(Valentines Day)

it is the first day of the season of snowmelt.
the water rises from the concrete and
slips in through boot seams. i am walking
home from a job i don’t quite hate
and there are people on the sidewalks again,
their jackets unbuttoned hands
without gloves—i see a person’s ears
outside for the first time in months. i know
this is supposed to make me happy.
i wonder if i should stop one of these people
bare faces still all cracked skin
and tell them i’m not doing well. how do you say
it’s the season we remember this city
doesn’t suck, but i think winter
and i grew too close this year. it is only
a feeling. maybe things are going
too well, i just need to be taken down
a notch. maybe my brain is forgetting
to make the right stuff. a friend tells me
if my life was really as great as i say it is
i wouldn’t feel so shitty all the time.
you are feeling how you are feeling
for some reason, she says. my boots
are soaked and i don’t have the patience
for this. my face is salt wet. if anyone asks,
i will blame the trees dripping their melt.
it feels good to pretend anyone might ask.


last light

i am tired of writing angry poems
but you are making it so hard.
i drank four cups of tension tamer tea
yesterday and still i found myself
with my fingers wrapped around
the dog’s ears like yanking a girl’s ponytail.

i am not normally like this. the last light
is still touching the tops of houses
and i have been walking a long time
the key is don’t stop nobody gets away
by being the fastest they do it by staying
in motion. my sweater is too warm
and the wool is drinking in the wet.

i don’t know if i’m punishing you
or myself or the dog trotting beside me.
the snow gets in between his toes
and he hobbles along on three legs
until it melts. imagine that, having no hands
to fix things. just waiting for it to stop.
the sunset i drank it i think because
it’s gone and i have been running a long time

the sweat freezes on the point
of my nose i am lost somewhere
the city buses don’t go. i hope
you missed the last light it tasted
delicious. another cup of tension
tamer tea down and this time i didn’t skimp
on the xanax. i hope you get snow
between your toes.

for a friend

it gets dark too quickly while a past-friend
talks at me over the phone. it is almost incomprehensible
but not quite. i know her girlfriend left her, i know
she has trouble keeping food down i know
i cannot be much help from this far away.
i am not even sure if i could help from across
the table. she says she is on the moon
and i believe her: she has no job no friends
in her city she just sits and thinks herself
into winter bed darkness. she accuses me

of keeping myself busy of keeping myself
to myself, of moving my hands enough
so i don’t have to think myself into anywhere.
i want to tell her it is not a defense mechanism.
i am not afraid to be beneath the blankets alone.
moving your hands makes heat and other bodies

like heat and that is how you find friends. i cannot
keep at it like this. this is the third call
today and my ear hangs from my head like
a corded telephone. she asks me what i would do
if i was in her place. what i can’t say is
i would never be in your place. you have to move
your hands. you have to dress yourself and leave
your bedroom leave your bedroom Amy

get out of there. there is a reason nobody stays
on the moon very long. this is not an avoidance
it is just what people do.

the good stuff (revised)

when i wake to find the dog bowl
filled with the last of the hundred
dollar bourbon, i know it is a chance

for me to face how bad it has gotten.
i have had other chances. i am good
at deciding not today. i am good

i am good at staying underwater at holding
my nose and swallowing i am good i am okay
at other things. it is the art of looking

past myself. if i can just keep socks
in pairs, the dishwasher empty and
the liquor shelf stocked what more

could anyone want? there are enough
excuses to pick a different one for each
person that loves me. i’m just making the most

of my last few years of freedom. it is all about
balance. i eat vegetables most days
and run without stopping. i know my limits.

i focus on checking just enough boxes.
when i burn a hole in the table
lighting spilled moonshine

as a party trick, flower vase becomes
a permanent fixture. sometimes i misplace
a weekend and while i wait for it to show up

i decide if it is gone for good
i might as well lose the whole week.
recently i got packages i didn’t

recall ordering for six days in a row.
it was like i stole my own credit card
and sent myself presents. this way

that i am failing, almost every day now,
this way is not all bad. i still want to make
myself happy. now, make this into a game:

try to remember how the bourbon found
its way into the bowl. i am just keeping
things interesting. i have always

liked puzzles. the bowl is only half full.
i wonder how much the dog drank
where the dog is i wonder if he liked

the good stuff, if i tried to teach him how
to appreciate nice bourbon, how to roll
it around on the tongue like a marble, if

he picked up on the apricot, the oak wood,
molasses. it somehow makes it all
more excusable when you drink good liquor.

this remembering is a tough exercise. i am yelling
the dog’s name into the street. i am checking
the closet, the crawlspace. maybe he is better

without me. i see the night like bodies
through a shower curtain. i am jealous
of how the water shines flesh. instead

of playing the game now i am wishing
i was still so glossy. it is hard to stay
interested in things with no shine.

i cannot get to my mouth in time

i am trying hard to get the vegetables
into the oven on time. i want the table
artfully set when he gets home. i want him
to kiss me and be sure of it. i am wrist deep
in cauliflower, brussels sprouts soaking up
olive oil. the butternut squash fights me
with everything it has – imagine cutting a log
with a kitchen knife. “butternut” is not much
of a warning. the knife slips, cleaves my finger
like ripe fruit i cannot get to my mouth in time.
i wonder how blood tastes with nutmeg, cracked
pepper. i am too slow to avoid the damage.
it is the only red in the bowl. i can smell the iron.
i was going to make chicken, too—but now
there is no choice. i fry a steak on the stove
and mix it in, big pieces of quick seared meat.
blood to disguise blood. i keep one hand
beneath the table as we eat. when the blood
drips onto the floor, the dog takes care of it.
after dinner, he kisses me and is sure of it. 

when it gets too big to hold

when I don’t fuck things up
too badly, just a forgotten dinner
date or maybe a whole chicken
left within the dog’s reach,
i am able to hold the entire apology
in my hands. i offer it up to him:
a cat bearing a dead mouse.
i don’t care where he puts it
as long as he doesn’t give it back.

once i had to carry it slung
across my body for two days because
he stayed angry. it dug
into my shoulders like a burrowing
animal. when he finally accepted,
he asked if the day i spent
on acid in the wisconsin countryside
with another boy, ignoring his phone calls
and breathing in cattail smoke
was worth it. i coughed up seeds for days,
found the fluff gathered in bunches
at the bottom of the sheets.

this time, it is too big to fit
through the door. the frame
is dented from trying. my hands
are more splinter than flesh.
i know i cannot keep it hidden.
i know not even an i’m so sorry
too big to fit through the door
will soften him.


i set a fire in the sink and lay down for a nap.
sometimes a lighter and bits of plastic
are the best way to get a man’s
attention. it was the sink because i wanted him
scared for me for the dog for his precious
things but no real loss, i wanted it close to water.
sometimes he just needs the flame to see
what’s really going on. it was a nap because if i made
a critical mistake, picked an afternoon he decided to stay
late at work or his tire went flat on the way home
then maybe i’d be able to sleep through the whole thing,
through the neighbors hot-faced on their lawns
the dog whining at the door then settling
into an unbreathing smog sleep the trucks
like toys in front of this black cloud.
sometimes i can only tell him in smoke signals.