2018 was a fairly rich year (not compared to 2017, but that was a wellnigh miraculous year)—I wrote 53 poems I like enough to keep around. Here are six of the more recent ones, and one from the new year.
1. Every now and then I’m visited by alien voices which enlist my own to tell their story. This time it was a rather unpleasant teenage girl. She might’ve been inspired by some stoned highschool kids I observed on the downtown bus from West Seattle late one night, but the last wrinkle (that the parents were rich) surprised me even while I wrote it, but made sense.
When Dogtooth an’ me
take the bus to the city
we like to sit behind the curlyhaired guy
so we can put shit in his hair,
like we put lint
or pieces of cookies
or you know moisturizer an’ that.
He never even turns around.
The city looks the same
right before you get to it an’ right after,
except the sidewalks shine more after,
I swear they do.
Dogtooth says I’m nuts.
It ain’t we’re gonna score nothin’,
which is his other theory,
cuz goin’ the other way it happens too.
The busdriver does turn around
an’ tell us turn the music down,
an’ when it’s gettin’ around midnight
it’s turn the fuckin’ music down,
an’ we either do or we don’t
dependin’ how high we are,
but we only got thrown off once:
that was when we was right behind the driver.
Dogtooth don’t usually get fucked up enough
to be a jerk—you know, try anything?—
just once or twice, but I just make him sit
a couple seats back. He’ll go right to sleep
when I’m not speakin’ to him.
Never says sorry an’ neither do I.
One time he got pissed enough to ask
was I even into guys or what. I said fuck off.
We always get off the bus
at dad’s law firm or D’s mom’s investment house
an’ right around closin’ time
an’ stand right across the street
an’ see ’em come out
an’ even if they look right at us
they never see us
an’ if we wave they look somewheres else.
2. I read this silly thing on opening day at Hugo House’s new location in Capitol Hill. Steve Sibra said “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard you read!” Christian Downes said “Not your best work.” The slag routine in paragraph 4 was worked out long ago in the company of the late Lee Wilson.
Under the Door
Bortry’s apartment didn’t have a cat door but that didn’t matter because his cat was fairly unique. When it wanted to go out it would turn to liquid and flow under the door. When the carpet right in front of the door felt moist, Bortry would deduce the cat was starting to come back in and open the door. One time the hallway flooded and he opened the door by mistake. It took weeks for the carpet to dry and the cat acted pissed off the whole time. There’s a fineness, a finesse, to judging the nature of moisture.
Bortry’s cat had been named Denise after a counter girl at the local Starbucks he was attracted to, but it never answered to the name, so he renamed it Denise, after one of his math teachers in high school, and then it responded. It was a tomcat, but seemed vaguely ashamed of the fact.
If you stood outside Bortry’s building in the daytime you might witness the cat-colored substance puddling out the front door and down the stoop, or you might be distracted by the building’s resemblance to an easy chair, complete with the little uphoulstered lever on the side which lowered it into reclining position. Residents in the building preferred watching fireworks that way.
The most amazing fireworks occurred on Slag Day, a semiannual celebration of slag. The economy of Bortry’s town (like most towns) was of course founded on slag, not to mention the thousands of jobs provided by “Mounds of Slag,” the obscenely popular soap opera now in its fortieth year: Mounds of Slag—the devastating story of the men who worked the slag and the women who loved the men! You probably know the characters by heart: Mason Kincaid VI—he would stop at nothing to own the slag! Bettina Sparrow—torn between slag and modern dance! Biff Hardfoot—was the slag his calling or his curse? “Doncha get it baby? Slag’s our ticket. I can’t stop now.”
Bortry was one of the few people who’d never seen it. He was preoccupied by the distance between his eyes, which seemed to change on a weekly basis. He never measured the distance because he was scared to think about what it would mean if it were indeed variable. Denise liked to watch him frowning into the mirror. It would knead the carpet like its long-lost mother’s breast, ripping up milkless expanses.
3. The title is actually the last line. An evocative poem although I’m not sure what it’s supposed to evoke. That’s fine with me.
Then it will all look different.
Wash out the door and over the tinder night,
jeweled wave. Lurch up to roofs and groan down,
fall like slung sky. The soil of things is heavy,
seeks to disperse, drift to vanishing. All
in a lamp-hived shudder, throw of shaken miles,
let the thing flee dark, wordless, amphibian-yellow.
Past time for the aging clatter of smells
in its hired room, broken in the simper of windows.
Past time for the unfed heart in the corner
scratching its fleas, shedding all over its bed,
and nothing but the baldheaded drooling music
from the next room, day in day out, knife-sticky.
The smooth statue partners, turning resonantly
slow their nude shoulders and cheeks in
each other’s aching direction, try to stretch
their blind bulb eyes to a land where hands are soft,
stone is moistly new. Inside their kangaroo pasts,
raked by thousands of rakes, love spits burning.
Smokestacks red and wailing astride the highway
grow chilly and webbed in the moon-dawn.
A lashing noise perforates earth, bare
rivets gleam like bottom fish squatting on the sloped
compressors. Black trucks come to fetch the product
line up along the bearded lake shore, coughing.
You think this is the end of one story that started
with a squishy blue crystal in a tall thin vase
that had a human name, and the beginning of another
where mother ocean drinks her young. You want
to concentrate on the sort of sun that lights these
elements, not the elements themselves. You want
4. In one of zir poems, Sari talks about licking my blood off zir claws. This one is me doing the licking.
Some infinitely unmattering thing
snagged us and we flew apart
into one of those sore cureless afternoons.
Yesterday a fog scrubbed all of Seattle
out of existence. (You said you loved
this habit of our home.) Today I wish
a fog would slide, giant and quiet,
onto our hurts and steal them
from our memory’s vision, near and
skyscraping as they might be.
5. One of two poems this year I gave an A grade to, because it did what it set out to do perfectly, as far as I can judge. The title is a nod to the world outside my life, which doesn’t show up in my poems all that often. The Bremerton local color is a rarity.
We went out to the end of the marina,
the one where the kinder parts of town shine in the sun
and the odd white building is
we guess has something to do with fishing,
and I sat on the birdshit-flared cement cube
while you juggled your phone about
to see if a selfie was possible, decided it wasn’t,
fell still. The great water breathed its miles
at our feet. The day was chilly, sun played with cloud.
Everything within me lifted away,
the friend I don’t understand, the child I sadly do,
how we’ll afford the efforts to stop me dying,
your ongoing competition with your five senses,
and I sat with a quiet heart. With a quiet heart.
A speedboat came past and tore the water
so it shoved in long glossy rolls against the break.
When we started walking back I would need to walk
slowly and something would lead you to mention
that we had more than everything you’d imagined
love could be. The winter ducks would be diving.
6. Just because I call this “Companion Piece,” that doesn’t mean it’s a companion piece to anything. I finished it on the ferry on the way to Hugo House and read it there, causing Erika Brumett to praise me in one breath and say she was never speaking to me again in the next. I told her it’s always a roll of the dice whether these things that come out of my pen are any good. I don’t revise much at all, so that has to be my situation.
The tight flipped vein on my skull
clutching headache to it like a size-too-small coat
has another face: a winter path
through grayed-out country I tread with
grayed-out steps, sunk grass wetly dead at its sides.
Another person passing lets a wave of cold air
taste me quickly. The vein could trigger
some spiky event, like two white neon letters of a
foreign tongue forking the dark, or smoke
blown into an empty barrel. The path
is a season of slowness, a ghost line of far hills
like flute notes. They wind me in. I feel tied
to something growing shorter. The air
thinning over my hands and face is that headache
I was worried about, a signal buried in bone
or not: but someone walking this
same direction would at least warm the world
till I understand the map my blood paints,
homing to my heart.
7. This last poem was written in the final hours of January 1, 2019. Feels like a good year already. If you never saw “Baretta,” or never heard of it, I feel sorry for you.
My body’s weather
flinging heavy summer over me on a winter day,
I stared between my fumes of sweat
into the vacant birdcage,
someone’s idea of a sumptuous, also disgraceful, antique.
Alex, whose beating blood wobbled and stung
at the distress of birds, tried to show me the shop
of cage birds that used to exist in lower Pike Place Market
but had to flee outdoors with her tears flying behind her.
The racket, while one or two of the voices might’ve seemed merry,
was a profound reverberant hell you could hear
all up and down the basement hallways.
I always wanted a bird, maybe something sweet and sassy
like Baretta’s cockatoo, but my girlfriends always had cats.
I told myself it wouldn’t have to live in a cage,
I could put down newspaper so it could wander around,
or when I made my inevitable bucks off my bestsellers,
my house would contain a tall glass silo aviary
fragrant with fruit trees.
This at a time in my life when every slightest bit of money
magically became beer.
Alex did buy me a birdshaped keychain
captioned I LOVE MY COCKATOO … but that was a pun.
Everything birds symbolize, and everything trapped ones symbolize,
applied to the two of us.
And she had a cat herself, a longhair whose coat
would cram with knots so thick it had to be given baths.
A different kind of encompassing warmth
follows my strange dry climaxes now,
a rising warble, not a dripping weight.
A thing of song bound in feather and bone,
I bask on the beaches of sleep.