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Chairs move by themselves, and books.

Grandchildren visit, stand new and nameless,

their faces’ puzzles missing pieces.

She’s like a fish in a deep ocean,

its body made of light.

She floats through rooms,

through my eyes,

an old woman bereft of chronicle,

the parable of her life.

And though she’s almost a child

there’s still blood between us;

I passed through her to arrive.

So I protect her from knives, stairs,

from the street that calls as rivers do,

a summons to walk away, to follow.

And dress her,

demonstrate how buttons work,

when she sometimes looks up

and says my name,

the sound arriving like the trill of a bird

so rare it’s rumored no longer to exist.


He was hit back of the head for a haul of $15,

a Diner’s Club Card and picture of his daughter in a helmet

on a horse tethered to a pole that centered

its revolving universe. Pacing the halls, he’d ask

for a blow job he didn’t want. The ward’s new visitors

didn’t know this request was all the injury

had left him to say, and would be shamed or pissed,

a few hitting him as he stood with his mouth

slightly open and large frame leaning in. His wife

divorced him for good and blameless reasons. He would not

be coming home to share his thoughts on film and weather,

or remembering her any longer than it took to leave a room.

He liked ham. Kept newspapers in drawers and under his bed,

each unread page hand-pressed flat. And when it snowed

he leaned into one of the sealed, unbreakable windows,

a cheek to the cool glass as he held his fingers

over his mouth and moaned low and constant like the sound

of a boat on the far side of a lake. When he died

they cut him open to see how his habits had been rewired

and so tightly looped. Having known him they were afraid

of what can happen when you cross the lot to the office

or pull up to a light and thump the wheel as you might

any hour. If you stare at the dyed

and beautiful cross sections of a brain, it’s natural

to wonder how we extract the taste of coffee

or sense of a note accurately found and held on an oboe

from this bramble. On Duke’s slides they circled

the regions of blight which explain

why almost all behavior we recognize as human was lost,

but not why a man who’d curl into a ball

like a caterpillar when barely touched, could only ask

for sex, for intimacy, for the very thing

he could least accept and lived twelve years without,

no embrace or caress, no kiss on the lips before sleep,

until he died in the lounge looking out on winter sky

that seemed eager to snow all day but didn’t.


You could drive out of this country

and attack the world with your ambition,

invent wonder plasmas,

become an artist of the provocative gesture,

the suggestive nod, you could leave

wanting the world and return

carrying it, a noisy bundle

of steam and libido, a ball of fire

balanced on your tongue,

you might reclaim Main Street in a limo

longer than a sermon, wave at our red faces

while remembering that you were born

a clod hopper, a farmer’s kid,

and get over that hump once and for all

by telling A Great Man’s stories—

the dirty jokes of dictators, tidbits

of presidential hygiene, insights

into the psychotropic qualities of power

and the American tradition of kissing

moneyed ass. Your uncle would still

call you Roy Boy, pheasants

sun themselves beside the tracks,

waiting for the dew to burn off

before their first flight, and corn

grow so high that if you stood

in the field you’d disappear, the fact

aiming your eyes down the road.

A Primer

I remember Michigan fondly as the place I go

to be in Michigan. The right hand of America

waving from maps or the left

pressing into clay a mold to take home

from kindergarten to Mother. I lived in Michigan

forty-three years. The state bird

is a chained factory gate. The state flower

is Lake Superior, which sounds egotistical

though it is merely cold and deep as truth.

A Midwesterner can use the word “truth,”

can sincerely use the word “sincere.”

In truth the Midwest is not mid or west.

When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio.

There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life

goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam,

which we’re not getting along with

on account of the Towers as I pass.

Then Ohio goes corn corn corn

billboard, goodbye, Islam. You never forget

how to be from Michigan when you’re from Michigan.

It’s like riding a bike of ice and fly fishing.

The Upper Peninsula is a spare state

in case Michigan goes flat. I live now

in Virginia, which has no backup plan

but is named the same as my mother,

I live in my mother again, which is creepy

but so is what the skin under my chin is doing,

suddenly there’s a pouch like marsupials

are needed. The state joy is spring.

“Osiris, we beseech thee, rise and give us baseball”

is how we might sound were we Egyptian in April,

when February hasn’t ended. February

is thirteen months long in Michigan.

We are a people who by February

want to kill the sky for being so gray

and angry at us. “What did we do?”

is the state motto. There’s a day in May

when we’re all tumblers, gymnastics

is everywhere, and daffodils are asked

by young men to be their wives. When a man elopes

with a daffodil, you know where he’s from.

In this way I have given you a primer.

Let us all be from somewhere.

Let us tell each other everything we can.