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Mosaic

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I’m a’kickin’ but not high,
and I’m a’flappin’ but I can’t fly.
          — Florence Church

A carpet of light, the
ocean alive < half a moon
muting the stars.

I tell myself
despair    is just

a bad attitude: Get up,
I say. Look — 
and the shimmer

spends its name
in my head.
_____


These days    midlife
holds the jagged edge:

my nephew in prison,
a prisoner > friends insane

with work or sick
of trying to be loved,

my parents handing over their lives
like evidence: my good mother,

her mind     a trail of crumbs
in a woods flocked with birds.


                    --/--


To raise a child    break it
like a wild horse — 
bend the will: get up,
get dressed.

I remember Emlen School
staring me down, my lunch box,
September:
the spiked fence freshly painted.

Then, the goodbye from my mother
who’d fought my hard hair,
lipstick like mist on my cheek.

                    --/--

That instant when eyes meet
and slide away — even love
blinks, looks off

like a stranger.

With: Who are you
with?

                    --/--

I suspect     everything.

Outside the air moves
a giant bird I cannot see.

Still laced in this
brown body: my aging heart — 
a-loom     a-loomdoom — 
still minds my thoughts,

but rolls his eyes.
_____


To see >< to be seen:  the life
of the visible.  Don’t be shy.

Glances pick my face.

Once, I was a sperm and an egg,
but they didn’t see me.

                    --/--

Too small to walk
alone: I held

my father’s index
finger. Philadelphia police

caped in their black
jackets — big badges     almost

hungry — looking at us.

                    --/--

In a mall: say a food court
on Saturday     or a stadium
just before the game.

There’s this drone, this
steady, muttering thrum

punctured by
packages — plastic this,
paper that — torn and torn.

“It’s hard not to be hungry.”

                    --/--

Time     for bed: my
mother reading The
Three Little Pigs, doing
all the voices. Remember
the pictures — those piggy
pants and shirts?

                    --/--

When you     see me,
what is that

image in the eye?
Solid ghosts, we are pictured
here — in the lit world.

Visible: we want to be seen: skin,
fancy legs     shoes and hats.

To want > to be seen and
wanted. Nice lips with a moist

sheen. Eyes, like mouths.
_____


What tortures, what tortures
me is     the question: what
are other people     thinking?

I keep watch — a vast horde
of Nikes has landed, running

sea     to shining sea.

                    --/--

In America skin was
where you belonged,     a who

you were     with, a reason

someone might: how — at the

parties     of hands unknown — 

astonishing deaths
could meet you.

                    --/--

In Joy’s arms, I believed
in perfect company, in the silk
of Her mouth — I believed:

my body off
the clock, my spine
all for touch.
_____


Six years old, I sang
like a chickadee. My father

slapped me for handing him
the scissors

wrong. What did I know?
What did I know?

                    --/--

Reckless eyeballs.

Three centuries track me,
their dumb dogs slobbering
on my scent: Myself runs

into my     other self: Over here!

my self whispers — Freedom


over here!

                    --/--

Suppose nobody knows
what’s
inside you.
But you, yourself,
find it pretty clear:

anxiety     adding up, leveling off,
doubling > some comfort in people
you think you
understand / frustration,

fatigue, a secret.
One worn constellation
marking the lusciousness of sex.

                    --/--

What’s your faith? Which skin
do you believe? The unseen

stays with us:
the air

rubbing your lungs
right now —

nations of germs
feuding over your hands.

                    --/--

Savory sweet salt of sweat in summer,
a taste of almonds, some buttery bread.

The loins, a house of  hunger, personal
but not personal: the way moonlight calls

for you and     not for you. What
I want >    I guess    < I want.

Fingernails grow. My
belly grumbles. My blood runs

up a long hill.
 _____


Among the brothaz, a certain
grip     in the eyes. A sense

of something
swallowed     not chewed — 

as if they’d been made
a story and were dying

to untell themselves:
profiles — prisons,

the sports inside The Sport.
Outside, the wolf

with a
huff     and a puff.

                    --/--

Culture: a kind of knife:
cuts one way     opens
your brain to a certain
breed of light     shaves
consciousness to its

purpose, its cross: the nail
thru your hand >< your
other hand holding
the hammer.

                    --/--

Once, I asked my father
if  he knew     everything.

I was hopeful, seven — 
a corn muffin
where my head shoulda been.

I saw him shave and after,
little dabs of  Kleenex on the nicks.

                    --/--

I only see
The Game     in pieces — 
the rules inside me
like bad wiring < like a shadow
government < like dark
matter in a sky
otherwise Mardi Grased
with stars. Rise up,
somebody     somebody.

                    --/--

(Insert your life here.)

                    --/--

Did you mean to be this way?
Did you mean to become
something you didn’t mean?

You didn’ become
something you     didn’
mean     did you?

                    --/--

Image follows image, quack follows
quack — a line of lonely ducks. What

is wrong     is well

organized: see all the schedules
with their Coors Lights and comfy socks.
 _____


How do I look? With whom >< am I with?

Better worlds build hives
inside us. Last words

trapped like wasps in our mouths.

                    --/--

So monogamy     never made
sense to me, nor most of what
was called growing up.

The whole
haunted house

of race and religion     of sex,
money, possession.

Am I rented or owned?
How many lives turned
on the spit? How many
hours ________
and ________?

                    --/--


I was nine, integrating Anna
Blakiston Day School: fourth grade,

mixing it up. Visible,

with my new face.
Whenever my mother
had to go see the teachers,

she’d say,
“Don’t send me into battle

with a butter knife.”

                    --/--

Connect this to that, this
to that: word     by word, a
sentence

scavenges the alleys
like a lost pet — fur matted,
leg cut: the hunger,

a sort of riddle > his noise
some sort of answer. 
_____


What skinny faith you have — 
and such big teeth: all

the better. I mean to step out
of  history     for just a minute,

to feel my blood float

above the say-so. Memory,
a jar of flies. Spin off the lid.

I forget what you know. What

did you ever know?

                    --/--

To speak: score the alphabet — 
make the shape of  what

cannot be seen. Tear it open

like a child with a new bag
of something / stand in the traffic

goading your throat until the song
sharpens in your mouth — 

the solo: one nick

chasing another.

                    --/--

I think I’m
starting to know
Everything < O, tongue!
O, summer! O, bold,
bare legs of women
upon which my soul beads
like sweat > O, rosemary rolls
and marmalade!
Hard-bodied beetles
with your six-legged sashay!
O,
funky beats and bitter
guitars < O, children
taller and taller no
matter
what!

O, moonlit sea! O, Hershey bars!
O, bizness besuited
pigeons of death: How     much
does   it   cost? O, moment
flung from the last-last
to the next-next.
 _____


One dandelion head gone to seed,
half-flung on the wind.

I’ve sold a lot of myself already:
already alotta my selves been sold.

I have this feeling

every day — something I know
that can’t

be words. This life

stuffs my eyes.

These people nearby — syllables

like pheasants flushed
from their mouths.

I’m back on my mother’s lap
waving my small arms.
Source: Poetry (March 2014)

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This poem originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

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Mosaic

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