Chalk Marks on the Front Walk
Calendula by the curb an empty watering can
As I pull him across the lawn, the toddler
holds on to one side of his wagon
cups his balls with the other hand
Autumn wren on a telephone wire. A sliver
less of each day. What’s next?
From a bird by the hydrant, 3 trills, the last 1 clipped.
And Suddenly It’s the First of the Month
you mail the rent check,
watch jasmine blossoms fall from the bush
magnolias open like saucers from fine porcelain place settings.
How much longer will we decide to love one another?
An ex once told me if I ever left him for another man
he would wish us the best, then take everything
in our motherfucking house
—and torch it.
Take this view of the rose of Sharon at the far end of the porch
Take this crumpled paper napkin, this cork.
How much can any of us carry?
Just yesterday, a great blue heron alighted on the cottonwood
at the end of Jim’s yard,
right near Boggy Creek, right in the middle of our barbecue,
big wings hovering on the smallest of branches.
And all of us, even the children, turned from the fire to watch it.
First day of sun after many without, a robin pulses on a branch
one among many in this second-story thicket, window screens
taking on gold, an inheritance, left-over from another season, red in the branches
of the not-quite dead.
I drive to the credit union, towards the late afternoon
skyline, dust and ozone, scrap-metal sky,
towards the Taquería Chupacabras, Los Billares Sandía, Lavandería Azul,
day workers pace the parking lot of the vacant car dealership.
A slave, it was explained to me, was worth more to a master
in the years before the Civil War than a freedman in the Jim Crow years
—thus, the prevalence of lynching.
Texas cities get a little lonely at their edges:
past Motel 19, Methodist hospital’s blue neon crucifix, refineries, Christ
of the Nations Inter-faith Ministries. Dusk pales
at its hemline.
Copper light scores the westside of my chokeberry tree;
buzz over live oaks, ignorant to how much weight these branches might hold.
Yellow Finches Drop from a Plane Tree
Crosses of sunlight burn through the sugar maple
each afternoon in little crucifixions.
Blue-black lake like an 8-mm film,
its name means “high winds”
in a language not spoken by local Indians.
How does a tree move when it is angry?
I want to be angry like that.
Other Denver Economies
Green tree in the yard and a dog
so skinny he fits through
the fence rails, tulips and the fence
that splits the tree.
Little white birds of this season
of circulars, children
walk home from school where they sit
in another language. And the hands they hold
smell of bleach. Spring is a chorus
in the helicopter’s throat, the back
yard’s muddy lyric; April is long division.
You’ll find neighborhoods so poor
economists can’t figure out an equation
for how a mother feeds her children.
Wage puzzle, they call it. Hello, season
of WIC, SSIs, AFDCs. So sweet
these chairs on porches. Drink a whole glass
of tap water, consider the spool
of cassette tape dangling from a branch.
Watch the small yellow school bus, inside a child
rides strapped in a wheel chair, everyone
else in their pick-up trucks and SUVs.
Keep them moving, please. Barefoot sister on the porch
holding a black leather belt
—you can make up whatever story you want.
I’ve got my stockings in my purse, bird in the gutter, butterfly
on the stoop. No—that’s a moth. Anyway, she looked fine
to me. There are other economies
in Denver. At a sex club on S. Broadway,
women pay a $20 cover, but couples pay upwards of $50, and a single man
might pay $100 or more depending on the night. Most of the time
we think of the body as fixed
in value—I’ve been 5’4” for years now. Most of the time
we don’t think of the body
and the soul satellites. Across the street
a Labrador sits in an open doorway,
the oak tree still clutches its autumn leaves
while its crown blossoms green.
It’s not like any of us.
Robert Mueller Municipal Airport
And now you are flying, airborne in the thick
white sky, shedding gravity like an accent, like a way you used to sign your name.
I lean back in your chair, wear your hat, press your water glass to my lips.
Rain falls over the lake.
At the city’s new airport, you empty your pockets:
a kind of downpour, a little divorce:
everyone can see what’s inside,
an agent takes your file, your nail clippers,
a small pair of scissors.
The x-ray machine reduces your contents
to the barest geometries, cartoon lightning in a little box of storm.
Rain smells of rocks and concrete,
makes the air fat, makes the dock on the lake
disappear into a gray road, nearly metallic,
a color of something that could be “used as a weapon”
something federally disapproved.
Once I left a man, a marriage, a country; I picked up a new accent
wherever I went.
You say goodbye, empty your pockets,
everyone reads their contents, and everyone
can see into the buildings of the abandoned airport
through a fence around the parking lot:
the baggage claim is still as a stone heart.
And no one knows what we might build there,
no one reads what graffiti artists leave in silver spray paint.
Up here you can catch small gasps of prairie between Bush Turnpike
and the North Central Expressway, slim grove of trees
along Rennel Creek, rust
and gray, gold real-estate signs, mixed-use zoning freaks forth
the Texas Instruments complex, still empty, humming.
Bells clang and gates lower at the light rail crossing.
The best word of the year: chokeberry.
If we had lived here as pioneers, waited for postmen, for seasons, watched
crops rise and die, watched weather, the soil as it bleached. If we made a
promise somewhere far east, forgave ourselves in photographs, read the
King James, waded our silence, married our past, would we be better
suited to survive this season?
“Forbearing one another in love,” etc.
There are Cherokees in the bois d’arcs. There have been Cherokees in the
bois d’arcs since we met.
Texas redbuds blossom into violet scabs, the last crop between the
tollway and condos; the only text left before the ink goes.
Nail Guns in the Morning
Nail guns in the morning from the street behind my house,
Outside: tin roof, cement tabletops, “vast maw of modernity” (Sontag),
the UPS man, someone has painted all of my windows shut.
The study of trauma comes shortly after the steam engine,
an affliction known as “railway spine,” characterized by headaches, fatigue,
difficulty in breathing, reduction of sexual potency, stammering, cold sweats.
Report from Charles Dickens, June 1865, after train wreck:
Wakes up in sudden alarm,
Storms this afternoon in Dallas
in the parking lot of the Target/Best Buy/Payless Shopping Center,
big chalices of rain, contusioned sky over the east, big yellow bus moving north
toward the dark end of—what?—
this weather, this fiscal year, this end of empire during which I am reading
the circulars stuck in my screen door, ice waiting
in the highest breath of atmosphere.
It will get to us.
I am patient on the living room couch,
let water drain from the kitchen sink.
Last night over dirty dishes, I told Farid
I would never write a poem that just said: Stop the War.
So frequently, I want a witness. Sit with me,
C. Dickens, let me tell you how bad
the food is on Amtrak, how a Pullman position
was a plum job for freedman, how stevedores once owned the city
hall, how Indians shot at us through the windows of the smoking car.
Stop the war, stop the war, stop the war, stop the war, stop the war.
From the Ruined Concrete Foundry West of Airport
Blvd between Manor and M.L.K.
Across from the airport park-n-ride, we walk on railroad tracks, hear
a baseball bat crack just beyond the trees. Mixed-breed dogs rush to
threaten us, teeth snapping at weedgrass. A shirtless teenage boy
jumps down from the cracked foundation to call them back.
A Letter to Eileen Myles
Tonight I want to write Eileen Myles. Eileen, I want to say, do you think I should have a baby? I am forty. I ask everybody I know and even some (like you) whom I don’t. I ask the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Robert Hass in the parking lot of an Italian-American deli in East Dallas. And when I pose the question I feel I am on a great ship slicing through the Atlantic. The sun cuts a rut across the ocean, a divot. Nothing seems impossible, just far away. Robert Hass says: Oh, you are trying to decide. That’s difficult. We drive Robert Hass north of Dallas to Archer City. High school kids take prom pictures in front of the courthouse. Maybe it’s the county seat. Robert Hass spots a scissortail flycatcher on a telephone wire. We drink sodas at the Sonic because the Dairy Queen has gone out of business. O Walter Benjamin! O Larry McMurtry! And all of your beautiful cowboys who did not have to worry about babies!
I’ve been sad, I want to tell Eileen. I’ve been spinning around with a decision decided. A body may be finished, but the mind strains. Farid and I have $15,000 in savings, $40,000 in debt. In 40 years, we’ve seen privatizations, a loss of price cautions, a rise in sunblock. Trees know how to make more of this flat gray light across the prairie.
I grew up in suburban New Jersey. My father took the train to work in “the city.” My mom had a part-time job. We spun our skateboards around the cul-de-sac, gathered at the park at dusk. We smoked cigarettes and pot. When I went to sleep, a window-box air-conditioner clicked and hummed.
Now the city won’t have me. I have gone to market; I have gone on the market. I want to come to you, Eileen.
Others have offered suggestions. One poet has a chicken coop; another grows kombucha colonies in her kitchen cabinets, she wants to raise goats. Another wants to go to Maine to study the contemporary back-to-the-land movement. What do you make of our economic avant-garde? We work in state institutions; we work for private collages; we work in offices with views to air-conditioning equipment on roofs.
Farid and I do not have time, do not have wealthy parents, no Girl Scouting skills, no collection of Foxfire books. One year we lived in a cabin on an Austin creek. A snake coiled under the sink. Day after day we hauled bags of garbage and laundry up a hillside. We were going to learn plumbing and carpentry. Instead we took our plastic rafts to the dirty water, watched the sun drop through sycamore trees. The creek became a mechanism of documentation and invisibility. No one ever knew what nested on its banks. When the winter came, we shivered near a space heater. When squirrels crawled into the roof, we left for a duplex in Dallas, where Bonnie met Clyde, where George married Mary Oppen.
Once I asked the MacArthur award–winning poet CD Wright about children. CD Wright said: Don’t worry. These days you can buy a baby on eBay. But if we eBayed the baby, Eileen, we would still have to pay $7,500 a year for day care. We’d still have to find money for a down payment, replace our 10-year-old cars, plan our retirement. We are young and in love, all the movies say, we have everything. Farid says money rises as if a tall field of wheat; step in and it closes around you. Just beyond the window of our car traveling south down the North Dallas Tollway. No, that’s corn. No, that’s weeds.
Click here to read the introduction to The Utopia Minus Project, a special collaboration between Gwarlingo, artist Margaret Lanzetta, and poet Susan Briante.
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All poems from Utopia Minus © Susan Briante courtesy Ahsahta Press. All paintings and photographs © Margaret Lanzetta. Used with permission from the artists. Feel free to share this special collaboration with others. We only ask that you provide the proper credit to Susan Briante, Margaret Lanzetta, and link to Gwarlingo.