Ballad for a Dead Grandmother
There is a line of symmetry nested
inside me like a distant vowel
in your name, or the name we share
on a headstone or cemetery plot.
In a photograph you are wearing a
stained dress, it is lovely like
red umbrellas and your hair is
a tight bun, needle trussed.
Your skin, as pale as my spine,
wears you like an apron and
it is 1962, the year you will die
at the bottom of a stairwell,
drunk, at 28 and still
not beautiful enough to make time
stop or make my father love you.
When I see your body it is
mirror-like and made of floor-
boards. Your forehead is still
not a woman’s, it is soft
at the temples and punctured
by a nail. Do you remember
the day your fingers turned
to sand? Or the day this
photograph became too
small for you to live in?
I think you’d have liked
the pleasure of contrast,
the way paint hardens on velvet,
the inversion in a camera’s lens,
or the teeth shackled in your smile.
I wonder if you know the way
milk breaks in acid, or how to feed
your shadow in the film reel
of a boy rowing on a lake somewhere.
When I was born, tethered umbilically,
the size of a jar, and brittle as a spoke;
you came to eat the ripe placenta.
My body would never believe
your voice, small behind the ears
and on the verge of being.
There were postcards with your name
stitched in hair and cigar smoke.
I want to wade in dirt and
follow you back to sleep.
Soft bone floats amniotic- your body glows like a peeled orange, the pith shaved from skin:
not broken, not fragile.
There is a history here, traced in spinning veins and fragments of the I, and the river we both drank from.
You unzip a song from your lips to remind me of the air between us, something like the stratosphere in a ceiling fan.
There is a crack in your voice and it smells warm like the rain
from last September.
In this half-city,
you retrace yourself and there is only one set of collarbones here, one idea of home and one outline of your map on my brain and it smells like
It is delicious: these footsteps, the way your hip is softening and damp, the way you speak to me in stilts and fabric.
How long has it been since you held my arm like a breath, truthfully?
Have you learned to freeze yourself like an eggshell, membrane and all?
I remember the field where we both grew up, the house in that field, and where it all fits together web-like in our landscape.
We both lie in separate domestics, foraging for something visceral or at least something we can taste, something that can become my voice.
I look for a city in my mirrored face, find yesterday’s black snow, and try to write in my palm.
None of this is anything like the way I remember your sentences or the way you told me:
do not give yourself lasting mercy in this night.
When this litany writes itself or copies in echo and your veins collapse and a new space evolves from the old field and you think of tea and lemonade and the gin we stole,
please do not call me brother.
Although you won’t admit it, there is a biology at work here: emptied, pressed, and endless.
I am convinced you are one accident mounting one
on top of another.
There is nothing in the memory of you that collects in the silence between our rooms or the salt in my blood.
When I sing in bursts and cup water in my hands and think of your sheets and breathe storms,
I am the body but not the head and it does not matter
who conceived us beneath each other’s arms.
From Oz to Anywhere
I smell your blood on my fingers, each little dried sliver under
nail, blood and bone logic. I lick each tinny shard, smell blood
type. I can taste each clump of hair torn
from root. Less lonely, less thistle-like, less.
I thought of you on the day your father died. His heart
encased in plaque, your heart in his, still lit and
throbbing, still. You told me they opened his
body, his I, undone
in convulsions; blood sprawled on the bed, sliding out numbly,
Suppose I, non-existent, don’t believe your dream-root
light, your methods of travel, the same midnight
weeping, the same cancer, the same mal-formations, the same
certainty, your same lonely ness,
the same less.
I look out my window and see unconscious trees and wailing
children on the beach. I can only think of the way
you light a match, somehow in mourning, and
always bending back like a tongue.
And though you are like the water beneath
ice, like a fish pinned with leeches, your body
is soft, half-naked and hidden by mid-morning.
Suppose you, forfeit the body and its skin in thick
layers, shining and tumbleweed-colored.
Suppose you watch something invisible,
all day long
but it is not, or, it is just a sky
And in our different sleeps, a fleck of hidden speech
wears my mouth and bleeds and breathes.
And I want to live longer wearing
each other’s clothes.