Crossroads, 3:17 a.m.
when my friends are all sleeping
I have only this empty
map, & the hints the air chants.
Out here: there are beasts
who vanish behind bare trees,
who leave behind nothing
but their eyes -- eyes that change
colors, greens and grays dirty
as dogs under a December moon.
Out here: there are stories
about brothers who get lost
in the big woods, whose faces look
like fallen leaves. There is us,
falling down the street that leads
to school, falling into the dust
the roses grow from. Out here:
there are always old women,
and they are always carrying scissors
in their big woven baskets, always
ready to cut whatever string you offer,
no matter whose fate it is holding together.
Out here: if someone stops you
on the street they must want something,
& that something always has to do with flames
& how to keep them burning, even
in winter. even in rain. even when the air
is damp with snow & its laughter.
New Jersey as land of wolves and owls
New Jersey as one hundred homecomings
New Jersey as wool-colored fog that eats up everything that isn’t neon & dancing
New Jersey as men holding cigars on dense streets crammed with smog
New Jersey as your left nipple popping out of your bra
New Jersey as maze of highways wreathed in blue & crowned with vultures, red-tailed hawks
New Jersey as land of claws & fangs & deep fields of grass that stumble onto the side of the highway
New Jersey as fields of soft dirty ice
New Jersey as blondhairblueeyes slapping you in the face at lunch in the cafeteria in front of all your friends
New Jersey as gilded Chinese restaurant surrounded by silver Escalades
New Jersey as mall stabbings as a result of failed car jackings
New Jersey as hip replacements & the tumor scraped from inside your eyelid
New Jersey as la cucina la cucina la cucina
New Jersey as preserved farmlands & biotech conglomerates & fields coated in dogwood petals
New Jersey as lasagna
as pillars of salt
as museum filled only with trees
New Jersey as house haunted
New Jersey as fast food wrappers dropped into cursed ponds
New Jersey as tiny creature crying
New Jersey as getting lost at the circus & becoming the ringmaster
New Jersey as children slipping into gaping lakes
New Jersey as being in love with a white-feathered man you met at the bottom of the hill where you were born
New Jersey as billboards beside houses and houses beside houses beside smoke shops beside churches next to pizza joints that don’t open til midnight
New Jersey as reality where every telephone pole is a direct line to the blank space around the moon
New Jersey as cloud of falling cranes & the sound their wings make hitting pavement
New Jersey as when you knew the names of all your neighbors & exactly which eyes belonged to each tree
New Jersey as continual exodus & place where nothing is asked of you
New Jersey as the people who move in when you move out
New Jersey as the knowledge that everyone is always leaving, walking backwards through the garden, one hand thrust up and pointing
towards the sound
Promises for Suburban Girls
To the wool-eyed girls born on Magnolia Lanes & Mayflower Drives
& other streets with names like cherries bursting in your mouth:
I will always wash the dirt off your shoulders, & I will always feel
like someone older is watching, & chanting us into ugliness.
In life girls are never lucky.
Your mother will tell you you’re too dark; my mother will praise
my child body’s slenderness, the bones poking quietly through skin.
I will equate my absence with goodness,
& you will start looking for light.
Who are we in flared jeans & puppydog shirts & sequined ribbons
Who are we when we are older & learning the other way to protect ourselves
Who carries the fruit home from the orchard and what is the song he sings
Who places the seeds across my cheeks, closes my eyes,
takes out his shovel and digs