with capsules in my palms each night,
eight at a time from sweet pharmaceutical bottles
I make arrangements for a pint-sized journey.
I'm the queen of this condition.
I'm an expert on making the trip
and now they say I'm an addict.
Now they ask why.
Don't they know
that I promised to die!
I'm keping in practice.
I'm merely staying in shape.
The pills are a mother, but better,
every color and as good as sour balls.
I'm on a diet from death.
Yes, I admit
it has gotten to be a bit of a habit —
blows eight at a time, socked in the eye,
hauled away by the pink, the orange,
the green and the white goodnights.
I'm becoming something of a chemical
has got to last for years and years.
I like them more than I like me.
Stubborn as hell, they won't let go.
It's a kind of marriage.
It's a kind of war
where I plant bombs inside
to kill myself in small amounts,
an innocuous occupation.
Actually I'm hung up on it.
But remember I don't make too much noise.
And frankly no one has to lug me out
and I don't stand there in my winding sheet.
I'm a little buttercup in my yellow nightie
eating my eight loaves in a row
and in a certain order as in
the laying on of hands
or the black sacrament.
It's a ceremony
but like any other sport
it's full of rules.
It's like a musical tennis match where
my mouth keeps catching the ball.
Then I lie on my altar
elevated by the eight chemical kisses.
What a lay me down this is
with two pink, two orange,
two green, two white goodnights.
Now I'm borrowed.
Now I'm numb.
FOR JOHNNY POLE ON THE FORGOTTEN BEACH
In his tenth July some instinct
taught him to arm the waiting wave,
a giant where its mouth hung open.
He rode on the lip that buoyed him there
and buckled him under. The beach was strung
with children paddling their ages in,
under the glare of noon chipping
its light out. He stood up, anonymous
and straight among them, between
their sand pails and nursery crafts.
The breakers cartwheeled in and over
to puddle their toes and test their perfect
skin. He was my brother, my small
Johnny brother, almost ten. We flopped
down upon a towel to grind the sand
under us and watched the Atlantic sea
move fire, like night sparklers;
and lost our weight in the festival
season. He dreamed, he said, to be
a man designed like a balanced wave . . .
how someday he would wait, giant
Johnny, your dream moves summers
inside my mind.
He was tall and twenty that July,
but there was no balance to help;
only the shells came straight and even.
This was the first beach of assault;
the odor of death hung in the air
like rotting potatoes, the junkyard
of landing craft waited open and rusting.
The bodies were strung out as if they were
still reaching for each other, where they lay
to blacken, to burst through their perfect
skin. And Johnny Pole was one of them.
He gave in like a small wave, a sudden
hole in his belly and the years all gone
where the Pacific noon chipped its light out.
Like a bean bag, outflung, head loose
and anonymous, he lay. Did the sea move fire
for its battle season? Does he lie there
forever, where his rifle waits, giant
and straight? . . . I think you die again
and live again,
Johnny, each summer that moves inside
CRIPPLES AND OTHER STORIES
My doctor, the comedian
I called you every time
and made you laugh yourself
when I wrote this silly rhyme . . .
Each time I give lectures
or gather in the grants
you send me off to boarding school
in training pants.
God damn it, father-doctor,
I'm really thirty-six.
I see dead rats in the toilet.
I'm one of the lunatics.
Disgusted, mother put me
on the potty. She was good at this.
My father was fat on scotch.
It leaked from every orifice.
Oh the enemas of childhood,
reeking of outhouses and shame!
Yet you rock me in your arms
and whisper my nickname.
Or else you hold my hand
and teach me love too late.
And that's the hand of the arm
they tried to amputate.
Though I was almost seven
I was an awful brat.
I put it in the Easy Wringer.
It came out nice and flat.
I was an instant cripple
from my finger to my shoulder.
The laundress wept and swooned.
My mother had to hold her.
I know I was a cripple.
Of course, I'd known it from the start.
My father took the crowbar
and broke the wringer's heart.
The surgeons shook their heads.
They really didn't know —
Would the cripple inside of me
be a cripple that would show?
My father was a perfect man,
clean and rich and fat.
My mother was a brilliant thing.
She was good at that.
You hold me in your arms.
How strange that you're so tender!
Child-woman that I am,
you think that you can mend her.
As for the arm,
unfortunately it grew.
Though mother said a withered arm
would put me in Who's Who.
For years she has described it.
She sang it like a hymn.
By then she loved the shrunken thing,
my little withered limb.
My father's cells clicked each night,
intent on making money.
And as for my cells, they brooded,
little queens, on honey.
Oh boys too, as a matter of fact,
and cigarettes and cars.
Mother frowned at my wasted life.
My father smoked cigars.
My cheeks blossomed with maggots.
I picked at them like pearls.
I covered them with pancake.
I wound my hair in curls.
My father didn't know me
but you kiss me in my fever.
My mother knew me twice
and then I had to leave her.
But those are just two stories
and I have more to tell
from the outhouse, the greenhouse
where you draw me out of hell.
Father, I am thirty-six,
yet I lie here in your crib.
I'm getting born again, Adam,
as you prod me with your rib.
WOMAN WITH GIRDLE
Your midriff sags toward your knees;
your breast lie down in air,
their nipples as uninvolved
as warm starfish.
You stand in your elastic case,
still not giving up the new-born
and the old-born cycle.
Moving, you roll down the garment,
down that pink snapper and hoarder,
as your belly, soft as pudding,
slops into the empty space;
down, over the surgeon's careful mark,
down over hips, those head cushions
and mouth cushions,
slow motion like a rolling pin,
over crisp hairs, that amazing field
that hides your genius from your patron;
over thighs, thick as young pigs,
over knees like saucers,
over calves, polished as leather,
down toward the feet.
You pause for a moment,
tying your ankles into knots.
Now you rise,
a city from the sea,
born long before Alexandria was,
straighway from God you have come
into your redeeming skin.
from EIGHTEEN DAYS WITHOUT YOU
As we kissed good-bye
you made a little frown.
Now Christ's lights are
twinkling all over town.
The cornstalks are broken
in the field, broken and brown.
The pond at the year's end
turns her gray eyelid down.
Christ's lights are
twinkling all over town.
A cat-green ice spreads
out over the front lawn.
The hemlocks are the only
young thing left. You are gone.
I hibernated under the covers
last night, not sleeping until dawn
came up like twilight and the oak leaves
whispered like money, those hangers on.
The hemlocks are the only
young thing left. You are gone.
FROM THE GARDEN
Come, my beloved,
consider the lilies.
We are of little faith.
We talk too much.
Put your mouthful of words away
and come with me to watch
the lilies open in such a field,
growing there like yachts,
slowly steering their petals
without nurses or clocks.
Let us consider the view:
a house where white clouds
decorate the muddy halls.
Oh, put away your good words
and your bad words. Spit out
your words like stones!
Come here! Come here!
Come eat my pleasant fruits.
MUSIC SWIMS BACK TO ME
Wait Mister. Which way is home?
They turned the light out
and the dark is moving in the corner.
There are no sign posts in this room,
four ladies, over eighty,
in diapers every one of them.
La la la, Oh music swims back to me
and I can feel the tune they played
the night they left me
in this private institution on a hill.
Imagine it. A radio playing
and everyone here was crazy.
I liked it and danced in a circle.
Music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more than I.
I mean it remembers better;
remembers the first night here.
It was the strangled cold of November;
even the stars were strapped in the sky
and that moon too bright
forking through the bars to stick me
with a singing in the head.
I have forgotten all the rest.
They lock me in this chair at eight a.m.
and there are no signs to tell the way,
just the radio beating to itself
and the song that remembers
more than I. Oh, la la la,
this music swims back to me.
The night I came I danced a circle
and was not afraid.
I have heard of fish
coming up for the sun
who stayed forever,
shoulder to shoulder,
avenues of fish that never got back,
all their proud spots and solitudes
sucked out of them.
I think of flies
who come from their foul caves
out into the arena.
They are transparent at first.
Then they are blue with copper wings.
They glitter on the foreheads of men.
Neither bird nor acrobat
they will dry out like small black shoes.
I am an identical being.
Diseased by the cold and the smell of the house
I undress under the burning sun.
My skin flattens out like sea water.
O yellow eye,
let me be sick with your heat,
let me be feverish and frowning.
Now I am utterly given.
I am your daughter, your sweet-meat,
your priest, your mouth and your bird
and I will tell them all stories of you
until I am laid away forever,
a thin gray banner.