I'm from houses on hillsides,
rivets in bridges and a tunnel's
stunned mouth. From tiny rivulets
spilling into rivers trey or
the spray behind the Good Ship Lollipop.
From fragrant trees lining
a double-wide Shadyside boulevard,
a group of students earning
the steep grade of Mountain Ave.
or a back alley's cobblestone truth.
I'm from snow caps on city steps
and rock salt crunching underfoot,
from ice floes in the Allegheny,
mills along the Monongahela,
or insolent islands in the Ohio.
From behind Isaly's deli counter,
under the Kaufmann's clock,
one of fifty-seven Varieties
on a green pickle pen.
I'm from Falling Water and
Rolling Rock, from hoagies,
pierogies and chipped chopped ham.
I’m from charred on the outside,
but ruddy on the inside.
From a fountain that billows
at the confluence of dirty work,
clean sweat and hard desire.
From inclined rails slanting above
an abandoned warehouse and
the creaking descent of a cabled car,
from a furnace's 20 ft. flames
and a cauldron's white hot hiss.
I'm from triangular towers
and plate glass cathedrals,
from soot staining
forty-two Neo-Gothic stories
and smoke stinging eyes downwind.
From Penn's Woods and
Mr. Roger's neighborhood.
From a strong arm rifling
balls from the right field wall,
spittle jarred by a stiff tackle,
or a crust of blood on a busted lip.
From the body of a rusted trolley car
or a tugboat bullying a barge,
from below a skull's hard hat
and above a skeleton of girders,
from the bluff over the river,
the gorge beneath the span,
the mist off the lock and dam.
I’m from a current
through the valley
of the shadow of steel.
HOW I BECAME A POET
At the age of five I saw words
dancing like daffodils in a downpour,
turning my heart like a Lazy Susan.
I could feel that iambs were woolly but not white,
and knew that even inside nursery rhymes
there were waves of sheer darkness.
At thirteen I thought words mere vandals
scrawling slogans on the walls of the world,
even though some coiled inside me like cobras.
At eighteen I knew that
when the heart sang, the mouth closed,
since desire denied was my lone truth.
At twenty-five I wondered if words
could rise to greet us in the great beyond,
the holy ones swimming around the head like heat?
Was it true there was no notice in the mail to wait for,
no permission to give or get.
At thirty I wondered if it would be flagrant
to listen for the fluttering wings
of speech while silent walls surrounded.
If outside these closed windows, other open windows . . .
Then, one Sunday afternoon
while sitting at a chess table in Dupont Circle
locked into the logic of ‘If I do this, then he does that'
My opponent pointed westward down P Street
to rapidly advancing rain clouds.
He feared a dark menace moving in to drench.
But in a sudden summer storm,
I saw black clouds billowing
like dust behind charging Knights,
heard in the call and response of flash and boom,
a Bishop blessing the communion
between White openings and Black endings.
Baptized in this rain of revelations,
cool against the skin as a quick wind
sending black rooks flying,
I tasted the Word's hidden tingle,
and my new tongue unleashed like lightning
across a blank page of startled sky.
WHAT I CRAVE
The arch in her foot,
the tender architecture
of its bridge.
The curve of
shading the quiet irises.
The slope of her nose
above the X-Y coordinates
of a possible kiss.
of an elbow bent
into "Greater than."
The tulip where
the tongue is supposed to be.
like a slice of honeydew
above her house.
The five part harmony
of each hand,
the sense her chin makes.
(And how many people
enchanted by the
on the right side
of her upper lip,
do you think,
over the years?)
To brush like a breeze
around her neck
light as an empty tray
with the liquid
desperation of a spilled drink.
The view of her collarbone
from a cup of straws,
the packets of raw sugar
in the bowl of her lower back.
The beginning handshape
of her 'Hello'.
A chance to see
the body's ballet
in its entirety,
of the spine unwinding
into the calculus
of liquid hips.
The tongue as
a runner rounding
the curve of her calf.
The whistled blues
of empty bottles
tuned to a skin tone
smooth as the sin
dissolved in vodka.
the soft walkway
of her lips,
in the mouth
of a brown girl,
as she leaves work.
HOW I SPLIT MY TONGUE
I have always loved
to say 'acetaminophen.'
A wizened woman
once told me
that some words
in the mouth.
Can be held
on the tongue
like a nib of licorice.
that can be chewed
for medicinal value.
the blood pressure
or fatigue the heart.
some cause bleeding.
Her name is a word
in a language
I cannot yet speak.
I say it now
as a yearning
in my tongue.
Some say Desire
Her name is
I lick it
from my stained lips.
A rare sweet root,
it can be added
to certain sentences
to mask bitterness.
The pharmacist says
boiled into an extract,
it could alleviate
even the barking cough
Her name rhymes
will it relax
the hard muscle
of this heart,
spill from my mouth,
in a crimson robe.
I am a monk,
in the dark cave
of the heart,
Seven Things I Should Have Said Before You Left
Your voice steeped fragrant as loose leaf Darjeeling,
brown bits of cinnamon stick on my tympani,
most nights I dug its squall of sudden spice.
And any bag, even silk, was too much restraint.
Given time, the bend of The Butterfly Position
(insistence banging the bottom of the bundle)
gears shifting like a manic derailleur
probably could have cured your scoliosis.
I never liked your girlfriend with the organic perfume,
that protracted eyebrow, a geometric sneer,
knew she was orange juice on a sore throat,
afterbirth on ice, dripping all night.
I came home early that weekend from Chicago,
saw her feral hands clasp your jagged gasps.
The camcorder wasn't the only thing turned on.
I fapped to the tape at least once a week.
I never enjoyed the sound of slapping you.
But what else would we have done for rhythm?
After nights of Neapolitan, vanilla is a prison,
even if French, with flecks of exotic beans.
When you angled the just oiled pistol
and proclaimed "Either we say 'I do',
or I shall have to kill myself."
I thought, "Well, I'm going to miss you."
Why I’m Alone this Valentine’s Day
You pull back freshly twisted locks,
wondering why I love Earl Grey so much,
and what it would take
for me to crave you that way,
as I sip a mug of loose leaf tea
steeped for exactly 3 minutes,
then blessed with three teaspoons of sugar
and a splash of Half and Half.
I think of standing downwind from
Latricia Johnson’s porch
as her mother sat with her
and combed ruler straight parts
into her caramel scalp
then dipped French manicured fingers
into an aquamarine, bubble-filled jar
with a distinctive smell.
How one Friday night
at a quarter party in the rec
behind the basketball court
I summoned up enough courage
to ask her for a dance.
After all these years,
I can’t figure out why she said yes
Knowing that I had less rhythm
than a grandfather clock with no pendulum.
Bobby DeBarge’s first tenor
Spiraled out of the component set in the corner
And even if the stern hand of Alzheimer’s
One day washes the chalkboard of my memory
Clean as the first day of school,
I’ll never forget the bow in the strings
Of her yellow halter top or
the back pocket of her Chic jeans
Sliding across my shocked palms
As we shuffled awkwardly to the first verse of
‘I Call Your Name.’
How I asked her if she wanted to "switch"
dance partners and she didn’t get the joke
but my nose was too deep in her
bergamot scented tresses to notice.
I savor the last drop,
turn to you and say