todd lake departure

to lie here on this old pillow
listening to the endless calling

of the night to the night
the tent like a pimple on the face

of the mountain her calling
to the sky, drops all night

from broad leaves, the war
poetry of bullfrogs and owls,

the pacific verses of insects
and the haze of the unseen:

lying here on this pillow
i am transfixed like one dying

on the conviction, full of mud
and sweat, that this is what

i must have more of; caroline
there next to me, invincible,

i walked beside her through
the black green corridor of the

dark, pores electric with the
sound of her words:

behold what you are;
may you become what you receive

where i wish you to be: just here,
anointed in spring water before

a congregation of newts and pubescent frogs,
learned in the land to

which you surrendered many times:
learned just in slow and simple things,

no longer in thrall of arcana.

for rudolfo anaya

literally a golden fish, i could not believe my eyes as they were,
still red from a terrible attack in the basement where
i was vulnerable, thinking about all the trouble of april
and the future. this fish, i swear
to anyone who will listen, fourteen or fifteen
inches long, lazed at the surface
while i spoke to my mother—why are you
fearful in a safe country? she wanted to know,
where God is surely sovereign and edges
are edges and not mute like the worst kinds
of pain. this was a question for which i should
have been ready. yet in the last crisp noon
sun before a june heat
we saw a fish instead of an answer,
literally the golden carp itself ripped
otiose and fat from anaya’s pages long since forgotten.

it was enough of a miracle that we could both
think about auspices for a while instead of that horrible word
“decision” which is almost always a lie and a fantasy anyway.

i wish you had been there to see it with us. i’m sure people
must feed it things like spare potato rolls and kraft cheese.

but then magic things are magical not because they are made of it,
after all, but because they are
not made of it, i think.

clarendon boulevard

i have a very strong memory of standing
at schmitz’s gas station in my cap and gown
thinking this is the end of a great deed: high
school, thank christ, is over.

juvenile deeds and people thinking they’re so
clever, feeling so terribly earnest and so
callous, either deathly dull or alien,
this grinding routine day in and day out:
a red day, a blue day, sixth period, the whole complex
of a steadily atrophied childhood.

i remember people saying this: that one day you’ll
miss these days and wish you could return. but i
am learning that this is a pious fable occluding a
truth too hard to introduce to kids so young:
high school never ever ever ends.

there is an illusion of leaving adolescence
to enter in some stable place called adulthood
where we can transcend the noise of misguided and
hostile people. we make more money and say we learn lessons
but i think our hearts learn less than we think.

or maybe i should say nothing is deleted, so that once we
wash ashore at seventy-five or eighty
at the very moment we want most to fade
along our own course into the nighttime
the battle calls against those very things,
complacency never being a virtue given to us, not
even after we go.

rest is fine but the world must
not be allowed to get small before death. right up to the last
wrestle with the youth in ourselves and demand its blessing
even in senility till morning: keep looking at the daylight and
seeing life and the trackless mysteries of the night and the
deeper ones of people: high school never ever ever ends.

we never really ever get that smart
no matter what success we think we earned.

haikus for monterey

fat drops of slow rain
come with that spring smell mud and
naked easter grass.

i got home before
the sun set, after three days’ drive
from hell to blue grass

from davis to room
twenty-five of that paint-chipped
old hotel, heaven

where all kinds of birds
sing the morning in and no
devil can find me

the road home is not
easily spoken of but
that smell says it all.

fat drops of slow rain
and time spent in the good dark
thinking of no one

and nothing, none of
my friends or enemies or
those desperately loved

none of the summer
camp rain nor the winston rain
nothing but water.

i fell asleep there
the first time i probably
slept in six bad months

a comprehensive examination

1. why do you think he is single? to what extent are structural forces to blame or
is it rather a matter of choices? what is he afraid of?
refer to at least three specific
failures in your
response and use ten to fifteen pages for each prompt.

2. provide an interpretation
of the dark period (2014-2015).

how likely do you think it
is to recur?

out of the many myths he told himself
about it all coming back to the car in bethania,
the choice not to lurch lastly at roanoke
not to even say “michigan”:
were any of them any more than lies?
or do you believe he has learned
something?

3. if he had not gone to lansing, what
do you think would have happened to him?

what if he had spent his shallow dream
in williamsburg or charlottesville,
like he thought he would do?

moreover, if he liked the place more
would he live differently?

4. i think this thing is all a real mistake, am i right?

cite his poems after the following format,
simply, by first lines: (why

do you think he is single?
2018).

the song of moses, roanoke

i

i will not go into that church, i told myself,
i cannot be there, it is forbidden.

ii

what can i say of this place? i was downtown
between six and seven, dusk, the spring sun condescending

in glory to kiss the rotting hulk of the heironimus building
good night, thinking how

here in these streets, church and luck and jefferson, some
dragon ravens; serpents behind old retaining walls

in wasena, the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears,
charm he never so

wisely.

iii

it is like picking up a clod of soil by the river
and recognizing your own blood in between the little

clamshells, thinking with a thrilling kind of horror,
“but i have not been dead here”; so i thought.

iv

i will not go into that church,

i told myself; i must wait until the morning; i must go
to another neighborhood and leave it be,

i told myself; it will be better to go back to the motel
in salem and nurse the pain of the last two weeks

of this waking hell; i must not go.

v

i told myself i will only walk there; i will not enter;
i will lose my nerve and flee at the first sign

of danger; i was about to vomit.  the egyptian
dusk soft and warmly cotton

found me in horror and my heart almost leapt
out of me once i found my pew; i wondered

whether i wasn’t satan after all; this business of
panicking in churches.

vi

but i did not leave and my heart began to level at the
exsultet.  and by the end of two hours

i was water on the floor; i was deconstructed and entirely
outside whatever i was, united with the

fiery auspices smeared before mill mountain, asleep in the
flesh of surrender like one who

fainted in the heat of the flight
and awoke in warm sinai

forgetful of the charioteers in perdition;
forgetful of being a charioteer,

forgetful of everything but what made me:
just a child on his first day of school.

vii

there is nothing to be afraid of, in the end;
all our nighttimes, after all, were borne

at once
a long time ago

and on this very night.

floyd, easter

in paradise, in floyd
county off thompson road
on a hilltop with crows and robins singing
about how from the house of winter they
saw bloody footprints run north into
trackless places, here

where i search my mind and
find nothing but
the afternoon,

i will say this:

i will say again that there are djinns here;
there are spirits that knew me before i
knew them and they call me by name.

and they assure me that they have my
best interests at heart and

they talk about the music of my self
and they tell me that they understand
what happened in moneta and what
happened on i-581 near the hershberger road
exit in the back seat. they know, they say,

because they saw them all, they say,
and want me to come home.

they are telling the truth. and
i fear what will become of me if i
forsake them and they
forsake me in return,

but what if they are lying, and what if i
am lying too? a little certainty, you know, is
such a dangerous thing,

the thinking, “i am on the right way”—
when thither there’s so much to suffer from.

so i will say this:
i fear i’m now in love again, but

do not know
with what.

hightown maple songs

i

i don’t know why you keep coming to see me
i never asked you to; i never knew you.

but you drive so far in whatever weather
just to hope the sun shines down on me

and you can see it. and do what?
what do you do when you go back to your

hard old life? you open your mouth to
people who never understood you anyway

and said you drove three hundred miles to
me up and down monterey mountain to glimpse

me as you always do
late in the afternoon.

i will tell you what it would take to impress
me. come and see me on a january night in

a new moon when the sky is shut up in
fire retardant and the air is like shrapnel.

come and see me without wearing a wire,
come and see me naked in winter.

come and see what it is here when the light
isn’t just so. sit down where a rattlesnake will

bite you on your ass and tell me whether
you would like to stay. don’t tell me the

secrets tourists tell after a few swigs
of the home brew: i want to know what

you can barely say alone. things
you haven’t said yet to yourself.

ii

this is what you said back to me:

you said you could not impress me.
you said you would always be wearing a

wire, you said you could neither leave
nor stay, you said i have transfixed you
in the sense of impalement.

you said you would gladly wait naked with me
until the sun makes no winters anymore

but will not trouble me after the first decades
of your death, once the visits stop and the land

heals and the snow comes and my sugar water
starts to flow with your self. you want to

help me in that quiet way, which is all you can do.

iii

that’s what happens when you stay in one place
for as long as i have. people come up with all

kinds of words but they really can’t do much.
the voice that makes a hundred promises can
find a thousand ways to

slip the net; it’s all the tragedy of what you are. it

is hard for me to believe that the eden of people
is like the eden of trees, see,

because i just want to be weightless
and you want to land somewhere desperately;

it’s sad to say i think we’ll die apart.

in raphine

when was the last time you drowned in the night? 
when was the last time it found you
unguarded?

or does it search for you?
i think it happens to everyone but i know so
little.

i know nothing about you except that the same
ravening stars of the northern hemisphere watch us both at least while
i am still here.

even when i am embedded with streetlights
crouched in the vault of the sky like leopards in
trees they know where we are. and out here beyond staunton they saw
i could hide nowhere.

this is the confession the stars extracted from me:
i am still in pain and it goes without saying that i would leave
tonight behind everything if i knew where
you were and what you would demand.

this is the confession:
i am not better than the last time i saw you in your red plaid
dress; i worry very much that i am doomed.

of course i said it all under
duress but the night has what it
came for.

i think you must
be able to see in the stars that
this is so.