The Alchemist in the House

My father studied alchemy
through a mail order course,
(before the internet)
burning chemicals and melting
down scraps of metal,
his wedding ring,
and my baseball trophy.

One day a strange man
wearing a black suit
and a purple cape
appeared at the front door
and asked for my father.

Together they went
down into the basement,
pouring potent solutions
into glass jars and beakers,
filling the house
with foul smells
and voices that seemed
to come from behind the walls.

Not much else happened
except my mother lost her temper,
& kicked them both out of the house.

For days, we brought
odd-shaped lumps of metal,
neither lead nor gold,
up the narrow stairs
and into the front yard,
where they stayed
until the first snow,
then melted
like a witch’s wet kiss.

Her Favorite Album

I couldn’t remember
what she said
on her way out the door,

but my loneliness
grew like a lake.

A few hours later
I drove to the airport
her favorite album
left behind by mistake.

Hoping to catch her
before she boarded the plane—

I was sure we could
change the script,

and write our own
while music

swelled over the airport
but I was too late—

boarding closed,
the agent at the gate
sighed, “love”

flown to 20,000 feet
and me swimming
alone back on earth.

Immigrant’s Song

Ophelia jumps out
of the swimming pool
drying her hair

I never drowned
she said, but those
Danish winters

were just too long

better to retire
to Florida, my father
still missing

his face on milk
cartons and America’s
most wanted

my boyfriend on the run.

Needles and Paint

“I don’t use my face.
My face uses me.” — Willem Defoe

Standing at the bar at a cocktail party,
I listen in on conversations
swirling around me but say nothing,
trying to look both bored
and engaged at the same time.

Picking up a plate of hors d’oeuvre
a waiter left on the bar
I circulate around the room—
a few partygoers reach out
to grab a canape or pinch my ass.

A woman I’ve never seen before
asks me to follow her to church,
telling me she’s a good Catholic
then takes me behind a pew
to show me her wounds—

later, I go into the wooden stall
to confess my sins even though
I can’t remember her name;
the priest mumbles a blessing—
I recognize his voice
Willem Defoe, I blurt out,
what are you doing here?

I’ve come to take you
back to the party, he said,
adding we’ve been assigned to each other,
at least according to the script
his agent fed-exed over that morning.

For the next two weeks,
Defoe and I go everywhere together
getting our hair cut,
sitting in the makeup artist’s chair,
practicing his lines—
just before he leaves
to go on location
we shake hands
and he wishes me good luck

I read one of your poems once,
he said, not bad,
even though it didn’t rhyme.

He leaves as the credits roll—
the next time I see him,
bearded and speaking
with a Boston accent,
he’s up on the screen.

One day, a 1968 Fastback Mustang
with dark tinted windows
pulls up into my driveway:
it’s Defoe and he says
c’mon were going to France—
before we leave, he paces
around my dining room
rehearsing in front of the mirror
while I cooked breakfast
for the both of us.

On the plane the next day
he tells me to be careful:
if anyone offers
to make you a star,
it always ends badly;
all needles and paint
celluloid and flame.

But I feel like I’ve seen
this film before—
I look over at Defoe
and he’s closed his eyes,
waiting for the plane to land—
I glance out the window
as we rush towards the ground—
I’m still in the movie,
and I have lines to learn.

String Theory

I: The Mirror

The caption above the mirror states:
“The king is on reverse,”
but behind the glass
I find only black silver—
nothing more, but since
all objects and bad luck
come in threes, I look out the window
for the other two: an elephant
and a hand crawling with ants.

II: What’s for Lunch?

Words pile up inside two slices
of sound next to a jar labeled
dictionary of honey and a book
which claims to know
the formula for human tears.

III: Magritte Slept Here

On the road to Philadelphia
billboards inventory
a vocabulary of familiar images:
an umbrella, a cloudy sky,
George Washington in a bowler hat
traversing the Delaware River:
the physical contradiction of a stone
monument occupying space with a cinema.

IV: Sight

Lighting candles outside the cathedral,
a blind man recovers his sight;
words spill from his mouth
in an alphabet of air,
like birds circling in some grainy
black and white cartoon
where there is no sound
while cats and dogs
fall from the sky representing rain:
what exactly does he think he sees?

V: At the Pizzeria

Albert Einstein rolls out pizzas
in front of the stainless ovens—
confusing string cheese
with string theory,
I order a pie in the shape
of the universe, then cut slices
as if bread and tomato sauce
were a superhighway
to the other side of the galaxy—
when I leave the pizzeria,
I meet myself coming in the door.