The Liver Sutra

The Liver Sutra

                   For George K.

 

While contemplating a dish of liver

and silver dollars, I suddenly discovered

the only way out of my mother’s bramble patch.

 

Listen, George. Poetry 

is hogwash, but hogwash 

is what makes the sun

so goddamn poetic in the first place.

 

Not ferns, not apple blossoms

yet every poet knows that all ferns

ARE apple blossoms, bless them.

Not cars or ottomans, not secrets or orgasms,

not Walt Whitman or even a perfect

roast goose.

 

Listen. I’ve been writing with my liver

again. It’s clean now. I took it out

and scrubbed it on Mama’s washboard

until all the shit came out in one big heap.

 

My liver is poetry, George. 

And poetry is the only thing that seems to have survived

an attack by bees. I loved those bees.

Those bees were my liver, goddammit.

 

Listen here now.

I’ve counted forty-two types of bees

since I got out of that bramble patch,

sixteen lizards, one hundred eighty-two fingers,

and a single moth. Just one of those little bastards.

Weird, huh?

 

Did you see that same moth?

If you did, could you shake him by the liver

until he is all empty inside?

Until he is both my liver and a swarm of bees?

Until he is neither?

If you could do that, 

then I think you’d understand

all there is to understand 

about brambles and poetry.

 

George. Listen.

 

                                                                            Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha

A Poem to Welcome Fall

When the world has gone to sleep,

And you my dear are alone in your bed

Bundled in cotton and smelling of soap,

 

When it’s all around dark and still

And the only sound you hear

Is the air warmed by your lips,

 

                    Perhaps a cricket or two,

                    Or maybe a lonely cicada 

                    Still searching for a mate,

 

When your eyes, so heavy now

From the events of the day,

Drift slowly closed,

 

And you curl up your legs

To your chest, as if to draw

The sleep itself into your body,

 

Let your last, drifting thought

Be like the leaf outside your window

As it readies itself to fall finally down

 

And begin a new life.

Unfinished. Abandoned.

​But what if there is no answer? We cannot hope to find it if we don’t know what we’re seeking, and half of our world is blind anyway. An eye sees only what is behind it, what has already happened and cannot be undone. Only a question remains, and we are without the satisfaction of knowing where it is leading us.

The man in the coffee shop claims to know the answer. He says seeking the right question is useless. The answer has always been right in front of us. He says all roads lead to spring under the shade of a maple tree. That all clocks tell us not what time it is but what time it will be when we get to where we are going. 

“Oh Anneliese . . .”

Oh Anneliese, tonight I am overcome with love for you. When the clock strikes nine, I hear the beat of your Bavarian heart, and my own heart travels through decades hoping to find you as you were. You say everything about us is vanity, and I know more than anyone your need to suffer, but the cruelty of this world is not without redemption. We starve ourselves of love like it were food in the midst of a prolonged fast, and we forget that nothing can ever take away our spirit unless we hand it over willingly. Do not atone for the misdeeds of youth. Do not lay down and die for the lack of a priest’s hand on your forehead. Eat. Drink. Allow yourself to be at rest knowing the world will continue, and you will continue, so long as July is always over the horizon, and I am waiting to come with you into the light of creation. 

  •  

Anneliese Michel was the inspiration behind the movies Requiem and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. She died on July 1, 1976—the day I was born. Read about her here.

“It is always the same . . .”

It is always the same. In the dream I open my chest, extract a heart two sizes too big. It is dark. I work by the light of a candle that sits in a shallow dish on the far side of the room. When I am done, I pack the empty cavity with lye, sawdust, and an old cocoon I found in my desk. After this, the wound is easy to close. A few passes with a shoelace, and any evidence of what just happened is barely noticeable. I place the heart on a scale to measure the amount of grief, if any, I have been able to remove. It reads two years, then flashes six months before going blank and refusing to give any more answers. Unsatisfied, I open a window hoping the night wind will carry away the smells of lavender, ink, and fresh paint that have lived for too long in my anima. Instead, a crow flies into the room, takes hold of the heart still on the scale, and disappears into the darkness. I wake with a start and clutch my chest—looking for new scars.

Interior Design

Interior Design

When the sun has gone,
passed finally over
a horizon
you will never
yourself reach
even if you could,
and your world
is once again
immersed in something
resembling the dim hush
of a life in repose,
the day’s events
replay in your mind.

A word not spoken,
a misstep, an injury,
the touch of a woman,
the scent of a thought
gone but for some
stubborn resolve–
memories stacked
like old furniture
in your head.
So you count each chair,
each lamp,
each shelf full
of either regret
or delight.

You try to arrange
those thoughts
so they will appear
as a room decorated
for visitors and not
full of decayed things
tossed in without care,
waiting for a time
that will never come
when you are ready
for them
simply
to be discarded.

“Sometimes there are too many doors . . .”

Sometimes there are too many doors.
They fill the room,
open and shut in random patterns,
switching places when no one is looking.
Some half-open in the morning,
shutting at night, then revealing a crack
just before dark fills the room.
Some are camoflauged as walls,
some as clocks, some as bottles
of gin on the carpet.

If I take my door,
and you take your door,
and we rub them against each other,
would it reveal those masked doors?
Do away with the others
cluttering this space?
Sometimes there are just too many doors.
And I am afraid I will never know
the correct pattern of opening and closing
that shows me the way home.

Twenty-Four Steps

Twenty-Four Steps

for R.S.

 

Today on the avenue I saw a stone suspended in a tree. I pulled it down, and cradling it in my hands I saw your face etched into the surface. I placed it in my breast pocket and walked to the park bench where once you told me about a monster who lives among the leaves surrounding your heart. It had been painted since the last time we were there, but I could still make out traces of the poem we tried to write on it in twenty-four steps. As I strained to piece the words back together, rearrange them, obliterate some, trying to finish the message, the weight of the stone in my pocket became heavier. I laid under its weight on the bench, and only then did I remember that it was me who had placed it high in the tree limbs so long ago—cast away carelessly as one would a lone glove. In that moment, I felt its immensity for us both before standing and walking finally home. The stone now lives on my shelf. I placed it next to a picture of your right hip—the one that spoke of the paradox of volatile remedies. It will remain there as enduring as bones arranged and set in resin.

A man dies . . .

A man dies. His body lies cold and stiff on a floor. A window has been left open, and a crow enters hoping it will be able to take a piece of the man for itself before the body is claimed. The crow pecks at an ear. Once it has removed the lobe, the crow backs away and preens its feathers. It swallows the ear, and its eyes begin to grow. They grow until they are too large for the skull to hold them, and the crow’s eyes erupt from the skull. From the sockets emerges a child who has been hiding from the darkness. Its hands reach out from the hollows, and it tries to grasp the dark as the sun goes down on the living. It grows. The crow splits down the middle, and the child lays covered in blood and black feathers. The child takes a feather from the floor and draws a circle around itself. The circle glows and then bursts into flames as the child places its face on its knees and holds its ears against the roar of the fire. The flames die. The child stands, stretches, and examines itself in the new light. It reaches down and grasps the crow’s beak in its hand. It looks once at the window before turning toward the door and walking through.

A man reclines . . .

A man reclines, tilts back his head, and his neck opens at the throat. From it emerges a beetle. It crawls past his chest and begins to work at his stomach. It works at his stomach, and it opens, and it reveals a coin he swallowed when he was young. On it is the face of a Roman emperor long obscured. He takes the coin, inserts it into the abdomen of the beetle. The beetle shudders and is then still. It is still, and the man places it in his mouth. He understands what is happening. He feels the thorax on his tongue and remembers the taste of his stomach. He chews, and his esophagus fills with legs. They begin to grow. The legs grow and emerge from his throat spreading out like roots surrounding his neck. When the legs cover his face, he stands and faces a mirror. The mirror shows the face of a Roman emperor long obscured. The man sits and is satisfied.

New Standard

New Standard

The Book of Genesis

In the beginning was the poem. And the poem was infinite. 

A garden of yes and soon, every stanza ended in an ellipsis promising daily renewal. 

Each morning began with a kiss on the ear from the freshly-molted moth. 

The breeze carried on it the smell of eternal.

The ground was awash with pure language spelling constant messages of possibility and hope. 

Bliss grew on the limb of every tree, every animal, every poet waiting to blossom.

The Book of Exodus

And the pen became as a serpent. 

The language of frogs rained upon the surface on the Earth. 

Yes no longer grew in the garden, and the sky thundered with cries of no more.

The poem turned on itself and parted down the center. 

Dying to escape this, the moth placed down a period and set itself against the sun. 

And the word became a desert. 

The Book of Revelations 

When the light of the word returned, the Earth shook and burst into flames. 

After the fire died, all that remained was until and perhaps.

The old poem was consumed and reformed into budding syllables. 

The moth ceased to be a moth and became as a memory of a wing. 

A single blade of grass grew where once there was a garden and then a desert. 

And the wind began to compose a song of new life. 

The Secret Language of Insects

The Secret Language of Insects

 

What a beautiful song

it is, the sound made

when two legs rub

against each other.

 

When this happens,

the night hears,

acknowledges

by disguising the sound

as a chirr in the dark.

 

It knows the language

should be hidden

in resonant discord.

It is not meant for anyone

but its creators.

 

And only when the night

blacks out the eyes

can the limbs take over

without effort

or expectation,

the contact made pure,

the melody sing clearly.

 

Only then does the friction

between the two

sing a refrain,

a message

from each to the other—

You are not alone.

I am here and will be

always.

Poem Written After Sending You “We Have,” by René Char

Poem Written After Sending You “We Have,” by René Char

Poetry begins in our chest, spreads out like lavender, engrossing our bodies until reaching out in an attempt to feel the rest of the world.

I want to be the calyx of your esophagus.

A pupae, which I placed secretly inside you, grows steadily warmer, waiting for the day when the right poem will emerge from the cocoon, so it can become a moth.

That poem will have a spot on its wing in the shape of your eye—blue with one brown stripe revealing itself from a cold, black center.

Perhaps you could rub the poem between your hands and hold them out for me to smell.

The moth inside you will stay there, because he knows your body is his home, just as a poem knows exactly for whom it is written.

Until then, the pupae grows. The poem waits to be written, and I wait for the secret language of insects to reveal itself.

Until then, I want the smell of irises in my nostrils. I want your eye to be a spot on the left side of what may become a wing.

Until then, I want everything we touch to be poetry.

Poem Written in a Dream

Poem Written in a Dream

 

It was like swimming in a dictionary.

 

Language itself drifted

through my eyes.

Consonant waters pushed

back my hair

to the base of my tongue.

 

In the dream,

there was blue,

and skin,

and brush and black.

Simultaneous and perfect.

 

And the dead did not lie

face-down on a concrete floor

but moved like letters

joined in endless harmony

with waves of sound.

 

I saw being nothing

and everything.

I saw it through

the breast of a red-haired girl

and the hand of a poet

whom I once thought

held the answer

to how to float

a cornea

in a dish of saltwater.

 

I smelled the sound

of loss

and felt my vocabulary

dilute the knot

keeping my arm

from straightening the line

between my mouth

and the belly

of an impossible sentence.

 

To know the taste

of a new tongue,

you must dream constantly

of pale skin

and old speeches

meant to circumnavigate

the inside of a woman’s mouth.

Not just any woman,

but a woman born

with a half-arm and known

for turning water

into unmerciful sorrow.

 

Never at rest

even when dreaming

of movable type,

I swam in my bed

and splashed adjectives

in my sleep.

This night, I moved

and kept moving

through the language.

 

Finally, I dreamed of a message

in a bottle,

a perfect utterance

held safely adrift

through liquid night.

 

But in the morning,

savaged by glass teeth,

corrupt as an ex-lover,

their letters

a smear, the words became

only water,

when the bottle broke.