Swimming Down

An armored shark in lava, I move on all fours across the rug as your daughters leap over me shrieking. With an unblinking eye, I feel the heat of the earth rise—its erupting egg, yolk-rug, and the shore of the bed—as we play. 

That night you wake up to tell me you are sinking underwater. Half-asleep, I say water in dreams always means emotion. I think I feel a pair of cool hands pressing on my temples, a vial of cooking oil in my pocket…

I think of your girls and my hands flutter to tangled hair. Nearly asleep again, I’m listening to myself as a child—sloshing water in the bath, catching a fluff of bubbles in my hand.

I leave before they get up for school, and I take in the sky as I unlock my door, steam puffing up into the black. I was pulled from a car once at this hour, the middle of a soybean field, to look at Haley’s Comet. My father urging me, wake up, wake up! It’s the only time you’ll see this in your life! This piece of cotton in the sky. This fireball, this chunk of ice.

It burns! And as I seize myself in mock pain, I fall into the lava. I fall—through the rug, the ceramic tile, the layers of ground—into a core that shines, impossibly, white.


Taking Your Chair

If I could figure it out, I would tell you—

Why I discover new ways to let you know I don’t need you.


Through the corridors of what is it

Dragging wicker chairs from the mudroom

Across the concrete to the damp lawn

Nearly crying it’s so fucking pleasant.


I’ve been heaving like this, away, like a dry drunk

From suburb to suburb,

Charting gravel, hating the clay doves that knock from patio eaves.


You’re taking another trip with your girlfriend

Whom you’ve recently told you can’t love

Down through a planned hurricane.


If you come out of it with all of your bearings

I’m holding a place for you in this shuttered backyard,

Two chairs the size of Lego pieces in my fists.


Years from now they’ll sift the top layers

Of our homes and separate us into the communal-loving

Apartment dwellers and the staunch people

Of the stucco mansions.


We will be reconstructed as always-at-war

And they will decide that

That is the reason for our so many miniature tanks.


We will be found to have littered the earth

With our disposables and yet walked upright,

Some of us, like giants or ants-on-fire

Never far from the earth and with our palms


Always curled up in defense. There will be no need

To track our existence by the stars

Or the one great dawn lifting up our oceans.

They will lift the ground of our souls out of us like you

Would lift, with one hand, a hollow skull.

Soft Skills: A Thank You Note for Wayne Zade

In 1995 I wore long shorts and a class ring and I stepped into your office with a handful of poems.

By 1999 I was a traveler and a deconstructionist and I returned to your office to sit, embraced by your walls of books, and hear the jazz.

You told me about Rilke, Ashbury, and Coltrane. We listened to Seamus Heaney, to Quincy Troupe, to Ornette Coleman. And I kept coming back—

From New York to Iowa—by way of Norman Dubie, Murakami, Lady Day—From here to there! New poem to another new poem. You told me, without telling me, how to keep your calling close, like a halo of lamplight around the fragilist part of you.

In 2002 I was mountaining and floundering and businessing and marrying. But I didn’t forget.

In 2006 I was a poet and it was because of you.

In 2009 and again in 2012 I thought life was breaking me—But then I remembered that, once, you said my poetry reminded you of Chet Baker. So I came back.

In 2014 an 8th grader bested the high schoolers in a Poetry Slam that made my whole body smile and I—I was his teacher!

In 2015 I brought my own students with me and sat beside you at a classroom table and talked about books again.

Though I still hope I’ll be remembered for my angel-throated words, my revolutionary, post-punk ideas, I realize it will really be because of the artists I teach from my own life-crafted room.

And whenever I think I don’t need mentors anymore because I have become one, I realize that the soft skills in my life originated in your lamp-lit office. And I’ll always want to come back.