I’ve been doing a lot of work this last month on ordering the poems in my new manuscript–a task I always enjoy and like to draw out a little bit. I like that shuffling, fiddling, fussing, readjusting, and general sense of play that goes into structuring a book. This, I’ve decided, will be the first poem in the book:
CROWS WHO TRY TO BE CORMORANTS DROWN
7:00 a.m., and in the crepuscular gray-silk light
shimmering pairs of raised socket rings rimming
the eyes of goldfish glint like burnished mother-
of-pearl. Their shadowed bodies have the bored,
languorous air of fan dancers French-inhaling
Lucky Strikes backstage before the dusty velvet
curtain creaks, then comes clattering up. Peach
green tea dallies in my mouth like a nostalgia
of fat, silky petals, and the Siamese cat rests
one chill, suspiciously damp paw on my neck.
The scent of sunburnt peaches arabesques in a fine
wraith of steam from the blue mug the way your
name kept twizzling, curlicuing and disappearing
through my sleep last night, slippery between
my fingers, smooth and fine as cinnamon.
I think of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and how,
in her letters to friends, she kept exclaiming,
The snails here are as big as dinner plates!
Did you know snails are hermaphrodites?
Or that, during courtship, they slowly circle one
another, lightly touching each other along the neck
with their antennae-tipped eyes and nudging
their soft, blunt heads, forehead to forehead, before
firing off a pair of fierce love darts, to break
each other’s skin and pierce the tender flesh inside?
Isn’t it a strange thought? A love dart?
But really, aren’t we all strange fruit ripening
outward from our navelsdusky or pale, fleshy
and moonstruckafter being clipped from the vine?
And don’t we cushion our hearts like big cracked
seeds inside a tangled nest of membrane, skin
and pulp before they whirl away like dervishes
on propeller-light wings, or end up tucked into
the dark musky cheeks of squirrels, when the body’s
false promises have long been forgotten?
Although maybe that’s not true. Maybe our hearts
aren’t seeds, but birds. Maybe our hearts
are cormorants, diving at night for sweet fish
in a blaze of torch light on the Nagara River
in Japan, and our bodies are the leather rings
fishermen strap around the necks of the birds
to keep them from swallowing the fish. And still
mine keeps diving, diving through the night,
against a bone-hollowing hunger unfulfilled,
and even in spite of the old Japanese folk saying:
Crows who try to be cormorants drown.
My tea cools, morning grips the sun between
thumb and forefinger like a lemonade corkscrew
Akro Agate Popeye marble shooter. Outside
the windowpane, a wasp, arms and legs akimbo,
cleans her satin-banded body with the same
seductive gesture as a woman smoothing down
a cocktail dress over the swell of her hips.
And I circle around this poem too many times,
awkward even in the inching tarantellas of mollusk
love. But soon, soon I will find the words
that pierce clean through, and soon I will find
their centerlike a slice of silver splitting
the air in a smoke-filled room. For the mean-
time, though, did you know, my love,
that a flock of larks is called an exaltation?
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