Assisted Living

— from Assisted Living

Origen de Las Dos Fridas

I must have been six years old when I had the intense
experience of an imaginary friendship with a little girl.

—Frida Kahlo in her diary, 1950

When your family threw open the balconies
on La Calle de Allende, welcoming
wounded Zapatistas with corn gorditas—

When polio seized you in its grip
like a lover, shriveling your leg
to a whittled stick—

When the streetcar crushed your
spine and spirit, the handrail puncturing
your womb like a matador’s sword—

When the doctor locked you inside
an orthopedic corset until you colored
your plaster cage with desire—

When Diego—tu accidente sugundo—
set you on fire and watched you burn till you
sought the kind of love he hadn’t earned—

When—as a girl—you huffed your pane
of glass and drew a door to our world
where we danced beneath cedron trees—

I was there—hovering like a storm
cloud on canvas—real as your own gaze.

I was your father’s vertigo—the strokes
that dulled you mother—your weakness
for a liter of aged tequila—your other.

I was the gold exploding from the artisan’s
pouch in the crash—powder sooting
your blood as it seeped the streets.

I was each of the three blank pages
in your diary—and the entries you
yanked like hairs at the root.

I was the country you loved
to love—baroque and broken like
the body you gilded in ribbons and chains.

I was everything you ever wanted
a painting and a man to be:
beautifully brutal, brutally honest.

I was the jangling of your bulbous
jewels announcing your arrival in every
room like an omen—or a promise.

— from Ancilla

Poe’s Last Letter, Abridged

from Edgar Allan Poe’s letter to Maria Clemm, Sept. 18, 1849. This letter—or another written on the same date—is believed to be Poe’s final correspondence

Love        is


but         fear

with                a       name

&       address

I   will        marry


my          own



— from Ancilla

Dear Winged

The opposite of water,
lighter than dried ink, thinner
than a garlic bulb’s paper

skin. The thought before
we think, echo set adrift,
white silk ribbon unraveling

on an unexpected gift.
Cacophony of moths. Fragile
as egg shells – and as strong.

The way we leave this
place. The only grace note
in our only song.

— from Distant Glitter


After Eamon Grennan’s ‘Start of March, Connemara’

You ask how the gulls find the right angle in the gale,
how they adapt to the current and let it take them

the way they were going. I could ask the same of you:
how do you find thumbed and wind-scumbled,

thrusting them together like lost lovers,
letting them glance off each other, polished stones

on our tongues? Or glitterwings making their mark,
a dance linguists call the fricative,

a word I love because it is what it means,
unlike palindrome, which resists mirroring itself

and sends me, instead, to a girl I knew in college,
the one from Glenelg – g-l-e-n-e-l-g, the same

forward and back. She had hips that looked good
in boy jeans and a way of making the professor

believe she’d done the reading when she hadn’t
even bought the book. Do you see what just happened,

how I started in your lyrical world of shorelines
and wave-peaks and wound up recording

slumber party giggles through a thin wall? Your gulls:
maybe they don’t harness the wind after all.

Maybe they give in to each gust and forsake their plans,
having learned long ago to want what they have.

— from Dislocation and Other Theories

What Every Poet Should Know About Natural Selection

When the editor
of a prestigious
British journal read
an advance copy
of Charles Darwin’s
Origin of Species,
he found the focus
too narrow.
Write a book
about pigeons
he told Darwin.
has an interest
in pigeons

— from Too Much of This World


My daughter wants to take
a framed oil painting to school,

a nude with loose breasts and a belly
ripe as the full moon. Why? Because

we’re studying frogs, she says,
and it’s a frog. I cock my head

to consider the angle of the draped arm
but can’t get past the female form.

My daughter, though, is swimming
in amphibians, bringing home

scribbled pictures of tadpoles sprouting
splayed feet. At night, she sleeps

in the bedroom I painted pink,
her shelves lined with confectionary

teapots and cups. By day, she wants
to be her brother when she grows up.

Lately, she’s morphed into
a creature who’d rather squirm free

than be held. O, how we see what we
want to see. My daughter, looking at

a nude, sees a frog for show-n-tell.
I look at her and see myself.

— from Dislocation and Other Theories

Click here to listen to Garrison Keillor read “Amphibious” on The Writer’s Almanac.

Word Problem (1)

If a vehicle is traveling 55 miles per hour
on a 400-mile trip, and a 4th-grade girl
with a tear-shaped mole on her left cheek
factors in two rest stops and a lunch break
on a rickety fishing pier, how many
hours will it take her to realize she’s
an artist, not an idiot? How many years?

— from Word Problems

In An Article on Freud, I Misread “Erratic Detours” As “Erotic Detours”

On Libidinal Lane, everyone swallows
jokes about joy rides and burning
rubber. Cherry-red signs say Stop
on one side, Don’t on the other. There are
miles of soft shoulders ahead. Don’t think
about how late you are for work.
Don’t think about your mother.

— from Word Problems

Science of Desire

There is a fine
line between causal
and casual.
Her spaghetti strap
hesitates on her
shoulder like
an unanswered
question. He is
thinking lingerie
is the perfect
word: linger
all dolled up
in French perfume.
Linger with
an attitude.
Linger like the
finger that will
help her silk camisole
make up its mind.
Something more
powerful than
inertia is at work
here, something
more than gravity
itself, as if
Mrs. Fuller’s
chalkboard eraser
never smacked
the wall or plunged
to the floor
in a cloud of dust,
as if even now,
decades later,
it’s suspended mid-
air in that stale

He would marry
Inertia. He would
father Inertia.)
The solar system,
too, is still
propelled by some
unspeakable momentum;
the worms continue
to sluice elaborate
threads only to have
them scraped away.
Do they weep?
Did Charlemagne,
after irreparable
damage to his ilk,
have any regrets?
Would the tightrope
walker, paralyzed
from the neck down,
have it any other

Once at the Bronx
Zoo he watched
a snake slide right
out of its skin
without looking back.

He’s seen grown men
leave their children.

He’s familiar with
the least resilient
of all fibers.
Steamed or pressed,
it can never be reshaped:
silk has no memory.

— from Science of Desire