Cigar (with audio)
There’s death and then there’s ash. This is the latter.
I follow the smoke of it from a cigar’s gray crown to air
on its way to becoming nothing, which seems better
somehow than following the river that haunted Apollinaire:
Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine, he said,
and quickly the night came and went leaving his lines
embossed in implacable bronze. I carry the dead
weight of words. Each one is lowered into the mines
of these poems like a miner. Each one has a headlamp
that switches on when I speak its name.
When I say cigar, one end grows a little damp
on my lips while the other assumes the color of flame.
~Originally published in Antioch Review, Fall 2012
The Colony at Malibu
Glassy eyed on Scotch, my brother and I watched
the electric faces of waves, and I said that nobody
really gets drunk in poems anymore and gets away
with it. Not like William Matthews did. But we
are drunk, he said, and getting away with it
at this borrowed château in the colony.
We all harbor a private sadness, I said.
Melancholia, he said. Melancholia, I said.
Melancholia, confirmed the moon in Morse code,
and the ocean must’ve known what it felt like—each
wave another failed attempt at becoming. People here,
I said, must take great pride in the celebrated virgins
of Pepperdine who graze in the pasture
of finance and architecture for all of the practical
reasons. Was that Keats? he asked as he poured
a few neat fingers of Glenmorangie Artein.
Keats had the heart of a sparrow, I said, always
fawning over the things he would never have.
Like this beach, he said. Like these waves, I said.
~Originally published in The Southern Review, Winter 2014
When the bank reclaimed
the house in which I grew up,
my parents weren’t ashamed,
didn’t board themselves up
inside and wait for the cops.
They were docile as mops
loaded last onto the truck,
their acumen won from a string
of luck—they called it downsizing,
used an inheritance to purchase
another family’s foreclosed home.
My father dug bulbs from loam
to replant the new place,
and they bloomed in the spring
with beautiful indifference.
~Originally published in Poet Lore, Fall 2013
The Abandoned Quarry(with audio)
We’d come only to get drunk and naked,
light a bonfire on the limestone ledge, slip down
to the night-blackened water and pretend
that we knew the first thing about romance,
that our parents’ unhappy lives epitomized only
their failure to commit to the principles of tragedy.
Someone stomped embers
while I dove headfirst into the rain-filled depths,
and had there been daylight
I could’ve shown you the blue Volkswagen
resting where quarry men stopped their dig, but it
was night, so there was only a pale ripple
of stars anchored to a crescent moon.
I knew even then I was a fool for diving so deep,
but I was the son of a salesman,
father who didn’t give a shit and sank
deeper each year into his broken life, and those girls
on the shore teasing off their skirts
came from money, so I dove until it hurt,
twenty feet or more, until I touched the car’s rusted roof,
until I’d lost all sense of direction,
and time became a thin vein of bubbles
stretching away from me. There was a rumor:
two young lovers swerved off the road above,
landed in this pit, and their bones supposedly
were still seatbelted just below the place
where my hand touched. But this
was just a story, and the car was only a vehicle
in another metaphor—love was the tenor.
I stood on the roof in the darkness for a moment,
pushed away, and as I neared the surface I began
to blackout: the entire Milky Way
reducing itself to a single point of light.
~Originally published in Natural Bridge, Spring 2016