Weekend Poetry: The Channel Swimmer, and other poems

The Channel Swimmer

I know someone entering non-being in the worst way

With lesions & tumors & denial & that pain unknowable

Until you know.  But the channel between fast-forward dying

& the rest of us—you can’t swim it this time of year


Or anytime, until it’s your turn & you get greased up

& spit in your goggles & ease your body into the wet shock

& push off, your love following in a rowboat beside,

Rowing through the grief chop & handing you energy bars


& attaboys.  And you think wrong thoughts but don’t say

Them, like, Is that the best you can do, love, really?  

You, the one not dying?  Can’t you join me, or at least

Take turns being me?  Just a fucking energy bar, really?


It’s unfair, & the rest of us stand like lawn ornaments

Back on shore, one arm up & waving.  Then slip

Into our cars & drive home because, well—what else

Can we do?  No one we know has seen that other coast.


Alba Iulia

The Romanian poet brought an icon of the Blessed Mother with her on the plane.  She held it up, pointing Mary's face at the pilot’s cabin, then at the rear of the plane, then to either side.  On the way to the restaurant she crossed herself every time our car passed a Catholic Church.  I did not tell her that many were abandoned.  At the reading she was charming—strong voiced, her poems full of wit and passionate invention.  She loved America, she said, and had been trying to write a poem about every still functioning lighthouse in the United States.  At this the audience smiled.  During Q & A she spoke of her faith, simply, as if it were a natural activity of the body, like walking or breathing.  I don't know what it's like in a Romanian literature department, but I was glad she was going back.  Her country was poor, and though things had begun to improve, her husband was still out of work, unhappy now that she was the provider, the one with a job.  And there were children . . . The family needed every dollar her poetry earned.  She told me this in private, at drinks after the reading.  When I handed her the check she hugged me and her body shook slightly.  Then she boarded the plane, the icon once again tucked under her arm.  The soul also can starve.


The Anniversary

I think we

Which doesn’t mean I

Or—of course, separate, but do

Draw the line at


Willya c’mere

One damn minute!

Touch me like, like, like oh,

Like that—


Then there,justa

Little bit more

Up & down, less round

Your mouth,


Don’t say it, it’s

Not a word

Yet, too much animal, less

Intelligible, still


Four legged

Bound by piano string or

Three legged

Tripod with teeth


Don’t sing

Cantabile or say, I can

Or you can, love

Merely—under this


Sketchy sky, your

Eyes propped

Awnings, each you

In me surely


Logos by now, incorruptible

But mute, unsaid—

Speak, this

Animal we, this one


Inside the other, out

Loud: this I of us.

The Department Party

It seems obvious reverence is due somewhere,

Obvious even to the theorists balancing whiskeys

On their knees & waiting for someone to stack five words

On top of one another so they can knock

That tower down.  But, here’s the thing—everyone’s face

Has gotten sensitive as a little girl who

Believes inside her a little boy shoots an AK-47

Into a mannequin stuffed with cotton & gender stereotypes.

I try to enter the conversation, but my pockets are empty

Of generalities, which is the preferred currency.  


One has to step back from time & the theorists’

Circle to see clearly who or what is due

Reverence . . . But suddenly it’s neither the time

Nor place, because the new hire in International Ecology

Has touched bare skin below your shirt sleeve

& smiled, two incandescent drunk girl eyes

You haven’t seen the like of in thirty years, & you

Turn on a spout of words, even words

Locked behind your personal firewall.  Yo, Romeo—

Time to put down the drink & take a taxi home.


Home?  —It’s that address you labor to remember,

That house where you were not in charge of understanding,

Where you thirsted for milk & were given milk,

Hungered for honey & were given honey.

Where your second story window looked out

Over buzz-cut lawns & tons of children.  If

You squint you can see yourself in a cab that stinks

Of worn vinyl & perfume.  Better tell the driver to step on it—

Someone is whispering in your ear how little time

Is left, how you must, you must be home before dark.


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