The human

Before you leave, your mother
gives you a picture of Christ
to sleep with – a loose tooth
under your pillow.
Who has space
to dream of other, possible lives?

Some days, cigarettes in the dark
are fireflies; artillery shells
are fireworks.
You know a little music.
Good for when it gets too quiet.

Half a world away they are waiting
for the small crucifixes of your lips;
you do not know how else
to translate love, the act of missing.
They ask when you’ll return.

You watch the moon trace itself
badly into the sky,
palm it with one outstretched hand.

Years from now, a child will learn
names, places, dates, the deeds
of men who stained the earth. But not
he played the harmonica rather badly
and spoke longingly of home.
Never.

Grandfather

Now is different.
This year, this day. Everything
might be the last of its kind. You know?
Extinction.
Not like dinosaurs,
but the small nameless creatures no one finds
until they’ve up and disappeared.

The other day, there was a documentary
about some dumb animal on TV.
A frog. They turned its habitat into a highway,
like something straight out of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.
That made me laugh.
They only found the one,
gave it a name, let it go.
When I was young, someone built roads
through jungles, over mountains.
It might have been me.

Here time is a smell staining the walls.
These days, all I do
is watch TV, look at the calendar.
The squares are holes to fall in.
Where do I live? A small room.
A bed. The doctor does not know me.
She asks what are you thinking,
what does it feel like,
are you in pain.

Of course I don’t answer.
I guard what secrets
I still have.

The third planet

Night thuds;

wine seeps everywhere.

The TV screen flickers
a nonsense Morse code message
at your dry eyes.
The edges of your body are a crime scene,
white and loose.

A man stares past camera. He wears
an expensive shirt. Dark trousers. A tie.
His mouth opens;
his teeth are perfectly white.

You hold a glass. Why not?
Even when you’re on your own
you’ve got to keep up appearances.
Fingers curl stem, trace the fragile loverlike shape.
A droplet of blood or something else as holy
swims at the very bottom. A living being,

dirt, god, something
alien. Dust?
You should vacuum tomorrow;
it will fill the silence like prayer.
The heart does not break loudly.

You see yourself in the dark between adverts.
A painter’s self-portrait
– I mean, don’t you think van Gogh
cut right to his own essence? –
and a can of beer, a brand new car,
a bottle of scent. You watch
while beautiful people almost have sex
and nobody mentions love.

California

At eight, you almost drowned in a classmate’s pool.
It was simple, almost appealing,
that slow, thoughtless sinking
into unerotic water.
You were cold.

Somehow you only remember the details:
Laughter from the shallow end.
A dead bee turning idly in your wake.
A few leaves on the surface,
as though to say that nothing,
not even summer,
lasts forever.

When you got out,
you sat at the edge, gasping,
and no one came over to see what was wrong,
and nobody asked how you were.
You just stared at your legs in the water,
trying to catch the moment
the light made them disappear
and wondering whose fault this was and why.

April

Shovel-sounds. The earth
sharpening blades.
You are lost, a seed
in the furrows.

I watch an earthworm press
into your same ground.
Death touches none
of its several hearts.
It will burrow deep
and later, when it rains,
re-emerge as though it were all the same.

Here. The loose soil
your displaced.
One cannot give without taking
and vice-versa.
A sad lesson to learn under a sky as blue as this,
but it was not a choice.

I wonder what plants will grow here.
I imagine their roots
stretching deep into loam,
thin thunderbolts, thirsty.
Finding what?

The birds (I picture thrush, robin,
wren) sing until sunset.
No clouds. Slight breeze.
It would have been a lovely day
to go out with you, sit on the grass
and let time idly pass.

Burglary

It is lonely, breaks your heart,
for the quiet afternoon
to pause a moment in its stillness
as an airplane passes overhead
– the news reported on those
hundreds dead,
somewhere, elsewhere, distant –

or for a moving-truck’s ponderous engine
hauling several cardboard lives.
A neighbor you will never speak to
becomes engine noise
that will not fade
until, too suddenly to wonder – or

for bells to ring in a village church,
the sound bringing you nearly to tears.
As though each second
were large enough to hurt you,

or for the rumble of a running van
driven by faceless, unfound men
who came while you were out
and took apart your life:
television, handsets, jewellery
the little money you had saved;
who moved couches, dressers, bed
to reveal for your return
the years of grime collected underneath.
A store of bad dreams.
You walked through the emptied house,
smaller than you’d felt in years.

For weeks you slept in fear.
Even now you remember spying
strange tire-tracks on the driveway,
and for a moment not being able to understand
where they led.

Parallel

I remember my sister singing, her breath
whirpooling the sea of dust
shaken loose from ceiling, walls,
her own voice trembling into silence
as outside, men shouted, screamed;
the fear – somehow – of drowning
in our empty, crumbling home:
I’d read of how all empires
are long ruins. We were not kings

but exiles of nothing, waiting,
the whole world
shrinking to our fearful street,
shut doors, barred windows, silence.
When it was good, we slept
without space in our bodies for nightmares.

One time, when it was safe, I snuck out;
the town was a skeleton
of someone I’d known all my life.
I wept.
Later, I found a hole
the size of my father’s heart
in a concrete wall.
I placed my palms against it,
imagined I was a child, somewhere else,
holding back the flood.