Canon Perpetua

Not the round, not again here in the same factory
where sound comes raw, explosive off the belt.
Nor a bleating, as of sheep the insomniac counts
in her head, imitating one another, imaginary,

never summoning sleep, useless except for the anchor
a domestic animal’s body provides—
that stay against nightmare.
This goes on for awhile,

you’ve seen it before, the dux, the follower,
how splice the self from its delusion, its voice over?
Not Frere Jacques sung
as if there were nothing to be accomplished, no product

to be made on any particular day,
just clouds—puffs of wind, Uncle’s cigar rings,
the spacing of measured boredom,
the child innocent of death,

her grief a bit of anger at the question.
Nor excitement contained.
In the Byzantine hymns, scholars study footsteps
opening out into courtyards, the sun and stars,

the moon. To learn a fettered fugue one must
give up on opulence.
Where am I now? At my Aunt’s house—laundry
stretches as far as the next house.

I must be six if she is winding
the wheel to bring a shirt to the sill.
See, she holds it in her hand, is it dry?
She’s the dux, teaching me

how to become sequential bodies, how to grow
through six decades and still feel girlish.
With each new ch ch ch of the gray squirrel
introduced to the sheep, the dawn, the human

summons objects, and objects become
enamored of themselves.
Sequential pasts layered,
a future that never comes,

a woman turns to see which child
resembles the fulsome version of pleasure
she no longer takes in this retrograde state,
its special signage known as age.


What’s left—a scrap
of memory,
the paisley linen
I made into next
day’s mini-skirt.
the hem before bed,
listening under
sheets, transistor radio
tuned to Motown, hair
wet in foam rollers.

And bullies, girls
who threatened
to take me out back
and beat me with chains.
What remains—bolts
of cloth on Mother’s
dining room table
and she too busy
to see the least
of my problems
was being left-handed.


One company made planes that ran on shit
for fuel—they kept it a secret—
and then the other company found out
about it and aired a commercial
to the public about their idea
so that we could see what the future
would look like and here we are,
you and me, we walk around the jet,
it’s like a cruise ship, noticing shit
against the walls and under our feet,
we have to scoop it off and pick it up,
it’s the same shit people are eating at airport
restaurants, oh man, this shit is everywhere.

Subterranean Address

The mole digs until the sidewalk caves.
In undertones whole harmonies.
A dirge accompanies
these latter years. Souls of fathers,
mothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters,
brothers. Some didn’t make it this far.
Their oars struck mud, reeds blocked passage
to the river and from there the ocean.
Once I drowned. They put me under
by withholding oxygen. Unfair,
you say, but it saved two lives. Mine
and the baby who’d been severed
from her placenta. The mole dredges
memories. Leaves moist dark earth
in piles, comes back despite poison worms
you shove down the threshold of one
or another hole. We like to think
we live above it all, deities
who convey rich secrets to others.
When in fact it’s three squares a day
to which we are beholden, and water.
The delicious melody of waves
borne fresh from the mountain to yawn
across and into streams of sadness.

Sit with Me

I’ll tell you stories
about using eight lives out of the nine,
the placenta abruptio and being drowned,
the barbaric urethral dilations,
the abortion that turned into a D&C without a single valium.

I’ll tell you about Gail, killed at nine
while riding her new Schwinn bike
down a Montreal street, about the motorcyclist
who got hit at the intersection
as we were going to a train station,
how he bounced around like a rodeo rider
before going flat. About the girl
who got off the bus at the stop before mine,
got hit by a car, and lay in the road with her leg bent over her head like an exotic dancer.

The Buick that hit me
while I was walking across a street carrying my two-year old son,
and when I came to I was paralyzed and he was dead,
except I wasn’t paralyzed, only to be invalided
in my fifties, and he is alive and well,
only he had night terrors until he was thirty.

I’ll tell you about the IUD’s and being raped at fifteen by an alcoholic drama teacher, about being sent off to Paris
and all the men who asked me what was in my violin case.
Is that a machine gun?
They said it wisely, as if they knew
I could use it on them or vice versa.