Nights and other poems

Nights and other poems
A skinny woman sits over coffee
and hardly moves. I warm it just
to check on her. Last night

a boy appeared — ragged and jumpy. 
He’d scratched up just enough 
for two eggs. I threw on a link

and some potatoes. Old Sam 
would shit if he knew, 
but screw him and screw you

if you tell him. The kid looked 
scared, like I might charge him 
for the special. I winked 

and he started breathing again.
When I came back, the food was gone
and so was he, but his change 

was stacked quarters to dimes in a sad 
little tower. Tomorrow night 
you’ll come in after a fight 

with your guy. I won’t say 
a word about your hair, the state 
of your make-up, or your coat —

too thin for the night air. 
I’ll pour you a cup and heat up
a slice of the dutch apple.

After the End

What will happen after the film’s end
or the body’s? We fix our gaze
out windows, beyond railings into a fog,

impenetrable, settling over a field.
Not our element, that watery mix.
Your note arrives by pixel and post 

with your voice, its grief and sweet 
sustain, just as I’m off to join 
a throng — a march against flames

that leap above their leaping. Out past
the edge of sight, they burn as sure
as lies fall from a huckster’s lip,

as sure as earth gives its wet breath
to the cold air and a blues beat
sends slave songs into the earphones

of children massing on a campus mall
after the flood, the blight, the plague,
and the great attenuation, massing — sure

as your father breathing in your breath,
sure as someone breathes and pulses
out there beyond my life’s wink.


Barefoot, or sometimes in one shoe —
entranced — he’ll put out trash
or get mail from the box and toss it 
onto the pile of envelopes on a counter where 
she’d have opened bills and paid them, 
where she’d answer appeals with small checks
or read articles in the magazines. A son
or grandson stops by to sort and mow
or shovel or rake, and he seems OK
if you stop him at the curb and talk
about weather or who used to live 
in which house, seems quite well,
in fact, like he could still do the lawn
if he noticed or remembered, but without 
leaving he’s stepped into the piazza of some 
renaissance oil and moves among figures 
in the endless vanishing background

Camera Obscura

Agitating trays, I once watched 
prints rise into their own shape,
black tones growing rich,

lustrous. Now I sit in a basement 
staring at a figure light has left
upside down on the back walls

of my eyes. Streets I knew 
house by house, elm by ash, 
a park where mailboats dock
between runs to freighters — what 
was our town and what might be,
brought together like silver nitrate
and light. One image waits 
undeveloped — after a fight,
a child in a window staring out

at the wreckage until cops kill 
their lights and split and glass 
clears and her breath’s damp heat
dissipates in a cavernous night. 

Years Ago

Seated among strangers at a wedding,
                                                             and, laughing with him, I almost
I met a Polish bassoonist, brought
                                                             envied that defiance and love of word,
to Detroit by exile, marriage and a gig 
                                                             so rare here, where we spend hours like
with a local symphony. Smart, well-read,
                                                             water, and, not unwatched, are watched
he was glad to talk about Milosz,
                                                              seldom and don’t trouble ourselves much
how a mimeo volume sold — in weeks —
                                                              if now and then a few are picked off
a hundred thousand copies that passed 
                                                              sent away kept under wraps or made
hand to hand — mimeo, paper, and book
                                                              to breathe while underwater and never 
all banned, all secret — and the poems! 
                                                              worried much about reading poems
Boring formal lyrics read one page 
                                                               to make us free, since we could more 
at a time, scandalous satire read
                                                                or less come and go as we pleased.
across the gutter. How he laughed,

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