(On a painting by Andrew Ferez)
The piano is on fire.
I am setting the house on fire.
I am floating
barefoot out to sea, pounding
like the rhythms of the sea,
wearing nothing but my slip.
Mesmerized by the sheet of music
in front of me; she calls downstairs:
"Stop that banging!" Beethoven
demands some banging, deaf as he was.
She has a migraine.
Oh, how I must be torturing her.
I don't care.
I want to slice through the silence
of this house; be an arsonist
of music. Music is my accelerant,
my sweet gasoline. Beethoven
my accomplice. "Stop! Stop!"
she cries. I won't stop.
I am an evil child.
IN THE SANDWICH SHOP
Death has slipped in before us, into
the sandwich shop. Death in a black
hooded sweatshirt. Skinny death. Sprawls
on the glass counter, over the lettuce
and tomatoes, his jeans barely held up
on his hips. Exhausted Death. He keeps
falling asleep, then waking to choose
the meat for his sandwiches, shaking
his head, no, no. No to the vegetables.
The counter server looks startled
and impatient, as are any of us
in the face of Death. Addicted Death
withdrawing from the obsession, tired
of taking so many souls. Death
moves down to the cash register
and pays the price. He manages to balance
a soda and stumble to a table; slumped
in a chair he falls asleep once more.
I can see a sliver of dark face behind
the hood. Death wakes twice, sobbing
in big gulps, never touching his food.
An azure sky, not a cloud anywhere,
yet it is bitter, bitter
to think of the crumpled people beneath it
huddled in camps like Canada geese,
wearing their odd hand-me down clothes.
Here in the shade
of the California Bank & Trust
moss spreads between bonsai.
There is an open bottle of malt liquor
not even emptied where a man
fell into oblivion
after the periscope of his
hypervigilance swiveled as he sat
splayed, begging for change
from people exiting the bank. The Bank
and Trust. I am only imagining him there,
feeling the visceral
feeling you get
when the one you love lies bleeding.
The smell of a dryer sheet in the air.
A female jay hunting spiders
in the cobwebbed roses. A white plastic bag
limps across the street in the wind
like a sick cat; then lies down in the gutter
and dies. Assignment: draw your pain. Draw
a thorny rose out of a Jack-O’Lantern head.
I scare myself with that flat, in-holding mouth.
Rose blooms, pain blooms. Jack-O’Lantern
rots, frightening the children. A “dark demon,”
my sister says. A jay squawks. I’ve got to get to it:
Mike’s dying. Thirty-seven years old. Addicts
are not what you think. They can be gentle people,
people in mourning. His father died when he was ten.
His mother never gave up. Wrote his obituary.
—James Lee Jobe, Davis
In your ears, the darkness that tames me into silence.
In your eyes, daggers. So I lose quickly.
Outside the trees are very still, in a way
That tells me a storm is approaching.
How can I bear it alone?
Through the long night wet, bare limbs slap against the roof
And I sit inside mourning the sister I lost so long ago.
—James Lee Jobe
Look, there's Death in Sister's face,
especially in her eyes—that's the poison.
she eats more poison.
For a moment she is alive again, young,
then Death moves a little closer.
Dorothy lives close to death
I cannot see any truth in her eyes
or in her face anymore.
The poison eats the truth
and changes her face.
And though I love my sister, my Dottie,
I also feel pulled to bury her.
I wonder now if I, her brother,
ever knew her true face at all.
Oh, Sister—why do you love that liar,
Why do you love that one brief moment
more than you love your own life?
—Tom Goff, Carmichael
We stand together in a bath of light,
the glass rotunda. Summer, slaying all shade,
deep-dyed in the whitest blue, like day for night,
so rinsed in full-moon nocturne is this shrine
to the daystar. Absolute luster, absolute bright
and heat in one speaking moment kept at bay
or silenced in us. Stay with me, the stars align;
they’re bending you now to dangerously linger.
Dark lady of the clear moon and of the rose,
crown me the ancient mirror of the day.
Bloom on nettled ground in the stolen light,
blossom where beauty almost never grows.
Weird is the midday twilight on display:
the black orb cores the rose and sharpens its rays.
Let me comb your dark hair with moonlight fingers.
Mud on the walkways.
All hangman, all hood,
trees’ sinister screen
Over our talk, haze
clusters like migraine.
Downfall: more rain.
to words of high spleen.
Suppress your dark moods.
I’m sullen, I’m wordless.
musings, black interludes.
The fruit gold, the leaf green
When were we last
Shut out the blast.
Our lost summer blaze.