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.

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.

Thomas

A drunk priest marries my shadow
to a wall,

nails it there, open-palmed.
They know what they do.
I leave.

When I return
I will call bodies by names
they do not own.
Be asked to perform miracles.
Cure no one. Bring nothing back.

From my hands you will prove I’m a liar.

The holidays

The dog’s at the window again
barking at nothing,
at sunlight and winged commas,
the full-stopped silence of a plane.
He barks like a typewriter and the world
is a broken paragraph in my head.

***

What time is it? Where?
America, Egypt, Japan?
No good. Here?
Clock on the wall
hasn’t worked for years,
maybe. Or days. Or maybe
it’s always been eleven to two.
No, don’t fix it.
I prefer its hands still.
This way we live forever.

***

Read my mind. There are whole hours
during which we don’t speak a word
to each other. Then
occasionally, I hear you exhale,
sharply,
like you’ve suddenly remembered to breathe.

Homescar

The fan stutters in a corner.
Gargling sighs.
The room’s dark.
On the windowsill a brand-new lightbulb,
wrong size.
Your small fist of a heart.
What if love
-like anything organic-
expires?

Recall early words, sounds
dredged up from a swamp of years.
The bottled firefly of childhood
beating wings against glass.
Biting into a red apple,
its worm splitting in two in your mouth.
You used to sing hymns
and the sight of railways thrilled you.

The space between then and now is irreconcilable.
You would have never pictured this
among the drawings on your mother’s fridge,
among the football-and-grit-your-teeth
dreams of your father.
None of what came later was hinted at.
What would eventually be possible was kept hidden,
squirrelled away in the dark.

So the lamp is empty.
You still have the dead bulb;
it rattles when you hold it to your ear
like a dried-up sea.

***

What if the whole earth is a puzzle-box
you lift with trembling hands
to your face?

A music-box
whose wooden lips part
to reveal a revolving tongue,
someone’s infancy chewed slowly
between teeth and song?

A coffin-box
whose weight must be shouldered?

father’s watch
bungee cord
the seagull is dead