s orders

and I can’t yell my love

across broken down countries

and fresh graveyards

I can’t braid a flower into the hair

of every dead body and

I can’t wipe the blood off

every baby’s lips

and I can’t block out the screaming of those

with deeper voices than mine

and I don’t know where to turn

when the world has turned its back

on the voiceless

I can’t read a poem

to those who have never heard one

while in the next room

a world leader is declaring that

some words are more valid than other words

and I can’t tell you life is worth it

while others are told they’re not worth life

I can’t sing to the beating of war drums

I can’t take you in my arms

and dance to the falling of bombs.

To the Book I’ve Read Fifteen Times

Dearest story, with yellowing bent pages

you sit, a tired old man, on the brink

of my bookshelf.

You want to jump, I can tell.

You’ve been read dry.

Borrowed and returned,

pulled by unfamiliar hands,

dog-eared and tattered,

you show my inner damage.

With your words, you

made me new -

with your ending,

made me old again.

How many lifetimes have I spent

rattling around in your skeleton?

Not nearly enough.

A Thirteen Line Poem on Not Being in Love

1. Everyone is obsessed with each other

2. If a hand is not being held, is it really a hand?

3. I prefer violin strings to human lips

4. I found my soul-mate at age fifteen

5. I’ve got love poetry addressed to no one and

6. I’m very close to them

7. There’s a ring on my right hand I bought myself

8. The truth is your soul mate’s not always the one you end up with

9. I’ve hung a ‘for sale’ sign over my heart

10. The moon comes down from the sky and sleeps beside me every night and

11. I’ve never known loneliness

12. Sometimes you’re someone’s soul mate

13. And you just have to say no, sorry, you’ve mistaken me for someone else.

The Sun Where It Is and Isn’t

Warmth grows in patches here and there

on the sidewalk where the sun

can trespass; without permission

it arrives in a heap and lies,

splayed out in sections of the grass.

It’s the sun, always the sun,

greedy, a bug wanting to land

its sticky legs on everything.

The buildings won’t stand for

that bullying – they cast a shadow

dark enough the sunlight sulks away,

but when I stand in their shade,

I become the trespasser.

So I move on, on the path

set down for human feet,

and wish I had a way to create

my own darkness, to avoid the hot,

intrusive light that thrills

to run itself up my arms and legs.

Yes, I cast my own shadow,

but it’s always one step behind

and I can’t hide within its outline.

There is nowhere for us to go.

There is only the abuse of the sun

and the invasion of sunless places

that can never truly belong to us.

For Jasmine

I once knew a girl

whose mother would slap her wrist

if she spoke at the dinner table.

Now the “damns” and “fucks”

fall through her teeth

and she doesn’t reel them back in -

here they are,

arriving with a bang on your doorstep

and you invite them in for dinner

because she has earned her right

to profanity and cheap language.

She doesn’t tell me she misses me

she tells me she fucking misses me

and all the while

a boy takes her to an auditorium

and tells her to scream as loud as she can

and she does

and it is so raw

the whole world leaps to its feet

in astonishment

and I applaud her from

a mile away.

You spoke, and the world jumped -

you spoke,

and the world

jumped.