In Which Panama Al and The Poet Float

When Al and I were kids,
my mom used to take us to the outskirts of town
where Jean Cocteau taught swimming lessons in his
above-ground pool. Of all his pupils, we were

the most adept floaters. The art of floating involved
craving the touch of other people with wet skin –
it was a prenatal familiarity, Al and I feeling each other
from the womb, and Cocteau catching our mistakes.

Panama Al and I practiced diving, too.
It was a way of wielding the water, floating
and diving, blanketing and slicing
with the perfect lines of our bodies,

a way of reaching the bottom of the pool
where we knew we’d find the heart of it all
beating and bleeding out next to the filter.
After the lesson was through, Cocteau waded

in just above his shoulders and floated with us
down the length of the pool on our backs,
floated with our elbows touching.
Al and I were like floating islands, me

in a bright pink tankini, he in his boxing trunks,
and Jean Cocteau was a hand moving across
the body, reading the braille of the water,
reading that one of us would find the heart one day,

that it would be me, warm in my fist,
while Panama Al tapdanced in Paris
wondering how a heart could still go on
without water.

 

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The Fight

I am like you too in that I bleed from both my heart and my mouth.

And like a handshake, I slammed The Face of Panama Al Brown into a corner at the beginning of the sixth round, and the shattering of his teeth cried Try, always try.

After the fight, they all said I was flying now into the sky, propelled by the elastic waistband around my satin shorts. The Poet was a champion. The Poet was a slingshot.

Al Brown (for now he had lost even his Panamanian title) went back to Paris, and they said like a skeleton he was turning thin and white.

And Jean Cocteau, speaking in all the dead languages of the world at once, cried
Let’s hang him on the wall!

Play Ball

The day they tore down Texas stadium,
we all watched it on little salt-and-pepper tvs,

and we forgot the first time
we dove into the community pool in the middle of summer

when heat stroke stole our best men and children,
how we cried in our dayglo floaties

and all the capillaries in our cheeks filled with hot blood
and screamed right in the face

of those chlorine bubbles.

We all saw it, but quickly turned away
and we felt like it was the first time going to church,

surprised by the part
where everyone shakes hands for all the hard times,

for all the sad times, for all the power ballads
ricocheting around every time the Cowboys lost

and we found ourselves hitting on
or getting hit on at some other

peanut-filled mausoleum.

We were all in the middle of feeling
the lines in each other’s palms,

when suddenly we realized
that cement could be broken open

like the peal of the cowbell,
that football – that great slapping of asses –

would never be played again,
that somewhere in the tiny metropolis

we all were torn into, another colossus
would spring up

closer to death.

 

Brothers

Brothers

I have two hearts. One is in the usual spot behind my ribcage, but the other lies there between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, hating the first and its prime position, where everybody looks, and the two press upon one another like brothers in bed wrapped in the same single sheet.

The beating is what bothers me most, because one goes and then the other and it rocks me from left to center as if my body were a crib, as if my arms were the curved parts and my head the mobile spinning its curling planets high above my red, veiny children

The first is loud. It bleeds and cries and pumps its fat little fists in the night. It tears up the pink and white bed I so carefully made for it. It gathers up all the blood for itself and drools plasma everywhere and doesn’t share.

But the other coos in its bed of bone, burying its little hands in my spine.

And it cries in its bed unknown, and it feels it.

 

The Milkweed

some open parts
some snaking hairs shining green and oily
some of good and evil
some of in and out
some reaching up
some caressing with their rounded tips
some open cradle of a face
some vulnerable concavity of a cupped hand
sometimes full of thick froth
some tendrils broken off pushing out a white hot leak
some lips crunching underfoot as if
somewhere
some of them were dying as
some seasons do
someone opening
someone prying, really,
some fingernail digging at the seam
some to tear out, to lift out
some scaly soft reproduction
some belly full of milk
some memory bubbling inside of that mouth of
some springtime rendezvous between
some rapacious bee and
some insatiable stalk
some birth like
some jumping of white fish from
some creamy scar in the water
some cracking of a dry shell
someday like a great socket of bone
some spreading of seas for
some seeds flying like Israelites into
some paradise of air
some child of silk

sleeping as she grows

 

The Answering

Our answering machine plays back
the voices of our dead.

It lies on the table
cold and humming.

Dust from its speaker
settles in the light.

The tape spins forward.
Sometimes it stops.

They say it’s not possible
to separate meaning from sound —

the way she makes her i’s into ah’s,
whispers inside of death’s mouth —

Play her back
like you did when she lived

and poured coffee for you
in the morning when the sun

lit her fingers and her hair
was bright in the steam of it.

Play her back.
Her sounds are small.

They crackle in a form unlike her.

SNOW DAY

The Grocery Store in December

A little past midnight, the cats begin to call from their burn barrel beds, and from the back of the parking lot you’ll hear a marching coming from the cracks in the linoleum

And then they emerge – the employees. They drag out of the pale yellow lights, the letters B-A-G-N-S-A-V-E flickering beneath neon eyelids. With newly-popped zits at their chins and the inventory list hanging black and blue in their hands, they finger the ropes.

They are sailors, calloused as the day they began slicing rotten produce.

They are felons, lining up the row.

They are husbands, tying lover’s knots to keep her still.

They are junkies searching for the main liner.

They are many as executioners as coils in the knot. And they wind, and they wind,

hanging the Christmas trees by their necks in a line outside the store.

 

The Death Within

Imagine Jean Cocteau

: he has gold teeth and his fingers are fatter than you remembered, or maybe it’s just the fact that he’s got rings on every finger, choking the skin around his joints, separating them into little gold bullets

: a ring for every skinny Latin boy he bought in his days as boxing manager.

Imagine now, Panama Al Brown

: Alphonse is no heavyweight; if he were a Boxer, as in
the dog, as in

: a dog who roughed up other dogs, as in

: one of two dogs circling one another in the back garage of a mechanic shop,

he’d be the throat muscles torn open at the source.

Imagine me, the teeth

: I am barely his breed, this Panama Al, sitting across from me in his corner of the ring

: I see his paws are wet and his sides are heaving,

and he probably guesses about now
that his manager – the man writing – is in fact writing, as in
out his story in sweat, as in
throwing the fight, as in
counting his numbers, as in

whispering in my ear –

“on the one hand, son, he’ll be dead, and glad for your mercy,

on the other hand, he’ll be dead.”

 

In Which Panama Al Brown Wakes Up

On this particular morning,
the rain turns the world to lavender.
And on this particular morning,
Panama Al Brown,
Cocteau’s famous flyweight,
walks into the dining room
of my parents’ house
without his boxing gloves on.

In the night, my mother
had slipped them off his ashy fists,
thinking he could not dream
properly with them on.

She is currently frying them
for him
in the pan into which I dropped
the day I left the sea of her womb
twenty-one years ago, and the day
Panama Al kissed the canvas
beneath his own mother.

Panama Al Brown sits down at the table and
lays down his lids
on the kitchen floor,
whispering a prayer
to their black underbellies.

Kneeling beside him,
I remind him that
we are all skeletons in the ground,
trying to reverse what is natural –

it is enough to remember your golden gloves,
or the taste of their leather
as it expands inside of you.