I touch the stairs outside to see if there is ice.
You fear the driving and doubt the radio’s report
of freezing surfaces only in the north.
So I’m outside in the dark,
in the rain, in pajamas,
touching the stairs and finding them wet.
Once someone wrote to me:
“I am tying up my letters from you
with a ribbon, so my grandchildren
will find them that way.”
This is not an exact quotation,
since I didn’t keep her letter.
My love stirs in the breeze
like paper hearts
strung along the ceiling of the stationery store.
My love’s a lacy heart
packed with neat rows
of extravagant treats.
Accept my heart – and bite
the crisp exterior
to reach the marshmallow beating inside.
My parents bought a house
built by a carpenter for himself
and his family. They were all barely five feet tall.
I didn’t realize at first
why my head kept bumping the doorways
and I had to stoop to use the mirror when I shaved.
It’s not the only time I’ve lived
somewhere I didn’t fit.
UNDER THE HUDSON
When you drive a tunnel approach,
you never face the water;
the engineers aim you toward land.
If you saw the glistening waves,
the seagulls, the barges,
a hole that leads under water—would you dare?
Which of our journeys would we begin
If the route were clearly marked?
Sunlight streams 93 million miles
to make us feel good.
Isn’t that amazing?
Through windows as we work
or from corners where we hide,
we glimpse the brilliance
growing, fading, growing.
We squander these days as though
the supply were endless.
Thank you for your letter.
You might have phoned instead,
but I couldn’t keep
a phonecall in my pocket
and take it out to read
now and then.
VOICES ON THE STREET
I spent a long time being rational and sane.
Those were my lost years.
I saw terrible things on the TV and in my nightmares.
I’m glad to say that’s all in the past now.
I never have nightmares and of course
I have no TV.
The politicians parade down Fifth Avenue,
passing the stores
where only those who own the politicians
can buy the useless merchandise.
Go elect yourselves!
pass in the night.
In the autumn they crunch.
Anyone who ever wrote three consecutive paragraphs
and admitted it
has been told by uncles, drunks, and coworkers
that the stories they’ve lived
would put all best-sellers to shame
if only someone
would set them down on paper.
Billions of stories
die every year
untold, unread, unheard.
CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY
I realized that material possessions
and worldly success
when I was a failure
and had nothing
but I questioned the meaning
and decided I was okay.
THE SNOW QUEEN
As if in a dream I saw her,
but I was awake, watching the storm
through the panes I cleared with my breath,
through the swarming snow, her eyes
brighter than moonlight,
and the smile of her blue lips.
Something that bloomed so filled the air,
inhaling dizzied me. The stars
were as close as the treetops.
I didn’t feel young, I felt as though
I wasn’t any age.
To be alone that night
would have been too cruel
for any fate to demand.
What luck that you were there!
THE CAT WOMAN
There is only one way to enter her.
I nuzzle her behind the ears,
hold her around her sleek waist.
She tickles my chin and nipples
with her tail.
We reach the sea once more—endless
motion of the waves, distances
that seem unbounded. Gentle waves
splash quietly, splash endlessly;
they thin and sink into the sand
and thin and sink again.
Our journeys end at the edge
of the sea, where everything
thins, sinks, disappears.
The night you put your anger off
and put the new nightgown on,
the color of ripped open apricots,
and I turned from fantasies
to touch something real,
we both began to touch again
and from the world accepted
something ripe in the night
to bite on.
MAY IN THE PARK
Leaves clatter in the wind.
Blades of grass push through the soil
and the ground hums from the strain.
Strollers on the bright paths
smile tolerantly at my songs.
The sun, the day are ending behind
the dark trees. The Earth sighs
as the wind tousles her forests.
When all the world sings,
why shouldn’t I?
From the bus, the plane, the car
that dragged me to some captivity,
to home, to school or work,
I would watch the lit-up windows.
Scattered over farmland or tucked
in the curves of overpasses,
those kitchens, those living rooms
would be warm, I would drink tea,
and in those rooms I would learn
a very important secret.
Watch the sky closely: those clouds
aren’t moving, though they seem to;
it’s we who are moving,
our island is drifting . . .
Manhattan . . . America . . . Earth . . .
all of us and all we’ve built,
everything we’ve packed to bring with us . . .
slowly drifting . . .
where currents and wind, chance and time
are taking us.
(Photo by Grant Delin)