And Then?

A Buddhist monk once said
    that life is like stepping
                                                   into a boat 
                              that is already sinking.
Death: it’s the apples rotting in the yard.

My mother says she is not afraid of death, but of dying.
Not me.  I am terrified of death,
its finality.
        	             Lights out.   
Or else, eternity.
    But first, the dusty volume propped open on the welcome desk,
                                          thick as a phonebook
The careful catalogue of my choices
to be considered:
                         The lies I told without blinking
                 All the homeless I have walked past 
 The mornings I left without saying I love you.

Humble, courageous, and kind:
           my mother will go to heaven.
Her heart is just enormous,
like Audrey Tautou in Amélie,
dipping her hands into sacks of grain
			                    at the market.
I might go to hell:
	I don't save birthday cards
        or love letters.
        I hoard unread novels
	and believe I am what I wear.
     I am bad
at listening

even as the Buddhist Zen says gently
          until death there is nothing
                                                      enough.

Falling Out of the Sky

 
You didn’t understand:
I wanted freedom; well didn’t I have it?
You demanded to know: Why all this beating of wings?

Not in words, but the way 
you stared at the floor
and nestled the cat to show

that you were capable of affection
but withheld it from me.
To you this was a question of loyalty.

Meanwhile, I was trapped in the slow-clicking memory
of my childhood, like an old video tape:
the tick of a clock, the sound of late afternoon.

At this time of year, there is no sunset,
just the deep carve of light that slowly melts away.
I told you I was leaving, which was easier

than allowing you to love me.
At first, it felt as if the sky
had been ripped off the earth, but then

I finally sensed my own existence and I was ravenous
for the world, driven outward like a bursting sap.
For weeks, I opened all the windows before I went to bed.

How glorious: the fragments of moon,
blue air and honey sun.
All that light on my face in the morning.

When the summer edged out, I shut the windows
and left.  The drive was long and the sky
was filled with rain like thick strokes of ink

I hurried down the freeway,
as if someone would be there
waiting for me. And the next thing I knew:

Wisconsin.  I dashed from the car,
pretending to run for cover, but secretly
praying for more and more rain.

Cataclysm

I’m told this is a paradise
of snow and sea and starlight.
The mountains burst out from the loam
then tumble to the charcoal water
like a silent white explosion,
splitting through the citrus sky.
But its sound is swallowed in the vastness
like a whisper or a violent kiss.

I’ve heard there’s beauty in the bareness,
in the sparkling glacial graves.

The sun melts across the hills like nectar,
as dusk starts seeping through the trees.
But something holds me by the water,
underneath the lights in the sky that are stars,
stuck between fearing cataclysm
and wishing for it. Working towards it.

My Father is a Wolf

When wolves first meet up
they have a ritual
of smelling one other’s breath

One wolf will put his nose
to the mouth of another, asking
What have you been hunting?

The second wolf exhales
thick breath, hot with blood and sulfur
to explain, You can still smell the kill

But nothing tells this story quite as well
as a human.  My father took me
hunting every autumn

Crouched down in the forest
beside him, I felt the gravity of this genre,
the deepness of its roots

extending so far beyond men.
It was the sensation of soil
working its way

into the grooves of my skin,
the crunch of detritus underfoot.
It becomes a type of language, like a prayer

In college, I would later learn some theories
which suggest that the human kiss began
as a mouth-to-mouth greeting

like that of the wolf.
I knew this immediately to be true;
my father is a wolf.

Always quick and deliberate; gutting his animal
in perfect technique.  He taught me how
to split open the ribcage and reach inside—

you have to grab the heart and sever the moorings.
But still, there is a right way
and a wrong way
to kill an animal.

Image

Panicked Animal

After everything, I couldn’t stand to be alone
in my bedroom, so I started sleeping on the couch.
Then I couldn’t stand the couch
so I slept outside in the grass,
but I couldn’t stand the grass.

So I slept in my body, strung from my ankles and my wrists
like a hammock. When I couldn't stand my body,
I chiseled myself out of it. This use of knives
broke my heart, because it was an act of violence.
My weakness broke my heart, because Julia comes from Jupiter.
The meaning of my name broke my heart because I would rather
be beautiful than strong. My vanity broke my heart
because I am a scholar. My education broke my heart
because universities are mostly lonely places
and knowledge, in the end, is empty.

My emptiness ate me alive; I was starving to be whole.
The thought of wholeness broke my heart
because it is elusive and I could not have it.
So I tried to rationalize wholeness
as the mastery of all interests: I walked into the yard
trying to vomit and pray simultaneously. I fell asleep
while whispering a love song. I was empty empty
empty. I've had enough heartbreak
to fill every inch of this house.  Really,
I was drowning
in a room I couldn't stand.