A Smell

Because of the wind or the time— I know nothing about flowers—
the entire valley smells like something growing. I
have a terrible sense of smell. But
I park and roll down the windows.
My dog sits up and lays down.
It is such a big smell.
Like how mountains have shadows.
I think of everyone I could ask about what the smell is
and if they are knowledgeably smelling the smell.
I make intelligent hypotheses— Sagebrush. Gingko.
I think about writing a poem
and wait for someone to tell me it is a miracle
or a pattern
or something rotting in my car and
no one comes
no one tells me what smell the smell is
or if I should like it anyways
and I drive home
earthy, human, and still.

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On Valentine’s Day: Los Angeles

I saw orange trees in February and they were orange. Juice
rolled down my arms and barely fell to those two sour glasses.
In the morning I found tangerines. The tangerines–

I fell in love with Los Angeles quickly. Like how you smell a smell
like home and suddenly morph to native form and everything
starts to slowly burn. Los Angeles took me,

Reached her heavy elbows up and outward through the gridlock
sent me down to shining water, hazed out every thought I had
of frozen Boston, tired winter —

Barely breathing, whispered names like numbers chanting slowly
one-oh-one-to-two-to-four-oh-five and on–
how I loved the words that stopped the fire –mercy!– that the fire didn’t jump.

She’s a weak conglomeration but oh that simple, eerie twinkle
blinks in cocky affirmation:
Oh hazily singing, oh hazily bright.

That I should double-cross my brick-lain Boston. That I
should leave the rotaries behind and stumble forward to this longing
oh, that I should find a colder, sweeter ocean.

Oh, oh. Los Angeles, you’ve got terrible messes. Seeping detritus. Hot
blues to make me drink like lemonade like chlorine dripping but I
cannot hate the sun for how she holds you. She holds you

so damn closely, curves her fingers under wide-brimmed coast, she
pulls you slowly to the valley, blooms you, shakes you
bleaches out your skin and tans you. Let me light a dirty fire.
I’ll put you out with thumb and finger.

Wharf

His hand is lined as wood and about as hard. What doesn’t go to the city goes to the coast
and what goes to the coast stays there to rot. His hands splintered first, then the rest of his body
cracked. He tells me he speaks at me he throws words at my face
Consider all the terrible things he said consider all the terrible things. His eyes
are old money. I stand here on seam of the city the
dirt that presses right up to the water, spills over. I cannot tell anyone
I cannot tell anyone what I have heard. Boats were once here. All of a sudden I want to swim out
make my body a barge link my foot to a tugboat that sick I’d let it drag me
but I am not a barge and that is a terrible thing. And I can carry nothing and that is a terrible thing
and I’d drown trying. He slumps as if belonging on a cardboard box but indeed he doesn’t.
I hear the creep of the weeds in this city I hear them rooting those
self-starters feeding like mad. I want to break open the asphalt
but I like the asphalt and that is

terrible.
I pull closer to myself. Home’s too round a word now. Round like dens my hands
dig into. Like pockets where fingers at my gut take inventory: Quarter, Penny, Paperclip. Quarter, Penny, Paperclip.
This city is known for its God but I don’t know those people and that is a terrible thing.
Terrible thing is the skyline is sharp where you can see it. He
knows the God of this city was basically born into it. He shields a terrible light with that hand again and
regards my terrible body. Quarter. Penny. Paperclip. I run—
the roads are broken the trees destroy in their dying the docks are empty and in emptiness leaning
I take myself to dirty water Paperclip I throw Quarter Penny
PaperclipPaperclip and my jacket shakes dirty water heavy jacket and my shirt. And my shoes and
my socks and here I am crying
I am crying. No one is coming and that is terrible. No one is coming. I am cold and that is terrible. I am blue
and green so too my shoes and my shirt and they all shake the water and hat and jeans I spread my body
wide into the dock. I knock my body into the dock. My elbows and my knees I dig into the dock.
It splinters me.

The Black Horse

Wind, fragile and joyous, slices through the belfry of the school
to shift heavy snow into ripples like ridged fields behind.
Charlie’s having a cigarette. I haven’t yet found his blush to be
from cold or alcohol. He loves Philippa, the florist.
Must be Pip who puts the rose in his face. They are as kind
as they are insulting, and they’ll be married sarcastically, tenderly in May. It’s not May now;
it’s fragile December, when the heavy first snow is scattered with thin orange sunset
and Charlie is having a cigarette at the foot of the stairs of the Black Horse,
joined by a bald man, eerily drunk, and unjacketed. He speaks with authority of gibberish.
Charlie ducks in, slides off and hangs up the cold smell of smoke on a banister. The rest are warm and smiling,
asking questions, buying rounds. Haydn has easily put Pip behind the bar;
she calls me Puppet and brings me tea. She couldn’t find the sugar,
and I decide that I’ll love her forever. The hunting officer has bought a round; he is new, and he is fair.
He talks with Ben of riding, chasing, dogs, and women. They admire each other with dirty jokes
and rolling conversation. Jemma, newly married and beautiful, leans softly toward conversation.
In a stone fireplace the fake fire nearly feels warm, and atop it the fake wreath nearly smells green.
Unpopped Christmas poppers drape out window sills and there’s a chrysanthemum, unnoticed, in a corner.
Someone tall and chilled ducks in, hugs the bunch, and begins to thaw. My Americanness flows into me,
I lean over my tea.
The carols are round, gentle, and hum in harmony with the conversation beneath them.
The pink has lifted from the snow, and now sits, distant, in the sky. No one is leaving,
and thin traces of foam dry neatly on pints. Metal Reserved tents stack on a side table,
clean and unused. One table is set with wine glasses and folded napkins,
gleaming in posterity. Charlie is patient with the bald man whose emptiness chills me,
and I’ve just caught him saying it’s the loneliness. If not for the cigarettes,
his voice might have thickened through his laugh. The sunset has dozed into purple.
Wouldn’t this be love if you had to find it?
The type that buzzes at near imperception
on each wandering decibel, the type
built from many singing quietly together.
The sky has become dark, and I can hardly spot the schoolhouse bell through the window.
The pub begins to glow from the light above the bar
and I scrawl and sip the tea
that kindles in my belly and spreads. And another carol
tumbles onto the stoop of the Black Horse
where Charlie’s gone out for a cigarette.

Sacrament

How everyone
Every once in a while
Must sit in a room
At a subway station in a shop
Or next to a homeless man on a corner

(The one that yells at you as you pass by SO ANGRY that
Everyone is too scared to drop into​ his cup
For fear of reckoning for fear
Of him calling you WHITE GIRL calling you WARM IN THAT JACKET
Because HE’S NOT WORTH TALKING TO
I KNOW I DON’T DESERVE THOUGHTS he said yesterday)

How sometimes you have to just stand beside a man like that and
Think of stars
And dusty planets

How huge we are for being so rare
So absolutely incredible
This whole thing
Isn’t there a god? Shouldn’t there be?

How absolutely fraught

How absolutely fraught everything is.
Nothing
I mean— I couldn’t make a strong case for life if you asked me to.
And poetry- fuck. How dare we write it. The little thing.
What bubbling words do we think carry
Why tape wings to flecks why spin a seed to see if it flies? It
mostly doesn’t fly. I’m throwing balls of mud over hedges. This isn’t worth anyone’s time
But what is
if not some stars
because they’re out tonight in Boston and they aren’t always.
and there’s something about my tiredness blurs the light through my eyelashes
and I’m noticing the thickness of the air.
I remember watching a video of Maya Angelou. She cried.
I cried with her. It’s all nothing.
The world doesn’t need us but we need us, and damn a sky’s better
with a few quiet stars.

Dammit, Al.

Fuck
This.
It was a gray and sideways day and I was fine
And the radio was skipping into some sort of language:
And — allegations – and — sexual —, Al…
Damn. We’re done for.

And I forgot what I’d been hoping for.
I was driving through Upstate New York and it was cold as fuck
And now Al,
Like almost everyone, has done this.
I know I claim to have some goddamn facility with language
But I’m not scripting. It’s not fine.

She and she and she and she and she aren’t fine
And she’s fighting for whatever else we all else are fighting for
But damn I didn’t think we’d too our side too would pull that sort of slippage
My side too could hurt someone too could maybe not fuck,
But hurt; are they all like this?
I thought you were a good one, Al.

I had so much faith that you weren’t broken, Al.
But somehow it makes it so much less fine
That you, too, were fine doing this
That there are women you won’t stand up for
Because we needed you standing kindly we needed you in the conversation FUCK
We needed you it’s your language.

It’s your language.
These are your letters, it’s your place after all,
And you were the one not afraid to say “Fuck,”
And call them out on all the shit that wasn’t just fine
And you were the one I was waiting for
You were the one that was supposed to stop this

But you didn’t stop this.
For all your learning, you got lost in speaking your dumb language.
That’s all you will be known for.
You let us down, Al.
In your walking of that line,
You just didn’t give enough of a fuck.

Even all this fucking garbage, Al,
And all this manhandling of language to slide behind and redefine and redefine and redefine,
I’m mad most that you now hesitate.
It’s awful, but it’s not gray.
Fuck off for fuck’s sake.