Poems

Advice from the Swan

Advice from the Swan

Listen, one day the river will become ugly.

The fish will lose their purse full of comets. The deer slice open
their beautiful, rounded tongues.

Your mate will go out to fish
and never return.

There will be arguments swimming in your mouth,
always.

Women walking by themselves
at night trying not to swallow the moon.

Listen. You must do what you must.
Eat where the food grows.
Drink when it rains.

There are forests humming,
on the other side of fear,
poisoned mushrooms in the meadows of love.

If a hunter comes, pretend to be ugly.
If a photographer wants to take your picture, smile
and pretend to be
daylight.

Land on the leaves.
Land on the stamen of little yellow flowers.

Do not break your wings when you come in for landing.

The mouth is beautiful
only so many hours of the day.
Keep it closed, and look up.

Do not repeat the tragedy of the stars.

Swan Wedding

Swan Wedding

See the bride turn into a swan.
Her neck sliding out of the satin dress, a waterfall rising
up from light.
Her eyes glaze over the heads of visitors,
her tongue extended like an obsidian fountain
from the black spigot of her parted beak.
Look how she walks, spreading
broken egg shells among the roses.
Their insides roll, shimmer, rock backwards spilling
the secret of love.
Look how she scythes through the lawn, loosening feathers
among the jasmine,
how far she ballets,
over the broken skulls of her fathers,
the crippled hands of her ladies in waiting.
Queen of birds. The look illuminates us, like lemon
slipped into a glass of vodka.
In her dress, made of bird call and clouds,
she can see beyond death.
Over the canopy a blossom of mock orange
falls. A leaf remembers
to tremble. The groom straightens perfect
in her sight. An egg. A silver
fly swallowed down the gullet. A tree.
The mouths open like water lilies.
If you smash her open now,
she will escape.

For My Last Meal I Drink an Entire Pot of Kona Coffee

For My Last Meal I Drink an Entire Pot of Kona Coffee

I.          Because I hear you can taste the fire in the aroma.

            Where the volcanic ash fed the trees and the berries
            and the beans. Where the Japanese settled the land
            and pulled the plow and left dirt in the scuttling steam
            coming off the cup, and the history of the island,
            indented in the dirt. I want to drink something heavy and religious
            as the underside of expensive flowers
            and the beginning of new leaves.

II.         Because I want to imagine those horses are mine
            who tugged the immigrant wheel
            through the field, the palm trees singing
            their wet song into the tanzanite wind.

            I could walk through any grove, pick any coconut from a tree
            and taste the subtle milk, slippery as eels
            vining their way through a melancholy lagoon.

III.        Because Los Angeles in the morning is nothing
            like Honolulu at night. Honolulu, where the smell
            of roasting coffee is bright as pineapple,
            and the little yellow rim of volcanic ash circles
            in the cup, and the sun rests, a pearl in a blue
            oyster bed of clouds.

IV.       Because we are all only a little footnote
            in history. Because the foot that treads
            the earth takes us away from our sorrow.

V.        Because the day is getting on with itself.
            My old lovers, the crows, fly away,
            the palm trees sway like the dry hands
            of deposed royalty. And I am full
            of ancient sorrow, and have nowhere left to go.

Elegy for Wasps

Elegy for Wasps

Listen,

There was a wasp nest in the rafters, just outside the door

to apartment 18, next to the freeway.

In the early mornings I would stand on the walkway, listening

to the buzz of them building their nest.

 

It was cool in summer. Mist rose up and fell on the breast

of the hills where the mountain lions tried to rebuild their habitat.

Where the wood voles were starting to mate again,

where the jasmine were opening

their white hands in applause of the sky.

 

My boyfriend and I had just begun our life together in a city

that wanted to chew everything up for itself and blow it apart

like bubble gum.

 

I was in my twenties, carrying cups of coffee onto our walkway

drinking in front of the neighbors in just my bathrobe.

 

But the wasps never complained.

They never forgot something once you told it to them.

They carried your secrets up into the octagonal structures of their perfect

living geometric dome.

 

Little Jews building apartments in Florida.

Russian immigrants buying property together in New York.

They were building a structure for their children.

The pupae. The white mucus of first beginnings. …(Continued on the next block)

Elegy for Wasps Continued

Elegy for Wasps

All spring I stood on the walkway in my bare feet, drinking

the sunlight, watching the wasps with their beautiful

smallness shift upward on the wind,

strengthening a home made out of wood and saliva,

their glistening, honeyed abdomens, like lemon-colored teardrops,

like soft yellow and black bullets protruding

as they gave up everything they had

to their young.

 

Then, one afternoon,

our neighbor called the exterminator.

 

I came home and found the wasps, dead on the walkway,

their grey structure half smashed on one side,

but the rest, intricately preserved

like a Jew’s paper cutting, kept and coded from the Medieval ages

a nest full of larvae frozen in time.

 

Now we live in a new apartment,

smaller, but more expensive.

I sit at my writing desk watching gum wrappers

float along the corridors between us and the neighbors,

Russian immigrants who came here,

alone.

 

Nothing else has changed for us.

The faces of jasmine open whitely each evening. The voles give birth.

The mountain lions search for their mates in the hills.

And we’re happy, I think.

 

But the wasps are dead.

Their nest was never finished.

I have its remains on my writing desk,

next to the pencils and countless sheets

of expensive handmade paper. 

 

These insects, their frozen energy,

their unfinished home, like a tiny, mathematically perfect apartment

and the mummified body of one wasp, who didn’t get out.

 

Its spindly black legs still kick, like a construction worker

swinging a hammer, or a fireman going back in

to save what is left, in the smoke,

a father listening to the sound of someone calling,

or singing to him.

 

The song of all unfinished futures,

the children, the white, delicate larvae calling, to the one

who will come back,

to save the heart of his giant, papery dream. 

 

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